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Being a sociologist by qualification and living in Japan, the hikikomori phenomena really makes me think. For that reason, and for actually tackling the issue as the main plot device, NHK got me very interested very quickly.
I finished it in a week, which is very fast for me. I thought it was excellent for the most part, although what initially interested me in the show was not fully treated in the way I would have liked it to be.
Story 8/10 What is a hikikomori? No-one in Japan I've spoken to seems to know, and nor does this anime. It's something of a shame for something so brave as to brand its lead with the affliction, but NHK ni Yousoko can't decide if being a hikikomori is to be lazy, uninitiated, spoiled or a victim of circumstances.
What could have been a very intelligent and still witty expose of the hidden Japanese lifestyle becomes at worse a farce, at best a vivid depiction of the mind of a slovenly, shy person. But that's the problem. I don't think that a hikikomori can be characterised so simply into feelings that the majority of us can easily slip into.
Our hero seems to eternally live in the world of the teenager coming to age. His parents send him money to continue living that lifestyle; so he does. I, for one, certainly went through a phase where staying inside smoking and drinking, playing computer games and watching anime seemed a marvelous way to spend the rest of my life. What happened to me, and pretty much what seems forever inevitably happening to the lead in NHK is that I got bored of it. It was unsatisfying and produced nothing.
For this very reason Satou-kun embarks on various projects to create something; anything. He makes friends (and does so a little too easily to really convince me he is a hikikomori at all), or meets old ones to help him on his way. And they have their problems too, which are certainly not without their charm. The tough issues of the other characters are excellent, and the actually quite dark treatment of several of them cuts like a knife. The lack of 100% happy endings for some is also a brilliant and unpredictable flare of originality.
However, like with a lot of anime, the setting and palate somehow don't quite match the mood for the difficult moments in the series. Apart from the soft and quiet night-setting for the troubled Nakahara-san, and the strained and ultimately horrible but nicely crafted worlds of pyramid schemes and suicide-pacts, the series strays too far from its psychological basis (in plot and design). It also has a tendency to peek behind doors to places it isn't equipped to handle, and is ultimately forced to resolve those plot-lines with below par and unconvincingly pleasant outcomes. That's a bit of a shame, but the strengths elsewhere make it excusable.
Animation 7/10 To add to what I mentioned about the palate and setting, the animation is sometimes very poor. Whether that is deliberate stylisation, or I just had the raw TV version, I don't know.
However, the character designs are nice, and the backgrounds and locations are well rendered and believable.
Sound 7/10 Nothing particularly special here (other than the mighty Odoru Dame Ningen): familiar voices which do a decent job (Japanese), and fairly standard OP and ED. I did like the OP's pleasant balance between Belle and Sebastian and BoA, but it was nothing to skype home about.
Characters 9/10 Satou is clearly the most important character. Maybe I'm missing the point and he isn't even supposed to be a hikkikomori. Maybe that's just his excuse for being so lazy or how he rationalises his lack of social zeal. Whichever way you look at him, he's incredibly interesting. Other characters remain excellent varied creations riffing on the ideas of loneliness, troubled pasts and awkward life-situations. Interestingly the most grounded character, Yamazaki-kun, is the one with the biggest obstacle to overcome - the impossible to over-play pull of Japanese familial responsibilities.
Overall 8.8/10 It's pretty clear from the space given to it above that the story is the most important and significant aspect of the show.
Reading back though it seems as if I haven't really given credit where it's due. The series was exceptional in many ways - in addressing the issues it did (which is a very un-Japanese thing to do), being so left-of-mainstream when doing so, and in its murky yet hopeful perception of the world. I loved it, really, which is very rare for such a bitter and horrible person as myself :D Even when it abandoned the main thrust of the story, took little walks along the beach and played with other peoples kids in a kind of uncomfortable way, afterwards I couldn't help but forgive it. Gonzo created a world so intensely forgivable that it stole my heart. I wanted more but I wasn't angry about it, and that's so close to the ideal way for a series to end that... well, what more is there to say?
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