Welcome to the NHK! Vols. 5 & 6–Lying To Yourself

The story in the Welcome to the NHK! manga has now fully departed from that of the anime, and the bleakness is almost stifling. Still, it really gets some parts of human nature right: the infinite capacity for self-deception and the power of indiscipline.

Note: Over a year ago, I reviewed volume 1, volumes 2 and 3, and volume 4 of the NHK manga. Even longer ago, I reviewed the light novel where it all began. This is a long-delayed follow-up to all this.

The plot and the emotions in these two volumes are rollercoaster-like in their intense, wild swings. So many panels contain nothing more than the crazed expressions of the main characters that it’s clearly a sign that we are supposed to laugh at such scenes. The story has long ceased to be funny except in a gallows humor sort of way, however. The humor now is mainly in watching the characters fail at life to varying degrees, which is also profoundly saddening because it is believable how easily they fail. One knows that Satou and Yamazaki’s protestations that they will better themselves are doomed to failure, because earlier volumes have taught the reader to be deeply cynical about such claims–and rightly so. Declarations alone do not constitute a change in behavior, which is a much more difficult and slow-going process, as the blackly funny scenes of Satou’s mother catching him greasing the pole epitomize.

The thing that is poignant about these scenes, too, is that the desire to change is also real. There is pathos lurking beneath the scenes where Satou briefly returns home,  Yamazaki battles both his would-be girlfriend and himself, and with Kawashiwa’s martial difficulties. They really do want things to be different, but they are all trapped in their own ways: by their bad habits, by their mental conditions, or their pasts. They will often mouth the usual “you can do it!” platitudes to themselves, but know deep down they are not true; it’s no wonder that at the end of volume 6, Satou concludes that practically everything is pretty much an illusion, a coping mechanism to get by in the world–albeit a necessary one. This is real existential despair, one that the characters, given their dire circumstances, understandably feel.

Misaki, in these two volumes, assumes a secondary role, serving mainly as a hallucinatory, possibly drug-induced vision of angelic goodness in Satou’s mind–though she has her own dramatic turns in her own doomed quest to be “normal” at school and to help another “loser.” The author appears to have taken a few steps back in depicting Misaki as a totally manipulative person, and granted the reader many more reasons to be sympathetic towards her–though the sick co-dependence and narcissism remain. It certainly explains her incident later on, which is a much less naturalistic and more twisted version of an incident that is depicted late in the anime. That it, well, works is actually surprising, and indicative of how if these volumes have any flaws, it’s that the plot incidents are simply getting extreme to the point of threatening the balance of dark humor and pathos. It almost makes you want to throw up your hands and declare that everyone is simply cuckoo.

There are only two volumes left, and of course I am intensely curious as to how the story will conclude: perhaps similarly to the anime? Or something far more ambiguous and even dire? These desperate characters are looking for desperate measures, and it seems nothing less than drastic events could possibly redeem any of them by now. It is probably no accident that religious themes and imagery are a subtle undercurrent throughout the story–heaven, angels, salvation, the inclusion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as significant players in the plot. Misaki’s project is to be Satou’s, and everyone else’s, savior. I trust like in the end of the anime there is no deus ex machina coming (nor should there be if it’s to have integrity), but if anything this story is a portrayal of a certain kind of human brokenness writ large: the inability to truly connect and accept other people for who they are. Even if that person is yourself.

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

3 thoughts on “Welcome to the NHK! Vols. 5 & 6–Lying To Yourself

  1. I guess manga is much darker? Seems like more existential theme, trapped in absurdity. Maybe Misaki-tan is depicted as more real in manga then. But yes, I can see a religious girl is more accessible. She is Iyashi-kei.

    Monomi no tou(watch tower) was pretty visible in Japan. And like in “Welcome to N.H.K.” they seemed to be everywhere, very active canvassing door to door, competing with SGI. They usually paired up with a underage kid. One adult and one minor, and the adult was usually Oba-san. Some of watch tower girls were pretty. They dressed up conservative, which made them look pure and angelic, even idyllic at some point, very refreshing for people living in a big city. Yeah, I can see why Satou was obsessed with Misaki-tan. The first appearance of Misaki-tan overlapped Zange-chan. My whole body was consumed by Moe. And that feminine chanson!

    Yeah, but the thing is at the door, Oba-san always dominates the conversation, can’t really talk to a girl. I was like “Get lost, Babaa!” So, that turned me off.

    And religious canvassing toned down right after the Sarin gas attack. So, I couldn’t find my Misaki-tan, Deus Ex Machina didn’t happen in Japan, so I moved to America. But I guess religious canvassing is reviving in Japan these days. I guess targeting the new people: hikikomori. That’s what I felt from watching “Welcome to N.H.K.”

  2. M. LaMoe: existential is the right word. These are characters desperately searching for meaning in an absurd universe, searching vainly through hentai, religion, self-help, pyramid schemes–just about anything. And failing, at least so far. It is a bleak, bleak view of life, but it also contains much truth.

    Thanks for all that very enlightening info about how the JW’s operate in Japan, including the strategy of pairing up young people with older women–I had no idea they did that in Japan. (Mormons in this country usually go in pairs of the same sex.) That adds a lot of cultural context to Misaki’s background and how the JWs are perceived (it sounds like the same category in a way as the people who did the sarin attacks…though JWs aren’t violent I don’t think).

    It does seem that part of the point of the manga/original story is to show just how badly flawed Misaki is. That’s there in the anime too, but the manga version is a lot darker–not necessarily more realistic per se, but much more manipulative and conscious of what she is trying to do. Nobody in this story is really innocent, a far cry from a comforting story like Kimi ni Todoke…I know. One wishes there were a Misaki for each one of us lonely guys too!

  3. True, you’re right. This anime does depict Misaki-tan as a flawed person. Like you said, not like angelic Sawako-chan, lol! I was cherry-picking due to my Moe biased perception. Moe covers many infirmities.

    Oh yes, Maruchi(multi). That’s right, pyramid scheme! Endless. How absurd!

    Yeah, I remember one time two Mormon chicks came to my apt, good looking, their blond hair stood up on the black coat: Girls In Black. They were really nice to me and one of the few times I had a long productive conversation with girls. I was like Satou, daydreaming these girls all the time and finally went to the temple, but you know I am not good at being around a huge crowd(I’m very hikikomori), so I never went back. That’s why Welcome To N.H.K. was so Deja Vu to me!

    I don’t know much about the JW in America, but heard Michael Jackson was a JW.

    Deep and insightful review, Michael! Thanks for telling me this show! Great anime!

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