Welcome to the NHK Novel Review

Is Welcome to the NHK anti-otaku culture?

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 “We have done the cruelest thing to you that we could possibly have done. We have deprived you of an enemy.”
 -Gennadi Gerasimov, Mikhail Gorbachev’s spokesman

It is difficult to discuss Welcome to the NHK by Tatsuhiko Takimoto without talking about the anime adaptation. Like most who read this novel I first watched the anime adaptation and wanted to know what the characters would end up like after the events of the anime.

Unfortunately if you go into the novel with that kind of mentality then you will be disappointed because the novel has less story than the anime though they both end at about the same point. The novel is only one volume after all. On the other hand as BobSamurai observed, the novel has better pacing because many of the arcs in the anime were repetitive.

I believe that the need to introduce new arcs in the anime to pad the story creates a false impression about where the blame lies for Satou being an Hikikomori.

Who is the Enemy? Who is to Blame?

The whole point of the imaginary "NHK" is that in reality there are no convenient villains or enemies to point towards. In the novel it is clarified through Yamazaki's RPG game, that the enemy, if it can be named, is the entire world, or maybe the human condition, and so that is why the only escape some characters can see is suicide.

However if you just looked at the anime you might be left with the wrong impression that Welcome to the NHK is a story about the "dark side of the anime fandom," or in other words that otaku culture is the illusive culprit in all of this. In fact this  misunderstanding of the themes often comes in the form of praise towards Welcome to the NHK for being more realistic about otaku culture.

In the novel there are no villains, Yamazaki can't find a target for his bomb, and if there's an enemy then that enemy is the world, or, for Misaki it is an evil God which created this world.

In the novel otaku culture just exists and is mocked as escapism but it is not the cause of their failure and loneliness. It just isn't professed as a permanent solution to their problems.

In the anime too I would say that despite the negative coverage that otaku culture directly gets, indirectly the anime pays some compliments to otaku culture since the happiest parts are when Satou and Yamazaki go on adventures to make their game and be otaku, it is unsustainable true but when it comes to an end, when Yamazaki leaves, taking with him all the otaku-ness in the story, it is not a happy moment and Satou feels lonelier than ever. [A similar dynamic exists during the parting of Withnail and the protagonist in Withnail & I.]

In the novel it is quite different in this respect because most of those "otaku adventures" do not happen, Yamazaki completes the game on his own, and so the bond between Satou and Yamazaki is weaker.

Why I do not condemn Welcome to the NHK

The being richest in overflowing vitality, the Otaku, may not only allow himself the spectacle of the horrible and questionable, but even the fearful deed itself, and all the luxury of destruction, disorganisation and negation. With him evil, senselessness and ugliness seem as it were licensed, in consequence of the overflowing plenitude of procreative, fructifying power, which can convert every desert into a luxuriant orchard.
- Nietzsche, The Gay Science, part 370, obviously misquoted.

I listened to two Randian Objectivists talking about Nietzche. It was a pretty inane discussion so the less said about it the better but one comment struck with me. Nietzsche, according to him, was essentially a philosopher for artists just like Rand was a philosopher for entrepreneurs/capitalists.

Ayn Rand was giving capitalists the license to do capitalist stuff. Nietzsche was giving a license for artists to create "immoral art" that turns every desert to a lush orchard. Who will give Otaku the license to be otaku?

I do not condemn works like NHK and Evangelion which "explore the dark side of the fandom." They're beautifying even the ugly parts by portraying the passions of otaku in an artistic way.

Any damage that they do to the image of Otaku is recovered by the depth and beauty that they add to otaku culture... turning every desert to an orchard.

Secondly, because I don't expect the answer, the optimistic philosophy for otaku, to be handed to me on a silver platter. In a way it is better that my work has not been done for me.


There's a fan audiobook on Youtube for the Welcome to the NHK novel but if it has been taken down again then you may download it here.

Interview and Livestream

I don't have any fancy conclusions or resolutions to leave you with so let me instead share an English interview the author did last year and also a livestream/podcast I did discussing the novel in more detail.

Rating: 10/10

rank 10
I had previously given this novel a 4/10 just because it was not the anime. After re-reading it almost 7 years later I have felt the good points about this novel. I tried thinking of faults in this novel to give it a 9 out 10 rather than a 10. The only thing I could think was that the side-characters feel like fleeting shadows who interact mostly with the protagonist but not with each other but then again is that really a fault rather than a feature? It's a story about lonely people.