"In truth, I still can't read this story objectively. Each time I reread it, I start to have light hallucinations. I break into a cold sweat. Each time I approach one of a few specific places in the plot, I start wanting to throw the computer out the window. At other particular points, I start wanting to run away from home to live deep in secrecy in the mountains of India."
— Tatsuhiko Takimoto, author of Welcome to the N.H.K.
Welcome to the N.H.K. is an odd, darkly comic series about an anxiety-ridden hikikomori named Satou, struggling against his persistent delusion that he is being forced to be a hikikomori by a conspiracy called the N.H.K. Until one day, a girl by the name of Misaki comes out of the blue, insisting on helping Satou rid himself of his "hikikomori ways". The plot then follows Satou's journey of his many attempts (and repeated failures) to overcome his crippling anxiety. It's dark, it's funny, and even heartwarming at the most unexpected times.The Light Novel, manga, and anime are each rather different in both story and themes. The anime and manga follow essentially the same plot until the manga's divergence from the novel, leading to its own, separate conclusion. The novel tends to be somewhat darker, focusing more on the characters' issues and less on the love story, which is essentially the focus of the anime, with the manga somewhere in between. There are significant differences in the specific way some events happen in the anime and manga, even when they're otherwise almost identical, which tends to bring out the change in tone. Many events of the novel (the fight scene, the visit to the church) never occur in the anime or manga, and vice versa (the "summer vacation", the entire second half of the manga).The name of the main character, Tatsuhiro Satou, might be a play on the names of the original creator and his friend: Tatsuhiko Takimoto and Yuuya Satou. The N.H.K.-novel eventually made Tatsuhiko Takimoto one of the pioneers of the post-Murakami literature movement in Japan.The manga and original novel were licensed and translated into English by Tokyopop, but have since gone out of print with the shuttering of the company. The anime was originally licensed (and entirely dubbed) by ADV Films, but they lost the license partway through release to Funimation, who currently hold the series. If you're in the USA, you can watch it for free on Funimation's website: here.
Welcome to the N.H.K. provides examples of the following tropes:
Abusive Parent: Misaki is revealed to have an abusive stepdad after her original dad died when she was a baby. The abuse led to her mother committing suicide by falling off a cliff. He would also physically and verbally abuse her.
Adult Fear: If you're even remotely of the slacker persuasion and you're the same age as Satou, seeing his Imagine Spot of him at 50 years old (fat, lonely, self-loathing, completely immersed in otaku culture, unable to function 'outside' and eventually homeless with no friends or family) is horrifying.
Author Avatar: Satou. In story, there's a scene where Satou sits in on a game concept development class and writes a VN scenario where a lonely, isolated charcoal burner in the woods falls in love with a forest spirit that completely and implicitly understands him and "never calls him a NEET or hikikomori."
In addition to the author himself living as a "hikky" for 4 years, he has revealed in interviews that the success of his work had him "reduced to a NEET, ...living as a parasite on the royalties from this book".
He's also said offhand in an interview that really, the only thing that makes Satou and him different is their appearance and name, and that a lot of the events in the book happen to him. He said it gives him cold shakes if he tries reading it, as he can't look upon his protagonist's life objectively.
Bait-and-Switch Credits: The opening is an upbeat song paired mostly with pastel, brightly lit scenes of women frolicking in the sun.
Because You Were Nice to Me: Essentially the reason Hitomi lets Satou have sex with her on her day of graduation in the novel (and because Satou kinda begged). He was really the only person that paid attention to her after a bad breakup and kept her from suicide.
Book Ends: That snowy cliff is one of the first scenes shown, as a nightmare of Satou's, along with numerous similarities between the two beyond location where the ending takes place.
Break the Cutie: In the anime, Misaki's abusive step-father beat her, and fully convinced that she's cursed and an utterly worthless person.
Hitomi has a way of breaking on her own because she is just frail on the inside.
Caught with Your Pants Down: In the manga: Satou was getting sexually frustrated so he gets naked and yells "Hyper Self-Pleasure Mode!" as he watches porn on multiple monitors.
Charles Atlas Superpower: Parodied. Satou wonders if he has gained any powers from living alone in his apartment like those characters who train alone on mountains. He karate-chops a beer bottle successfully but cuts his hand.
Coming-of-Age Story: The series is effectively a really dark one, chronicling Satou's struggles as he tries to go from manchild to functioning adult.
In Megumi's case: Her brother starts to get hungry after Megumi got arrested, so he begged to work for a local restaurant, finally ending his hikky phase. We don't see what happens to them afterwards but it's probably safe to assume both of them will be okay.
Flanderization: Especially in the manga, where Satou and Misaki eventually get reduced to their disturbed mental state. Nobody is ever nearly as bad in the novel as they get in the manga, and the climax of the book that (mostly) resolves everyone's problems only sends them spiraling further in the manga.
Gecko Ending: The manga, in a somewhat inverted way. Both the novel and the anime end with Satou trying to kill himself, only to survive, with Misaki and him deciding to keep living. This happens in the manga as well, but at the halfway point, so it doesn't resolve the story. The manga keeps going on to reach its own conclusion (somehow).
Both end similarly, with Satou and Misaki attempting to embrace life after failing suicide. Neither are totally over their problems, but they're trying. The manga couple just has to go through a lot more shit to get there.
Girl of My Dreams: The first episode of the anime opens with a nightmare of Satou's, in which Misaki is watching from afar, carrying the same white umbrella she has when they meet for real.
G-Rated Drug: Usually averted by Satou's fairly hard drug use, but also parodied.
In the novel he talks a lot about "legal drugs" he acquires off the internet (even if he takes said drugs by snorting them). But then he mentions by name some extremely illegal and unimaginably powerful real-life hallucinogens, with a level of detail that makes one suspect the author didn't just read about it on Wikipedia.
Happily Failed Suicide: At the end of the series (or halfway through the manga), Satou throws himself off a cliff in an honest-to-God suicide attempt, but discovers that a hidden metal net has been installed just below the cliff after the previous suicide on that spot. After that, he seems to become quite happy with his life again.
Heroic Sacrifice: Satou thinks he is doing one of these in the ending of both the novel and anime, and also during the midpoint of the manga.
Hikikomori: The fulcrum upon which the plot revolves.
The Internet Is for Porn: Yamazaki teaches the far-less-nerdy Satou this lesson, who proves to be a willing student. Except he misses the whole part about how deleting your OS to make room for your porn is a bad idea.
In the novel he was like this before meeting Yamazaki (minus the deleting your OS part), but with the mindset of "the internet is for porn and scoring drugs".
Interrupted Suicide: Satou, Hitomi, Misaki, and the "Off Meeting" in the anime and manga. Subverted by Misaki's mother.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Satou wants his Sempai, Hitomi Kashiwa, to be happy. That is why he does not sleep with her, since doing so could ruin her marriage to Jougasaki.
This is also part of Satou's reasoning for refusing Misaki's second contract which would basically force him to be in a relationship with her, although his delusions insist that it's really because he doesn't want to be considered a "worthless human".
Lolicon: Satou is one for a while, and Yamazaki is also one. This was heavily downplayed in the anime, where the references to lolicon porn are removed and most of the women both lust after are of age.
It's most severe in the book, where it's pretty clear that what Satou has isn't simply lolicon, but actual child pornography. Biggest clue being that lolicon is legal to obtain in Japan, so why else would Satou have to go through Usenet groups to find untracked internet files?
Loners Are Freaks: Subverted, since the main cast are just normal people suffering from anxiety, depression and paranoia.
Licensed Game: Believe it or not, the eroge made in the story was later made into a tie-in videogame, with a story by the author himself.
Maybe Ever After: Misaki and Satou's brief romance is left ambiguous in almost every adaptation. The novel makes it clear that it's more or less finished. The manga leaves off on a more hopeful note, with Satou promising to pursue their relationship anew once he cleans himself up. The anime is similarly ambiguous.
Meaningful Name: It's actually in the fact that it doesn't mean much. The surname Satou/Sato is so common in Japan that it is meant to represent the majority of Japanese society and what they struggle with. The English equivalent would be naming the main character Smith.
Meido: Satou and Yamazaki go to a Maid Cafe in the Manga and Anime.
Mental Story: It's mostly about the main character's inner strife, and no decisions are reached even in the end.
Myers-Briggs: In one of the many psychology terms Misaki uses during her sessions with Satou, she tells him that he is a "introverted feeling type". This is from Carl Jung's theory of psychological types, which was later used as a basis for the Myers-Briggs type indicator. If Misaki's statement is accurate, Satou would be either an INFP or an ISFP according to the Myers-Briggs interpretation of Jung.
Naughty Nuns: Satou fantasizes about Misaki being one of these when he first meets her.
Nightmare Sequence/Imagine Spot - The anime starts with Satou having one, and has many through out the series.. In the novel and manga, it's implied to be from drug abuse. While in the anime, it's anxiety.
"She's the protagonist's childhood friend as well as a robot maid. She's blind, deaf, and sickly; on top of that, she's an alien with Alzheimer's and multiple personality disorder. However she's actually a ghost with a connection to the main character from their past lives. And her true form is really a fox spirit!" (novel, pg98)
"She's your classmate and childhood friend, who also happens to live next door. She's also a robot, but not just any robot, a Maid Robot! In a previous life, she and the main character were lovers. She's also really sick, so the main character has to take care of her. Then she jumps in front of a car to protect him and ends up in the hospital for a whole year! But she's actually a ghost! AND SHE'S AN ALIEN TOO! THEN YOU FIND OUT SHE'S A REINCARNATION OF A FOX FROM SPACE WITH A SPLIT PERSONALITY!!"
No Antagonist: Though Megumi definitely fits until we learn more about her. Misaki to a lesser extent in the manga.
Arguably, each character is their own worst enemy.
Nosebleed: Satou has one when thinking about having sex with Hitomi. Despite being linked to arousal, it's a regular, realistic nosebleed.
Not What It Looks Like: Misaki spills hot water on Satou's pants and is trying to quickly clean it off. Cue Yamazaki walking into Satou's room and seeing Misaki's head in Satou's crotch with Satou making weird noises.
Off Model: The series suffers from this in places, particularly episode 19. (See this sequence for the worst of it, but beware of spoilers: 1◊ 2◊ 3◊ 4◊ 5◊ 6◊ 7◊). Gonzo's decision to not clean up off-model scenes for the DVD release was a sore spot for many fans.
Older Than They Look: One of the eroge games Sato plays to "research" features a big-eyed girl on the cover... with the title "I Am Not Loli!"
Otaku: Yamazaki Kaoru, He has tons of Anime merchandise in his room. In the anime he even has a Pururin body pillow.
Poor Communication Kills: Inverted Satou's senpai, Hitomi, intends on going to an "Off" Meeting – a group suicide. She stops by Satou's the night before and gets very drunk, talking about going on "summer vacation." Satou thinks he has a chance at being with her and getting out of his shut-in life with someone he loves, so eagerly offers to accompany her anywhere, "whether it's to Paradise or to Hell." She thinks he saw the Off Meeting notice sticking out of her purse while she slept, so he never learns what's what until the whole group is on a deserted island ready to do the deed. Satou manages to talk everyone out of it at the end... however, there's a fair chance that they never even would have made it that far if it wasn't for him! Group resolve was flagging back on the mainland, and it's only because he pushed them to go ahead with their "vacation" that they made it to the island at all. Nobody dies, but they nearly got there because of his misunderstanding.
Porn Stash: And how! Yamazaki has tons of doujins and eroge. At one point, Satou downloads 120 gigabytes of porn.
Pragmatic Adaptation : The anime version leaves out some of the more complex plots of the manga and novel, but uses the opportunity to explore the earlier themes in more depth.
Precision F-Strike: There are a handful of F-bombs dropped in the English dub, mostly by Satou, but his use of it during the climax of the final episode is especially spectacular and certainly qualifies.
Satou: I'll show you, Yamazaki! I'm about to die saving the girl I love! How do you like that? That's not just dramatic! It's FUCKING dramatic!!!
Hitomi manages to get in a single F-bomb to punctuate her crossing the Despair Event Horizon in episode 13.
Hitomi: He may have said I was important to him, but in the end, I know he doesn't need someone useless like me. Why would he? He's so fucking perfect he can do anything he wants all by himself!
Conversely, Yamazaki's single F-strike is somewhat more comedic.
Yamazaki: Satou, you're not listening! I'm telling you the dialogue you wrote for the heroine in this scene doesn't work at all.
Satou: You think so?
Yamazaki: Not even close!
Satou: I dunno, it seems fine to me.
Yamazaki: That's because you're a fucking idiot.
Reality Subtext: See Author Avatar. Also, Chris Patton (who played Satou in the dub) has struggled with anxiety problems for most of his life, which likely helped him in the role. His performance in the dub has been highly praised by critics.
Sabotutor: Misaki's stated goal is to help Satou overcome his fearful reclusiveness and properly function in society, but her true intent is to make him dependent on her affection and service so she can feel needed.
Scare 'Em Straight: Yamazaki does this to Satou in order to cure his MMORPG addiction. It works for Satou (and the audience).
Shout-Out: Many. Starting with the series title itself, a reference to Japan's public broadcaster NHK ("Nippon Hôso Kyôkai", which translates to "Japan Broadcasting Corporation").
Chapter 37 of the Manga is called "Welcome to the 2nd Impact" in a Shout-Out to Neon Genesis Evangelion. The Title page has Misaki, Satou, and Yamazai in plugsuits with an Eva in the background. The chapter also contains a pachinko machine with images of Asuka and the Angels on it.
The preview for the second episode consists entirely of the cast quoting Eva.
The "Moe Game" Satou worked on is based off of True Tears. The game was named "True Words" and the main character on the cover looked almost identical to Noe.
The fraternity that Misaki and her aunt attends is a shout out to the Jehova's Witnesses church. Even the magazine Misaki's aunt gave to Tatsuhiro is called "Awake"!, just like the real one by the Jehova's Witnesses' publishing house (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society).
In the fourth episode, Yamazaki is describing the various types of Gal Game heroines to Satou. The robot gal Satou imagines based on Yamazaki's model and description is strangely similar to Kos-Mos of Xenosaga fame. Especially with blue hair, red eyes, and forehead crest with her model number printed on it.
In episode 4, a Strike Witches poster is proudly displayed behind Sato as he describes his idea for a ridiculous galge heroine.
A subtle reference from the book/anime, the cliff Misaki is named after has many similarities to the cliff from which the main character of Dazai Osamu's "No Longer Human" (Ningen Shikakku) jumps to commit a semi-failed lovers double suicide.
In the anime episode where Satou imagines himself kneeling in front of and being judged by a court of samurai is a very close recreation of an identical scene in Akira Kurosawas 1951 period drama "Rashoumon", which is itself based on Ryuunousuke Akutagawa's "In the grove".
Satou has a poster on his wall for a movie called Bakayaro 6, of the American indie flick Buffalo '66. In homage to Buffalo '66, Satou has Misaki pretend to be his significant other when he meets his mom.
An episode late in the series shows posters for N-Men, H-Men, and K-Men, with blurred versions of X-Men Storm, Wolverine, and Phoenix.
Suicide Pact: The "Offline Meeting" Hitomi and Satou attend. In the end, Misaki and Satou both sign a hostage pact where both are obliged to respond to the other's suicide by also committing suicide — the idea being that since the suicide of the other is something neither will stand for, it will stave off their own suicidal thoughts.
Surreal Humor: Many of Satou's delusional moments and nightmares.
Surreal Theme Tune - "Odoru Akachan Ningen", the original ending theme used for episodes 1-12.
Theme Music Power-Up: "Odoru Akachan Ningen" for Satou in the final episode, without lyrics this time.
There Are No Therapists: None of the main cast ever consider seeking formal counseling. Satou's father does think about sending him to a psychiatric hospital in volume 5 of the manga.
Unfortunately Truth in Television, as even admitting to having mental issues is a sign of deep shame in Japan. Asking for counseling help is essentially social suicide.