An hikikomori (stay at home shut-in) and a NEET (not educated, employed or trained) are both social statuses that go hand in hand, and although this complex is an increasing trend in Japan it is handled with black humour and at times deft reflection in this saga of Sato, a man who is heavily influenced by the strange characters that force their way into his life and eventually break down the proverbial barriers housing his antisocial extremities. One character in particular is Yamazaki, an otaku (obsessed fan) who convinces Sato to go into business with him and make a gal game (dating simulator) and a mysterious girl Misaki, who goes out of her way to re-educate Sato back into the world.
Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Perhaps it is all a conspiracy, yells Sato's kitchen appliances as he convinces himself to never venture outside again. The opening is a stunning display of a man so far gone from this world, and yet there is still a glimmer of desperate longing and frustration. Sato is a 16 hour a day sleeper, life passes around him as he stays in his confined, disgusting but most importantly safe apartment. To add to his seemingly increasing madness repetitive Jpop music blares through the walls and through his eyes we get the point of view of an hikikomori; the audio is distorted, nothing is moving like it should and people's faces past and present become blurs and cynical, harmful forces. He convinces himself that it must be a conspiracy. The NHK to everyone is a major media corporation in Japan but to him this acronym takes on dark undertones; the social withdrawal association! At this point in Welcome to the NHK it is clear that Sato's brain does not function well and has gone soft from years of disuse. The most basic known norms and social conventions in contemporary Japanese society are overlooked, ignored and misunderstood by him due to his ineptness of comprehension. Even subcultures and fringe societies that the mainstream views as antisocial are mysteries to him.
It is these social matters and disillusionment with reality that strongly set up this unique series, that microanalyses Sato and puts him into increasingly desperate and complicated situations. Regardless of his happiness and attempt to step back into the world there is an inner struggle prevalent through most scenes and the decisions he makes which creates a lot of tension. The first episode sets up these base concepts well and introduces the catalyst for his gradual transformation and this is Misaki; a seemingly innocent and stable girl who takes Sato under her wing, although she is much younger, and teaches him life lessons, philosophy and social conventions. The other major force in his life is Yamazaki, not your typical otaku as he loses his temper frequently, but comparable to Sato he is a socialite. He introduces Sato to porn and it is Sato's over imagination and hilarious metaphor-taken-literally scenarios that provide the strongest scenes in Welcome to the NHK. He is told to surf the internet to find 'inspiration' for their dating sim game and what Sato imagines is a rough sea and himself desperately reeling in naked pictures of women onto his boat.
Sato certainly is late to the party; uncensored porn, video games and online role playing games are all life changing revelations for him, of course none of these things make him a better person, they just aid his receding into other questionable subcultures and all, in their own way are an escape from reality as he spends days obsessively clicking, wanking or typing in his bedroom. Together Misaki and Yamazaki as well as some characters from his past, all intervene to change Sato's life and not necessarily for the better. He endures a lot of strange events and remains rather pessimistic, not much really sways his antisocial tendencies; an hikikomori to pervert transition is not entirely satisfactory as a life altering transformation but it does provide some truly hilarious scenes. But it is Sato's stubbornness that is the base for Welcome to the NHK, and his underlying weakness that lets life lead him and not the other way around.
Misaki's nightly patronizing turns into genuine life lessons which Sato just does not comprehend despite the obvious hints dropped. But there is a basic level of understanding in his head and the antisocial hilarity is broken up with scenes of serious reflection as slowly throughout the series details about his life and how he got to this present situation are revealed. Some of the plot conventions become quite predictable and overly melodramatic. Ultimately Welcome to the NHK overstays its welcome with some weak pacing that seeks to expose (one after the other), every outlet of Japanese pop culture and antisocial aspects that are too quickly explored and dismissed and thus every episode is a string of forced contention. Although the series takes place over a long period of time it does not really feel this way, and the finale is very disappointing and unnecessary given that the events could have unfolded at any time.
Other than the forced English dub which is not suggested as this is a very Japanese tale, Welcome to the NHK is ultimately highly recommended. Looking past the forced pacing it is quite fascinating to get an insight not only into a hikikomori, but also problems that Japan is notorious for including perverts, online gaming addiction, suicide pacts formed online, scams, cults and other exploitative dark forces.
It is interesting to watch Welcome to the NHK, the themes of conspiracy are repeated throughout the show and as a viewer the possibility that it can all end as an actual crazy conspiracy is quite high. Sato's metamorphosis is not rushed, but his exposure to societal elements is. Regardless Welcome to the NHK looks favorably at society and the decency in people and is a big wake up call for Japan and often hilarious to boot!