This was originally part of a “top 10 manga” post (like my top 20 anime post), but it got too long and sort of off-topic so I’m making it a standalone post.
Welcome to the NHK is a franchise that started with a depressing novel in 2002, a raw story written by a hikikomori for hikikomori. A manga adaptation followed in 2003, and the anime was made in 2006. While the anime is in my top 5 and the novel is a phenomenal read, I consider the manga the definitive version of the story.
The novel is just too dark. While Takimoto clearly tried to make the humor stand out, it just doesn’t work when the novel is in first person. Satou’s thoughts make me cringe and feel worse and worse as more and more depressing things happen until there’s nothing left to laugh about. On the other hand, the anime isn’t dark enough, straying a bit too far away from controversial subjects. The manga isn’t as faithful to the novel’s plot as the anime is, but has a much better blend of black comedy.
The differences are best shown in the most iconic scene of the series: Satou hiding in the bushes outside an elementary school, camera in hand. Takimoto talks about this scene in the postscript to the manga:
But the more realistically you write about a hikikomori, the more you lose the image of a hero. […] Back then, I spent a good two or three weeks straight worrying about it on my futon. Suddenly, a scene of Yamazaki and Satou snapping peeping shots of grade schoolers flashed before my eyes. I’d found my suffering hero, crying and disgusted at himself while simultaneously getting off on those photos. With that vivid image in my head, the images of Yamazaki and Misaki gradually began to take shape…
This scene was clearly central to Takimoto’s novel and subsequent adaptations, so I think it’s worth taking a look at how it turned out. It also happens to illustrate exactly what I like about each version.
I was going to write a “Winter 2017 wrapup” post, but then I realized that it would be almost entirely about Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho. This show has been unexpectedly good, refining the “genre” of cute-girls-do-cute-things to focus solely on the characters, making it seem a hell of a lot more meaningful than all of its otaku-pandering peers. Its depiction of a growing friendship was very heavy-handed at times, but never pointless. From the girls running in Shibuya to overcoming their past regrets in Antarctica, every moment felt like a tangible increase in their friendship levels.
At the start of this episode, I was planning on giving the show a 9/10. I kept thinking about the quick resolution to Shirase’s plot in the last episode, and it just felt so jarring compared to the incredible amount of time they spent saying goodbye in this one. Yet I felt emotions welling up as the episode went on, and I realized that I would be missing this show dearly. I’m not going to remember the plot of A Place Further Than The Universe (in true CGDCT spirit, there wasn’t much), but the characters are going to stick around in my memory for years to come.
Last time, I said Antarctic Girls was obviously going downhill, and with good reason! The episodes of the trip to Antarctica (Ep 6-9) were a lot weaker than the first third of the series introducing the girls (Ep 1-5). The conflicts either felt petty and small or were getting resolved too quickly.
In contrast, episodes 10 and 11 were the best we’ve seen so far.
So some of the concerns I had in my last post are getting worse. The conflicts in each episode feel more and more fake and contrived, to the point where the (forced) sense of closure doesn’t really satisfy me. Instead, it feels like everything is getting trivialized. The girls’ feelings of uselessness on the ship? Bam. Resolved. Shirase’s lifelong awkward relationship with the expedition leader? Bam. Resolved. (sort of)
Related to this is how besides the main conflict of each episode, everything else is pushed aside. In episode 9, Shirase took center stage while the other three girls melded into one emotionless unit, with no personality to speak of. Instead of showing the fun and varied personalities of the girls (like in the OP and in the first 4-5 episodes), the show has basically made them act and talk the same.
For example, maybe instead of focusing on Shirase’s reaction on getting to Antarctica, there could have been some inner dialogue from each girl. Nothing much, maybe just 5 seconds/one line for each of the three. Mari could have touched on how she’s finally doing something cool. Yuzuki could say how glad she is to have made it with her new friends. And Hina could say… something? I dunno. But instead, we got:
Mari: We’re here!
Yuzuki: We made it!
It’s the same damn thing! Even though the episode focused on Shirase, it doesn’t have to be all Shirase all the time. In such an overdone genre, it was the small refinements that made the girls so likeable and unique early on in the show, and that’s slowly getting sucked out.
Anyway, it’s still a 9/10 for me overall. These last few episodes have lost the magic that made it a 10/10, but it’s still great.
From this point on, I’m switching from weebanese to English. Why use “Sora yori mo Tooi Basho” with basically arbitrary capitalization when I can use the actual English title?? Related to this: I noticed the other day that “Boku no Hero Academia” sounds pretty dumb in English compared to “My Hero Academia,” but I guess I just get used to whatever I see first… usually on reddit discussion threads.
Anyway, these past few episodes have been excellent. They’ve taken this genre, whatever it is, and perfected it. There’s one point in Episode 6 where Hinata loses her passport, and then there’s a shot of the hotel wall. I was half expecting/half dreading the stereotypical shriek of panic, and then a scene of Hinata frantically looking through her stuff. But as always, this show doesn’t fall prey to the tropes. The next scene is actually all of Hinata’s stuff on a bed, with the girls looking at it. I don’t think it’s very realistic that they’re not panicking, but it’s better than the over-the-top scene I was picturing.
I do have a gripe with the show, though. It treats conflicts like the monster-of-the-week. Every episode is a neatly wrapped bundle of conflict -> resolution -> next episode. I’d like a bit more continuity in the character development instead of the current formula of focusing on one character at a time.
The worst offender of this is actually what I thought was the best episode so far: episode 5. This episode focused on Mari’s glasses-wearing friend Megumi. Her annoyance at Mari and passive-aggressive attitude was spot-on and I felt so uneasy watching her try to hold Mari back. But then the end of the episode felt like such a cop out! I can understand why Megumi would want to break her ties with Mari: Mari can then enjoy her time in Antarctica without worrying about her friend back home who doesn’t get to have such fun experiences. But it felt more like the friendship was ending conveniently, to both wrap up the episode neatly and to have the audience enjoy watching Mari in Antarctica without worrying about Megumi.
If this was the only instance of this sort of conflict-of-the-week, then I’d be fine with it. But episode 6 strolls along and presents another one-episode minor conflict. Without a big, multi-episode goal like “trying to get on the expedition,” it seems like this show is floundering a bit. I’d much prefer just a fun episode about the girls having fun in Singapore, or multiple episodes in Singapore to make the conflict seem… important. In the end, it’s all resolved with a few cheap laughs. I hope this isn’t the end of Hinata’s character development, but it sure feels like it.
Still, this stuff is all minor. A Place Further Than The Universe is the best show of the season so far, miles above bigger names like Darling in the Franxx and Violet Evergarden.