Welcome back everyone, to yet another good week of Welcome to the NHK. It feels like NHK has hit its stride recently. It was always somewhere between good and great, but the last like… 6 episodes have all been fantastic. And that’s including this week as well! So without further ado, join me as we talk about yet another great pair of episodes.
Right off the bat I want to praise NHK for it’s presentation this week. These two episodes are all about deception and manipulation, of one character deceiving the rest. Usually, this is pretty difficult! Because not only does a show have to trick its characters, it also has to convince the audience that the deception was good enough to trick the characters. Basically, NHK has to make me believe someone would actually fall for what’s being depicted. If it can’t do that, then everything falls apart because the audience hasn’t bought in. Yet its not surprising at all that NHK nailed this. The VA work, dialogue, presentation. Having someone giving audience cues to make them buy in, peer pressure, preying on anxieties specific to each character. It makes complete sense someone would fall for this. It’s not just a plot contrivance, and that’s why the scam works so damn well.
Am I being vague here? Yes, purposefully so. Continue after the break if you want specifics, cause this was another banger of a week.
So specifics, the scam is good but why is it good? Why does this arc feel just as engaging as both Vena Telo and the suicide cult? Well to explore that we need to zoom out a bit. So far NHK has only really tackled one side of the Hikikomori, that being the Hikikomori themselves. It does this with a multitude of characters of course, giving us many different glimpses into the condition. Whether it be Sato, Yamazaki, it even zooms out a bit into depression in general through Hitomi, the cult and others. But what about the other side? What about Sato’s mother, Yamazaki’s family, Jougasaki? What about those who have to support the Hikikomori? Well that’s what this arc is all about. Megumi, another of Sato’s old classmates and the former class representative, is this arcs centerpiece. And she handles it gloriously.
The arc starts with episode 17, “Welcome to Happiness!”. On it’s surface, this episode is all about Sato. We watch him get sucked into the pyramid scheme through another bad relationship with a former classmate. He’s hopeful, he thinks maybe this one will end better than Hitomi, he’s on the upswing! Emotionally he’s in a nadir after Vena Telo, but he isn’t letting that stop him. It’s clear improvement! But while in this state, while seeking self improvement, Sato is also vulnerable. Vulnerable to someone willing to give that satisfaction, that feeling of progression, but at a cost. Thus enters Megumi. She shows up with honeyed words and promises. Baring her soul to him, telling him something akin to the truth, she drags him into the pyramid scheme and in doing so sets him on a slope from which there is no return.
But what about Megumi, you might be asking? Well that’s simple: Swap their roles. Ignore the names, zoom out a bit, and see what is happening here. Megumi, as by her own words, is doing to Sato exactly what was done to her. She was tricked into the scheme, she lost all of her money, she is in massive debt now. All off the words of a former classmate. And NHK, rather than giving us a straight forward flashback, instead communicates this by having our all so familiar lead, Sato, fall for the exact same thing. It effectively shows us her backstory before we ever know it’s her backstory. So when the hammer falls at the end of the episode, we are primed to buy into it. To feel sorry for her, just like we feel sorry for Sato. Just like she wants Sato to feel sorry… for her.
That’s right, this entire thing is not only backstory without a flashback, it’s also priming both us and Sato to trust her. We want to think that she’s been corralled into this, that she doesn’t want to do this. That Megumi is in just as bad a place as Sato and truly believes she can get out. But by the time the episode ends and that affect wears off, we learn that of course that isn’t the case. It’s just weaponized guilt. She did it by telling the truth, sure. But the best lies are always tinged with a bit of truth. The actual lie was that she doesn’t care about or feel sorry for Sato at all. He’s just another mark to her, though a particularly susceptible one. It’s just incredible to me how NHK can do all of this without dropping the façade once until the end.
This brings me to episode 18, “Welcome to No Future!”. Where episode 17 was setting up and introduces Megumi in her entirety, this is where NHK starts to really explore her place in the narrative. Some of it is used to push Sato and co further down the pyramid rabbit hole, sure. But even that just because an excuse, a vehicle, to see more of Megumi. To explore her further and get a look at just how hard it is to get out of a scheme. Even with all 3 of them, Sato, Yamazaki and Misaki, they still fell prey to her fast talking ways. Now imagine Megumi on her own, without that kind of support? Of course she would wind up where she is now. It makes complete sense she was unable to get out of it. But what about why she got into it to begin with?
Well if you remember earlier in this post when I mentioned there being two sides to the Hikikomori coin then you can see where I’m going with this. Megumi is that other side. She isn’t the Hikikomori but rather the one stuck supporting them. The one making their lifestyle possible. How else is someone who doesn’t work or go to school supposed to survive after all? Money doesn’t just appear out of thin air. For Sato, it comes from his parents. For Megumi’s brother, it comes from her. No doubt this is part of why she’s fallen as deep as she has. Were she on her own, with no one else to support, I imagine she could have afforded to get out or not fall in to begin with. But a second person with no extra help? It’s a sinking ship.
With this revelation, Megumi has simultaneously become both the villain and the victim of this story. Obviously what she’s doing isn’t ok. She’s scamming people out of their money and thrusting them into debt just to get out of her own. Yet at the same time, it’s the only option that’s available to her. Her house is filled with junk, she’s been attending these meetings long enough to become a middle-tier rank, she’s stuck into the pyramid. And the sad part? I don’t see how she gets out of this. Nothing Sato can do, short of taking her entire debt onto himself like a moron, is going to help her. Even if he manages to get her brother outside and working, how much can one other NEET income help this situation? Simply put… Megumi has lost.
And oh, that climax of the episode. The reveal of who the brother is, exactly what Yamazaki threatened Sato would become. NHK managed to come full circle with this arc. Megumi’s story is that of Sato’s parents if he continued to lock himself away, just racking up the debt. The brother the real life, non-exaggerated reflection of what he is slowly becoming. It’s just… This is incredible from NHK. If it can’t scare you straight via Yamazaki, it’s going to guilt trip you into going outside via Megumi. One way or another, Welcome to the NHK is going to get you to go outside and touch grass.
So yeah, once again NHK was simply fantastic. I’m 100% sure that this show is going to be getting a good score from me at this point. The only real question is if it’s going to manage to kick something out of my top 10 and take their place. I’d welcome it to be honest. The last time that happened was Princess Tutu, also for this very article on this very blog. But before that? Run With the Wind from over 3 years ago. I’d feel bad about kicking Mushishi out of my top 10, but needs must. But thats only if NHK can stick the landing. We have 6 episodes left, 3 weeks. Fingers crossed it can hold steady until the end.
In the mean time I want to remind you, dear readers, that you can submit shows to be considered for our next season of Throwback Thursday in the comments below. I’ll be putting up a poll with the last NHK post as usual for y’all to vote on, so you have until then to give me some recommendations! Otherwise I’ll pull from the pool I already have. See you next week!