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Episode 23: Welcome to Misaki and Episode 24: Welcome to the NHK

When I was young (late 90s, times like that) the appeal of anime was that it would tell stories that Western pop culture shied away from – the heroes had feet of clay, bad things could happen that were not fixed. It was a gross over-simplification, and if there was one thing that characterized scholarly fans of anime at the time, it was an apparent complete lack of familiarity with the Western Canon, since all of these things were extremely prevalent in Western literature, poetics and drama. The Pollyanna everything is going to be okay storytelling is entirely a function of Hollywood from the depression.

Welcome to the N.H.K. does not surprise by ending on a bittersweet note, but the tenor (one might say flavor) of the anime pointed toward a Pollyanna-esque ending, that the last four episodes subverted. In episode 23, Welcome to Misaki, Sato comes to the realization (becuase Misaki pushes the point) that her saving him was him saving her. And that was too much responsibility for Sato to fully brunt. After all, his existence is the absence of responsibility – a hikkimori demands that his existence on its own be supported, despite his complete lack of production. It’s a late stage capitalism sort of thing – if someone can find parental (or sibling) support, in a world of inexhaustable distraction, there’s no reason not to take advantage of it.

But Sato loses that support. Welcome to Misaki has only a couple of scenes in its first act – a cute conversation between Sato and Misaki where she prepares him for his final test, ominously getting him to recognize famous people’s last words and then famous suicide notes. It’s a cry for help he cannot recognize, and then when a literal demand for reciprocation comes from Misaki (in the form of yet another contract – this time a delcaration of mutual affection, with appropriate fines for withdrawal of support) Sato balks. He screams, “I’m not lonely” as he runs to his apartment, alone. All of his forward strides are obliterated, yet Misaki cannot help him anymore. Her point for living is pulled out from under her just as Sato reinforces his own uselessness.

Then the money runs out. And Yamizaki is getting married, and he cant send food to Sato. So… he gets a job. Once all of the charity is gone, he does what he has to to survive. It’s in the form of directing traffic, which is the universal anime temp job – you see it in Key the Metal Idol, in Excel Saga and a million other shows. But it pays the bills. All of Misaki’s work is for naught because Sato, when he loses everything beneath him, actually finds his own feet. If only he’d been cut off in episode one.

Then Misaki is taken away form an amublance, and disappears from the hospital. Her backstory is spilled out by her uncle to Sato on a car ride (dead dad, abusive step-father, perhaps her mother’s death was a suicide) so Sato, without telling anybody (seriously, phone calls would save a lot of money and time in stories) races to the place where Misaki almost saw her mother fall to her death.

Which leads to Welcome to the NHK, the final episode of the series and the final confrontation of Misaki and Sato. They are at a famous suicide spot, and Misaki very calmly lists off the reasons why life for others would be better if she were dead. She makes a compelling case, then slips off the railing to fall into the sea.

Only Sato catches her. And convinces her that her problems aren’t her own. It is the conspiracy – the same one that has been destroying his own life, the NHK. Hers is a different NHK, but it is still external forces that are attacking her. And to get back at them, he’ll.. jump off the ledge and plunge to his own death to save her. Of course, in the moment he does that, he realizes he, in fact, loves the girl. Woops.

This is all sweet and remarkably well staged, but the thing that moves this anime from amusing to affecting is the final few scenes. All the crises are over, so we go back to Sato getting up in the morning. His apartment is a mess. He still hates getting out of bed and is plagued with the NHK demons that convince him nothing is any good. His life isn’t fixed. He can barely manage.

But barely is enough. And if there’s a difference between NHK and what would be an equivalent Western show, it’s the doing your best spirit. Nothing is fixed, completely, for Sato. But he has the will to try to move on, and that’s more than he had at the beginning. Misaki gives him a final contract, declaring themselves as mutual hostages – they have to live for each other’s sake. With these broken people, that’s as good as it can get.


Vinyl – Hipster Affectation, Archival Format, Late Stage Capitalism Freak Out

I love vinyl records. I was collecting them before it was hip, and as the fad seems to be heading toward cassette tapes (which is nuts, because cassettes sound terrible) I will still be getting my physical medium which, like me, dies more every time it does something.

There’s a principal in forensic science that every interaction leaves a trace. If you walk across the carpet, there will be fibers on your shoes, and marks on the carpet. Every single bit of wear that occurs to an item is not the result of catastrophe, but the accumulation of everyday interaction.

Every single time I play one of my vinyl records (and here’s that collection) something is left on the needle, and the needle leaves its trace on the record. According to some site I just looked up, contact points between the needle and the vinyl can reach up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. That leaves a mark, and so does every time you touch the big old disc, every time you forget to rub it down or close the player lid, so that dust falls onto the record while you’re playing it.


Like the music better than the show.

A video posted by Kent Conrad (@explodedkent) on

My niece asked me why I liked these old discs (she’s 7) and I used some usual saws about the bigger artwork, and didn’t bother explaining the tactile feelings.

But the real reason I get a stupid amount of stuff on vinyl to complement my irrationally large digital library is that a) discrete chunks of music are better than infinite ones, because listening forever means listening never, and b) when the nukes explode in the atmosphere and all our solid-state technology is destroyed in a flash of electro-magnetism, I still want to have Leb’wohl available to me, or Diamond Dogs.

The fragile impermanence of the physical medium makes it more permanent. It’s what we call a paradox, son.

(colored vinyl image shamelessly stolen from

Federale – They can Even do it Live

sometimes it’s hard to do a post a day…

Episode 21: Welcome to the Reset and Episode 22: Welcome to God!

WelcomeToTheNHK_ep21_shot1Tables get turned, who cures who? These two episodes of Welcome to the NHK see all of Sato’s crutches being pulled out from under him, and the surprise revelation of who was curing who the entire time.

In “Welcome to the Reset”, the culmination of all the time, blood, sweat and tears of Sato and Yamazaki’s hard work pays off: the game is done, they go to the winter conference and…

They sell five copies. There’s no miracle ending, no rescue from the heavens. Yamazaki is going, and nothing can keep him there. He spends his last hours in a snowball fight with Sato which goes from quoting cheesy dramas to uncovering heart-felt truths about the world. Yamazaki does not want to be a farmer. He wants to stay in Tokyo, he wants to follow his dreams, but his dreams have deserted him. He made the game, but refuses to take it to his school where he might have found some support. It wasn’t a last chance for him – it was a swan song.

So with Yamazaki gone, Sato has nobody but himself… and Masaki. Masaki is WelcomeToTheNHK_ep21_shot2terrified he’s going to backslide, that’s he’s going to lose all of his progress and so she is determined he has to go out, and prove he’s not all Hikkikimori-ish anymore.

This comes after Sato asks her all her thoughts on God – she doesn’t have a lot to say. Why he asks is questionable, too – it comes out of not much, but lead to the next episode’s dilemma.

Because Misaki decides that Sato has to go into the New Year’s Crowds, but they get WelcomeToTheNHK_ep21_shot3separated in the center of Tokyo. Sato has a low-level panic attack, until he’s found… by Senpai. Hitomi has been left by her fiancé on New Years because his client needed him, and she’s engaged in one of those womanly fits of pique – my man isn’t here when I’m irrationally needy, I’m going to bone my creepy old classmate.

Yep, she decides, after going to three or four places with Sato (PUA’s will recognize the technique) that maybe they should have an illicit affair. Sato has been fantasizing about that all night, but when it comes to actually doing it…

Little Sato remains unsated. Which turns out to be a good thing, since Hitomi reveals she’s pregnant, then disappear out of Sato’s life forever. Unbeknownst to Sato, Misaki saw them leave the hotel and figured that Sato indeed sexed the woman, and so is now distraught and convinced that God is a jerk.

Here’s where the focus of the show shifts. For most of episode 22, Sato is acting like WelcomeToTheNHK_ep22_shot1a normal adult – that is, the opposite of a NEET. He’s going places with a girl, conversing about things, not cringing or being afraid, not acting creepy but with a tacit plan to get in her shorts – normal stuff. And when it comes to seal the deal, he even does a mature thing by passing it up, however he might have dreamed of it.

Sato’s a damaged guy, but there’s some core of normal in him that might resurface. When that threatens to happen, it’s Misaki who reveals herself as an even more damaged individual. She has a Florence Nightingale thing with Sato, because fixing some broken winged bird helps deflect her own deep trauma.

In the novel, this was a point made much sooner and more forcefully – early on Sato sees Misaki covering up scars on her arms from cutting. That hasn’t been the case in the TV series, but the entire show is a cavalcade of modern miseries, and the philosophical case it points to is compelling: what the hell is wrong with Modern Life? Why do genetically normal people have crippling anxiety dealing with other people? Could it be that modern connectivity, urban existence and on-line life is inherently sociopathic, and that it is the non-disordered who freak out when confronted by the modern technologic panoply? The conspiracy, which has been subsumed for many episodes rears its head again here.

WelcomeToTheNHK_ep22_shot2Hitomi reckons that monogamy is a conspiracy, a huge conglomerate calamity. In real world terms, monogamy is an evolutionary practice to restrict violence: left to our animal urges, women would harem up with the strongest males and leave the lesser fellows without outlets for their sexual needs. Genetic science bares this up: 8000 years ago the reproductive ratio was 17 to 1 – 17 women would have a child for every one father. Monogamy is an intelligent response to this inherent dichotomy. The conspiracy is one that reduces violence, jealousy, and murder.

But Hitomi might be right, on some level. Her genetic suitability to be a breeding partner doesn’t match up with a societal malaise about sexual norms. Humanity is friggin weird, and the liberation of abnormality (let your freak flag fly) of late 20th and early 21st century has not, perhaps, let to liberated minds and bodies, but to new forms of self-abuse and mild to terrible madnesses.

But just as Sato seems to be climbing out of this arrested development morass, Misaki is falling back in. She decries God, but what she’s really upset about is that, is Sato is better and doesn’t need her, then the world doesn’t. He was her last life-line, the person she knew who was worse than her. Fixing him (to a degree) broke her.


Lazy Friday Videos (warning:drumsolos)