thin slicing welcome to the nhk

I must have written and rewritten this post like ten times already. It’s still a mess. I give up. Failure of a post.

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Writing about Gonzo’s version of Welcome to the NHK has been difficult for me. First off, it’s Welcome to the NHK, a delightful story about failing, failure, and epic failure. It’s New Coke, the Yugo, Tacoma Narrows bridge, Unlimited Essay Works, Keroro’s Pekopon conquering schemes, Isiah Thomas’ post-Piston’s career, 3com’s Aubrey, Wired’s Cuecat, Ryan Leaf, Microsoft Bob, and Shinji Ikari all rolled up into a neat package… and that’s why I enjoyed the manga. Secondly, it’s in the hands of Gonzo. Let’s get the Gonzo variable out of the way first. For people who follow baseball, Gonzo is the equivalent of a 4-ish ERA starting pitcher who looks like absolutely stunning when he’s pitching a two-hitter into the seventh before giving up four runs in the seventh. That’s Gonzo.

The problem is that Gonzo never looks that bad yet you can’t help but wonder, “They could do a lot better” when watching their series and ultimately leave unsatisfied. There’s no doubt that they have great production talent– great sequences, fluid animation, solid music. It doesn’t help that Gonzo has cherry-picked prime franchises with mixed results. Crono Crusade? Black Cat? Samurai 7? It’s all the little things that add up… decisions that Gonzo didn’t need to make (i.e. Rosetta’s lifespan) yet they make them anyways. I’ll just call it Gonzo being Gonzo since I have no better way of describing it.

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I can attack Samurai 7, for which Kurasawa is probably rolling in his grave for… really? Giant robots? Gay Samurai? Or for the complete nonsense that was Kiddy Grade (only good to come out of Kiddy Grade was Aya Hirano, so it’s not a complete failure)? Though they’re not consistantly bad… they show enough (Last Exile, Basilisk) that make you think, “Hey, they can be really good” yet they can’t seem to really put everything together. They should have been the next Gainax. They never made that Kyoto Animation-type of leap. And that’s why I say, Gonzo being Gonzo.

When I first heard that Gonzo was working on adapting Welcome to the NHK, I started to worry. We couldn’t get Kyoto, Madhouse, Aniplex, Palm, or even Bones to work on it instead? Gonzo? So I watched the first few episodes of Welcome to the NHK and got sucked in. I enjoyed it. I laughed at Satou’s decent into eroge-hell. I wanted to say a lot of good things about the show. There’s just one problem. This isn’t the Welcome to the NHK that I remember.

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I went back and reread the earlier chapters… yep. Gonzo being Gonzo. Maybe because of broadcast necessity (they do show a lot of panty shots, but nowhere to the level of the manga) they really scaled back the more extreme stuff. Satou was supposed to be a lolicon… the girls he “mouses at lightening speed” for seem a lot older than what he was mousing for the manga. That’s all fine and good… but what happens when they get some of the more extreme stuff that’s funny just because it’s extreme? Like when Satou moves back home, tries to be a normal person, only he can’t take it anymore so he decides to do some “hyper self-pleasuring” and ends up getting caught by his mom while he is nakkid, attached to weird sexual objects, and surrounded by lolicon images. Or maybe when a certain female makes a move on him, drags him to a love hotel… but he can’t finish the job. It’s watered down. Imagine Black Lagoon where Revy doesn’t swear and doesn’t put bullet holes in people’s heads all the time. That’s what NHK feels like at times.

The problems are all tiny choices… nothing big. I’m glad they suddenly didn’t drop in a talking cat from the future or anything like that. But, for instance, while 20 minutes of Yamazaki showing Satou the underground otaku world a la Genshiken was quite entertaining, it occupied like three pages in the manga. They embellished it a bit too much. The problem is that Welcome to the NHK isn’t Genshinken. Sure, they’re working on an eroge… but that’s not the point of the story… and it ultimately becomes a crutch for Satou’s failures rather than a major plot point.

When they should have embellished, they didn’t… for example, Yamazaki is introduced in the manga after Satou flees the manga rental story but before Misaki returns the resume. Satou is stripping/playing/waving around a nakkid mahou shoujo doll at Yamazaki when Misaki returns with resume. She makes the o_o;; face. In the anime, she slips it into the mailslot. What’s wrong with the original? Why did it need to change, at all? Or was it just Gonzo being Gonzo?

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Or when Satou goes out stalking little girls with his camera… the anime version has Misaki finding him, he takes the picture, and she exclaims that he’ll be her best project yet. In the manga, she doesn’t say anything, paralyzed with the o_o;; face to do anything, and it cuts to “Welcome to the Lolita.” Classic. What was wrong with it? Gonzo isn’t making wholesale changes… just little things. Like if Kyoto Animation suddenly changed Bunny Girl Haruhi during God Knows to Nekomimi Haruhi. We can debate the merits of each, but the end result was… wait? What was the point? It’s like arguing over dubs or subs… there’s no winners, and I end up feeling sorry for the people who had to listen to the argument. That’s what I feel like when I’m watching NHK. I just hope that enough small changes don’t add up to a big dislike of the series before it’s all said and done.

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(I do like the random anime and eroge characters and design that Gonzo had to come up with for this show. I can only imagine the animators clotheslining each other to think up fake bishoujo characters. Some even look suspiciously familiar…)

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(BTW, I noticed how Kashiwa and Satou’s club has turned all SOS Brigade-like… if only Kashiwa would stand up and ask for espers, aliens, and time travelers.)

The bottom line is that people who haven’t read the manga would enjoy the series. The production values are very high, and the pacing has been excellent. There’s no doubt about it. I’m sure some of my readers can rejoice in the fact that they’re not as bad as either Satou and Yamazaki (and lightyears better than Man-Haruhi) while I’m sure other readers can enjoy them the same way cubicle rats enjoy Dilbert. It’s always entertaining to see people fail and go down on such an epic scale, which is probably why I enjoy watching Ah-nauld everytime he’s giving a speech or the NBA draft for “The Knicks are on the clock!” or Unlimited Essay Works. Still, the heart of the story isn’t about being an otaku, eroge addict, or even meido. It’s about failure.

The story of NHK follows Satou, Yamazki, and Misaki as they delve deeper into each other’s lives and find out that each is more insane and more of a failure than the next. No one is immune– even people who seem happy and well-adjusted aren’t. They’re all covering up their failures in their own unique ways. For Satou, it’s a lot of lying. For Yamazaki, it’s retreating into his eroge. For Misaki, Kashiwa, and others, well, we’ll find out soon enough (hint: how old is Misaki?). They fail… and fail again… and then when you think they have hit rock bottom, they fail even more spectacularly. Gonzo hasn’t quite captured that aspect yet, and I hope that they do. It’s something that defines the series, and if Gonzo is able to capture this aspect, I’ll give them due props.

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Right now, I have no major complaints even if it doesn’t feel like manga NHK… sometimes, I need to remind myself it’s about “is it entertaining?” “is it fun?” and even Gonzo’s version passes this litmus test. They’re doing a good job. Solid show. And if they start getting that manga feeling down (or even incorporating their jabs to Shounen Ace and Keroro Gunso from the manga), I may upgrade them. Just, knowing Gonzo, it’s going to be very good until the seventh, and then we’d be wishing that we brought in that relief pitcher by the eighth.

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15 Responses to “thin slicing welcome to the nhk”

  1. You have good points there, i don’t know why, it looks like Gonzo berver can be satisfied with the original work; we know sometimes changes are good, but gradual changes, but not little by lñittle. Beacuse the problem is, if they can’t handle it, the “BIG BOAT” is going to sink.

    I’ll keep watching NHK, and then only time can save or kill them..

  2. I haven’t watched nor read Welcome to the NHK, but you are right about Gonzo. I think of them as an all-star team without a good coach.

  3. I liked Samurai 7…

  4. >> They should have been the next Gainax.

    I think the ship may have sailed on Gainax in its hey-day, but the can still shoot for Gainax as it is now. Of course, cutting back on the sleeze from the manga makes that a tad trickier.

    I am rather curious too about how this series is going to unfold. As is, it’s kinda teetering between an analysis of the sleezy eroge loving lifestyle, some sort of very bizarre love story, and a wonderful trainwreck of a life. Given the track record Gonzo has, I’d give even odds of them eventually dropping everything else and focusing on any given one of them. Still, that’s a 33% chance or so of enjoyability, right?

  5. I haven’t seen the anime, but caught up with the manga up to ch26(the current scanlated chapter). Those who have seen the anime might think of it as weak — mainly it isn’t extreme enough… while others who haven’t read of NHK might think of the anime as good.

    …. who knows what would happen when the DVD comes out. They might do something like Episode 3.5 – Welcome to Lolita Complex!… or something like that.

  6. Exactly how many times did you edit this post?

  7. Damn it, now I have to finally watch Kiddy Grade.

  8. Personally, I really enjoyed Kiddy Grade. It felt like a modern version of Dirty Pair, except Eclair and Lumiere were actually supremely competent.

  9. relief pitcher, good idea. god i still have images of samurai 7 that won’t leave my head.

  10. Gonzo made Kaleido Star.

  11. >>> Gonzo being Gonzo

    Just like Manny being Manny, it’s a cautionary tale about who we give huge amounts of money to.

  12. Putting aside the idea that it’s made by Gonzo; shows about failing failing faiures is something I tend to avoid.

    I find it sickening that something like W2NHK, Genshiken, and to a large extent Borat have became way too popular for this day and age.

  13. WELCOME TO N.H.K. DIOOOOOOS SALUDOS DESDE ESPAA!!!!!!

  14. Honestly, I prefer the anime to the manga. I really dislike the extreme stuff in the manga, it makes the characters feel too scummy for me to really sympathize with. Even though they’re all still very screwed up people in the anime at least they never make me feel like taking a shower out of disgust.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the manga. It’s just too harsh and mean-spirited for me to enjoy it as much as the anime.

  15. Thanks Jason.

    This is exactly how I felt going from the manga to anime years back. Seems like it’s a good adaption and it remains entertaining but somehow the soul is missing.

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