Saturday, September 4, 2010

Youkoso! Hikikomori-san (Welcome to the NHK!)

I chanced upon Welcome to the NHK! (the anime series that is since there's a manga and a light novel) in a very unusual manner. I happened to be looking at some anime terms and japanese jargon (since I'm learning Nihongo) in Wikipedia when I found the term "Hikikomori". Basically it means a "shut-in" kind of person with some social issues. Upon reading further it references to some anime characters as examples. Nakahara Sunako from "The Wallflower" (its Shoujo. Personally I'm not into Shoujo) and Tatsuhiro Satou of this anime. I'd admit this touches a personal side of me thus, my curiosity in taking a peek at Satou-kun's life. Truth be told, It was way better than I expected and I was in for some reality shock.
Tatsuhiro Satou, 22 years old. A hikikomori for nearly four years. On top of that, he is also a college dropout and a NEET. (Not in Education, Employment or Training) A victim of the notorious NHK's conspiracy (as he believes he is).

Welcome to the NHK! is a dark albeit comic series about the unchanging and miserable life of a certain hikikomori, Tatsuhiro Satou and his struggle to escape the clutches of what he believes is the reason for him becoming a hikikomori, the NHK which stands for "Nihon Hikikomori Kyoukai". (Japanese Hikikomori Association, not the japanese cable TV channel) He meets Misaki Nakahara, a young girl who happened to be doing religious rounds of solicitation in his apartment building. Misaki assured Satou that he can escape his miserable hikokomori life through her help and wanted Satou to become the subject of her "project" of hikikomori recovery support. Misaki hands Satou a contract regarding their daily counseling sessions and other things in relation to his hikikomori recovery and also indicates the fine of 1 million yen in case of a breach in the contract. With some trouble though Satou did sign afterwards in hopes of its success in relieving him from the clutches of the NHK.

The cute yet mysterious Misaki Nakahara. She seems to know many things about Satou-kun yet Satou knows absolutely nothing about her except that she goes on religious recruiting much to Satou's doubt and curiosity. She claims she is able to cure Satou of his hikikomori ways only if he signs the contract in becoming her "project".

Tatsuhiro and Misaki's nightly counseling sessions. Misaki discusses various subjects mostly on human psychology in nature. (which I find quite educational myself) Tatsuhiro made fun of Misaki's Freudian psychoanalysis of his dreams by giving her false ideas which had sexual references.

Satou also meets people from his high school. His former high school junior Yamazaki happened to have been living next door to his apartment room and quite similar to Satou is living as a hardcore otaku. He also happened to come across his former senpai (senior) Hitomi who is responsible for introducing him to the thought of conspiracies. Like Satou, Hitomi has been emotionally troubled. She admitted to Satou she had been relying on some drugs to inhibit her depression and anxiety and even recommended some to him. Satou, still in his right mind, promptly declined.

Ever since that new neighbor moved in beside Satou's apartment, he has always been bugged by the same loud anime music playing nonstop almost everyday. Satou, finally at his limit decides to confront the annoying aniota (anime otaku) next door and to his amazement, sees his high school kouhai, Yamazaki in tears. He seems to be having social issues as well.

As part of Satou's escape plan from becoming a NEET (and proving a lie he told Misaki that he is not one), he aims to become a game creator and joins the super-otaku Yamazaki in a project to create the ultimate galge. (erotic game)  Though initially uninterested, his hormones respond with gusto as Yamazaki opened the heavenly gates of the world of galge to Satou.

Hitomi was as beautiful yet odd in high school as she is when Satou met her again. She and Satou were the only members of the literature club and their club meetings were usually spent on playing cards and Satou listening to her lectures on the conspiracies responsible for ruining people's lives. Again, she drags Satou into trouble with her unstable and conspiracy-ridden mind.

As the story progresses, Satou discovers many life lessons and insights as he deals with the sad realities of life, not only in his personal problems as a first-class hikikomori, but also the intense emotions and different problems of the characters and other people which eventually lead to bigger ones and drastic measures of escape.

As most likely, an effect of being a social recluse for almost four years, Satou usually speaks with his furniture. He believes that they are with him against the organization that conspired to make him a hikikomori. In the novel though, it is revealed that Satou uses drugs and his furniture coming to life was an effect of it, though this fact is downplayed in the series.

What made Welcome to the NHK more awesome is it's perfect mix of comedy, sarcasm and irony. Satou joins Yamazaki in shouting loudly, "To hell with women!" to voice out their hate for real women (as opposed to women in 2D) which Yamazaki claims to be less of a human and more of a monster. Suddenly Yamazaki's crush called and asked Yamazaki to go out and Yamazaki, without second thoughts, immediately leaves. Satou, left stupefied, dumbfounded and more depressed after the quick change of events, says to himself "To hell with everyone."

One of the most highly-rated and acclaimed anime series out there, I couldn't agree more. Like many critics say, this is fitting enough to become than just a TV series and is on par with J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" with Tatsuhiro Satou comparable to Holden Caulfield of the said novel. Without a doubt, it perfectly touches the events surrounding the life and thoughts of a hikikomori. (from me who experienced the same stuff firsthand) This definitely deserves my praise (for giving me extreme emotional highs and lows, cries and laughs) and being my number one and most favorite anime series of all time.
Oh yeah, the opening theme "Puzzle" by Round Table ft. Nino is cool too!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Vengeance + Massive Swords = Gorefest! (Claymore)

Female knights galore! Well, my fetish for ladies clad in knight's armor got the best of me the instant I saw some images and background description on this anime series. True enough, the numerous blonde babes in medieval armor, wielding large swords, each with her own unique identity and awesomeness really gets me excited. Though I make it sound like a harem, its totally different and way deeper than that. Claymore is a classic tale of revenge mixed with a bit of romance and tons of bloody action. Somewhat along the lines of the popular movie series Kill Bill but in a medieval setting where demons, called Yoma, abound, terrorizing humans and an organization of exterminators-for-hire comprising of blonde, silver-eyed female warriors wielding huge swords, called Claymores exist to protect humans from Yoma.

Aside from the name "Claymore" given by humans (they are actually a nameless bunch) based on the huge swords they wield, these female warriors are also called "Silver-eyed Witches" because of their eyes, their inhuman strength and their cold nature.

Fugly Yoma. Yoma are strange, demon-like creatures who thrive on eating human innards and usually camouflage themselves by resembling regular humans. Regular Yoma, like this musclebound guy, are small fry compared to "Awakened Beings" - Claymores turned Yoma - which are usually hunted by groups of Claymore and takes more different and far grotesque forms.

The story revolves around Clare, a Claymore and Raki, a boy whom Clare took under her wing -which is unusual for Claymores who are usually cold towards humans- as a cook after being abandoned and thrown out of his village because his brother turned into a Yoma. Unlike normal Claymores, who are half-human and half-Yoma, Clare had another Claymore's flesh and blood infused in her body thus making her quite an incomplete fusion of Yoma and human.

Clare, the story's main protagonist. like other Claymores. Clare wears this cold killer-like nature but eventually she warms up to Raki. Tsundere anyone? Claymores are also distinguished by their unique emblem (as seen on Clare's neck-thingy) usually found on their uniforms and engraved on their swords.

Raki is the human kid whom Clare took under her wing as a cook after being thrown out of his town and abandoned by people. Eventually, Clare warms up to Raki as he reminded her of her dark past.

What makes Claymores more cooler than they already look is that their eyes turn from silver to golden whenever they fight Yoma. This is due to the release of their Yoma powers, their physical features undergo changes ranging from eye color to changes in their skin and physique. A side effect of this though is they are prone to becoming a real Yoma if they push their powers to a certain limit.

When Clare was still a young girl, she had requested the organization to turn her into a Claymore using the severed head of a fallen Claymore. The head of the  previous number one and the strongest Claymore in the organization's history, Teresa of the Faint Smile. Teresa saved the life and took care of Clare and even went against the organization just to do so but was slain in battle by the current number two, Priscilla who in the heat of the battle became an "Awakened Being", a Claymore turned Yoma with powers far greater than a normal Yoma. Clare travels along with Raki from town-to-town on her Yoma hunting jobs all the while, waiting for the time to come when she'll finally be able to meet face to face Priscilla and avenge Teresa's death.

My personal favorite, Teresa of the Faint Smile. The strongest Claymore that ever lived. Having a doll-like face, she cuts down Yoma with ease and simplicity like a hot knife through butter all the while wearing a cute smile, thus her title.

Claymore is definitely not for the faint of heart. Clare slices off the top half of a Yoma's head while the Yoma's severed hand is stuck in her stomach. And that's just a taste of tons of limb-ripping, head-rolling bloodbath action this series has to show.

I should say, this is one of those titles that kept me glued on my seat until I've finished watching every arc. The story is very commendable and really gripping especially the character development on Clare and the story's progress on each arc. I really hope a second season would be made as the ending feels open-ended, not to mention, the series isn't even half the story on its manga.

From The Idiot Box

From the screen to your lenses to your brain to your nerves to your heart, lungs and muscles and out. Its a compilation of my take, thoughts and impressions on straight up, good stuff (mostly japanese, anime, music and geek-related) from the idiot box that I like and you might like.

... and idiocy. :)

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