The FØØL’s Progress » Blog Archive » Welcome to the Narrative

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The Fool shows a child or youth, while the Magician depicts an all powerful adept. Just as the Fool showed us the price of eternal innocence, so this Magician gives us the fearsomeness of taking on responsibility. If the Major Arcana represents the Fool’s journey, the Magician is the first thing the Fool encounters.

I am a loser. The world hates me. I am a good for nothing. I am so pathetic…but it’s not of my own doing. There must be some extraordinary secret organisation conspiring to cause misery in our insignificant lives.

It’s never our fault.

WELCOME TO THE NHK!

Welcome to the NHK!
Welcome to the NHK!

That’s the theme of “Welcome to NHK” (NHKにようこそ!), a novella (or light novel) written by Tatsuhiko Takimoto (滝本竜彦).

Welcome to the NHK! novella
Welcome to the NHK! novellaKadokawa Fantastic Novels Chinese edition

Originally serialised on Boiled Eggs, an online Japanese literary portal. The novella was a hit among the Otaku-kind because like Densha Otoko – it’s a tale about otakus. The story was published as a mass-circulating paperback in 2002. Two years after the novella saw print, the manga adaptation began serialising in Shonen Ace. In another two years, the manga version was adapted into a 24-episode anime series. The visual adaptations deviated from the original narrative under Kendi Oiwa’s (大岩ケンヂ) treatment in the manga. The anime version tried to follow Kendi’s direction before reaching a conclusion that’s closer to that of the novella. The manga is still ongoing in Shonen Ace and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.

WELCOME TO THE NARRATIVE!

Nikon Hikikomori Kyokai
Nikon Hikikomori Kyokai

Welcome to the NHK is the author’s semi-biographical tale told through the perspective of college drop-out Tastuhiro Sato (佐藤 達広), a NEET afflicted by acute social-withdrawal syndrome. As the title suggest – Tatsuhiro believes that his pathetic condition was the result of a conspiracy by a secret organisation known as the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (The Japan Shut-In Association). An enigmatic girl, Misaki Nakahara (中原 岬) appeared at his doorstep one fateful day and made Tastuhiro a candidate of her project – which was to cure Sato of his hikikomori lifestyle.

THE ORIGINAL TEXT

In the novella, the story was told over 11 chapters preceded by a prologue:

Chapter 1 – Birth of a Fighter: (一章:戦士の誕生) On the winterly month of January Tatsuhiro Sato wakes in his 6-tatami sized apartment and realised that he was a victim of a conspiracy. He’s become a socially withdrawn shut-in for almost four years after dropping out of college. Sato snorted ‘legal’ mail-order hallucinogen and went on a trip. The household appliances in his apartment began talking to him when he began tripping – they were telling him to get rid of his NEET-hikikomori way of life. Sato had wanted to do so under their encouragement, he had wanted to head out to get a job – but the door of his apartment couldn’t seem to open, and he could feel the people out there on the streets deriding him. The household appliances in their chorus, revealed to Sato that he was a victim of NHK. The benign NHK television network was actually the front for the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai. And the NHK is conspiring to convert their viewers into Otakus with it’s deluge of anime broadcast. And otakus are socially inept misfits who’ll eventually become the hikikomoris. Upon epiphany, Sato declared war on NHK and took it upon himself to defeat the evil organisation.

Better Living Through Chemistry
Better Living Through Chemistry!

HI HI HI
Hikimomori Seijin!

Substance abuse, hallucination and delusion are leitmotifs in the story

Chapter 2 – Jihad: (二章:ジハード) Several months later, spring arrived. Cherry trees blossomed. But Sato had done nothing about his intent to bring down NHK. He realised that time is running out because his parents are about to stop providing for his living expenses. He dreamed about his sexual tryst with his high school senior (senpai/先輩), Hitomi Kashiwa (柏 瞳) in the Literary Society’s club room. He was irritated by the “Magical Girl Doremi” anime theme blasting from his neighbour’s apartment. His reverie was broken by the sound of the door bell. At the door of Unit 201 Mita House was an auntie. Behind her was a teenaged girl dressed in a simple frock, holding an umbrella. The auntie appeared to be an evangelist who’s going from house to house to distribute pamphlets. As Sato hadn’t talked to anyone for almost a year, his verbal diarrhoea caught the auntie by surprise and she beat a hasty retreat. Sato caught a glimpse of Misaki before she left, and was mesmerised by her smile.

Chapter 3 – Encounter: (三章:邂逅) Sato decided to get a job and looked up the job employment magazine. The town’s manga cafe “BREAK TIME” is hiring, and he thought he could hack the 700 yen per hour job. At the cafe, he bumped into Misaki who was sitting behind the counter. Sato beat a hasty retreat. He bought beer and shochu from the convenience store and drank himself silly in the safety of his apartment. Agitated by the incessant blast of anime music from his neighbour, he went over and barged into Unit 202. His neighbour is none other than his high school junior – Kaoru Yamazaki (山崎 薫), who’s slumped over the computer desk, in tears. His room is filled with girl figurines, H-games, lolicon posters and other artefact that defined his status as an Otaku. Sato and Yamazaki were members of the Literary Society back in high school. Yamazaki joined the society out of respect for Sato, who tried to rescue him from school bullies. Then, Sato only went out of the way to help Yamazaki so that he could impress his senior with his heroic action. Yamazaki is now attending classes at “Yayagi Animation Institute” (a reference to the premier Yoyogi Animation Institute/ 代々木アニメーション学院). He was crying because it’s the first time he lived by himself, and he felt lonely as he felt he couldn’t fit in with his environment. The two of them drank more to celebrate their reunion.

Chapter 4 – The Way of the Creator: (四章:造物主への道) Sato found his Curricula Vitae in his mail box after waking from his nap. He’d forgotten to take it with him before he fled the manga cafe. Checking with Yamazaki, the pair of auntie and girl evangelists came by his unit earlier. Behind the envelop was a message: He’s been chosen for Misaki’s ‘project’, and is to meet her later at 9pm at the park near his place. That evening, he began his first ‘counselling’ session with Misaki. He tried to regain some of his dignity by lying that he’s a “creator”. Back at home, he went to Yamazaki for help – to get out of the hole he’d dug himself in to. After some discussion, Sato and Yamazaki decided they could come together to produce a computer game. Sato will be responsible for the story development since he is good at writing, while Yamazaki will handle the rest of the game graphics, music and programming. Sato’s jaw dropped when he realised that he’s been roped in to make a porn computer game.

Chapter 5 – Humbert Humbert: (五章:ハンバート・ハンバート) [Note: The sub-title of this chapter is a reference to the character Humbert Humbert from Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film - Lolita]

Yamazaki confides in Sato during a drunken stupor, telling him why he loves 2D anime bishojo characters and hates girls in the real world. He also mentioned how he was jilted by his schoolmate Nanako (緑川七菜子). Yamazaki gave Sato a lecture on the superiority of 2D characters…which led to the topic of lolicon. He then gave Sato some reference material for his research on H-games. Sato shut himself up in his unit, as he slowly succumbed to pedophilia.

Within a week, he had amassed 30GB worth of pedophiliac porn. Ashamed with himself, Sato dragged Yamazaki along with him – he wanted Yamazaki to take a picture of himself taking voyeuristic shots of primary school girls. He thought that the repugnant image of himself indulging in such perversions would be an immediate cure for his deviant behaviour. As Sato was snapping away, he was tried to brush off Yamazaki’s interruptions. He turned around only to realise that the person who’s wondering what he was up to was not Yamazaki but Misaki herself. Yamazaki had already abandoned Sato in shame.

Chapter 6 – Memories, and Promise: (六章:追憶、そして誓約)

The H-game development project was a means for both Sato and Yamazaki to escape from reality (現実逃避). Yamazaki wanted to run away from the responsibility of inheriting the family ranch from his ailing father.

Sato suffered from a mental block as he tried to draft the erotic parts of the narrative. He found that he couldn’t write convincing sex scenes by imitating the style of other pornographic text. As he tried to recall his personal sexual experience, his memory brought him back to five years ago – to the moment at the Literary Society’s club house when he found himself alone with Hitomi, his senior. She was depressed over her failed relationship with her ex-boyfriend from the basketball team among other unhappy things. Hitomi told Sato that their misery ought to be the doings of a secret organisation’s conspiracy. A few days before her graduation – Sato and Hitomi did it in the club room.

A week earlier, Sato had met up with Hitomi at a cafe at Shibuya. Out of the blue, Hitomi rang Sato and asked him out for coffee. Sato learnt that his senior was on prescription drugs – as she showed him the cocktail of downers and anti-depressants she was taking. Hitomi would be getting married soon, and was already pregnant. Her husband-to-be is a high flying civil servant, and she would be a young housewife soon. Hitomi said that she would be graduating from life’s tribulation – she’s gotten her life back in order and would be free from the clutches of the evil conspiracy. However, she was in tears before they parted. And that was the last time he saw of her.

Sato continued to work on the H-game. It was already the mid-year rain season. Sato signed a contract governing the relationship between Misaki and himself. In a month’s time, Sato’s parents would cease his allowances.

Chapter 7 – Rolling Stone: (七章:回転する岩石)

Sato’s parents finally stopped their financial assistance. Out of desperation, Sato used his credit card to obtain cash advance while he sold off all the furniture in his apartment together with his appliance and books. In the evening, Sato continued with his counselling sessions with Misaki. The girl started Sato on psychotherapy – and wanted her client to relate his dreams so that she can do a Freudian analysis. Sato got cheeky and rattled off with the phallic symbolisms. Misaki tried to change the subject and switched topic to Jung – but before she could do so, Sato snatched the bag from her and poured out the contents. Out came reference books on psychiatry and psychology. Sato tried to make sense of Misaki’s intentions to be his counsellor. One of the sessions, Misaki tried to coach Sato on making conversations without getting nervous. She told him to imagine that his dialogue partner is someone who’s a much lower lifeform…

During the day, Sato hung out at Yamazaki’s room to kill time. Yamazaki was also pressed for time as he realised his time in Tokyo is also running out. While shooting breeze, both came to the conclusion that they could escape from reality in style with sex, drugs and rock and roll – just like Jerry Lee Lewis. Sato used the money he scrapped to purchase legal hallucinogens. Instead of getting high, Sato had a bad trip and he thought he was dying. And he realised that he actually wanted to die.

One of the nights when both of them were sufficiently drugged – decided to have a fist fight in the park so as to experience ‘violence’. Misaki saw the scuffle and thought Sato was getting mugged. She scared Yamazaki away when she tricked him to think that there were cops at the scene. While comforting a tearful and worried Misaki, Sato tried to explain that they were practising karate to keep fit. As he raised his fist to demonstrate a punch, Misaki cowered and covered her head in fright. While shielding her head, her sleeve slipped to reveal a bare hand pocked by cigarette burns.

Chapter 8 – Infiltration: (八章:潜入)

On a Thursday, Misaki suddenly asked Sato to go on a date with her the day after. Sato accepted. While hanging out at Yamazaki’s apartment, two evangelists came by the place again. The two of guys were from the same religious group where Misaki and her aunt came from. Sato seized the opportunity to accept their invitation to observe their activities. He knew that Misaki would be attending a mass taking place on Friday and he wanted to know more of her private life.

Sato and Yamazaki disguised themselves before infiltrating the evangelists’ conference. Misaki was to present a testimony before the Christian assembly. She was a pathetic sight while waiting for her turn to go on stage. Seen enough, both Sato and Yamazaki made their exit. As they were leaving, both of got stopped by one of the guys from the congregation. Yamazaki fled. But the youth had no interest in apprehending the intruders. He went for a smoke with Sato. During their stroll away from the convention hall, the youth told him about the hypocrisy and politics within the church. He mentioned that the church is but another society within a society that’s not without it’s ills and ugliness.

Saturday afternoon, Sato and Misaki went for a walk around town. They had lunch at a family restaurant before ending up at the manga cafe “BREAK TIME” which was run by Misaki’s guardian. At the manga cafe, Misaki related to Sato about her history, and her relationship with her guardians. She also told Sato about her disbelief in God. Misaki confessed that she wished she could believe in God, because if God really existed He will be an evil being. That’s because from her experience so far, she’s experienced more unhappy moments than happy moments – a ratio of 9:1. She thought if such a God actually existed, life would be much easier because she could blame all her misery on God. The Uncle at the cafe waived the bill for Sato, and thanked him for keeping Misaki company.

When Sato got home from the date, he found a life-sized doll in his apartment. Yamazaki was making oblations to the 1:1 scale Lulli-Lulli. Yamazaki ranted that they needed a revolution in the religious order so that they could find spiritual salvation – to fill the void in their lives. Yamazaki ripped up the evangelist’s pamphlet “Awaken!” on guardian angels. The cover showed an adonis angel spreading his wings. He declared that the real guardian angel is not some muscular macho man but should be one that’s more Moé, more lolli…and Lulli Lulli is their saviour. Sato noted that Yamazaki was on drugs.

Chapter 9 – End of Days: (九章:おしまいの日々)

Summer came. Sato was afflicted by lethargy. Yamazaki had stopped developing the H-game. Instead, he’d wanted to build a bomb. Yamazaki constructed his bomb following instructions taken off the Internet. He is going to start a revolution.

During the evening counselling session, Misaki described to Sato on the impermanence of nature and the fragility of life. She went on to discuss the topic of suicide notes and mentioned that which marathon runner Kichiki Tsuburaya’s (円谷幸吉) left behind. Those who are on the verge of death would want to return to their home town. Misaki went on to relate the story of her birthplace – and how she was named after the well known promontory (Misaki / 岬) that faces the Sea of Japan. The promontory has since become a popular spot for committing suicide. And she said she wanted to disappear from the town where’s she currently staying. Before the two of them parted, Misaki asked Sato for one more date. That Sunday would be his graduation test.

The night before the date, Sato and Yamazaki test fired the bomb at the park near their apartment. The bomb went off with a an unremarkable pop, just like a firecracker. No harm was done. Yamazaki realised the futility of his efforts, and decided to return to his home town.

On Sunday, Sato and Misaki headed for the metropolis. They watched a Hollywood action movie before ending up at the city’s park. Misaki confessed that Sato was the perfect candidate for her project because he was so much more pathetic than herself. She then related her miserable life – she was an unwanted kid that nobody loved. She was affecting her guardians’ relationship as her Uncle and Aunt were heading for a divorce. Sunset. Misaki handed Sato a second contract. This time, the terms of the contract demanded that Sato would forever like Misaki, and would not forsake her or leave her alone. Sato refused the contract – because he didn’t feel that he was lonely.

Back in his apartment, Sato knew that he was alone. He’d wanted to escape from loneliness by becoming a hikikomori – by shutting himself from the rest of the world, then would he not feel lonelier. Sato made himself a potent cocktail of drugs and went on a trip. Memories came flooding back – of the times he spent with Yamazaki at Mita House. The life sized doll, the keepsake from Yamazaki, came to life and became an angel – bringing him on a trip to a far away planet. The planet was beautiful. Standing on a field, the angel picked a white flower and presented it to Sato. She plucked off each petal, foretelling Sato’s future “Life…Death…Life…Death…Life….Death-”

Chapter 10 – Dive: (十章:ダイブ)

Summer ended. Sato had run out of money. For five days, he went without food before giving up. Hunger forced him to find a job. Sato became a packer with a transportation company. The labour did him good as it took his mind off things. For the first month he worked hard, holding on to a few jobs as he had to pay off his credit card debts. As he became more comfortable, he slowed the pace – he worked just enough to sustain his lifestyle. Sato took on the easier jobs, such as a night-duty traffic marshal at construction sites. The job is a no-brainer that only required reflexive responses.

True World~真実のセカイ~
True World~真実のセカイ~

A working sample of the “True World~真実のセカイ~” was an exclusive give away in the limited edition Vol.6 of the manga series. The game was produced by H-game software company CIRCUS (サーカス).

By the fifth winter of his hikikomori life, he found himself shivering in the cold as he had sold the heater. Sato powered up the laptop left behind by Yamazaki for warmth. When the computer booted up, he saw an unusual icon on the desktop. It was the H-game tried to make. Sato spent the day going through the game. It was nothing like a H-game. Rather, it’s more like a dumbed down version of the Dragon Quest RPG. The game is about the “romantic adventures of youthful fighters resisting evil organisations, and rescuing the female protagonist.” The story sucked. And Sato figured out that he was responsible for the narrative. In the game, the player character could make three kind of moves during combat – “Attack”, “Defend” and “Special Attack”. The “Special Attack” is the only method that could defeat the final boss and save the life of the female protagonist. In that move, the player character will have to sacrifice his life in a suicide bomb attack.

True World~真実のセカイ~
A significant moment

The game hung when the player executed the final move. Sato opened up the text file with Yamazaki’s development notes. In that document, Yamazaki commented,”To defeat the boss, the only means is through the Special Attack. Only by choosing death, can there be victory. Because the Evil Organisation is our world. When we die, our world disappear and together with it the Evil Organisation will vanish too. Only then will there be peace. I don’t have what it takes to blow my brains out with the bomb. The way the game ends is a matter of choice – it’s not because of the trouble of creating the ending scene CG, or that I’ve grown tired of game development.

It was Christmas time. Sato was almost ran over by a speeding ambulance. The emergency vehicle halted outside Misaki’s house. Sato saw Misaki stretchered onto the ambulance before it sped off to the hospital. She was warded at the psychiatric ward. Sato learnt from her Uncle that Misaki had tried to take her life by swallowing sleeping pills. The girl had amassed the pills over a period of time and had plotted her own death. When Sato went up to her room, Misaki was not to be found. There was a note suggesting suicide left behind. Sato raced against time to reach Misaki’s home town. From the train station of her home town, Sato flagged a cab that brought him to the infamous promontory. He managed to make it on time, but Misaki resisted his advances. She slashed him with a box cutter as he tried to reach out to her. Sato tried to talk her out of her suicidal thoughts. He revealed the existence of NHK to Misaki. The NHK is an evil organisation seeking to destroy the lives of young people – the “H” in NHK could stand for anything. For Sato himself, it was “Hikikomori” – but for Misaki it could stand for “Hikan” (悲観) – Pessimism. Sato wanted to vanquish the NHK, he wanted to save and protect Misaki. He wanted to commit the Special Attack. Pushing Misaki aside, he leapt off the promontory.

Final Chapter – Welcome to the NHK!: (終章:NHKにようこそ!)

Spring arrived. Yamazaki sent a picture of himself with his wife to be. He met the girl of his dreams during a match making session (Sato: Go to Hell!). His senior, Hitomi informed Sato in her New Year greetings that she is happily married. She’s living in a big mansion and would be giving birth soon (Sato: Go to Hell!). Misaki went back to school and would soon be sitting for the university entrance exams. (Sato: Go to Hell!). Sato himself became a freeter-hikikomori.

That fateful wintry night at the promontory, Sato woke to find himself trapped on the safety net after jumping off the cliff. He broke down and cried. He couldn’t die even if he had wanted to. Misaki helped to drag Sato to safety. She was in tears. It was late, and both of them ended up at an abandoned house near the scenic spot. The house used to belong to her parents. She was born in that house and was named after the promontory (Misaki = Promontory/Cape). That evening, Misaki asked Sato what became of NHK. Before Sato could finish, Misaki pulled out her ‘Secret Note’ from her bag. She told Sato she’d identified her NHK – it stood for Nihon Hostage-exchange Association. The lives of the members of this NHK are bonded to each other – if one of them die, so would the other. In order for the other to stay alive, the principle had to survive. It was an arrangement of mutually assured destruction. Thus it was written in the notebook.

The president of NHK is Misaki Nakahara. And the first member of NHK is Tatsuhiro Sato.

After signing his name on the note, Misaki welcomed Sato to the NHK.

The End

TEXTUAL INTERCOURSE

The original discourse is centred on the relationship between Sato, Misaki and Yamazaki. Sato’s senior Hitomi was a secondary character that made a brief appearance. The relationship between Sato and Hitomi never became a plot device. Yamazaki’s girlfriend Nanako was but a footnote. Other characters that had significant presence in the manga and anime such as Sato’s class monitor Megumi Kobayashi, her hikikomori younger brother Yuichi Kobayashi (Toro-Toro) never existed in the original text.

Global Cross Cultural Conspiracy
Global Cross Cultural Conspiracy

The sub-plots – Sato’s first visit to Akihabara, Sato infiltrating Yayagi Animation School, Sato mom’s visit to Tokyo (and Misaki masquerading as Sato’s girlfriend), the Natsucomi, the off-line meeting of the Internet suicide club, Sato’s MMORPG addiction, the Mouse Road MLM pyramid swindle, Misaki catching Sato with Hitomi…all these never happened in the original story. There is no telling how the manga adaptation would end, but the anime concluded with an ending that is faithful to the final chapter of the novella.

WELCOME TO THE 電波系!

Tatsuhiko Takimoto came to Earth in 1978, in a place called Hakodate in Hokkaido. He grew up in the rural north of Japan before moving to Tokyo for further studies. He dropped out during his second year in Tokyo’s Senshu University (専修大学). Tatsuhiko Became a self confessed “top-runner” of the hikikomori generation and a writer of denpa-kei (電波系) stories.

滝本竜彦
Tatsuhiko Takimoto

During his four years as a hikikomori he had produced three novellas or light novels. Even though he’s only got three books to his credit, he’s recognised as one of the rising stars in the post-Murakami Japanese literature movement, characterised by the advent of the ‘light novel’. The light novel is a peculiar genre of literature that’s linked to Otaku culture. (Check out the following articles: 輕小說是跨媒體救星! & 輕小說的社會認受與偏見) “Welcome to the NHK!” is his second piece of work. His latest book is “The Chojin (Overman) Project” (超人計画). He won Kadokawa’s 5th Campus Novel Award with his maiden work “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” (ネガティブハッピー・チェーンソーエッヂ) in 2001.

Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge
Negative Happy Chainsaw EdgeKadokawa Fantastic Novels Chinese edition

All three novellas had dust-jacket covers illustrated by Yoshitoshi ABe (安倍吉俊), known for his work on Serial Experiments: Lain.

Although “Welcome to the NHK” is not a sequel to “Happy Negative Chainsaw Edge”, it continues with the theme of a Shiji Ikari-like protagonist – meek youths who couldn’t fend for themselves and didn’t know what to do with their lives. In “Happy Negative Chainsaw Edge”, the sailor school uniformed fighter Eri Yukizaki (雪崎絵理) spent her nights battling the immortal Chainsaw Man. The enigmatic Chainsaw Man is none other than the manifestation of Eri Yukizaki’s unhappiness and despair. The hapless Yosuke Yamamoto (山本陽介) tried to find significance in his existence by volunteering to be Eri’s sidekick. This novella was adapted into a 10-part radio drama and is currently being made into a movie, premiering in Spring 2008 . Hayata Ichihara (市原隼人/ Waterboys 2) will play the role of Yosuke and Seki Megumi (関めぐみ). The movie is directed by Takuji Kitamura (北村拓司/SO-RUN MOVIE [ソーラン・ムービー])


滝本竜彦(ビジネス未来人より)

NHK’s Business Future People / Business Miraijin (ビジネス未来人) programme with Tatsuhiko Takimoto and his literary agent Tatsuro Murakami (村上達郎). Tatsuhiko’s other short stories have been serialised in literary magazines such as Faust (ファウスト. Taiwanese edition was launched in 2006), Quick Japan (クイック・ジャパン ), 野生時代 and Bessatsu Bunshun (別冊文藝春秋).

Kadokawa, the publisher of books/manga by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and Kendi Oiwa, launched the “Negative Campaign” (ネガティブキャンペーン) to promote their works that define the denpa-kei (電波系) genre (What exactly is denpa-kei? That will be another story for another time. But some associated keywords for clue: mindbending, messing with the mind & reality, paranoia, conspiracy, counter-culture, hypnotic suggestions….)

Negative Campaign
Negative Campaign #6

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