I should really remember that when a friend tells me something to the effect of, “Hey, I just read all of this series, it’s really fucked up!” that he really REALLY means it. Also that likely I will find more of my life and whatever is left of my sanity wasting away as a dark offering to the great horrors of beyond, Ia! Ia! The fact that it was read all in one day should have clued me in, as like moths to a flame, people like us are drawn to the most bizarre reality bending mind warping horror numbing stories we can get our grubby little mitts on. The reason for which is really quite simple: we crave a well executed imaginative story…and these type will often deliver. NHK certainly did.
The story centers around our protagonist, Tatsuhiro Satō, a 22 year old hikikomori in his third year of this particular brand of social disorder. It also greatly involves his friend, Kaoru Yamazaki a massive otaku, and Misaki Nakahara, a young lady who has made Tatsuhiro her project to cure him of his disorder…though not for any altruistic reasons, I assure you. The entire underlying premise is that Tatsuhiro, during a drug induced psychedelic mind trip complete with talking furniture, has come to the conclusion that his disorder (as well as many other types of Japanese social disorders) are being caused by the NHK. This organization wishes the youth of Japan to continue as hikikomoiris and otakus so that they might continue to pour their money and life into the entertainment industry...at least, that's what I THINK he meant. This doesn’t actually cause him to do anything about it exactly, but it does add to the underlying theme of mass insanity and paranoia that seems to have infected damn near everyone and everything in this story.
One thing that has to be pointed out concerning the start of our story is that the idea that the NHK is responsible for Tatsuhiro’s condition is honestly not really developed, but conversely, is not really the point either. Throughout the story, and through the people Tatsuhiro meets and interacts with, it is only mentioned every so often to notate that through this world that is shown to be a psychological nightmare, he actually believes that someone is doing this to him. Through making porn games with Kaoru (which never actually get made), counseling sessions with Misaki, pyramid schemes, suicide, drug use, and more shit than even Cobra Commander can slither through, the point is more a commentary on modern life.
To expand upon this, one has to start the explanation by noting that it’s blatantly obvious Tatsuhiro is fucked up. There is no getting around it; the point is to show him as being fucked up and that he knows he’s fucked up and knows just how MUCH he’s fucked up. As the story progresses, he meets old friends and new who have everything going for them in one way or another…and yet, as fucked up as he is, in many ways…they are worse. For example, an old friend and sempai of his, Hitomi Kashiwa, who is obviously smart, so beautiful I’d want to lick her up and down, and quite capable given that she’s a nurse, is addicted to all sorts of those personality drugs (like Ritalin) and is depressed to the point of suicide. It’s obviously not something hormonal in her case as you see later…there’s something broken inside her, but there was never any real reason for it. And I don't mean no reason is given, I mean she has no reason to feel this way at all...but she does. The story itself weaves a rather impossible interconnected web of dysfunctional relationships between all the characters, and you will actually start seeing traces of the characters in many of the people you know…perhaps even in yourself. I’ll certainly admit I saw a little too much of myself in both Tatsuhiro and Kaoru when they started in some of their self loathing rants in reference to women and how they’d been treated all their lives. Sadly, I know I’m not alone in that particular boat, though I wish I was.
In essence this series truly puts me in mind of Steve Buscemi's character in Con Air, Garland 'The Marietta Mangler' Greene, and his view of life. The money quote is as follows:
What if I told you insane was working 50 hours a week in some office for 50 years... at the end of which they tell you to piss off? Ending up in some retirement village...hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time. Wouldn't you consider that to be insane?
Keep in mind this came from a guy who right after admitted to driving through a few states wearing a girl's head for a hat. The discussion was about insanity, and what it really amounted to...IE, who was really more fucked up than who in this picture? Truly this manga is one long story demonstrating this theme to one and all. Admittedly it does so on a Nihon-centric manner, but as stated before, we can all draw more than a few parallels in our own lives.
The movie and book “Fight Club” also come to mind. Though where as NHK deals with living in the madness, Fight Club was about looking to change the situation...to both embrace and end the madness for once and all. NHK could very well have gone this way if someone had snapped a bit more than they had.
The art style is a pretty standard anime/manga type style, with nothing standing out as exceptional or abysmal. The entire story is drawn in a crisp and clean manner, never making one wonder what went on from one panel to the next. As far as technical skill goes, it's more than readable and is sufficient to tell the story that the author was trying to tell.
In summary, the story itself is pretty racy dealing with far too much of the weird shit that humanity has brought to bear on itself that's slowly driving it insane in one manner or another. It is hilarious, but in a dark manner that makes one and all look in the mirror and find that trace (if not more) of that very madness running through them. If you're not up for a humorous romp through the darkness we've all been enablers of, then you probably shouldn't read this...as it doesn't pull any punches. On the other hand, you might find yourself laughing at it, and perhaps, even yourself. After all, if you can't find humor in the darkness in yourself, then you likely can't find humor in anything else either. And honestly...maybe we all need to quit taking ourselves and even the worst of our situations so seriously. I mean, what's the point of that if we all wind up as a neurotic needy mess in one way or the other?
Maybe that's final message of the story of NHK. Something we should all probably think about.