Welcome to the N.H.K. (N・H・Kにようこそ! N.H.K. ni Yōkoso!?) is a Japanese novel written by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, with a cover illustration by Yoshitoshi ABe, and was published by Kadokawa Shoten in Japan on January 28, 2002. The novel was first published in English by Tokyopop on October 9, 2007. The story centers around a twenty-two-year-old hikikomori who gets aid from a strange girl who seems to know a lot about him, despite never meeting him before. A common theme throughout the story deals with the hardships of life and how people must deal with them in their own way.
Welcome to the N.H.K. was adapted into a manga series, also written by Takimoto, with art by Kendi Oiwa. The manga was serialized between June 2004 and June 2007 in Kadokawa Shoten's manga magazine Shōnen Ace. The manga's forty chapters have been collected into eight bound volumes released in Japan and overseas. The English edition of the manga is published by Tokyopop, and the first volume was released in October 2006. The novel was also adapted into a twenty-four-episode anime television series by Gonzo which aired in Japan between July and December 2006. ADV Films announced at Anime Central that they acquired the English rights to the anime, and they released DVD volume one in October 2007 with volume two released in December 2007. In 2008, the anime became one of over thirty ADV titles acquired by Funimation Entertainment.
In Japan, "NHK" refers to the public broadcaster Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, but within the series, the main character believes it stands for Nihon Hikikomori Kyōkai (日本引きこもり協会?, "The Japanese Hikikomori Association"), which is a reference to the protagonist's claim of a subversive conspiracy led by NHK (the real-life broadcaster) to create hikikomori. While it mainly deals with the reclusive phenomenon of hikikomori, the plot also explores many other Japanese subcultures—for example: otaku, lolicon, and internet suicide. Despite the show's name, Welcome to the N.H.K. was not broadcast on the NHK television channels, but it was syndicated throughout Japan, from July 9, 2006 to December 23, 2006, with Chiba TV (July 9 - December 17, 2006, every Sunday) as a flagship station. It aired mostly on Japanese Association of Independent Television Stations stations, and Hiroshima Home TV (July 16 - December 23, 2006, every Saturday), a local All-Nippon News Network station in Hiroshima.
Welcome to the N.H.K. revolves around the lives of several young-adults all living in or around the city of Tokyo. Many different lifestyles are shown though most of the time the story focuses on the concepts of being a hikikomori, anime otaku, and having most of the characters experience intense feelings of depression and loneliness.
The main protagonist is Tatsuhiro Satō, a university dropout entering his fourth year of unemployment. He leads a reclusive life as a hikikomori, ultimately coming to the conclusion that this happened due to some sort of conspiracy. One day just when his life seems entirely unchanging, he meets Misaki Nakahara, a mysterious girl who claims to be able to cure Tatsuhiro of his hikikomori ways. She presents him with a contract basically outlining that once a day they would meet in the evening in a local park where Misaki would lecture to Tatsuhiro in an effort to rid him of his lifestyle. During these outings, many subjects are discussed, though they almost always pertain in some way to psychology or psychoanalysis. One of their first meetings in fact deals with interpreting Tatsuhiro's recent dreams. Both Tatsuhiro and Misaki, however, have a tendency of over-doing things, such as hiding the truth, especially from each other and themselves. Despite Misaki's offer and pressing attempts at salvation, it is Tatsuhiro's neighbor and high school friend, Kaoru Yamazaki, who Tatsuhiro often turns to in moments of need and support. Also, despite his own idiosyncrasies, Yamazaki is one of the more stable characters in the story.
The novel also regularly mentions drug use by the main character, and later, his friend, Yamazaki. This element of the story is downplayed in the manga, and left out of the story altogether in the anime (with the exception of Hitomi). This is likely due to several reasons, including a more public-friendly rating, as well as ultimately being unneeded for the progression of the plot.
Other plot elements
The Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (N.H.K.) (日本ひきこもり協会?) of Satō's imagination is supposedly a sinister conspiracy which aims to turn people into hikikomori and NEETs. No clear reason why they would do this is offered, although Satō considers the potential of an "army" of displaced individuals. It is also mentioned twice that hikikomori are needed in society for the purpose of giving people someone to look down upon, making themselves feel superior. The N.H.K. could possibly play the role of creating Hikikomori to give people someone to look down upon. The majority of the N.H.K.'s work is done through the media, via broadcasting anime and other material that is likely to turn the viewer into an otaku. Throughout the series, many shots of advertising hoardings or movie posters incidentally displayed in other locations bear N.H.K. references.
Satō on occasion also believes that the N.H.K. takes a more active role via the use of agents, although of course these agents only appear in dream sequences or flashbacks. Three types of N.H.K. agents are seen: the first are classic Men in Black who appear to have the ability to disguise themselves as anyone else they wish. They occupy key roles in a target's life, ensuring that they fail to develop. The second are cute, or more precisely moé girls who directly break the hearts of targets or who, via celebrity status, induce targets to have impossible or unrealistic expectations of relationships, destroying their ability to develop them in the real world (Satō never considers how, or even if, the N.H.K. would target women). Satō at one point fears that Misaki may be an agent of this type. The final type of agents are bizarre, Goblin-like creatures who are grey all over but for a letter (usually "N", "H" or "K") written in yellow on their belly. These creatures appear to be the masterminds of the entire N.H.K. conspiracy, but more likely than not they are Satō's mental image of the spreading mindset or circumstances he associates with the N.H.K. In the novel, it is hinted that Tatsuhiro may not actually believe the conspiracy to exist but instead needed an imaginary enemy to vent his frustrations on and to help motivate him into overcoming his hikikomori ways.
The real-life public broadcaster NHK, which is the source of the acronym that is parodied by the series, really does provide a support website for real-life hikikomori. In the manga and novel, a concrete link between the public broadcaster NHK and Satō's Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai is implied; in the anime, although the conspiracy is still named NHK, no such correspondence is drawn and it appears that the NHK does not even exist as a broadcaster in the anime's version of Japan (in the anime, Misaki has never heard of the acronym when Satō says it to her). This may have been because the anime was broadcast on TV channels operated by other Japanese broadcasting companies, thus implying that it related to the real TV company could have been interpreted as slander against a competitor.
Puru Puru Pururin
Puru Puru Pururin (プルプルプルリン?) is a fictitious magical girl anime of which Kaoru Yamazaki is a fan, featured only in the anime version. It is never explicitly stated, but strongly suggested, that Satō believes this series to be controlled by the N.H.K.; in fact, it is after seeing an episode of the series which inspires him to think up the N.H.K. as a concept. The series has a real web-site, which further suggests this. For example, although it appears to be a children's style of series, the schedule on the website suggests that it is shown almost daily in the small hours of the morning, when children would not be awake, but hikikomori frequently are. Although the website lists the names of several real-world broadcast channels which supposedly carry the show, none of them are operated by the real-world NHK, again suggesting that in the anime's version of Japan, the N.H.K. is not a broadcasting company and is a conspiracy spanning all media. The listed broadcast times and channels are in fact the times at which the Welcome to the N.H.K. anime aired.
Only brief excerpts of Puru Puru Pururin are ever seen, and it is not possible to guess what powers the main character, Pururin, would have. It appears that Pururin is a good, heroic character and is assisted by a number of animated household objects, including a vacuum cleaner upon which she flies; her trademark is to randomly append the word Purin to the end of sentences, similarly to the title character in Di Gi Charat. The theme song first heard in the first episode is sung by Rumi Shishido. This theme appears in ringtone version throughout the series.
- Tatsuhiro Satō (佐藤 達広 Satō Tatsuhiro?)
- Voiced by: Yutaka Koizumi (Japanese), Chris Patton (English)
- The story's protagonist, at twenty-two-years-old, he has entered his third year of being a hikikomori and is a NEET. One to have psychotic thoughts, he believes that his unemployment and dropout are the works of NHK's conspiracy. He lives in his rented apartment, but depends on his parents for money. Under the influence of his neighbor, Kaoru Yamazaki, he has become a lolicon otaku, and helps Yamazaki on the script of their adult visual novel. He later attempts Misaki's project, initially not taking it seriously. He quickly falls in love with her, but is afraid about not knowing anything about Misaki, and about how she knows so much about him. His paranoia drives him to find out that she can easily see his apartment and his activities, with her own house being an excellent vantage point. He tries to save himself from potential betrayal by claiming he doesn't ever want to see her again. Later, he resumes the project with her, but his feelings for her returned to platonic. However, near the end of the series, Sato's true feelings for her are revealed when she makes up another contract that will bind them together as a couple forever. Despite how he feels, he rejects the contract protecting her from his own condition believing she deserves someone much better than him, even if it would mean reverting back to a hikikomori. Later, when Misaki is about to commit suicide he confesses that she is important to him in an attempt to prevent her from going through with it. In the end, they decide to continue their relationship while Misaki finishes her high school equivalancy, and they both finish college.
- Misaki Nakahara (中原 岬 Nakahara Misaki?)
- Voiced by: Yui Makino (Japanese), Stephanie Wittels (English)
- A mysterious girl who claims to be a volunteer from a "charity project" to help hikikomori like Tatsuhiro. She has the tendency to lie and hides facts such as the fact that she dropped out of high school, but she does not mean any harm. She tells Tatsuhiro whatever it takes to make him pay attention to her. She seems to have a deep attachment to Tatsuhiro, and often shows symptoms suggesting she has a borderline personality disorder. She makes a contract with Tatsuhiro in order to believe that she is needed by somebody and therefore not an unwanted person who only makes others around her unhappy. Her biological father died when she was very young and her mother died by falling off the cape in her hometown. After her mother's death, she was forced to live with her abusive stepfather who constantly beat her. Due to this experience, when Tatsuhiro is about to hit her following the events at the island, she flinches by instinct. She loves Sato and tries to make it seem like he needs her more but in reality she is even more lonely than him to the point where she attempts to commit suicide after Sato refuses her feelings in a second contract she makes. She is seen at the end of the anime getting help from Sato to finish her high school degree, so that she and Sato can go and finish college in order to start their life (relationship) officially together. Misaki's personality greatly differs between the manga and the novel/anime, in the manga she appears more sarcastic and doesn't hesitate to reprimand Tatsuhiro while in the novel/anime, she has an introverted personality.
- Kaoru Yamazaki (山崎 薫 Yamazaki Kaoru?)
- Voiced by: Daisuke Sakaguchi (Japanese), Greg Ayres (English)
- Tatsuhiro's former kouhai (Junior) in high school, who is an otaku. Tatsuhiro once stood up for him when he was still in middle school being beat up by some bullies, since then, he respects Tatsuhiro greatly and decided to join the literature club with him when he went into high school. Although appearing to be very mellow, he has a tendency to lash out at those who anger him. He seems to be disappointed with the current state of Tatsuhiro. He is currently Tatsuhiro's neighbor and a college student aspiring to be a game creator. He made Tatsuhiro join his dōjin soft eroge project, and was also responsible for turning Tatsuhiro into an otaku. His family owns a sizable farm in Hokkaidō. Later, he is forced to return to the farm due to his father's sickness; at that point, realizing he has no hope of continuing any aspect of his life in Tokyo, he drives away his crush, Nanako. In the end of the story, he is living happily at his parent's farm and also dating a girl who looks exactly like Nanako whom he hopes to marry in the future.
- Hitomi Kashiwa (柏 瞳 Kashiwa Hitomi)?)
- Voiced by: Sanae Kobayashi (Japanese), Luci Christian (English)
- Tatsuhiro's senpai in high school (she is never given a name), now a public servant. Due to stress, Hitomi develops a dependence on drugs. Hitomi met Tatsuhiro when she persuaded him to join the Literature Club, though most of the time they only ever played card games. She has always been fascinated by the concept of conspiracy theories and is one of the reasons Tatsuhiro suspects the conspiracy against himself by the N.H.K. Also, it is noted in both the anime and novel that she had sex with Tatsuhiro during the last day of school before she graduated because Tatsuhiro kept her company in literature club for her last two years of high school. She attempts a suicide through an internet suicide pact called the Offline Meeting Notice (an offline meeting is a slightly slang term for a meeting of people who have met on the Internet, not really having much to do as a pun for "shutting one's life off like a computer"). However, she changes her mind after her boyfriend proposes to her. She gets married and has a healthy kid, though before her marriage on new years she asks Tatsuhiro if he wants to have an illicit affair with her and have sex in a love hotel they were standing in front of, but Tatsuhiro reminds her that since she's happy she should have a good life.
- Megumi Kobayashi (小林 恵 Kobayashi Megumi?)
- Voiced by: Risa Hayamizu (Japanese), Monica Rial (English)
- Tatsuhiro's classmate in high school, was the class representative back then. They meet frequently in manga, but none of them realizes the existence of each other until later. After her father died, she had to work in order to support herself and her brother, who is also a hikikomori, though ended up entangled in a shady pyramid scheme. During school, she had a very uptight personality which Tatsuhiro commented about himself to her face. After high school, she retains much of this personality, though has also become somewhat manipulative in order to survive.
Welcome to the N.H.K. began as a single novel written by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, with the cover drawn by Yoshitoshi ABe of Serial Experiments Lain fame. The novel was first published on January 28, 2002 in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, and the bunko edition was published in 2005. According to Takimoto, the idea of the story came one night as a result of a writer's block. He phoned Yūya Satō, a friend of his who is also a novelist, and said: "Tomorrow there is a conference in Kadokawa Shoten, but I can't think of a story, please think of something." With that, the two stayed in a family restaurant late at night until they came up with Welcome to the N.H.K..
The manga series is illustrated by manga author Kendi Oiwa. It was serialized in Kadokawa Shoten's manga magazine Shōnen Ace between June 24, 2004 and June 2007. The manga's forty chapters have been collected into eight bound volumes released in Japan. Tokyopop licensed the manga for release in English, and the first volume was published on October 10, 2006. The manga version diverges from the original version later in the story.
In November 2005, the limited edition of the fourth Japanese volume was published with a Misaki figurine which caused sales of the manga to skyrocket, and was once ranked third at Japan's Amazon website in terms of sales. The limited edition of the sixth volume, released in November 2006 in Japan, included the hard copy of the bishōjo game from the manga, True World: Shinjitsu no Sekai. The game was authored by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, the characters designed by Kendi Oiwa and produced by Circus (famous for D.C.: Da Capo). The limited edition of the eight volume included a diploma signifying graduation from being a hikikomori.
A twenty-four-episode anime adaptation produced by Gonzo and directed by Yusuke Yamamoto aired in Japan between July 9, 2006 and December 17, 2006. The series was coordinated by Satoru Nishizono, featured character design by Takahiko Yoshida, and the music was headed by Masao Fukuda. ADV Films released the first DVD of the English edition in October 2007. In 2008 the English license was transferred to Funimation.
The anime has four pieces of theme music; two opening themes and two ending themes. The first opening theme, "Puzzle" (パズル Pazuru?) was written by Rieko Ito, composed by Kitagawa Katsutoshi, and performed by Round Table featuring Nino. The second opening theme is a remix of the first entitled "Puzzle -extra hot mix-" (パズル－extra hot mix－?) which was produced by the same people as with the first opening theme. The first ending theme used for episodes one through twelve, "Odoru Akachan Ningen" (踊る赤ちゃん人間?, lit. "Dancing Baby Humans"), was written by Kenji Otsuki, composed by Fumihiko Kitsutaka, and featured vocals by Otsuki and Kitsutaka. The second ending theme used for episodes thirteen through twenty-four, "Modokashii Sekai no Ue de" (もどかしい世界の上で?, lit. "On Top of a Frustrating World"), was written and composed by Yugo Sasakura, arranged by Masanori Shimada, and performed by Yui Makino.
A. E. Sparrow of IGN gave the light novel a nine out of ten while comparing it to Catcher in the Rye, saying "there's enough Holden Caulfield, or even Tyler Durden, in Satou and the events that surround him to make this story a solid read for anyone interested in books that examine the human condition."
The manga version of Welcome to the N.H.K. was also positively reviewed. Writing for Anime News Network, Carlo Santos rated the Tokyopop releases of the third manga volume with a B grade for story, an A- for art, and an A- overall. Speaking on the volume's art, Santos noted "it's endlessly entertaining to watch the parade of shocked, disturbed and stressed-out faces as Satou confronts each of society's ills," as well as highlighting the "detailed backgrounds" and "clean, rectangular layouts and frequent speedlines." Concerning the writing, "the dialogue is full of vigor and wit, with a straightforward tone that conveys mad outbursts, tearful breakdowns, and everything in between." And with regards to the adaptation, Santos praised the volume by writing "out of Tokyopop's many, many translations, this series stands among one of their best, if not the best." Santos was more couched in his approval for the fourth volume, giving it a C+ for story, an A- for art, and a B grade overall. While criticizing that "the plot has taken a vacation," he wrote that "those who are into NHK for the highly developed character drama, however, will find these chapters to be some of the most memorable yet," and concluded "it may not be the best or most entertaining volume of NHK, but it does serve its purpose, which is to deepen the story and make the characters even more dysfunctional and twisted than they already are."
The anime series was generally well-received by critics. In his review for Animation World Magazine, James Brusuelas wrote "Welcome to the NHK is a true anime gem," describing it as "a delicately human tale." He went on to praise the series, saying "This is more than just anime. This is film." Concluding his review, he remarked "I cannot recommend this series enough. It is perhaps the best anime I saw during 2008."
- "NHK support website for hikikomori". Archived from the original on 2005-04-10. Retrieved 2006-12-27.
- "Official Puru Puru Pururin website". Kadokawa Shoten. Retrieved 2006-12-27.
- "Tokyopop New York ComicCon 2007". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2007-02-24.
- "Funimation Picks Up Over 30 Former AD Vision Titles". Anime News Network. 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2008-07-06.
- Sparrow, A. E. (2007-10-30). "Welcome to the N.H.K.: Move over, Holden Caulfield.". IGN. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
- Santos, Carlo (2007-08-12). "Reviews: Welcome to the N.H.K. GN 3". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-08-11.
- Santos, Carlo (2007-12-10). "Reviews: Welcome to the N.H.K. GN 4". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-08-11.
- Brusuelas, James (2009-01-15). "Anime Reviews: Anime Sans the Usual Suspects". Animation World Magazine. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-08-11.
- Tatsuhiko Takemoto's official website on Welcome to the N.H.K. (Japanese)
- Official anime website (Japanese)
- Official Pururin website (Japanese)
- A comparison between the anime and manga adaptations with the novel
- Tokyopop's website for the novel
- Funimation's website for the anime
- Welcome to the N.H.K. (anime) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia