In which Satou goes on a very, very, very bad trip.

Welcome to the NHK! chapter 21: Welcome to Tougenkyou (Eden)! [previous chapter]

serialized 10/26/2005 in Shounen Ace A

Satou has been hospitalized. “It’s serious,” the doctor says.

* * * * * *

After a month’s absence from Ace, chapter 21 opens with a bang that quickly flashes back to the events leading up to it. Satou and Yamazaki lounge around in a tatami-floored hotel room, laughing nervously about Satou’s suicide attempt. He claims to have been faking all along, which both he and Yamazaki know is probably not true.

As an apology for the string of lies she told Satou that precipitated the events on the cliff, Misaki has invited the two on a trip to the onsen where they’re currently staying. Yamazaki has brought along a stash of drugs of questionable repute, which both he and Satou indulge in liberally, leading them to believe that they are in the company of aliens.

Satou is having a bad, bad, trip. He goes through alternating revelations: first that he is a god, which he decides he has to confirm. He meets Misaki in the onsen’s common room, who apologizes to him, but he is very far away at that point; she tells him she’ll do anything to get back in his good graces, which he takes as confirmation of his divinity.

“Everything is mine!” He bellows. The other men in the common room chuckle at him, and his line of thought changes… “Everything is… me?” “I’m fine alone… the only thing in the universe…”

“No, that’s not it…” he thinks as Misaki looks up at him. “No, it would be better if I weren’t here at all.”

“I understand. From the beginning, it would have been better without me… but… if so… why am I here? Why is this reality?”

His appliances reappear. “Everything you’ve seen, Satou. You know it’s not reality. Yamazaki, your parents, Misaki, they’re all just illusions, wild fantasies…”

Satou snaps, and crumbles to the floor screaming.

His parents are informed, and he wakes up in a hospital bed with them at this side. Misaki and Yamazaki wait in the hall. The doctor gives his verdict: “His condition this time stems from the illegal drugs he got from his friends, but the overall problem is that his lifestyle is in ruins. His friends have described the situation to me, and I don’t think he has the power to mend fully by himself.”

Satou’s father: Will he… have to stay in the hospital?
Doctor: No, I don’t think we have to go that far. What he needs most is the same as what anyone his age needs, someone by his side… the support of his family.

Satou wakes up, realizes that he’s being talked about and that his parents are there. His mother collapses onto him, crying and berating him. “Idiot… Why did you let it come to this, Tatsuhiro? I just want you to live, to be alive, to be here…” We see his father apologizing to a police officer in the background.

Flash forward. Satou and Yamazaki are sitting in Satou’s empty apartment. Satou’s dad enters, with news that the moving van is full. Father and son head out together, with Yamazaki calling after them: “when our game is finished I’ll send you a copy, Satou! Well, I’ll be going back to the folks’ house soon too, but…”

Yamazaki follows them out the door, and watches as they head toward the van.

Satou’s father notices him there, stops, and bows. “…Thanks,” he says. “Thanks to you he somehow managed to pull through this far, I think. Whenever we talked on the phone, all he would talk about was the good times he had with you.”

The moving van leaves, and the chapter ends.

Well. Well, well, well. I can see why they needed two months to finish this chapter; it’s the most significant plot progression we’ve seen in awhile. It’s too early to say whether this marks the beginning of Satou’s genuine recovery, but I’d say it certainly marks the beginning of the end – or of a new plot arc, if the story decides that it has arcs. Having just finished the month’s Genshiken review I can’t help but be tainted by what happened there, but it seems to me NHK is undergoing a similar (though far more satisfactory) process of maturation; the neuroses present in Genshiken are the pleasant, sympathetic ones that we want the protagonists to keep, while Satou’s is one that I, for one, want to see him overcome, along with those of the rest of the characters. Whether Takimoto can pull that off convincingly or not is another matter, but I have to hand it to him: I have absolutely no idea where the story is going to go from here, but I’m as hooked as ever.

November 26th will see both the next issue of Ace and the release of the regular edition of NHK’s 4th volume (the special Misaki figure edition will be out on the 10th of the month). Otanoshimi ni!