Welcome to the NHK: 1st Conspiracy

Tatsuhiko Sato has found himself in the middle of the darkest plot in the world! Well, after Area 51, the Kennedy assassination, and American Idol. The twenty-two-year-old college dropout is a hikikomori, someone with acute social withdrawal, with a growing psychosis that there are conspiracies all around him. A cute girl named Misaki Nakahara is willing to save Tatsuhiko from being a hikikomori if he signs a contract to join her project, but is any of it real? Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s twisted look at Japanese subculture has transformed from novel to manga and now an animated series with Welcome to the NHK: 1st Conspiracy from ADV Films

DVD: Welcome to the NHK: 1st Conspiracy
Release Date: 10/2/2007
Release Studio: ADV Films
ADR Production: ADV Studios

MSRP: $29.98
Audio: English 5.1 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English, Signs-Only
Episodes: 4
Runtime: 100mins
Extras: Clean Opening and Closing, Conspiracy Handbook 101, ADV Previews

Notes: Review is based on a copy of the final product provided by ADV.

Welcome to the NHK loves to play with a warped sense of humor from stabs at Japanese subculture to the visual presentations of Tatsuhiko Sato’s psychosis. While series like Excel Saga and Nurse Witch Komugi love to toy in the same realm, Welcome to the NHK goes a tad deeper for its jokes while keeping a linear storyline to enjoy. The first two episodes introduce our main victim, Tatsuhiko Sato, as a college dropout who is currently on his third year as a NEET (“Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training”. Better known as an Art/Technology major in American colleges.) Almost total seclusion from people and the outside world has pushed Tatsuhiko’s psychosis about conspiracies around him to the edge. Add to this the poor state of his apartment, the constant loud anime music pumping through the walls, and the fear of people laughing at him in the real world… Tatsuhiko Sato is a few eggs short of a dozen. As the loud music gets to him, Tatsuhiko has an epiphany: there is a conspiracy to create a society of hikikomori and it’s lead by the N.H.K.! Wait, the Japanese TV station? Yep, the N.H.K. and its broadcasts of anime programming are secretly turning the viewers into hikikomori. After all, many anime fans tend to be otaku in their dedication and otaku tend to be anti-social. People who are anti-social can become reclusive and that makes them yet another NEET. So, the Japan Social-Withdrawal Association (Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai) is secretly controlling Japan!! Thank goodness Tatsuhiko Sato figured this out in time thanks to hardwork and guts, secluding himself from the world for the past few years. Of course, there’s also the woman at the door who wants to distribute her pamphlet about helping people recover from being a hikikomori.

While the woman drones on about NEETs, Tatsuhiko can’t take his eyes off the cute high school girl named Misaki who’s with the older woman. Naturally, Tatsuhiko denies being a hikikomori so he doesn’t seem like a total loser and closes the door quickly. Determined to turn his life around, Tatsuhiko sets off to apply for a job the next day at an internet manga cafe. As Tatsuhiko walks through the door to hand over his resume, that same cute high school girl is behind the desk reading. Tatsuhiko drops his resume and runs back home quickly. However, Misaki decides to pay the hikikomori a visit and has a special offer: Misaki has developed a program to help hikikomori like Tatsuhiko recover, but Tatsuhiko will have to sign her contract first. A cute girl willing to help out this total stranger sounds very odd, but Tatsuhiko waffles over the offer once he gets home. Right on cue during this moment of crisis, the next-door neighbor begins his newest bout of the magical girl Puru Puru Pururin theme song. Tatsuhiko has had enough of the constant noise and goes next door to tell off his neighbor. However, the huge anime otaku living next door is a former classmaste from high school, Kaoru Yamazaki. Tatsuhiko once stood up for Kaoru when he was getting beaten up by bullies. Tatsuhiko did it to impress his friend Hitomi Kashiwa, who he had a huge crush on, but in the end all it gained him was a friendship with Kaoru.

Episodes three and four jump into the dark, evil subculture of anime otaku fandom as Kaoru introduces Tatsuhiko to the world of dating-simulation games and the sizable fortune they could make if they developed their own. It seems that Tatsuhiko, in a very guy moment, happened to claim to be a game creator to impress Misaki and convince her that he’s not a hikikomori. However, Misaki now wants to see some of Tatsuhiko’s work and he has one month, with the help of Kaoru, to develop a new dating sim game. Kaoru, the ultimate fan of dating sims, sets Tatsuhiko up with a collection of the best titles to give him an idea of what they will be creating. Since Tatsuhiko has no skills in programming or CG, Kaoru will cover most aspects of the game’s development while Tatsuhiko writes the scenarios and characters. The best dating sim games tend to be erotic and Tatsuhiko is soon using up several boxes of tissues as he gets the girls to reveal their inner most thoughts and undergarments.

Days later, Kaoru finds Tatsuhiko obsessed with dating sims, and Tatsuhiko hasn’t made any progress in developing the game scenarios. Kaoru tries to explain the three basic character structures of a dating sim (childhood friend, maid, and robot), but it doesn’t seem to be reaching his friend. No, the only way to solve this problem is by taking Tatsuhiko into the lion’s den: a trip to the holy land! (Better known as Akihabara) Maid cafes, figure shops, and doujinshi stores are a treasure trove of knowledge for Tatsuhiko to absorb and lust after while the two friends spend a small forture on merchandise. The game may be getting nowhere, but at least they have some nice figures to enjoy. As Tatsuhiko thinks about what their game needs, he starts to wonder about his own life and how close some of it is to what they want to create.

Welcome to the NHK is a constant riot of subculture references, perversion, and occasional moments of psychosis to make something rather unique. The tongue-in-cheek attitude of the series is gripping as Tatsuhiko falls down the rabbit hole trying to impress Misaki while also slipping into the dark clutches of anime fandom. The story’s plot is very linear with each episode picking up from almost the moment the last episode left off at. So, don’t be surprised if you find yourself yearning for the next volume by the time you finish episode four. ADV has also left the opening credits untouched so you can enjoy the creative effort put into the unique opening sequence. The Japanese cast is a playful bunch from Yutaka Koizumi’s (Tatsuhiko Sato) mixture of depression and conspiracy rants to Yui Makino’s (Misaki Nakahara) soft-spoken touch. Sanae Kobayashi also presents an interesting character with Hitomi Kashiwa as she warps Tatsuhiko’s mind with conspiracy theories as they hang out together in flashbacks. Her no-nonsense approach gives the character some respectability where most would play rather aloof and manic. The English production from ADV’s Houston-based ADV Studios presents a fairly so-so English dub. John Swasey’s direction tends to be on the mark for most scenes, but the script by Clint Bickham and some of the casting choices can be a little underwhelming. Stephanie Wittels’ Misaki is an enjoyable experience matching the cute, subtle character needed for each scene. Greg Ayres (Kaoru Yamazaki) and Chris Patton (Tatsuhiko Sato), on the other hand, range from decent to a tad off-putting depending on the scene. In time they may improve, but there could have been better casting choices for these two lead-roles in Volume 1.

Welcome to the NHK: 1st Conspiracy drives home a non-stop collection of fun and laughs with a perverted wrapper to make this the perfect title for anyone. While having some background on some of the subculture references would help, the show does more than enough to explain things to make sure you get the bulk of the jokes. The DVD’s video is clean and the subtitle tracks contain no errors. The DVD extras are clean opening and closing animations along with a digital Conspiracy Handbook of notes explaining different cultural aspects in the show. The DVD cover is adapted from R2′s fanservice cover with some modifications. It’s great that we’re getting the fanservice cover artwork elements, but they can be a tad misleading. Welcome to the NHK: 1st Conspiracy is a must-have title and a strong competitor for best series for the year. I’m already looking forward to see where Volume 2 (also with Artbox) takes us next.