Welcome to the NHK 23

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Impressions

Though the show comes to an end with the next episode, I still marvel over how far it has come since it started. Today I was rewatching the early episodes (1-6) and while the seeds of all that has happened in the show’s second half are clearly there, the emphasis on black humor and cynical social commentary seems a long way away from the straightforward, earnest, and heartfelt drama that it’s since become. This particular episode holds few surprises, really, for anyone who’s been following the show up to this point–the revelations about Misaki’s past and her subsequent actions, if anything, are almost mundane given the air of mystery that she herself and the show tried to surround her with. We almost expected something more spectacular or strange…though, of course, there is still one more episode to go, and so we may find out more yet.

But that isn’t really the point, is it? All I know is that I feel for these characters, in the midst of their failure and despair–and it’s rare, even in these post-Evangelion days, to see a major studio anime portray all of its main characters as such broken failures–or even their few successes. (Often, it seems, brought about by the threat of starvation!) And I don’t mean “feel” in terms of pity or condescension; this show cuts deeper to my nerdish self and its logical end than anything I’ve seen since Evangelion, because when I see the thought processes of Misaki and Satou I find them all too accurate to my own feelings in different situations. Like Evangelion, this show can be seen as a cautionary tale about the dangers of otakuism and social isolation. This one dispenses with the convoluted metaphors and allusions, though, and goes straight for the gut–and the heart.

I’m really hoping that we get a redemptive, but bittersweet ending: not just because it would be fitting for such a bittersweet show, or that it would be better storyteling, but because it seems that no other kind of redemption will suffice for these characters. A glib wrap-up would feel like a betrayal of their struggles and pain. So far, Gonzo has handled it remarkably well (though I haven’t read the manga; manga fans will probably disagree), and I’m really hoping they neither give us a neat Hollywood ending or the nihilistic wallow that I ultimately thought Saikano became.

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Summary
Misaki and Satou are doing one of their last counseling sessions–and, having been badly hurt by seeing Satou leave a hotel with his former sempai, Misaki soldiers on remarkably well (on the surface). She quizzes Satou about famous last words of various celebrities, with mixed results. Satou is able to guess, importantly, the last words of a famous athlete who returned to his hometown and ate his favorite foods before committing suicide. Misaki seems pleased by his correct answers, and then announces that there will be a “graduation” test for the course. The test, of course, turns out to be more or less a date: they go out to see a movie, sit together on the train, and move through crowds. At their final meeting, she announces that he passes with “flying colors,” and–to Satou’s shock–presents him with another contract. This one stipulates that Satou must grow to like Misaki, and stay by her side forever, with a fine of 10 million yen. Satou rejects her proposal, denying that he is lonely and spurning her entreaties…only to be haunted by her parting accusation, that he is lying about not being lonely.

When he returns to his apartment, in the shadow of the giant Purin statue, he sees visions of the main characters (Yamazaki, Sempai, and others) admonishing him to admit that he is a failure. He is able to admit, too, that he is lonely. It does not, however, prevent him from beginning to starve, especially when his parents, Yamazaki, and Misaki, stop sending him money and food. This, at long last, spurs him to leave his apartment and find work as a traffic guide. He has, at long last, recovered from his hikkikomori ways–which Misaki observes, sadly, from her high window.

One day, as he comes home from work, Satou discovers an ambulance parked outside Misaki’s house. Misaki, apparently the victim of a bathtub accident, is being taken to the hospital. Concerned, Satou hitches a ride with her uncle–who turns out to be his landlord, thus making sense of how Misaki was able to know his personald data–who reveals her history with her suicidal mother and abusive stepfather. It turns out that she was only happy and cheerful after she met Satou. Moved, Satou and her uncle go to the hospital, only to find that Misaki is gone; she left behind a train schedule, however, and inside is a suicide note that parallels the one by the famous athelete. She intends to return to her hometown and jump off the same cliff that her mother did. In the final shot, we see her riding on the train, bandages on her wrists, revealing that her bathroom “accident” was really an attempt to slit her wrists.

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