Wednesday, April 18, 2012

NHK ni Yōkoso and Everything that's wrong with the Japanese

Along the social commentary vein that I was discussing in my last entry with science fiction, I have brought you another manga; which did become a very successful anime, that is full of social commentary under the witty pros and the deep reaches of character development.

It is rare that one comes across such a manga that can unapologetically discuss some of the biggest problems in Japanese culture without disclosing their direct opinion on the issues. Of course, there is nothing that is published that does not state an opinion. Even trashy romance novels, no matter what period of time they are set it, state opinions of the cultures that they take place in. What is rare is the mostly indirect way that Yōkoso states the opinions of the mangaka or writers, in this case Takimoto and Ōiwa.

What this manga does so well is dredge up some of the then deepest darkest secrets of Japanese society and displays them in an almost satirical enjoyment. The manga is funny but almost unapologetically deep and thought provoking.

This may come to a shock to those of my readers who think Japan is a magical wonderland full of manga artists, witty conversation, and foreigner loving bishōnen and bishōjo just lining the streets waiting to for you. I really hate to burst your bubbles, but Japan has it's own problems, some very serious while others are very superficial, just like any country and culture on this planet. Any person who lives in this country for any length of time figures it out as soon as they start interacting with the people around them.

NHK turns into an almost encyclopedia of contemporary Japanese social problems. There is hikkikomori, group suicide, bullying, unsatisfied workers, and serious questions about their places in modern society. These are all problems that are slowly festering below the surface. By festering I mean that they are problems that the government sees and does little about. While the hikkikomori issue is actually being dealt with, the suicide and general unhappiness of the people of Japan is something that is far from being looked into with the respect and haste that they are due. Which is a rather Orwellian since Japan as the second highest suicide of any industrialized nation.

Of course, these problems are not the heart of this manga, but they are major parts of the whole manga. The manga itself is about the long and mostly frustratingly painful philosophy of life and what ones existence actually means. Sato's long journey from hikkikomori to "normal" rehabilitated worker bee is the full of questions, self reflection and a lot of misadventures. Yet what I really did not appreciate was how most of he manga depicted Sato's problems as being caused by himself and not caused by the society as a whole; which they all mostly are.

To label Sato a "hikkikomori" is misleading in my opinion. Maybe before the store began he was, but through the duration of the manga he is really a NEET; which is another social problem that the government isn't really doing anything about. These NEETs and the younger generation are the focal points and target readers for this smartly written manga. Not only can these readers connect with the problems that Sato has, they are relate to the other characters as well. In fact, I could add the whole "Otaku" culture to the target readers for this manga since the whole thing is littered with references to anime, manga, voice actors, as well as the social problems and questions of existence.

Sato's thought processes and mentality throughout the manga lead to a much more in depth study; which I actually know was in a scientific journal a couple years ago. I'll have to look it up again soon to refresh my memory of what the author was trying to say as I have forgotten the main points of the article. Needles to say, he has many of psychological problems than just being a "hikkikomori".

As I have stated, this manga is very smart and thoughtful satire for what modern Japanese society looks like. It also happens to be one of the best manga that a person who enjoys manga or Japanese society could read. Along with being entertaining and down-right hilarious, it is a very good introduction to some of the very serious problems that plague the Japanese. Takimoto enables the reader to learn about these issues and see the seriousness under all the hilarity and awkwardness of the main characters as they encounter them without letting the reader know what his exact opinions on the issues are. It is obvious that he finds these issues very serious, but he is also very serious about letting the reader develop their own opinions as well as reading between the lines to see some of his own.

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