This is a new series I’m trying out. No promises on making this a scheduled thing, but it’s something I could see myself doing more of in the future. I’ll be looking at characters from anime and manga that resonated with me or I found interesting in some way, or even be kind to some characters I don’t particularly like but maybe had a few instances of surprise growth or intrigue to them.
Today we’ll be looking at Misaki Nakahara from the Welcome to the NHK manga. As of this writing I have finished the manga, but have yet to see the anime, so if there are any of you who have the opposite experience and might be confused when I mention certain things that don’t happen in the anime, that’s why.
From the beginning I felt at odds with Misaki, as she exuded so much charm toward the hikikomori protagonist Tatsuhiro Satou that I almost found her hard to believe as a real person. She seemed to fantastical, too perfect of a human being that for her to like Satou and actually be interested in him came across more as wish fulfillment for those projecting onto Satou. But as the story progresses we learn more about Misaki and why she acts the way she does, why she’s so obsessed with someone who treats her like a pest and constantly pushes her away, but yet she keeps coming back. She keeps referring to herself as an “angel” and Satou’s saviour, as though she’s doing him a huge favour in trying to help him out of his hikikomori lifestyle.
What is interesting here, beyond the suspicious infatuation she has for Satou, is how she’s presented and how Satou interprets her behaviour. He sees through her from the beginning and continues to keep her away from him. We are led to believe this is a fault on Satou’s part for various reasons. One, he’s a socially anxious wreck. Two, he’s insecure and afraid of allowing himself to love anyone because he doesn’t want to open up the risk of getting hurt. These remain true, but surprisingly enough Satou is right in being skeptical of Misaki’s motives, as while she appears kind-hearted and a peculiar kind of samaritan, really she is someone with a twisted ego who needs to feel good about herself by focusing on others below her.
She’s even aware of this to some extent, and like Satou can be aloof and condescending. Misaki tends to keep her narcissistic thoughts to herself, but you can read it on her face when she’s alone in class. But what really makes her stand out as a character is her layers of honesty and hypocrisy. She’s evidently set-on helping Satou and change his lifestyle, but she also considers him a “worm”, and on several occasions treated him as such. Heck, she gets so jealous of him with other women and angry at him for ignoring her that she guilts him into signing a contract to do whatever she wants (go on dates, etc.). Of course she underestimates Satou on their ferris wheel ride.
And she also doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what she truly wants. She actually manages to turn around the lifestyle of another hikikomori, but afterward when he pursues her she keeps calling him a “stalker”, talks down to him and tells him to leave her alone. Misaki is a character who sends mixed signals, because she is someone who once she finally gets what she wants feels out of place, and unsure of herself. Her quest to “fix” a hikikomori, once it succeeds leaves her with a feeling she doesn’t want. She hates being below others and reminded of how she pathetic she is (why she hates and skips school). So in the end she has invented a project that ultimately if it succeeds will not make her feel satisfied, but just pile on more levels of low self-esteem.
On top of that, Misaki is quite contradictory. She’s been trying to get Satou to love and acknowledge her for so long, and when he finally reciprocates she calls him a “liar” and locks herself in a bathroom threatening to commit suicide. Earlier in the story she felt guilty for leading Satou to suicide on multiple occasions, each time genuinely seeming to have a look of shock on her face and rush out in desperation to stop Satou. Yet here she claims to have been planning a “double suicide” as their final act together. But when Satou threatens back to her through the door to do the same thing she opens it in that same desperation to stop him, only to discover like her, he was lying.
Misaki has many layers to her. She tries to convince others she’s helping them when she really just wants to feel superior. But at the same time, she confesses at the end to Satou that she had a love/hate relationship with her parents and felt pity for her mother to have married someone who didn’t love her. Yet she admits that she as much as she hated the type of man her father was, she wanted it all the same. She rejects Satou’s proposal and throws the ring out a window, but then at the end we see her show the ring to Satou with Misaki saying she couldn’t let it go.
And I really appreciate how intricate of a person she truly is. Misaki can be sincere, and make herself and others believe her intentions to be true, but like Satou she can’t stand actually getting what she thinks she wants. She shows signs of egoism and vulnerability, believing herself to both above everyone but also the lowest stratum humanity has to offer, though she seeks to aid hikikomori change their ways and become better people, she can’t stand it when they do and ends up turning around to push them back into their old ways.
She’s smart, yet dumb. She’s young, yet tries to act older. She wants to lead others away from their self-destructive lifestyles, yet continues to avoid her own. She can be wise, but also manipulative and mean-spirited. She gets caught up in supercilious speeches, but will then go on to apologize for them. She calls herself an “angel” and makes people believe she’s helping them, but then comes to realizations that she’s no good for them. She’s delusional in her identity and fragile in her ego.
There’s a lot I left out, as there are many scenes demonstrating other nuances and sides to her. But ultimately Misaki is someone who can’t decide what she really wants in life and keeps going through all these vicious cycles. If Welcome to the NHK wants us to try and understand that people aren’t so clear-cut, Misaki sure is a good example of that.