Welcome to the NHK! Vol. 4 – The Infinite Layer Cake of Misaki

Because that is what she is so far–like Heath Ledger’s Joker, who knows what kind of background or upbringing she really has? Who knows how much is truth and is a lie? It turns out this is a fairly suitable theme for the entire volume, too.

The manga is beginning to arrive in territory that the anime either doesn’t cover or covers in a profoundly different way. Emotional context, again, becomes key, and I’m beginning to realize that some of the differences in context are a result of the chapter structure of the manga. Manga is usually published serially, of course, and each chapter has to be relatively self-contained. This lends itself to the “dark joke with a punchline” structure that the manga really excels at, rather than to a continuously told story/drama.

A good example is Yamazaki’s purposeful burning of bridges with the girl he has a crush on. In the anime, it is part of his “leaving town to return home” trauma that culminates in a pathetic fight with Satou in the snow–a mixing of scenes from the original novel and this volume. The effect is a poignant evocation of the pain of friends going away for good. Here, it is part of Yamazaki sinking deeper into otaku misogyny and his determination to finish the game as vengeance against women. I honestly like the anime version better, but that may be because I like the context and the reason for it better; it’s more palatable and less cynical.

So it was a surprise to see that the scenes where Satou and his sempai almost have an affair (with Satou’s imagination running ahead of him at times) were more or less the same. It is still as bitterly affecting as ever, a symbol of lost hopes and opportunities, especially so because Satou does the “right thing”–leaving her be knowing that she would ultimately be happier to remain faithful and secure in her new life. The anime rightly left this unchanged.

We discover more about Misaki, in that while she is definitely a pathological liar–unable to tell Satou anything true about her upbringing–she is also certainly acting out of desperation. The new contract in which Satou pledges absolute obedience is a case in point. Her jealousy at seeing him together with Kashiwa is actually quite funny. This makes her somewhat more sympathetic than the Machiavellian schemer we saw at the end of volume 3, but it appears the manga is opting to leave her mask on for a while. (Others tell me we will find out much about her later on. I’m curious to see how that will affect my perception of her.)

These schemes, however, have the opposite effect of their intention; they drive Satou to the brink of suicide. Here it takes a definite turn for the different. We see Satou in a genuine state of despair and uselessness, fueled by a delusional sense of self-sacrifice. The manga takes this opportunity, however, to at last allow some moments of beauty. The last two chapters both end without and with the view of the stars, which we learn was once the hobby of a young Satou. Such a cynical story is still able to say, genuinely, “who knew that the world could look so beautiful?” This tells me that the poignancy of the anime didn’t just come from nowhere; it’s there if one is willing to see it in the manga too, even if it is strongly de-emphasized so far. It seems that the final scenes of the anime are in part inspired by the last incidents of this volume, though I suspect it’s an amalgamation of the true end of the manga too. (I’ll get there eventually.)

The manga thus continues to fascinate and please. From this point forward, I suspect, comparisons to the anime will dwindle as most of the anime’s material has already passed in the story. We’ll see how much Takimoto is able to expand his story in the next four volumes.

2 thoughts on “Welcome to the NHK! Vol. 4 – The Infinite Layer Cake of Misaki”

  1. I managed to maintain a biased view on the manga throughout the whole thing. Sad, really. I would have probably liked it much more if I hadn’t watched the anime prior to it.

    The stories cross paths, but only rarely are there instances without many differences.

    I will probably have more to say as you progress through this manga.

  2. @somewhatnifty: we are actually in the same boat, having seen the anime first (and loving it). I think by now it’s going to be almost an entirely new experience, so we’ll see how it goes.

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