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Welcome to the NHK! Vols. 1-2

Author: Andy Hanley

Andy hasn't written a profile yet. That's ruddy mysterious...

Welcome to the NHK! Vols. 1-2

Tatsuhiko Takimoto

Satou Tatsuhiro is a "hikikomori" - A shut-in, a recluse, a loser with no job, no income and no future.  However, in Satou's twisted mind he has a perfectly good excuse for his isolation from society - It's all a conspiracy controlled by the NHK.  Now, while to you and I the NHK is simply an innocent, popular and publicly funded Japanese television broadcaster, to Satou it's an organisation created solely to keep him (and others like him) from succeeding in life.  So begins this darkly comic tale of modern-day living and what ails the young men and women of the age.

For Satou however, help is at hand in the form of an unlikely saviour as he finds his filthy apartment visited by a woman and his daughter evangelising for the church.  Of course, Satou is beyond the help of even God, but the young girl he meets on his door step that day turns out to be a potential angel as she later offers to help him to break out of his reclusive ways.  But why does she want to help him?  Is she simply another cog in the well-oiled NHK conspiracy wheel?  Satou's confused frame of mind is hardly helped by his next door neighbour Kaoru Yamazaki, an anime-obsessed former school friend, or Hitomi Kashiwa, another former schoolmate who has more than enough problems of her own.

As that brief synopsis might suggest, Welcome to the NHK ushers us into a world which is, to put it politely, messed up.  All of the major characters have their issues, and this is portrayed with no holds barred, which makes this one manga series you definitely won't want to be seen reading on the train - There's the abuse of prescription drugs, illegal drug taking, explicit sexual depictions and nudity, and Satou also enters a "loli-con" phase which sees him downloading material featuring underage girls and hanging outside a school with a camera.  If any of those themes leave you feeling uncomfortable, then Welcome to the NHK is best avoided.

Almost incredibly given this dark and perverse subject matter, Welcome to the NHK's opening pair of volumes still manage to be both hilarious and poignant as required - Satou's obsessions (be they with young girls or otherwise) are hilariously overblown to extremes, while beneath those perversions and his occasional offensive outbursts Satou's internal monologues often reveal a genuinely caring guy who is only isolated by his own fear of rejection and getting hurt - The classic hedgehog's dilemma taken to its logical conclusion.  Indeed, this sense of inner beauty coupled with external contradictions is a recurring theme with all of the manga's main characters - Misaki is the yang to Satou's yin in that she is outwardly caring to hide her inner fears of inadequacy, Kaoru is an anime otaku whose obsession with 2D anime girls hides his feelings of love and rejection towards a living, breathing person, and Hitomi's outward confidence is kept up only by a cocktail of drugs to keep her from breaking down from depression.

This intense and full-on, yet oddly subtle, treatment of its characters builds up into what is an excellent and knowing satirical slice of social commentary - You may not have hit any of the extremes seen here, but chances are you'll either sympathise or understand the dilemmas and pressures of modern life depicted, leaving you feeling surprisingly close to this rag-tag bunch of young guys and girls as they struggle to make their way in the world.

If you're not easily offended and have a relatively open mind, then there's a lot to like about Welcome to the NHK and the emotional roller coaster it dumps you upon; it's a series worthy of consideration on account of its uniqueness alone, as you won't find another manga quite like this.  If nothing else, it's depiction of the ideal erotic game fantasy girl (as designed by Satou) is perhaps the funniest thing I've ever seen in manga form - That single page of the first volume alone was worth the price of entry for the tears of laughter it brought to my eyes.

At times disturbing in its explicit nature, yet Welcome to the NHK is a delightfully and viciously funny satire of modern life.
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