In which the hikikomori life doesn’t look so bad after all, in hindsight.

Welcome to the NHK! chapter 22: Welcome to Memories! [previous chapter]

serialized 11/26/2005 in Shounen Ace A

The end of chapter 21 left us with the two-page spread of Satou departing with his father in a moving van, and Yamazaki looking on. 22 picks up only shortly afterwards, the strange feeling of emptiness left over and still pervasive as Yamazaki leaves his room to find Misaki huddled in front of Satou’s vacant apartment.

“I wanted to apologize,” she tells him. “Ever since he was hospitalized… I didn’t get the chance…” Yamazaki takes out Satou’s spare key and lets the pair into his empty room. He tries to console her. “It’s not your fault that Satou left… if anything, it’s mine. Looks like those days are over… that’s all.” He hands Misaki the key to Satou’s apartment and leaves.

Misaki stands along for only a moment before a knock comes at the door. For a wild moment she thinks it’s Satou, but in a bit of homage to the manga’s first chapter it turns out to be her mother, on her do-gooding pamphlet rounds. They leave together. “What should I do, mama… I lost a friend, and it’s my fault…” “and a good thing he’s gone, too! It’s about time!” Her mother responds.

The scene shifts to Satou, who is riding shotgun in the moving van and talking to his mother in the back seat. She’s trying not to bring him down, but when the conversation shifts to his past school acquaintances it seems they’ve all moved on to bigger and better things… he turns on the radio to drown out the silence.

They arrive home, and as they get out of the car Satou tries to assure his parents that he’ll be on his feet and working in no time. A few weeks at the most. His father, looking tired, tells him to just take it easy. Adding insult to insult, upon entering the house Satou sees a pile of hikikomori literature and case studies scattered on his mother’s desk. She tries to distract him with talk of dinner, and tells him to go take a bath… but he’s beginning to freak out already.

We switch back to Misaki for a couple of pages here, as one of her co-workers at the convenience store where she works comments that it’s model of her to be working there. “You’re the daughter of the owner, right?” He says. “Mighty thoughtful of you to come down here for a little social studies to see how the other half lives.” His shift is over and he leaves, just as a group of high school girls enters the store. Misaki hides her face behind a book.

Back to Satou. It’s late at night, and on the way back to his room from a trip to the toilet he overhears voices from downstairs. His parents are talking about sending him back to the hospital… “We have to break it to him carefully,” his mother says. “He’s got a lot of pride.” Just then he trips and lands at the foot of the stairs.

His parents wheel around and see him. He can’t take it anymore. He bolts for the door as his mother calls after him: “Ta-chan!!”

He hops on a bike and races through the town, bolting past one of his old high school friends in the street, arm in arm with his girlfriend, who turns to stare at Satou’s frantically receeding form. “I want to go where no one is,” Satou thinks. “I want to go back to that apartment…”

Misaki is thinking the same thing, as she returns from her job at the convenience store. “We’ve been waiting!” Her mother says. “Your father had a talk with the principal, and it looks like you’ll be able to start there next year, only a year behind the others! Sure a year late might be a little tough, but the girl you hated so much before is graduating, so there’s no reason to worry.”

“So let’s go to school from next week, ok? This time I promise to bring you there and pick you up every day, so don’t worry… you’ll be able to go to school safe and secure!” Misaki backs away slowly. “Uh… I’m going shopping for a bit, Mom… I’ll be right back!” She bolts from the house, with her mother calling after her: “Misaki-chan!!”

She finds refuge in Satou’s old room. “What should I do…”

It’s late at night, and Satou has made his way to an abandoned local shrine. He looks up at the stars, the same stars Misaki is seeing from his bedroom window. They both have thoughts of their days spent together over the past twenty chapters. “Yeah… that was fun…” “…I wanted to live here forever…”

The chapter ends with Misaki and Satou mutually resolving to get back together, or at least get back to Satou’s apartment. “I need to apologize for lying…” “I need to thank her…” “This time, we’ll surely make things right!”

As nothing is ever “right” in the world of NHK, chapter 23 will equally surely bring another round of wacky and heartbreaking hijinks in the vein of this one. Of note here is the first glimpse of Misaki’s family life, which is an odd mirror of one I’m more familiar with: I live in a company dorm that until a few years ago was the house of the company’s owner, and myself and my housemate are occasionally plagued by visits of the owner’s deadbeat son who periodically loses his job and comes back to beg his mother (the owner) for money so he can bet on horse races. Apparently his father, the head of another company, has disowned him entirely. High parental expectations seem to have broken him, and while the cause of Misaki’s psychoses is certainly different, the chilling atmosphere of a father who ignores her and a mother on the verge of hysteria trying to bring her back from the brink of hell is one that is not unfamiliar.

At least Misaki doesn’t take the coffee pot and VCR with her when she leaves the house.

As reported earlier NHK is slated to become an anime next year, perhaps in the spring. Despite the author’s comments to the contrary (“I never thought they would animate NHK. It’s just that, well, I never thought it would work very well animated. It’s just that the story doesn’t move very much, and it might look boring on the screen… that, and there are only three main characters, and I have no idea who would voice them. I’m not anxious at all, really. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it so much that I can’t sleep!” – from the bottom of this page) I think NHK will have enormous potential animated, if it’s done right. I’d imagine the manga still has a good few miles to go, as well… no ending in sight, unlike Genshiken.

February’s edition of Ace is out on December 26th… otanoshimi ni!