I’ve written about Welcome to the NHK before, and I wrote about it quite comprehensively! So comprehensively, in fact, that I don’t really have anything to add regarding the story of the show, which is why I’ll try to do something different. At the end of the aforementioned post, I stated that “Welcome to the NHK made me question my entire life.” Well, in retrospect, and in the long run, it wasn’t actually that influential for me, but I do feel like I have some new things to say regarding that statement.
The reason being that I recently read a book the title of which roughly translates to “Flexible Mind”, which teaches the basics of modern “mindfulness” (which, as far as I can see, has nothing to do with the similarly translated term in Theravada Buddhism) and stuff like that. Basically, this practice involves trying to experience and accept thoughts and emotions as neutrally as possible, as if you were an observer of your own mind. It’s a “golden mean” of sorts. And when I started thinking about Welcome to the NHK, I realised that neither Satou nor Misaki are even close to this desirable middle road.
Satou is at one extreme end of the spectrum, where he not only allows himself to experience and accept his thoughts and emotions, he lets himself be controlled by them. He fears them. He gives them an unhealthy amount of thought and weight. He dwells on them, he wallows in them. Well, I mean, this is pretty clearly established in the show itself, so it’s not a revolutionary idea or anything. But what the show doesn’t broadcast as clearly is that Misaki is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Yes, the show does establish that her saccharine positivity is born from a desire to escape her traumatic past (and, to some extent, present), but what it omits is that even if she were genuinely happy and content, that kind of positive thought would still be harmful, and it certainly wouldn’t be of any help to Satou. The reason for this is that her methods rely on trying to control and suppress negative emotions and thoughts, which (at least according to the book) basically only makes things worse. Forcing oneself not to think about something only makes it more difficult not to think about it.
…Or something like that. I mean, I already had misgivings about the message the show sent regarding depression, therapy and self-improvement, so it’s not like these realisations changed my opinion much, but I think it’s an interesting thing to think about.