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Idiot Savant Japan: “What The Hell Are You Watching?”

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Idiot Savant Japan: “What The Hell Are You Watching?”

I got suckered into anime. I was roughly seven years old when I woke up early one morning while my family was gathered together in D.C. for some holiday. Turning on the TV, I found a rather curious sight: here was a big, nasty-looking dragon creature fighting a smaller guy in a suit of armor. It was the last five minutes and involved me hearing Jimmie Walker, as a leather, mutant Muppet from hell, say “Dy-no-mite!” This was how I got introduced to The Guyver.

I needed to see the whole thing. I rushed to Blockbuster—remember those?—and couldn’t find the film anywhere. I asked the shift guy whether they had The Guyver.

“Uh, I don’t know if we have MacGyver on tape.”

But I was looking for The Guyver.

“Oh, wait. We actually do have that. Huh.”

I happily ran back to my mother, waving the tape. At the checkout counter, the cashier informed us that the film we were renting was incredibly graphic. I vouched that it wasn’t—it was just like Power Rangers, I told my mother.

Then I got back to my Aunt’s house. Making my way to the TV, I sat down with my Grandfather and popped in episodes one and two of The Guyver: Bio-Booster Armor, not the live-action movie starring Mark Hamill as a giant centipede.

A minute forty-seven later, my Grandfather said, “What the hell are you watching?”

Sixteen years later, it turns out I’m watching the same thing as everyone else. We were once a community crowding together at conventions for second and third generation VHS tapes running $35; now we can populate /a/, Something Awful’s ADTRW, and chain super-stores that are more than happy to sell copies of Bleach, Hellsing and Naruto. Heck, if you live in New York—as I occasionally do—there are three main places worth looking at for your fix.

But don’t bother with Forbidden Planet. The only thing they’re helpful with is proving Adam Duritz is still alive.

But to go back to Pop-Pop’s question: we’re watching an art form that has transcended Osamu Tezuka’s “manga animation,” with its intentional limited movement in order to win over an audience more accustomed to flipping pages. While the “big eyes, giant robots” trend still exists with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and self-parody Dai-Guard, anime has reached the point with U.S. (and most likely worldwide) audiences that it can finally look back on itself.

Welcome to the NHK began airing in June 2004 in Japan and relates the story of Tatsuhiro Sato, a 22-year old recluse who lives in fear of the outside world and falls under the NEET/Hikikomori—essentially, one who has no job, no training and refuses to leave their home (a classification that many self-proclaimed Otaku wear as a badge of honor). It dawns on Sato that he is a part of a conspiracy of the NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai), whose real name is the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (or “The Japanese Hikikomori Association”). Their goal? To broadcast anime and keep people shut-ins. Sato resolves to stop the NHK once and for all, but also to prove he’s neither an Otaku nor a freak.

His main foil is Misaki Nakahara, who involves Sato in her project to “cure” his hikikomori—despite not having any idea about the actual problem.

NHK’s focus on the concept of “Otaku” as a semi-serious problem, not to mention showcasing Sato as having deliberate social anxiety, provides a welcome look into the stereotypical fan’s life. What does happen when the world suddenly sucks, there’s no economy to speak of, and the only real joy you get out of life is collecting knick-knacks and watching some cartoons? Stay inside.

Sato struggles with his own problems, trying to convince himself he’s normal, but seeing naked purple aliens dancing around your room as you talk to the TV, fridge and computer say otherwise. To be completely pretentious for a moment—and inviting others to horribly rip me to shreds—NHK represents the rise in the new anime fan, a Neo-Otaku. Someone who is painfully self-aware of what they are watching, yet refuse to admit it is anime.

I fall under the spell of calling it “Japanese animation,” but that’s after having my head kicked around by Thomas Looser for three years. Looser argues that there are worlds of difference between the titles of animation, “Japanimation” and “Anime.” Mainly due to this art form becoming global over the course of two decades.

But that was a side tangent, something we’ll get into another time. For now, the Neo-Otaku, aside from being an awesome buzz word, is gaining popularity (though a friend of mine claims the term is ten years too late, since Neon Genesis Evangelion is the true birth for it). You don’t have to own the model kits, the PVC figures or cellphone attachments anymore. In fact, it’s taboo to do so with this group. Anime has gone the route of any sub-culture: underground, moderate fanbase, which is followed by partial mainstream acceptance. In fact, they would never even refer to themselves as Otaku—nor should they, the term is loaded enough as it is and extremely negative.

NHK exists as a way to tell you it is OK to be watching anime. Everyone else does it too!

And so, because I’m awful at ending, let’s close on the credits from NHK featuring the show’s purple mascot:

(Author’s Note: Welcome to the NHK has recently been acquired for U.S. distribution by ADV Films. However, episodes still exist online in some form. While I do not encourage distribution and downloading of material…let’s face it. It’s out there, folks.)

John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E [print only] and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.