Posts tagged 'Welcome to the NHK!'
Looking back on 2006 we have seen a handful great series come and go, but even fewer great soundtracks have enlightened our senses. And when I say great, I mean music you can listen to at home, at work and on the bus.
Toshio Masuda’s beautifully sparse work on Mushishi was a relaxing and naturally magical listen, but my favourite right now is quite clearly the soundtrack for the recently concluded Welcome to the NHK. So far it’s been spread over two albums and three singles, and there are an escalating number of stand out tracks. My favourites (MP3 links at the bottom of the post) include:
- The sugary sweet “Madokashii Sekai no Ue de” by Makino Yui (otherwise known as the voice of disturbed N.H.K. character Misaki) is an absurdly high pitched, gleaming example of perfectly manufactured JPOP with an ultra catchy tune; often repeated through out the show in various forms – including a quite beautiful piano-based rendition.
- Puzzle by ROUND TABLE (featuring Nino) is the colourful and exhuberent opening theme of the show. Again featuring a stunningly spotless female vocal, what really makes this song so fun and energetic is trumpet in the background and a euphorically upbeat tone. No trace of cynisism here, just pure joy. Which is odd, considering the depressing nature of the anime it opens! Perhaps it’s meant to be ironic?
- So far I’ve spotlighted the fluffy opening and ending themes, but Pearl Kyoudai’s – who contributes to the majority of this soundtrack – heart-felt insert song “Youkoso! Hitori Bocchi” leaves me in awe every time its grungy melancholy kicks in; its grim acoustic strumming and nostalgic chorus conjuring up memories, the feeling of a golden, warm autumn. This is the song that really defines Welcome to the NHK for me – a resigned look back on life; a reluctant urging to continue onwards.
- If novelty tunes are your thing, Fushigi Purupuru Pururin Rin! by Shishido Rumi should be quickly scribbled on your list – a ridiculously cute song featuring angelic vocals and a head ache inducing chorus chant “Purupuru Pururin Rin, Purupuru Pururin Rin x 20″ – this is intended as a parody of otaku flavoured anime anthems and it’s just about absurd enough to come off as a successfully odd, surreal and funny little number.
What is striking about this soundtrack is how well it blends sickly JPOP with grungy acoustic rock and psychedelic metal without sounding horribly uneven; it captures the dramatic themes and moods of Welcome to the NHK, but more than that, many of the songs stand on their own as dreamy, heart felt and imaginative pieces of music.
Soundtrack MP3 Downloads
It was cute to see NHK end with a role reversal between Misaki and Satou – there are big differences between a lazy hikkimori and having a genuinely mixed up life. In spite of his personal problems Satou was always a fairly normal person just in need of tough love. When his parents’ money dries up, for perhaps the first time in his life Satou loses his comfort zone and is finally forced to fend for himself and become independent. And so dies the NEET.
Misaki is a lot more interesting. We’ve gone through this show thinking she is doing Satou a favour by sticking around, but during these final couple of episodes it becomes fairly clear that she desperately needs him; having a dead (suicidal) mother and an abusive step-father, the self-loathing, unconfident and lonely Misaki has grown up surrounded by hate. Her problems are deeply seeded and psychological – she needs help and probably sees herself in Satou; the lectures, the exams and even the home-made lunches are as much (if not more) for her as him.
It all ends on a (notorious) cliff top with both characters ready to jump into oblivion. Both actually give up on life and jump, but both are saved. Misaki is caught by Satou, and Satou himself (amidst another surreal vision of gooey paranoia) is saved by a steal mesh especially placed there to catch suicidal fallers. Given their personal problems through out the show, it seems fitting that Misaki was finally saved by genuine friendship (not a stupid contract) and Satou by the society he so fears. At this point NHK could have flown into romantic territory, but despite these two obviously being in love, it ends with them as good friends having knowingly been through so much, and Satou lecturing Misaki on the park bench!
Undoubtedly this has been one of my favourite shows of the year; despite losing some momentum during the over-long MMORPG arc, Welcome to the NHK was ultimately a fine testament to the importance of friendship and independence. GONZO’s animation production was fairly unspectacular but Pearl Kyoudai’s grungy score, paired with a couple of totally uplifting and poppy opening and ending themes, more than made up for any visual shortcomings with its melancholy and chilled tone; surely a contender for best soundtrack of the year.
Welcome to the NHK is not a show for everyone – it can come across as overwhelmingly depressing and slow, sometimes too close to the bone and uncompromisingly geeky, but then I suppose that’s why I like it too. Within a few episodes I had totally fallen for these characters and desperately wanted to see them grow and find happiness. With this end – leaving the characters feeling optimistic but still somewhat scarred and timid, I’m more than content, knowing deep down they’ll be okay.
Still hopelessly hooked on…
Black Lagoon (2nd Barrage)
Episode 19 and counting
The bog-standard Naruto fillers would be a lot more interesting if they managed to nab the creative bastards working on Black Lagoon. With that said the 2nd season has often flattered to deceive and appears to be more content to up the ante in terms of fire-power and “phat explosions” than provide any real character development. The end result is a darkly fun but superficial couple of action-packed story arcs. And something needs to be done about the painful Engrish – sorry Balalaika; you can’t be a bad-ass and talk like an idiot.
Episode 7 and counting
It feels wrong writing this but for what it’s worth I’m thoroughly enjoying Code Geass. I’m a sucker for colourful animation and this, mad haircuts and Victorian costumes abound, is so hideously over the top, melodramatic and knowingly fun that it’s become a ridiculous parody of everything that’s cliche within anime, from cloak wearing mecha to ditzy college days romance.
Episode 9 and counting
Death Note isn’t an especially clever show but the suspenseful battle of wits and jaw-dropping brinkmanship between an increasingly unhinged Light and the quirky L has had me edging off my seat from the very first episode. I’m totally addicted to this show, and episode 8 contains the most dramatic opening of a packet of crisps e-v-e-r. What with all the Pizza Hut pimping in Code Geass, surely Walkers could have stumped up for some Shinigami flavoured chips?
Episode 172 and counting
Well into the Skypiea arc now, but following on from the grandiose adventures of Alabasta, I must admit I’m finding it (“Save the country!”) all fairly predictable, same old music and same brand of narcissistic super villains’ ala Crocodile. Still though you can’t beat the smiling enthusiasm of Luffy and if I’m looking for something purely entertaining to stick on, One Piece has it all. That and Wiper is hella cool.
Welcome to the N.H.K
Episode 21 and counting
No Yamazaki, don’t gooooo! After the lull of the unengaging MMORPG arc, the last two episodes have shown Welcome to the N.H.K is back to its melancholy and border-line suicidal best. Yamazaki’s sad departure and Satou’s subsequently lonely realisation that he’s just lost his best mate rivalled Honey & Clover in its atmospheric reflection on the vital importance friendship. I can’t believe the end is so close now.
Stuck in backlog hell is…
- 009-1 – Old school sci-fi anime revamped and I’ve read a lot of praise for this show.
- Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto – Traditional Japanese dialogue is extremely confusing
- Bartender – Sounds massively boring but because of that, I’m desperate to give it a shot!
- Red Garden – Stop crying god dammit! No, don’t sing about it either!
- Tokyo Tribe 2 – The animation looks odd and creativity deserves attention. Also going in its favour is that it isn’t harem.
Having just finished watching episode 19, this must be the first time I’ve left off Welcome to the NHK feeling happy! It was fantastic to see a smiling Torotoro-san biking around and about the streets of Tokyo; you can see in his grinning face that suddenly life is worth living again.
Despite Satou’s constant whining, I’m not convinced his mental condition is dire. He has friends to keep him company, hell – Misaki’s even cooking him dinner now – and having all this is so important. At the other end of the Hikkimori scale is Torotoro-san; a genuinely scary dead-beat with no friends and no Misaki; I can’t help but think his sad condition is closer to the real life of a hikkimori. He lives in the lonely perpetual hell of knowing his life sucks but being too afraid (and too paranoid) to do anything about it. People fear change and responsibility, and if given the choice will often take the easy way out.
Both Satou and Torotoro-san had one thing in common – they can rely on others to survive. Satou can afford to live like a hermit because his parents are funding his isolation, likewise Torotoro-san’s sister will do anything and everything for him. They are spoilt kids – never kicked out of the nest and taught to fly. Only when Torotoro-san’s sister disappears for a few days is the guy forced to decide whether to eat (and live) or starve (and die). Given NHK’s track record, I was expecting Torotoro-san’s suicide, but I guess the human spirit isn’t that ridiculous. My heart was ready to break. All it takes is a bit of tough love though – Satou’s parents take note.
As a side note the animation of episode 19 was a lot more fluid than usual. Despite sacrificing some facial detail and hair texture, for once I really enjoyed seeing the characters actually glide through a scene and physically convey their feelings – it helped the slapstick humour, and the interesting use of facial shadows meant this was a particularly good looking and stylish effort.
There was always going to be a twist behind the real world identity of Mia. “She” was too perfect, Satou loved her too much, and NHK! isn’t about Satou being in love. I certainly didn’t see it being Yamazaki though – jeez, that was cruel of him. And then there is the flash-forward to Satou’s soon to be 50-year-old fat balding old man still leaching off his parents. Brutal and depressing – basically I’m glad this arc looks to be ending soon.
Satou’s melodramatic over reactions to the in-game chats are darkly funny; especially when he can hear the bishoujo Mia creeping towards his apartment, the dumbstruck “oh no! my hikkimori is revealed!” expression slapped across his face is priceless – but where is the series going with this MMORPG arc?
I suppose the problem is that I can’t really see what the story is building towards; we’re now over half way through and it would be a shame for it all to just suddenly end in one episode with Satou walking outside, smiling and ready to take on the world. For all this damn depressing mental torture, I demand payment in smiles and happiness! Obviously the manga is still on-going – so this is a real concern.
The animation was pretty bad too. NHK! is hardly ever good looking, more mediocre, but it bothers me when the character designs are clearly misshapen, rushed and lacking in essential detail – like faces. Come on Gonzo, I thought you were supposed to be good? Give poor Satou back his face.
The relentless waves of depression continue unabated with these two episodes as Satou (hardly recovered from his suicidal exploits) stupidly falls foul to the life sucking world of MMORPGs. These highly addictive and never ending online games are undoubtedly one of the major forces behind what is becoming a worldwide epidemic of hikkimori, but what if, like Satou, you’re a hikkimori before even signing in? You already have no work and no responsibilities – so there is no reason for a break, you can just play the game all day and all night without a worry in the world.
The end of episode 15 was a harrowing and unhinged sight. Satou’s suicide attempts felt like melodramatic entertainment, as if he was looking for (and found) a reason to survive, but now he appears to be a lost cause, detached from reality and convinced he has somehow improved his life style. MMORPG’s offer a gradual yet hollow sense of achievement, making it seem as if going up a few power levels was worth the weeks of effort.
Like most entertainment mediums, MMORPG’s are an easy escape from reality, but where movies usually finish after 2 hours; these games can essentially run forever. For an amusing but ultimately just as depressing satire of MMORPGs, take a look at South Park episode 147.
Satou is lucky to have Misaki and even Yamazaki checking up on him. In reality a cute girl does not knock on the door of a hikkimori. Then again perhaps their concerned interference is harming his progress. If Satou is ever going to change, he has to want to do it. No matter how much Yamazaki bugs him about their gal-game or Misaki lectures him about recovering, Satou has to hit rock bottom to decide how he wants to live. Misaki, Yamazaki and even his parents are dragging him on, allowing him to quietly trudge through life, when all he needs is a bit of tough love.