Welcome to the NHK is a classic, and it’s a classic for a couple reasons, I suspect. One, I’d guess, is the love story between Tatsuhiro and Misaki, which is sweet and handled nicely as it develops.
Another is that Tatsuhiro is an unusual character, his status as a hikkikomori – a person who is anti-social to the point of withdrawing from society – making him a very atypical central character for a series. How do you make a star of someone that can’t bear people? (Because, ultimately, most stories are about people.)
I LIKE the series for those reasons, among others, but I’m INTERESTED in the series from my perspective as a writer for a different reason.
Writing-wise it’s really clever in that it’s another example of stealth storytelling. Tatsuhiro is the central character. The story is told from his perspective; the camera follows him wherever he goes; we hear not only his dialog but his thoughts. The story is told largely from his point of view.
But the protagonist is Misaki.
Protagonist: “The protagonist is the primary character propelling the story forward.” That’s a Wikipedia definition. Of course, Wikipedia also says Tatsuhiro is the protagonist of Welcome to the NHK, so who knows what they know?
But that’s the idea. The protagonist drives the action. And it’s not Tatsuhiro. By definition, he’s PASSIVE. That’s what it means (one of the things it means) to be hikkikomori. Through the series he reacts to things that are done to him and things happening around him; he does not lead. Ever. That’s not how he works.
The person who makes things happen is Misaki. It’s Misaki that says, “I can help you,” to Tatsuhiro. It’s because of Misaki’s offer to help him that he starts working with Yamazaki. Misaki saves his life when he tries to commit suicide and Misaki who drives the romance between them. And it’s Misaki’s own suicide attempt that causes him to try and end himself again at the end.
Misaki = action. Tatsuhiro = reaction.
He’s the main character, but she’s the protagonist, boys and girls. She drives the action.
Okay, Misaki Nakahara: How do you construct a character like her?
Misaki Nakahara, with her parasol, as Tatsuhiro first sees her
Let’s break her down. Let’s start with the usual: Looks, brains, personality.
Okay, let’s start with this: for this series looks don’t really matter. They’re both attractive – I mean, it’s an anime and in anime unattractive characters are generally limited to transvestites and transsexuals (yeah, that’s unfair) – but it’s not about the physical aspects of her being. Or his, for that matter. It’s just not that kind of story. She’s small and weak, and his sheer physicality sometimes intimidates her, but that’s central to their interrelationship, not the plot.
Brains: She’s a high school student, but for a high school student she’s highly intellectualized: she’s clearly bright, intelligent, studious, but it’s also clear she’s inexperienced. A good example is when she tries a Freudian analysis of Tatsuhiro: she’s smart enough to figure out how to do it (and how to change topics to Jung on the fly!) but turns bright red when Tatsuhiro invents some extremely sexual imagery. Remember “The protagonist is ______ but ______?” Misaki is intelligent but naive.
Hmm…I feel a relationship essay coming on.
It’s Misaki’s personality – soul – that, deep down, is the heart of the story, not just in the emotional sense but also the narrative sense. We can see that better if we switch the story to her point of view, rather than his.
This is going to take a pile of imagination. Ready? 3-2-1 Let’s jam.
Misaki lives with an aunt and uncle, abandoned by her parents, in a fancy house on top of a hill. Her aunt drags her along to evangelize the neighbors, alienating her from them. There are hints that her aunt and uncle are abusive. She is isolated, deserted, and unhappy.
In one sense she’s a trope, the Poor Little Rich Girl, but she transcends that trope by being active. Misaki is a PLANNER. (That’s a personality characteristic, right? Soul, right?) She may be unhappy but she formulates a plan to solve that.
I know her type well. I’m like that myself.
Down at the bottom of the hill she lives on she can see the apartment occupied by Tatsuhiro. She sees Tatsuhiro himself: he sleeps sixteen hours a day, never goes out, has no friends, lives in a giant pile of garbage.
You know what she sees? She sees someone even unhappier than herself, someone who is hikkikomori. Someone who is damaged in a way she thinks she can fix (because she’s smart).
Someone who needs her.
Maybe the only person in the world that needs her.
And she wants to be needed. (That’s a personality characteristic, too, right?)
She wants to be loved, and she’s not even sure she can love herself. How can she know? Her parents have dumped her. She seems very nerdy to have a lot of school chums; we certainly never see any friends of hers. Her reaction to Tatsuhiro’s sexual innuendo suggests she has had somewhere between zero and none boyfriends by her current age (seventeen or eighteen). If no one else can love Misaki, how can Misaki love herself? How can she know how?
Remember when I said deep down inside Violet Evergarden (the character) is Rei Ayanami? Deep down inside Misaki is Asuka Langley Soryu: no one loves her so she can’t love herself. Sure, why not? If you’re going to copy, copy from the best.
So Misaki sees someone even she can look down on, someone lonelier and more unloved than herself. Because as little as Misaki can love herself, it’s pretty clear that Tatsuhiro loves himself less.
So she makes a plan and she drives the plan into action.
She contacts him.
She offers to help him.
She demands he sign a contract that makes him stay in touch with her.
She uses the contract as leverage to control his behavior.
She falls for him before he falls for her, later, as their relationship develops
She insists they have a date (after lunch with his mother).
She takes his hand to hold first.
She casts all this in terms her trying to cure him of his hikkikomorism, of course, since that’s the only way she can sell it to him. But she does it because she needs him. She needs him to love her, or, rather, she needs someone to love her and he is elected.
Ultimately, that’s the tension that drives the series all the way to the end. Misaki needs someone to love her – there is a suggestion drifting around the Interwebs that she has a personality disorder that drives that – and from her perspective the only one who can love her is Tatsuhiro. So she does anything…ANYTHING…she can to get him to love her. And when everything she tries fails, she tries to kill herself.
And her actions drive his reactions. Cause and effect. She is cause and he is effect. She drives the relationship between them, and since Welcome to the NHK is a love story, a relationship story, she drives the story.
She’s the protagonist, she’s a damned good one, she’s a great character – and she’s only on screen about a fifth of the time. That’s a nice piece of writing, you betcha.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.