Lifelines get threatened, and truths are revealed, while the desperate show their desperation plain. In Welcome to the Blue Bird, the tragedy of Megumi’s brother Yuichi is brought to full bare: he’s a real hikikimori, and was full into the debilitation before Megumi ever got to Tokyo. He’s Sato’s apotheosis, the end game that was joked about at the end of episode 16. He’s even been trying to make money the way Sato tried, with trading in-game objects for cash. He hasn’t made it work.
After his tantrum, kicking everyone out of his room, he demands to talk to Sato on-line, where he thinks he might have found a kindred soul, one to pity with and despise (kind of like Gollum, in Gandalf’s description: “He hates and loves the Ring just as he hates and loves himself.” Not that Sato is Yuichi’s ring, but he sees a kinship, one that repulses him. He believes somebody, somewhere can make money being a video game playing shut-in, and hopes at once that Sato does and doesn’t have the guts to do it.
The second half of the episode doesn’t involve much action from Sato – he just listen to Yamazaki complain about his script, and then gets fed by Misaki so he doesn’t starve. They see on the news that Mouseroad is being investigated, and then raided, which leads to Megumi being unable to feed her own brother for a few days. He nearly starves, and when she finally gets back to the apartment, he’s gone. She searches for him… but ends the episode, sitting in the tub, thinking about her own possibilities for the future for once in a long while (and, as the composition makes pains to let us know, she had enormous cans. Life should work out.)
Yuichi has not crawled away somewhere to starve, though. He has found gainful employment as a delivery boy, happy to work, finally, doing menial things. It’s not as simplistic a thesis as it seems: NEET just need to get off their ass and work! But the NEET phenomenon has, at its center, a life where starvation is not at the door. It would be impossible to be a hikikimori without external assistance, because starvation would literally be the result. Yuichi finally gets to earning his food, and then apparently reveling in the fact that he is some use to somebody, finally.
Which makes Misaki’s feeding of Sato perhaps ironic and destructive. He has been halfg cut off from his safety net, but she forms a new one for him.
The next lifeline that is severed is in Welcome to Winter Days, when Yamazaki disappears to go visit his family, abandoning the porno game the two of them are still working on. Yamazaki is from a ranching family, and he’s supposed to take over the ranch when his father dies. A sudden illness means his rebellion as a game designer has to come to an end – the real world comes calling (another irony is that, thought Yamazaki lives in more of a literal fantasy than Sato with his girl games and figurines, he pays his own way every step of the way, since his family refuses to support folly.)
Yamazaki comes back with an ultimatum for himself and Sato – if they can’t make a go of things by the Winter Booth Stall, he has to go to the ranch, and Sato has to quit pretending he has some kind of job.
This starts with an autocratic Yamazaki forcing Sato to work, but ends in a drunken pizza night, where the hopeless Yamazaki decides he needs to cut off all of his ties, which includes his pretend girlfriend Nanako. He invites her over to his flat to disgust her with his hentai life.
It somewhat backfires, because while she says she finds this stuff “icky”, the fact that he’s sticking to it, and making a game all by himself, is manly. It’s why, however she protests, she’s found him strangely attractive.
Yamazaki destroys this in in rather spectacular fashion by accusing Nanako of perversion, and gets a well-earned punch in the face. He could have had a girl, a spur to keep himself on the track of self-sufficiency. Who knows, maybe Nanako could have been his ranch wife, making him kids to take over and they could have been happy. But he was wedded to his being an unrequited love. When it opened a questing arm, he set that whole damn thing on fire.
Welcome to the NHK posits a conspiracy of misery, but it’s all multiple conspiracies of one: self-perception that is terrified as much of acceptance as of rejection.