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.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com