Welcome to the NHK: Bleakly comical or just downright depressing?

Chapters 1-32

Tatsuhiro Satou is a hikikomori- four years ago, he dropped out of college, and for the past year he hasn’t even talked to another person! It might seem as if there is no hope left for Satou, but one person thinks otherwise; high-school student Misaki Nakahara has selected Satou to participate in her project- an ambitious plan designed to transform Satou back into a fully functioning member of society. Is this the beginning of Satou’s salvation?

The tale of a young man who has barely left his room in four years may sound more like the subject of a primetime documentary than a comedy manga, but when it comes to NHK, Satou’s predicament is just one of the many bleak situations that surround both him and the other main characters. From a woman using drugs to keep herself on an even keel to an otaku who prefers robot maids to real women, this dysfunctional group are at the heart of NHK’s black comedy, a setting that produces just as many weak chapters as it does strong ones.

At its best, NHK is a darkly hilarious collection of sequences about everything from ero-games to lolicon, as Satou invariably digs himself deeper in his attempts to get out of his rut. As wrong as it is to laugh at some of the topics covered in the series, it is hard not to be amused by such scenes as Satou trying to collect shaming evidence of himself as a paedophile by having neighbour Yamazaki photograph him taking pictures of local schoolgirls, or Satou and Yamazaki going over the top in their attempts to create the ultimate moe heroine.

As the series progresses, however, the tone begins to change, and it is not for the better. As the humour slowly dies away, NHK passes through a more dramatic phase, but it is not one it can sustain; as all of our protagonists fall deeper into their respective situations and become more isolated and depressed, so too does the quality of the series decrease. Their problems may not be ones that could always be solved easily in real life, but nonetheless manga is meant to be a form of entertainment- and seeing the leads stuck in an endless, non-progressive rut is far from enjoyable. Admittedly, the latest few chapters do seem to indicate that an improvement (for Satou, at least) may be on the way, it is hard not to be sceptical- after all, he has relapsed many times before. And by this point, there are so many other troubled characters that a resolution for them all will be a long time in coming; not an enthusing prospect when the manga is already losing its appeal.

Visually, NHK uses a striking high contrast style with a heavy use of solid blacks; an appropriate choice given the content of the series. In case you hadn’t guessed from the above, the series is not for the faint-hearted; if suicide attempts, drug use and a naked Satou attempting ‘Hyper Self Pleasure’ sound a bit too graphic for your tastes, then this is not the series for you.

Final Thoughts
It may have started as a hilarious black comedy for those with more mature tastes, but unfortunately NHK is unable to stay the course, and by the latest chapters the temptation to just see all the characters be prescribed antidepressants far outweighs any enjoyment the series still has to offer. It may have once burnt brightly, but now it is fading fast, and only a top notch ending can now pull the series out of its downward spiral.

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