#1 A NEET’s tale
Tatsuhiro Sato used to be a promising, young teenager when he moved to Tokyo to study, until his life took a downturn in the last year of college. After his senpai graduated, Sato began to fall apart and, after a minor incident, he dropped out of school and became a recluse.
Now, nearly 4 years into his self-imposed exile from society, Sato has become a social and mental wreck. Scared to leave the house, anxious about every phone call or knock on his door, wasting away the days surrounded by filth as he spirals into poverty. Putting the puzzle pieces of the past few years of his life together, Sato comes to the conclusion that the NHK cable network is conspiring against him, plotting to keep his life in this miserable status quo. It’s at that moment of realization that a Christian missionary knocks on his door and changes his life.
18-year-old Misaki Nakahara is a young woman who offers Sato a contract. She will free him of his life as a NEET, allow him to return to society, all of it free of charge so long as he follows her guidance. Could she be an angel who has come to rescue him or is she an agent of the nefarious NHK responding to his sudden awakening to the truth.
#2 Ugly visuals
Welcome to the NHK is not exactly a pretty show, but it uses its visuals to illustrate Sato’s mental state and the direction his life is taking. When Sato indulges himself and descends deeper into the hikikomori lifestyle, the anime’s visuals follow suit.
The characters look sketchy and off-model, the colors are sickly and dark, everything looks and feels intense and uneasy. Even the hentai and anime that Sato comes to obsess over looks ugly, with generic, shallow moe blobs as protagonists. I first wondered if the show just looked bad and I was giving it too much credit, but the depiction of the in-universe fiction convinced me that this was very much a deliberate choice.
Not only does the anime look much more pleasant when Sato chooses to address the problems in his life and seek to improve himself, the characters who are trying to help him are depicted as beautiful and even angelic.
A favorite scene of mine happens when Sato decides to dedicate himself to the project he and his neighbor had been discussing and postponing. Previously, this was always depicted as “bad”; the anime made Sato and his friend look haggard and scenes with them were always dimly lit and ominous. Now that Sato wanted to take their cooperation seriously and use it to better himself, the visuals for these same characters and places turned warm and pleasant. If you watch this show, I encourage you to keep an eye on the animation and how it changes like this.
#3 Creating a hentai game
When Sato finally decides to confront his noisy neighbor, he discovers it’s actually his old friend Kaoru Yamazaki, an easily-frustrated “real” gamer who is attending a school for game design. Sato then borrows some of Yamazaki’s books to convince Misaki that he’s not actually a NEET, only for her to ask further proof by letting her play one of the video games he has made… oops.
Not knowing the first thing about game-design, Sato enlists Yamazaki’s help and is shocked to find out that making a game takes considerable time, resources, and skill. Weighing their options, Yamazaki explains that the only feasible game to create in a mere month is a hentai visual novel.
Sato has no talent for programming nor art, so he is burdened with the duty of story writing. This creative endeavor is the first time in years he has done something approaching work and thus it ends up being central to his character arc. It’s interesting to follow the game’s development, how it plunges Sato into an obsession with hentai and porn, but also how it returns a semblance of self-confidence in him. For once, he is achieving something, even if many would argue that it’s not the most admirable success.
Not only does the show play with the colors and quality of its animation when Sato’s life makes a downturn, it also plunges into full-on surrealism when things get exceptionally dire and his delusions take over.
When Sato suspects the NHK is unto him, fantasy and reality begin to blend. He takes advice about countering the NHK’s efforts from his furniture and appliances, he has wild imaginations about fighting against their Men in Black, and even the pure, lovable Misaki is transformed into various secret agent types.
It lends a twisted humor to the show, by depicting the downfall of its protagonist in a goofy fashion. It also makes for a nice break from the otherwise realistic direction of the story.
#5 Powerful depiction of depression
I have saved up Welcome to the NHK for a long time and the reason for doing so is that I always dread these kind of heavy shows about depression and unhealthy lifestyles. Even when they are done well, they tend to call forth unpleasant feelings and memories in me, which I don’t always feel like being confronted with.
Welcome to the NHK definitely is one of the good ones and while I did take a few breaks from it, I was very engaged and intrigued by its story. Sato is a convincing protagonist and the show does a great job at showing how he is trapped in the lifestyle he crafted around himself. He rationalizes his own behavior, he has grown delusional, and his attempts to escape frequently end with embarrassment, which in turn justifies to him how he should just give up. There is one bit where he sits in on a trial class for a vocational school and you see him feeling confident as he does something he believes in, but the moment his teacher looks over the work, he gets hung up over one little thing and becomes convinced that this teacher is looking down on him. The teacher tries to salvage the situation, but the whole room now seems hostile to Sato and he panics. He descends into a broken rant about the NHK and then runs off.
Despite all that, it doesn’t paint Sato as a weak person. The anime does a great job at getting the audience to understand how challenging these everyday ordeals are in the eyes of its protagonist and gets you to empathize with that. You see the strength it takes him to get back up time and time again, to overcome repeated failures and embarrassment, and… I admired him for that. He stumbles, but he never surrenders the fight.