Medium Matters: Welcome to the NHK

In the beginning, there was a novel called Welcome to the NHK. I haven’t read it. Now that it’s a collector’s item you have to pay like $60 for, that’s not happening.

On the second day (actually, about a year later) a manga adaptation was created. The gods of anime looked down upon it and said, “We could make a honkin’ good series outa this schnizz.”

And LO! in the fullness of time (about three years later) it became the anime we all love.

Anytime you adapt a story from one medium to another, of necessity changes have to happen. That’s because different media do different things in different ways and operate under different restrictions.

Sure. Ever read/seen The Maltese Falcon? Book by Dashiell Hammett, and the movie with Humphrey Bogart? In the book, the movie’s character played by Peter Lorre, Joel Cairo, is explicitly gay. In the movies in those days, though, you couldn’t just come out and say that; they had to hint at it with a shoulder shrug and an eye-roll. Literally: Lee Patrick, playing Sam Spade’s secretary Effie Perrine, does the shoulder shrug and Humphrey Bogart as Spade does the eye-roll.

Different media: different needs, different wants, different strengths.

Some of the key differences between manga and anime:
Text/manga is deeper, slower, and possesses greater detail
Anime changes pace better, shows non-verbal behavior better, “punches” better in terms of action
And manga is a butt-load cheaper to produce, so your audience can be smaller and you still make a profit

When you look at the anime and manga Welcome to the NHK, they are telling the same basic story, the screwy love story between two emotionally damaged young people, Sato and Misaki. But there are lots of ways to tell screwy love stories, and the writers, manga and anime, had to tell stories that worked in their separate media.

Misaki Nakahara (left) and Sato Tatsuhiro. In the manga he’s thinking something very bad right now.

Some of the key differences in the stories are:

The manga is longer and covers more ground. There are side plots that appear in the manga but not in the series. For instance, at one point Tatsuhiro moves back to his parents’ house as they try to get him to “straighten up and fly right.” That whole arc is missing from the series.

Two of the minor characters in the anime, Hitomi’s boyfriend/husband Akira and Megumi’s brother Yuichi, play much larger roles in the manga. Specifically, Akira is Misaki’s guidance counselor at school and Yuichi falls in love with her. Also missing from the anime.

Those are things you would expect to happen. That’s what manga does: It tells longer, deeper stories. Anime simplifies.

Then there are things that are judgement calls. Here are a couple of them:

The manga is much more depraved. MUCH more. Tatsuhiro is shown is shown not only drinking and popping pills but also doing coke and tripping on some hallucinogen. In fact, he spends most of several whole chapters in an altered state of reality. Lord only knows what’s really going on there.

When he’s home, Tatsuhiro’s mom walks in on him masturbating. And there’s the infamous scene where he imagines Misaki getting off to Jesus: In the manga he does this while she’s standing right in front of him.

In the anime Yamazaki freaks out the girl he’s interested in, Nanako, by rubbing her face in the fact that he’s a fan of little girl porn; in the manga she seduces him – yup, full frontal – despite his avowed preference for 2-D girls and eventually she dumps him by telling him she was only with him because SHE was interested in his little girl porn. And we won’t mention the transsexual “friend” of Yamazaki’s that takes his money to pay for her sex change and runs, either.

That’s some nasty going on there, and that makes the manga characters harder to relate to.

There’s a final change that interests me most as a story teller, and that is that they changed Misaki’s character in converting the story to anime. The anime does a really good job of disguising and revealing its theory of Misaki, that she is a high school girl who is PTSD as a result of her abuse at the hands of a step-father.

In the manga she’s a high school dropout who returns to school after two years (that’s where Akira comes in), can’t make herself fit in, and basically drops out again. The people she tells Sato are her aunt and uncle are really her mother and father and they love her very much, not a hint of child abuse in sight.

In the manga there is mention of outright mental illness; she is far more seriously screwed up and far more scheming and manipulative. She’s either got a borderline personality disorder (that’s Akira’s diagnosis) or maybe she’s just plain evil.

I can look at both and see why they made major changes to the protagonist – because Misaki IS the character who drives the action even though the camera follows Sato around – of the story for the anime. Making her PTSD makes her sympathetic; making her evil makes her UNsympathetic with a capital UN. Making her PTSD drives the action in a closed-ended direction: She has to hook up with Sato. Making her evil makes her drives more ambiguous; she’s ready to hook up with Yuichi until Sato calls her away (and then she tells Yuichi she lied about everything she said about her feelings for him).

Do you want to see Misaki like that? Well, I don’t mind, because I like grown-up stories. But think of the anime audience: Teen-aged Japanese boys. Would they relate more easily to the beaten-puppy-like Misaki of the anime or the Machiavellian Misaki of the manga?

That’s the problem. Anime needs a larger audience (see above); it has to keep the eyeballs on the screen. So we have to take a complex, dirty story and clean it up, lest we freak out the viewers. Yes, Sato’s bad, but he’s not THAT bad. Yes, Misaki’s a mess, but she’s not that BIG a mess. Let’s just clean it all up just a teeny, tiny bit.

Let’s not tell anyone Cairo’s gay.

As to which is BETTER, that’s a question I’m not touching. I own all the manga AND the anime, and I’ll sometimes read it and watch it at the same time. I think the anime story is a tad bit more coherent, which makes sense since they had more time to figure out how all the parts work together.

They’re the same plot. They’re the same setting. They’re the same characters. But they aren’t quite the same story.

Medium matters.

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.

2 thoughts on “Medium Matters: Welcome to the NHK

  1. These are interesting points about adaptations. I’ve only seen the anime, and the fact that Sato sees his appliances talking to him would be far better explained by his taking hallucinogens than him just being shut in all day. Interesting to hear that Misaki is a lot more screwed up in the manga as well, never would have guessed that.

    I don’t typically go for these sorts of miserable stories involving relationships — I can take plenty of misery dumped on characters in other forms, but for some reason on the personal level it just reminds me of how miserable everyday life can be, which is just about the opposite of what I’m trying to achieve these days when I watch or read or play anything. But that’s a personal problem and maybe a mark of my own immaturity and inability to cope with my own issues. I think there can still be a lot of value in such stories, they’re just not for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yah, I like it because it has that kind of emotional depth but I can be distant about it because it doesn’t resonate with my life in any particular way. Same with The Flowers of Evil: tough, nasty story but not something that speaks directly to my life, so I can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

      There’s lots of other stuff out there!

      Liked by 1 person

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