What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to post something that I wrote a long time ago and didn’t feel like rewriting? Being able to simply copy, paste and post and still feel like you actually did something productive is a great sensation, so I’m going to try doing that every week from now on. As the keenest of you may have noticed, I already did that last week with my post on Hyouka, but the difference is that this time I’m not going to apologise for not rewriting it.
This week’s topic is Welcome to the NHK! The post is written for readers who have already seen the show, and there may or may not be spoilers, so keep that in mind.
First, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way, because that’s probably the least important part of this show. The visuals are consistent and fit the show, but are otherwise not very noteworthy. Once again, after Haibane Renmei and Serial Experiments Lain, I liked Yoshitoshi Abe’s original character designs, because they’re about as far from caricatures as you can get without shooting for hyperrealism. The sound design as a whole didn’t really make an impression on me, but it definitely wasn’t bad(looking at you, Parasyte). Part of the reason why it didn’t stick might be that NHK mostly isn’t melodramatic, so there’s no heavy reliance on background music.
I’d like to expand on that lack of melodrama while moving on to the actual focus of the show, that being the characters and the story. The majority of the story is told from the main character’s, Satou’s, perspective, and the appearances of the other characters mostly rely on where Satou happens to be at the moment, which makes character interactions feel very natural most of the time. Characters who have less contact with Satou appear less frequently, sometimes completely unannounced, while characters in close proximity(like Yamazaki, who lives next door to Satou) appear more frequently, and they rarely run into each other by chance. As a consequence, there are very few moments in the show that could be called “climaxes”, because dramatic climaxes are rare in ordinary life, and this show is at its core about ordinary life. The thing that separates this show from other slice of life/drama shows is the fact that the characters are not socially dysfunctional despairing adolescents, they’re actually mentally ill. Actually, not all of them are necessarily mentally ill, but they all have psychological issues that they struggle with.
This is not only reflected in the characters, whose backgrounds and development I won’t spoil, but also in the nature of the storytelling. Moments that you expect to be told with complete seriousness are filled with classic comedy elements, and catharsis is frequently denied by emphasising the fact that all the problems in the world, or in your own life, are not solved in a single day. The story is not without a conclusion, however, so watching the show is not an exercise in complete futility emotion-wise.
I liked the show very much, but it did leave me quite depressed(not in the clinical sense of the word). The denial of catharsis, which is central to the themes, means that regardless of the conclusion, the “message” of the show is pretty bleak, and the realism of the characters means that the show is definitely not suitable for escapism, to say the least. Neon Genesis Evangelion made me question my sexuality(don’t ask why), Hourou Musuko made me question my views on gender(understandably), but Welcome to the NHK made me question my entire life.