Originally released as a light novel in 2002, Welcome to the N.H.K. is formally adapted into a dark comedy and psychological slice-of-life about Tatsuhiro Sato, a 22 year-old unemployed college drop-out as he accepts a mysterious project from Misaki, a young girl who claims to be able to transform his life for the better.
There is definitely no escape from anime and moe culture when the story is set in Tokyo and it would be helpful if the viewer at least has an idea of what an otaku is. Written in a linear fashion, the story is rather easy to follow and each chapter is pretty self-contained with only a few arcs spanning across few chapters. While the story is mainly about hikokomori — a Japanese term for a socially withdrawn individual — the author Tatsuhiko Takimoto makes the bold effort to deal with themes such as loneliness, depression, everyday stress and even internet suicide pacts.
I would say that this story reminds me greatly of Bojack Horseman, the Netflix series that really described mental illnesses well unlike *coughs* 13 Reasons Why. Almost everyone in the show faces problems in their lives. Sato’s senior/senpai faces stressful situations at her work everyday and she seeks refuge in drugs; Misaki earnestly wishes for Sato to stay on to her project as a way to prove her usefulness in life; Kaoru — a junior/kouhai of Sato — is trying to establish a career and life in Tokyo, away from his family farm in Hokkaido. It is not a shounen story at all where the main character fights the villain after months of training. Rather it is a realistic take of issues that happen in the real world. And consistent to its theme, a realistic stance was taken and not all of them are solved the way the characters want them to be.
As someone who has read both manga and the anime, there were some striking differences that I observed which I felt were interesting. One of the most obvious one was Misaki’s personality. I preferred the manga one where she was more sarcastic and blunt with Sato than the innocent image in the anime though I have a feeling it might be due to airing issues. Nonetheless, I prefer the manga because the themes could be better illustrated without fearing censorship or rating problems.
Welcome to the N.H.K. sure is a work for more serious and mature viewers and I would not suggest it for young audiences because of the themes captured. Certainly a great show and to all interested, welcome to the real world!