I just finished reading Welcome to the NHK. It is not a pleasant book. I’m not writing a review, so don’t expect a recommendation either way. Why not? It’s partly because NHK is a deeply personal story. It’s not an autobiography in the strict sense, but the preface, and the two afterword sections prevent me from relating to this book as anything other than a confession.
Even if author Takimoto Tatsuhiko is not the lead character Satou Tatsuhiro, the authorial voice in the novel makes them indistinguishable. In the first afterword he says how difficult it is for him to read his own work. Knowing that even if Satou isn’t really him, Satou’s experiences are his; his own actions documented even if presented as fiction.
So why won’t I review this work? By review I mean to write about it in the service of providing you a recommendation, a discussion of its merits as a work of fiction, an estimation of your potential enjoyment, a judgment over its elements — it’s setting, its characters, etc. I don’t want to judge it. I don’t think I’ll be fair. To judge the book feels like I’m judging Satou, ergo Takimoto. I don’t want to.
To even consider not wanting to judge, I must feel like I have something unwelcome to say.
Well, Satou disgusts me. To me he is a human being of no merit. He takes up space, even if only a 6-tatami apartment; he breathes our air, spends unearned resources, and contributes nothing. He is a parasite of the most pathetic kind.
And by pathetic, I don’t mean the kind that appeals to my compassion. I don’t sympathize with him, I don’t think he is a victim of a disease, or a disorder. I think he is a symptom of a certain social affliction. Don’t ask me to name it, I’m no expert. I feel it to be so. Take my statements for whatever they’re worth.
And he is not alone. There are two other characters who are almost as degenerate as he is. Yamazaki Kaoru is a former schoolmate who is an otaku of the anime, but more specifically eroge subcategories. Nakahara Misaki is a missionary who made a project to reform Satou, but does not do so from a place of compassion and strength. If anything, she’s almost as impotent and terrified as he is. Her supposed mercy, is in fact cruel. Read it if you want to understand. Otherwise take my word for now.
The thing that prevents these two characters from being as ridiculous as Satou is that they have projects and interests. Satou can’t be roused to do anything. His motivation to take up something like Yamazaki’s game project is fear and flight. His participation in Misaki’s redemption project is through by force of a flimsy contract and an unenforcable 10 million yen redress for breaching it. He doesn’t really want to do any of what these people are into, but he really can’t say no. What’s the point? He asks. I’m trapped anyway, he thinks.
The villainous NHK (Nihon Hikkikomori Kyokai) is too powerful. The conspiracy is too well planned. The universe’s resources are spent in a meticulously precise coordinated system of generating the maximum amount of misery for Satou. This is what he tells himself. The NHK can make him do anything.
This is best exemplified in how Satou, one with no particular interests in life, is transformed into a child pornography-hoarding lolicon. He was so disgusted with himself, after spending days maxing out his 30GB (which was considerable in 2002) HDD with child pornography from all over the world. His taste developed gradually, then inexorably, then like a flood. He got so disgusted with himself that he took Yamazaki to photograph him as he hid behind the bushes to take photographs of elementary school girls, hoping to steal a panty-shot. He wanted evidence of his depravity.
So what we have here is a person who is disgusting to himself, and who is aware of how disgusting he is. Knowing this, he has no real will to change, or to ask for assistance. He sees it as a waste, he’s too depraved to deserve assistance. He’s not worth the trouble. He’s better off shutting himself in, avoiding all human interaction whatsoever. THANK YOU NHK.
But there is something that Satou does. He saves a life, wholly by accident. The person is saved, because Satou is an idiot. Even if you think you’re the worst person, and want to kill yourself, you always have Satou to look at and marvel at the spectacle of his pathos. And in the end, he stays the way he is. Maybe he wants to pat himself on the back by his unlikely survival. Maybe writing his book is — not quite the way out, but the way to stay in, stay inside his room, away from me, or anyone who can be his friend.
This is his victory.
I didn’t ask for a redemption story. I got that by reading Onani Master Kurosawa. I didn’t ask for moral ambiguity. I got that from reading Bokurano. I wanted the painful experience, the pathos and cruelty I got from those two works, without asking for anything else. Well, I got what I wanted. Can’t I just shut up and be happy about it? I got my unsympathetic protagonist who got by somehow and told me his story. I got my insider look within the extents of depravity of an extrordinary individual. I don’t like him, I don’t like his story.
It doesn’t mean that it is a bad story though.
And let me say that this story, is interesting. To fail to be so will have been the cruelest of tragedies. It does not fail. Even after writing this, I’m still thinking about it.