Most episodes of Welcome to the NHK have a muted sense of humor. It’s as though the anime creators decided they had twelve good jokes, so decided that one every other episode was probably good enough. While the characters and situations are broadly comic, a sense of psychological disease and junk tragedy is more prevalent than yucks.
But that was before Sato got into wacky hi-jinks with the suicide group in their [Off] meeting!*
*Wikipedia translates that as Offline, not just [Off]. I’m just using what I see on the screen.
This episode is the closest that NHK has come to out and out black comedy. Sato, in a paroxysm of complete misunderstanding, believes he and Hitomi are off to go do the “happily ever after till the end of their days” bit. He’s ready to throw off the shackles of his Hikikimori lifestyle. “Revolution,” he shouts, again and again.
But then, if they’re going off to be romantic and vacation-y, why do they meet a group of supremely gloomy people at the station then travel with them? They act like they’re doing Sato a favor by allowing him to join, so he doesn’t push too hard asking questions. After all, he’s going to paradise.
A paradise which includes a trip on one of gloomy Gus’s private yachts (score) to his own private island (double score)! Sato sees his big chance – there are only three people besides him and Hitomi, and he can make friends with them in turn. Or just enjoy the surroundings and have a nice vacation. The gulf between Sato’s good-natured exuberance and the suicidal lugubriousness of his fellow vacationers is the fuel for most of the episode’s humor.
That said, these aren’t belly laughs. NHK is only mostly amusing, never fall-on-the-floor funny. It is also hampered by occasionally mediocre direction and animation. This is one of the only episodes heretofore that hasn’t taken place mostly in apartments or Sato’s nearby park. There’s the train trip, the island, the boat, driving around – lots of locations, probably done under very tight deadlines. So if the model for Hitomi’s boyfriend looks hideous, and his animation is stiff and choppy, that’s the price paid for a cheap show being ambitious.
The scene where Sato spots the gloomy group, and then Hitomi goes to join them, is incoherently directed. Hitomi doesn’t seem to be walking in the right direction for the meeting, and they aren’t really in Sato’s eyeline when first he sees the group. There’s no reason he should have noticed them.
And the bigger problem – the problem with all these NHK episodes, is that they should have been about fifteen minutes a piece, or the entire series should have been cut in half. It is not that the episodes are padded to reach length – it is just that there are long stretches of nothing happening which could have been filled with incident. This is the halfway mark for the series, and taken altogether very little has occurred, very little that could not have been done more quickly, elegantly, and interestingly. The first episode could probably stand happily on its own, but for just about every one after that, two or three episodes could have been combined into more compact and impactful single statements. And since repeating myself in the reviews is beginning to pall, I will tackle the next half of the series in at least three, no more than six, compilation reviews. The bloom is off the NHK rose (and, at this juncture, the midpoint, can be said to be kind of a disappointment compared to the book).