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Welcome to the N.H.K. Volume One

Written by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and illustrated by Kendi Oiwa
Tokyopop
196 pages, $9.99
ISBN: 1598166786

"The Japanese Ministry of Health defines hikikomori as individuals who refuse to leave their parents' house, and isolate themselves away from society and family in a single room for a period exceeding six months. While the distinctiveness of the phenomenon varies depending on the individual, some youths remain in isolation for years, or in rare cases, decades."

Satou has a problem: He hasn't left his apartment in months, his next door neighbor won't stop blaring the same anime theme over and over again through the wall, and a bad drug trip has left him unshakably convinced that the Japanese equivalent of the United states' Public Broadcasting System, the N.H.K., is really a conspiracy to turn Japan into a nation of hikikomori, stuck in their rooms, obsessing over manga and anime — just like Satou. When a teenage girl named Misaki offers to counsel him in how to escape the hikikomori lifestyle, he's reluctant at first, but...

 

Read excerpt from right to left. Oh, sure, there's an adrenaline rush now, but what about later? Sequence from Welcome to the N.H.K. Volume One, ©2004 Tatsuhiko Takimoto and Kendi Oiwa.

 

Originally a light novel by writer Tatsuhiko Takimoto, Welcome to the N.H.K. has since been transformed into a manga series with the collaboration of artist Kendi Oiwa. The result is perhaps the funniest skewering of otaku culture this side of Kio Shimoku's equally fan-centric Genshiken, but whereas Shimoku's work is a mildly sarcastic celebration of Japanese pop-culture and the people who obsess over it, Welcome to the N.H.K. is another matter altogether. Like Evan Dorkin with his Eltingville Comic-Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Role-Playing Club, Takimoto and Oiwa have come not to praise geek culture but to bury it in a pile of knowing pop-culture references and long, cringe-inducing looks at its worst possible aspects. The deeper you've been immersed in Japanese pop culture, the more difficult some of this will be to take. You can't read Welcome to the N.H.K. without coming away with the notion that there's something deeply unhealthy sitting at the heart of the whole otaku phenomenon.

 

Read excerpt from right to left. Misaki hits Satou where it hurts. Sequence from Welcome to the N.H.K. Volume One, ©2004 Tatsuhiko Takimoto and Kendi Oiwa.

 

Whereas Genshiken paints anime and manga fandom as a harmless outlet for nerds, N.H.K. sees men who can't face real women and disappear into distorted hentai representations instead, and media fans who use the products of their obsessions to escape the real world. Satou isn't quirky or idiosyncratic like the members of Genshiken's Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture; he's psychologically unglued, like Bill Griffith's "kidult" taken to his awful logical conclusion. While his neighbor, Yamazaki, is presented as being more in tune with the real world, even he is incapable of connecting to actual, flesh-and-blood women as anything other than actor/waitresses in a maid cafe. Misaki's intrusion into Satou's world not only throws this condition into sharp relief, it actually complicates things as Satou now finds himself trapped in two worlds that lead him to despair: the life of the shut-in, and the real world with which he's lost the ability to interact. It's a distorting mirror, sure, but hardcore otaku will still recognize themselves in some of Satou's actions and delusions. Welcome to the subculture.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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