Monday, 9 June 2008

レビュー: NHKにようこそ Review: Welcome To NHK

NHKようこそ Welcome To The NHK

image from Wikipedia

I decided to start a new category and review some interesting media coming from Japan. I will start with a novel that has been adapted to an Anime series. It's name is NHKにようこそ Welcome To NHK.

Now NHK is Japan's public broadcasting company 日本放送協会 Nippon Housou Kyoukai, but in the series the main character believes it to be a conspiracy resolving the name to 日本引き篭り協会 Nihon Hikikomori Kyoukai, already alluding that the NHK as representative for media is to blame for phenomena like Hikikomori (I will explain what a Hikikomori is shortly).


The plot is quite simple, the main character finishes school still living in a small apartment payed by his parents, still receiving a small amount of allowance from them to live. Having finished school he is confronted with a world he was not prepared for and finds himself helpless and not knowing what to do with his life. So he simply stays at home.

His solitude is broken, when he finds his neighbor to be a friend from school and when a strange girl starts coming to him, telling him she has a project to help Hikikomori to reenter society.

Alone or together he thus enters a world of modern Japanese subcultures. Apart from the fact that the series and plot is entertaining in itself, this is the most interesting part about it. Episode by episode the series will explore issues of the modern Japanese society and the phenomena that come along with it.

Modern Society Issues (Japan)

引き篭り Hikikomori

The series starts with introducing the main character Sato to be a Hikikomori himself. Hikikomori are people who missed the transition from school to work and stay at their parents (or sometimes in an apartment payed by them) and start secluding themselves from the world. They are often not capable of human interaction and will almost never leave their homes. Even the parents will have a hard time talking to them and frequently only provide food and often even start to fear their own children.

お宅 Otaku

The series continues with introducing the Sato's neighbor
Yamazaki as Otaku. This term refers to people with extensive hobbies. An Otaku usually has one or a few areas she/he lives for. At the beginning many Otaku were obsessed with trains and started gathering every information, picture and merchandising about them and often sneaked into stations to look and touch them.
Nowadays most Otaku focus on Manga, Anime, Games or Idols and all the merchandising that comes with them. They will know everything about them, which you can learn. Their rooms will be plastered with merchandising, Manga, Anime DVD and so on.
Because of their obsession they also become real experts on the matter they are obsessed with and often attain quite powerful research skills. Also not rarely they will start a forum about their obsession or even start creating things about them. Therefore they often acquire quite powerful skills they can/could use to make a living, when they choose to.

ニート Neet

Apart from being a Hikikomori, Sato also refers to himself as Neet. Neet stands for
"Not currently engaged in Emplyment, Education or Training". While introduced in the U.K. the term is now far spread used in Japan and South Korea, where the number of Neets increases every year.

ロリコン Lolicon

image from Wikipedia

Lolicon describes obsessive with young girls, from "Lolita Complex". Japan might be the number one country with people under this complex. Japan was earlier renown for its legal child pornography industry, which was only made illegal because of international pressure, not because of internal moral qualms. Also with almost half of Anime and Manga being centered in the Hentai area (Porn) and almost all Anime and Manga featuring at least some sexual content, it is not surprisingly for many people to get attracted to younger people as featured in this media.
In the series Sato after receiving Yamazaki's porn collection starts becoming obsessed with young girls and starts following school grils, taking pictures of them. Eventually he manages to overcome the Lolita Complex thanks to Yamazaki and the girl Misaki, who tries to help Sato overcoming his Hikikomori-ness.
This reminded me of my own experiences at the Tokyo Game Show, in Akihabra and the Tokyo Anime Fair, in all of these locations I saw many many older men quite apparently "suffering" under Lolicon. Yes I am talking about the men in brown and grey suits with big flashy cameras making the girls do sexual poses and taking an enormous amount of pictures from them, having no interest in the convention itself whatsoever.

自殺系サイと Internet Suicide

In a later episode Sato meets his high school senpai Hitomi, who has made a lot of bad experiences in life. After learning about Sato's bad situation, she decides to take him along with a romantic suicide meeting organized over an internet forum. Sato misses the point and is happy to go with his senpai to a romantic island. On the island the people spend one last day together and then decide to jump from the cliffs all at once.
Sato eventually realizes what is happening and barely succeeds in convincing the other people to give life another chance.
Internet suicides are also not uncommon in other parts of the world, but in Japan they are especially popular, being a romantic social alternative to the standard jump in front of a driving train.

無限連鎖講 Pyramid Scheme

image from Wikipedia

Later he meets another person from his high school, who suffers to make enough money for her and her brother (they parents died in an accident). Because of that she was talked into a Pyramid Scheme selling company and also talks Sato into entering it. He has a lot of trouble getting out again and shows on the way, why Pyramid Schemes are so successful in Japan.
In Japan you cannot say "no" directly, so it is very hard to refuse the offer of someone coming with this scheme. In addition, while it is legally possible to get out of it, you have to file in a complaint, which is also rare in Japan. Finally when you want to get out, someone for the company will talk to you and try once more to keep you, again using mean tricks exploiting the Japanese rules of social interaction.

MMORPG Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game

image from Wikipedia

Like in most high economy countries MMORPGs are getting really popular in Japan. And like in any other country they produce a lot of people never leaving their home, forgetting to sleep or eat, only playing the game 24h a day.
Same happens to Sato, when he is introduced to his first MMORPG and he has a really tough time getting out of it again.
My own brother was also addicted to MMORPG for one year, in which he didn't do much else. As fascinating and wonderful those games are (because of social interaction, you play with other humans over the internet), they are really addicting and easily take your whole time/life away.


While the show is highly enjoyable in itself, as you can see, you can learn an awful lot about the issues of modern day Japan. Thus I recommend it not only to people, who can enjoy Anime or reading a novel, but also to people interested in modern Japan or the issues of modern societies.


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