Welcome to the N.H.K.

Author: Tatsuhiko Takimoto 
Translator: Lindsey Akashi
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781427802569
Released: October 2007
Original release: 2005

Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s novel Welcome to the N.H.K. was first published in Japan in 2002. The English translation by Lindsey Akashi was based off of the 2005 Japanese edition of the novel and was released by Tokyopop in 2007. I don’t remember exactly how I first learned about Welcome to the N.H.K. but somehow I gained the impression that it was one of the best books to come out of Tokyopop’s short lived Pop Fiction line. Perhaps surprisingly, I was aware of the novel Welcome to the N.H.K. before I was aware of either the twenty-four episode anime adaptation or the eight volume manga series (also published by Tokyopop) which was based on the novel. Both the manga and the anime are much easier to come by—the Welcome to the N.H.K. novel is unfortunately long out of print and hard to find. And when you do come across a copy it tends to be rather expensive. I count myself lucky to actually own the book.

Satou Tatsuhiro is a twenty-year-old hikikomori—a young recluse who has shut himself away from the world. His family doesn’t know it yet, but he has dropped out of college and is living off of the allowance they send to him. Satou rarely leaves his small, cluttered apartment except for food, but even going to buy groceries is an ordeal for him. Normally he sleeps for sixteen hours, waking up long enough to eat, drink, and maybe throw together a concoction of over-the-counter drugs in an attempt to make himself feel better before falling back to sleep again. And so it is more by chance than anything else that he happens to meet a girl named Misaki, who is just a little odd herself. She is determined to make Satou her “project” and cure him of his hikikomori ways. Satou’s not entirely sure what to make of that or what to do about her. However, the two fall into a strange sort of friendship whether they mean to or not.

As he reveals in the afterword, Tatsuhiko Takimoto himself is a self-proclaimed hikikomori (or NEET, a more socially acceptable term). I wasn’t aware of this fact until after reading Welcome to the N.H.K. Inevitably, Takimoto drew on his own experiences and feelings as a hikikomori while writing the novel, lending to the authenticity of the main character. Understandably, it was a difficult task for the author to write the book. Takimoto imagines readers’ responses to Welcome to the N.H.K. as “It’s really funny. But it made me cry a little, too.” I completely agree with the sentiment. If it wasn’t for the humor, the novel would be terribly depressing. Welcome to the N.H.K. is in turn funny, even hilarious, and heartbreaking. Even so, while the humor may often be self-denigrating, Takimoto is never cruel.

The translation and adaptation work of Welcome to the N.H.K. is exceptional. It reads incredibly naturally, even considering the occasional end note. I was particularly impressed because significant sections of the novel are nearly stream-of-conscious, a style of writing that can be difficult to pull off well. Welcome to the N.H.K. nails it. The entire story is told directly from Satou’s perspective regardless of his current state of mind. This includes both his good and bad trips. Although Welcome to the N.H.K. can be a bit silly or goofy, it is also dealing with some very serious and mature issues and themes: drug use, sexual fantasies (including lolicon and erotic video games), religion, abuse, and suicide, just to name a few. It can be an uncomfortable experience for the reader—the story proceeds innocently enough only to repeatedly turn around to hit you hard in the gut when you’re not expecting it—but Welcome to the N.H.K. is a fantastic novel. I was glad to discover that it was just as good if not better than I was led to believe.


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Comments

  1. I’m so jealous you got your hands on this! I always keep my eye out for this at conventions and the like. I loved the anime, so I’m hoping to find the book for a reasonable price one day. I’d like to see more manga/anime that deal with hikikomori.

    • I’ve seen copies of the novel go for absurd prices, so I’ll be crossing my fingers for you to find one and not have to sell a kidney to get your hands on it!

      I haven’t seen the anime yet, but I’ll definitely be tracking it and the manga down since I enjoyed the novel so much.

      I just realized today that Gonzo was the studio that worked on the anime. I’ve really enjoyed some of their other series so I’m looking forward even more to watching Welcome to the N.H.K.

  2. I’m lucky enough to have this as well — I’m not a huge manga reader, nor do I normally read books that are associated with anime, but NHK does none of the terrible things that I associate with “light novels.” It’s a quick read, but a “real” book. You’re absolutely right that it’s an uncomfortable read, though. I might argue that it is in fact a bit on the cruel side, but maybe I’m conflating it with the anime, which definitely is a cruel indictment at times.

    I’ve read a couple nonfiction books about the hikkikomori phenomenon, and though I felt like I learned a lot from them, I think I gained more insight from Takimoto’s story. Sato is such a horrible person at times, but it’s all rooted in the fact that he’ll cling to any option that he feels will let him maintain his agoraphobic lifestyle. There’s been a lot written about how Japanese society right now fetishizes, but doesn’t actually value, youth, and that the hikkikomori thing is at least partially due to this, but I’m glad NHK didn’t get too much into the sociology of things. It’s just a story, but the lack of real redemption in it does seem to say something about how Takimoto feels about society.

    • To me it doesn’t seem like Takimoto is deliberately being mean just to be mean, which is what I meant by not being cruel. What he puts Satou through is certainly not always pleasant, but generally it is for the sake of the story or character development and not just to be terrible to him. However, I’ll readily admit that it’s a very fine line between being cruel or not. I haven’t seen the anime yet for comparison, but I do plan on watching it.

      I appreciate you sharing your impression about how Welcome to the N.H.K. fits in with the literature on hikikomori. I’d be interested if you have any particular book recommendations about the hikikomori phenomenon; I haven’t read too deeply into the subject myself.

      Thanks for taking time to stop by and comment!

  3. L. Akashi says:

    Just wanted to say that a friend pointed me in the direction of this review. Thank you for the kind comments regarding the translation.

    I really enjoyed working on this project and often think fondly back to it. Perhaps because of that fact, I’m somewhat saddened that certain Japanese light novel-style fiction projects (like this one, and then to some extent nisioisin’s Zaregoto Series, and other Faust-related authors, etc.) never gained any sort of significant foothold in the West. I believe that this novel is actually a rather important one, a work that deserved far more attention than it ever got.

    Of course, Tokyopop folding and copies of this book being impossible to find now (I don’t even have an English copy now, I gave my last two away!) doesn’t help. Anyway, I just stopped by to say thanks so much for reading and reviewing this novel.

    • Oh, wow! Thank you for visiting! I loved Welcome to the N.H.K. and, as I mentioned in the review, thought the translation was fantastic. I find it frustrating, too, that light novels seem to have a difficult time finding an audience outside of Japan because there are some really great ones that have been translated.

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