Light Novel Corner – Welcome to the NHK

Alternative title NHK ni youkoso
Author Tatsuhiko Takimoto
Illustrator Yoshitoshi ABe
Genres Drama
Published 2002 (JP) / 2007 (EN)
Pages 248
.

      You probably have come across Welcome to the NHK at one point or another in its anime or, less likely, manga form but I doubt many are aware that the story originated from a light novel by the same name written by Tatsuhiko Takimoto. First of all, Welcome to the NHK isn’t an ordinary light novel, though it comes very close to being that. Its length isn’t that impressive, the narrative examines problems of young adults, and the cover illustration was made by none other than Yoshitoshi ABe. On the other hand, the novel certainly isn’t a graphic novel – there’s not a single picture inside, these young adults are past a high-school age, and their problems are a bit more complicated and dark than “Oh, senpai…”. Typical light novels often leave a hook in the end so that the series could be extended to at least several more volumes, and that’s not really the case with Welcome to the NHK. That should be enough to prove that this novel isn’t like anything else you can find, even if you have no idea what it’s about, and in that case I strongly encourage you to find that out.

When I was little, my dream was to go to Tokyo University and become a great scholar. I wanted to invent something that would help all mankind. And now, I’m a lolicon hikikomori!

—Satou, being realistic—

     As the story starts, we find the protagonist Satou living alone in his apartment after quitting college, unable to overcome his depressing hikikomori lifestyle. Satou isn’t oblivious of his situation and seems to be determined to change but his good intentions are too meagre compared to his fear of coming out of his hole and having interactions with other people. Satou’s fears aren’t completely unfounded (well, at least to his psyche) and prove to be an indestructible obstacle. It’s one thing to realize that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, but a whole other to man up and do the actual breaking.

      After some time Satou meets the other two important characters of the story. Yamazaki, who’s living (and quite loudly) next door, turns out to be an old sort of acquaintance, and also a man more inclined to stay in his apartment and pursue his otaku-stuff-related hobbies rather than participate in social life. The two of them soon realize that it’s far easier to interact with a person who has similar troubles and thus avoid being exposed to the wider society. In this way both Satou and Yamazaki become sort of an emotional crutch for each other. That crutch turns out to work mostly theoretically because two desperate people won’t necessarily be able to sort out their problems and get better. The second core relationship of the light novel begins when coincidentally Satou becomes acquainted with Misaki – a girl who very unexpectedly tries to befriend him. It’s very true to the novel’s spirit that Misaki has her own problems and her life isn’t as angelic-like as it probably seemed to Satou at first. Some might say that Misaki was added to the narrative only because no one would read a gloomy novel about two hopeless dudes going crazy, and a cute girl on a cover is the best way to attract some attention of possible readers. There’s a grain of truth in that but I wouldn’t go as far because ultimately Misaki’s presence adds a whole new layer of narrative possibilities that made the novel far more interesting.

“A normal life within society would be impossible for someone like me, who cried so unsuccessfully to apply Freudian analysis to last night’s dream. My dream featured indulging in an impure heterosexual relationship in a small room with the female upperclassman from high school, and my analysis suggested only that it indicated a subconscious desire to indulge an impure heterosexual relationship in a small room with the female upperclassman from high school.”

—Satou, trying to be normal—

      When you think of it, the story of NHK is just a random excerpt from Satou’s life – the novel both begins and ends at pretty much arbitrary points, and that has some ambiguous consequences. On one hand, the story feels incomplete, as there’s no final definite demon lord to be defeated or something like that. Thinking differently, it adds to the realism since if you would want to have a complete story about a specific person, you should start at his birth and end at his death. If you chose a particular segment of such person’s life, it would feel that the person had a life before, and he’ll also be around once the story finishes for the observers, and that’s exactly what I got from NHK. The novel also has no rigid structure that would mean traveling from point A to point B. Sure, there are some underlying plotlines but ultimately what matters is Satou’s usual experiences living his hikikomori life, and such life by definition stays the same every day and every night, so time pretty much looses its purpose. All this would mean that the novel belongs to the slice of life genre, and to some extent it does, but it’s a pretty hard and depressing slice of life then.

Smug looking Tatsuhiko Takimoto

      One of the selling points of Welcome to the NHK is its authenticity. The characters feel very real – all with their own outlooks on life and sometimes selfish motivations – it’s no celebration of “How great it feels to be an otaku and have no friends”. There’s no magical truck that would run you over and throw you into a fantasy world. Rose-colored campus life is a lie. The real world is always there, and no matter how dark and unpleasant, there’s no convenient way to escape it. The author Tatsuhiko Takimoto based the novel on his own experiences, so throughout it there persists this sensation of rawness. I doubt any person just by hearing some testimonies could make such character as Satou as believable as he appears. I don’t know if it was based on any real incident, but the scene where Satou and Yamazaki, both high (yup, drugs involved), decided to have a fight in a park (because why the hell not?) was depicted incredibly vividly. Either Takimoto has exceptional imagination, or… Yeah… As it can be seen from the novel (minor spoiler I guess), Satou wasn’t able to completely get out from his hikikomori lifestyle by the end, and sadly similar things can be said about Takimoto himself. Actually, that’s one of the reasons why he hasn’t been that productive after publishing this one-hit wonder. Apart from his hikikomori tendencies, Takimoto still doesn’t seem like a perfect member of the society. In general what would you think of a guy who said that this favorite scene from the entirety of NGE is that one in the very beginning of End of Eva when Shinji deepens his relationship with this hand? Yeah…

I am God. I will make it to the bathroom in time.

—Again Satou, but now under a certain condition—

      Even if NHK is a sad story about a sad person, written by a sad writer, it still has brighter moments. As hard as it might be, Satou never loses his mind, or rather I should say there always remains a part of him that’s able to laugh at all this situation of his. I would even go that far and say that comedy is an integral part of this story – you simply can’t counterbalance all the despair otherwise. And Satou proves to be quite a witty narrator – of course many of his remarks are pure dark comedy, but it definitely works, sometimes cruelly accentuating all the despair, cynicism and frustration about everything and everyone.

Satou in the anime adaptation

     How to tackle such problems that Satou and his friends experience? Unfortunately the novel doesn’t provide a definite and easy solution for everyone. After all, by the end of Welcome to the NHK Satou was only able to alleviate his issues and the future, although hopeful, was left veiled. As cruel as it sounds, one thing that helped Satou was a choice between dying from hunger or getting out of his apartment. Human body is extremely willing to survive, so that’s no wonder that when Satou’s food and money ran out (and furniture and his PC were sold) he was forced to go out and find a job. I wouldn’t recommend this way of getting better to anyone, even as the last resort, but I guess sometimes such an ultimate choice may be the right push to start improving. Another solution to hikikomorism is simply interacting with your friends. Someone might say “come on, I don’t have any friends”, but I don’t believe that. Even if your cycle of acquaintances is extremely small, there should be at least one family member, childhood friend or almost forgotten ex-coworker who could listen. They say problem shared is a problem halved not without a reason. Something like that won’t magically solve everything but having someone to talk to is essential to everyone – humans are social beings after all. And when you have someone to talk to, just talk. No matter about what, no matter how, just glue to that one connection and it should at least provide some comfort. As I (luckily) haven’t experienced anything like that myself, I certainly don’t have any authority to suggest solutions, but I believe they should at least give a gentle push to the right direction, and sometimes that’s all that is needed.

     I believe, this light novel is

 3
Good

      If I had to put into words the most important idea of the novel, it would be that if you unfortunately have such problems as Satou, you should be able to see that there are ways to get better. Even more fortunate people should be able to find some food for thought in NHK because I don’t think anyone is free of some sort of obsession, however mild it can be – it needn’t be an excessive otaku-related activities, it might be anything. I think Welcome to the NHK can be seen as a reminder of what can happen if you get into something too much, willingly or not. That, and the very quiet but still audible voice telling you “there’s always hope” in my mind are the reasons you should experience Satou’s story.

 

Advertisements
Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. I’ve never read the LN or the manga, but I enjoyed the anime. That is, I found my time spent with it more than worth my while… You can’t really ‘like’ something so dark in the same way you enjoy a romcom or fanservice harem can you?

    Sounds like I would enjoy the LN though. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Agree, NHK isn’t an easy story to experience, but it is rewarding. I haven’t seen the anime (yet, but it’s definitely on the watchlist) but as far as I know, it adds much new stuff to the story while managing to retain the original atmosphere quite well. I think from the novel you should expect a concentrate of the same ideas but it still should be worth your time.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  1. Worth Reading – 3/12/18 – Apprentice Mages Lounge.

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: