Akemi's Anime World

Akemi’s Anime Blog AAW Blog

Welcome To The NHK Midpoint Notes

A couple episodes into the second season of Welcome to the NHK, and thoroughly enjoying it. It’s one of those quirky, underhandedly intelligent series that mix goofy situation comedy with realistic characters to make something that gets you engaged with the characters while you’re laughing at them.

It’s fundamentally a series about people with severe psychological problems. Not “this character is crazy,” we’re talking “this character has major psychological issues and needs counseling at minimum, if not some psychotropic drugs.” At least one of them, in fact, has a wide array of medications that she most definitely needs, and the protagonist could probably use some psychiatric help himself.

What’s most interesting about the series is how it gets you laughing at things that really shouldn’t be funny. The season climax, for example, has the main character unwittingly joining a suicide club on their final journey in an attempt to get his life back in order. This shouldn’t be funny—it’s serious stuff, and everyoe but the loony odd-man-out is played straight. Yet his cheerful comments to the morose crew have that tragicomic flavor that have you laughing despite the obvious drama. In a way it’s tapping into the tragic absurdity of people’s all-too-real problems.

What’s also interesting about something that treads such a fine line between humor and psychodrama is that it’s sometimes hard to tell when, exactly, you’re supposed to stop laughing. It’s not that you don’t care about the characters—several are rather affecting, in fact—it’s just that the tragic absurdity of it has you laughing (and I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be) well past the point when most similar stories would have gone into full-on drama. The suicide club eventually gets some full-on drama, but it starts well past the point when by all rights it should have, and in fact what should be the dramatic climax is actually one of the funniest bits—most unintentionally awful suicide counseling ever. The drama is far lower-key, and more of a follow-up.

It reminds me a little of how Trainspotting played its black-comedy game; the Worst Toilet in Scotland scene early on was so patently absurd it let you see some humor in the comparative tragedy later. Welcome to the NHK, for its part, opens with the protagonist’s appliances talking to him and a particularly surrealist scene (compared to the completely concrete remainder of the series), introducing you to his humorously-over-the-top, if unhealthy, worldview. (Aside: The captions for the hearing-impaired during that Trainspotting toilet scene are the single funniest bit of subtitling I have ever read—if you have the DVD, go watch for yourself.)

The other thing it excels at is when-you-think-about-it humor. Most of this is fueled, again, by the protagonist, in particular his penchant for spectacular levels of apathy. One of the best conceptual parts is where he discovers porn on the internet. His request for computer help after deleting his operating system in an attempt to make room for more porn is funny (and, speaking as someone who does tech support periodically, entirely realistic). The unspoken implication that he lacked the initiative to find porn on the internet, now that’s just hilarious.

It’s also a nice looking series in a weird way; the character art lacks a lot of detail and the shading is usually very flat, but the character design is memorable and the character animation quite good. It’s often quite stylized in terms of shading or color, but otherwise the backgrounds are detailed and realistic, with a satisfyingly lived-in look (also props to the realistic computer hardware, which plays something of a central role—for once the art geeks made it look like a real geek’s hangout, rather than a parody of one). It’s something of a departure from expected Gonzo fare (or much else, really), but overall appealing.

I’m very much liking the series, and while the second season starts on a relatively morose (though still emotionally engaging) note, I’m wholly optimistic that it’s gong to hold itself together. It even dodges what at first looked like it was going to be a lame excuse for two characters not properly getting together; the initial excuse is followed up by an entirely valid reason.

Also, a theory, though the sample size is small: The protagonist’s appliances talk to him and say unhealthy things when he’s asleep, but when he’s awake and hallucinating that they’re talking to him, they try to be helpful. Maybe.

First impressions of five random shows

A quick rundown on a selection of first episodes I checked out recently:

Welcome to the NHK:  This series sounded interesting to me, and while I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect it certainly wasn’t what I got.  Sorta like halfway between Genshiken and Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, it appears to be about a college-age hikikomori guy (recluse who never leaves his apartment) who has gone at least mildly insane due in part to the anime music his neighbor plays loudly and is drawn out of seclusion by the daughter of an evangelical Christian. I have no idea whatsoever where it’s going, but the mix of surrealist cracked fantasy in the guy’s head (his appliances start talking to him and he has… interesting ideas about what the girl must do in her free time) and low-key slice-of-lifeishness (of weird people) is intriguing.

Godannar: Like the sequel to a classic giant robot anime that never was, it is about the heroic pilot of a giant mecha and the young girl he’s marrying. The big war has been over for a while, but there’s still mopping up of giant monsters to do, and in a presumably-comic take on Myra and Max from Robotech the possibly-not-so-happy couple end up piloting mecha together fighting evil. The first episode features a variety of old-school, appropriately cheesy, over-the-top classic mecha action and large amounts of wedding-day innuendo/symbolism involving merging mecha (flashbacks of Vandread). The main question appears to be how seriously it’s going to take itself; so far pretty over the top, but if it starts being more mecha series and less comedy it won’t bode well.

When Seagulls Cry:  Intriguing, confusing. Watched this with someone who’d read the visual novel, but I’m not sure how much I’d be following without someone there to fill in the gaps glossed over in the animated version. Focused on a very rich, rather dysfunctional family at their annual get-together where they verbally joust and try to wring an inheritance out of the ailing (maybe) patriarch, the first episode introduces a cast of at least a dozen when you count the help. I assume there won’t be many more added, but the character overload was tough to keep up with and the involved infighting hits the ground running. On the stronger side, the three kids in the group aren’t part of the posturing and seem to provide a little levity—particularly the late-teen male lead (at least, I’m guessing he is), who does a few rather goofy grope attempts (which I’m told are more of a coping mechanism than straight comedy). Another strong point is a preteen girl with an annoying way of talking—it was getting on my nerves a little until her mother flew into a screaming rage about it, quickly shifting the tone from “annoying anime thing” to “it’s apparently a symptom of psychological issues, and people around her are very much not ignoring it.”  Relatively powerful drama for so early on, as well, and there are creepy hints galore about “the witch” who presumably is doing unpleasant things to/with the patriarch. Bonus points for several brief flashes of “cute little girl suddenly going way creepy.”

Maria+Holic:  A hard-edged parody of Maria Watches Over Us (et al) with shades of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei (I said this based off style and noticing Maria’s voice actor, but now that I look it up it’s no coincidence—both the director and series director worked on Zetsubo Sensei and sequel, as did the majority of the main cast). The plot isn’t wildly original; apparently normal girl transfers into an elite all-girls Christian boarding school, meets elegant, beautiful, powerful, rich girl as soon as she sets foot on campus, ambiguous relationships ensue. The standard comedy twist is that the girl she meets is actually a guy in disguise, the lead breaks out in hives when she touches men, and of course they hate each other and end up in the same dorm room. The interesting twist comes from the extreme characters; the lead is a drooling, nosebleed-prone lesbian—no yuri or euphemisms here—the guy is vicious and hammer-blunt when he’s not being a perfect, refined lady, and his deadpan maid is impressively foul-mouthed. The humor appears to be as much from the lead’s completely loony internal monologue and fantasy images (part of what brought Zetsubo Sensei to mind). How far it goes with that, and whether it ends up annoying or hilarious, the jury is out on, but so far I very much like what I see.  Might even be lesbians without the tragic, though I’m expecting a predicable turn straight when she eventually goes for the guy. On the other hand, it looks cracked enough that maybe it won’t take the obvious path.

UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie:  Ouch.  The first episode takes place somewhere well into the series, apparently to hook you by showing you where the stupidity is eventually heading before going back to the beginning. All this did for me was show that it’s not going anywhere interesting, at all. Painfully lame drama, generic characters, lots and lots of fanservice—in a near-trifecta there is a literal platoon of catgirl maids (with a bonus dash of assault squad). About the only plus is that the thing that had me cringing before even starting—the aggregation on the RightStuf product page of the words “bathhouse” “8-year old body” and “Rating: 17+”—didn’t turn out quite as horrifying as I feared.  The roughly-adult main love interest transforms into a little kid after crashing on earth and nearly killing the generic niceguy protagonist then pulling a Birdy (or somesuch) to keep him alive. Instead of horrifying “she only looks eight” fanservice, the tack appears to be that she mentally reverts, too, so really she’s just an annoying kid and the main character is wondering where the hot, mature love-interest went and how long he’s going to have to play babysitter until she comes back. Doesn’t matter, though—it’s still wildly unoriginal, hugely predictable, seems to have an overload of cringeworthy drama, and just plain not funny or fun.  Also, the modern-day-like future in which aliens are everywhere has some potential, but the show just doesn’t seem to do anything with it.  Usually I’ll reserve judgement, but this one only took a couple episodes (one, really) to put it in the masochistic, “only if I’m heckling” bin.