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The World God Only Knows and Hikikomori

Sunday 7th October 2012

Matt Kamen on the problems of a shut-in society

The World God Only Knows

This week sees us travel to The World God Only Knows – director Shigehito Takayanagi’s adaptation of Tamiki Wakaki’s comedy fantasy manga. The series centres on Keima Katsuragi, an expert player of dating sims. While his ability to ‘conquer’ any virtual girl he encounters has earned him the online nickname “God of Conquests”, his luck with women in reality is the exact opposite. When he accidentally forms a contract with the demon Elise, Keima finds himself forced to confront his own shortcomings, having to charm the pants off an assortment of girls in order to exorcise them of runaway spirits.

However, in reality, the kinds of young men like Keima addicted to dating sims have had government officials and social scientists in Japan scratching their heads. Known as ‘hikikomori’, which translates as ‘withdrawal’, this new breed of reclusive citizenry are known for living almost completely secluded lives. The term was coined by psychologist Tamaki Saito in the late 1980s, after he identified a rising number of patients – mostly male – who exhibited signs of lethargy and isolationist tendencies, but who could not otherwise be described as suffering depression or other mental health problems.

Abandoning education, training or work, most hikikomori either live alone in tiny apartments or never move out of the family home, where they typically stay in their own room. Unlike agoraphobics, who fear the outdoors, hikikomori are more addicted to the indoors. Most are supported by family members, who in turn are often shamed by social pressures into silence about the problem. Mental health disorders are notoriously difficult to identify and treat even in the more open west, let alone the ever-stoic Japan.

Saito laid the blame for the rise in hikikomori – government figures estimate there to be 700,000 people suffering from the illness by 2010, with an additional 1.55m exhibiting extreme shut-in tendencies; borderline hikikomori on the verge of being ‘lost’ – on the intense pressure placed on Japanese children, particularly first-born boys. Parents push their progeny to excel through stringent study schedules and evening cram schools, with further demands to then progress into successful business careers. Starved of non-academic social interactions and burdened to conform to everyone else’s expectations, sufferers begin to eschew real interpersonal contact in favour of virtual people, their pre-programmed responses easier to navigate than the comparative chaos of actual humans and their pesky emotions. Online communities are often the only avenue for actual communication.

As such, there’s a lot of overlap between people categorised as hikikomori and those with typical otaku interests – keep in mind, ‘otaku’ is generally a pejorative in Japan, and not something people glorify or aspire to. Locked away in their rooms or apartments, hikikomori can control every aspect of their lives without ever truly realising that they’re largely wasting them . It’s interesting to observe that, as Saito was identifying the curious behaviour, dating sims were gaining prominence; the games perhaps creating an outlet for a problem bubbling under the Japanese culture for years.

However, the shut-ins are becoming a time bomb for Japanese society – at least two identifiable generations who will be unable to care for themselves or reintegrate into the wider world when their carers pass away. While there are some support agencies to help hikikomori reintegrate (the non-profit organisation New Start being the most prominent), it’s an uphill battle and one that will only realistically be won with sweeping changes to attitudes and social demands in the country.

The World God Only Knows is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment, if you can bring yourself to go down to the shops...alternatively, thanks to the internet, you can...

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The World God Only Knows and Hikikomori


The World God Only Knows - Complete Season 1 Collection

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The God of Gaming has arrived!
Keima is a dating sim champion. Cute girls are rendered powerless by his irresistible game playing techniques. Too bad things aren't that way in the real world... that is, until his tempting game playing causes a real live - and very bubbly - cute demon hunter named Elsie to materialize! Now Elsie wants Keima to help her free hot girls from sneaky demons who secretly possess them.



Naruto: Now & Then

Matt Kamen weighs the difference between the original series and the newer Shippuden episodes of Naruto.
With hundreds of episodes under Naruto’s belt, it can be easy to forget just how far the world’s favourite orange ninja cadet and friends have come since their first days at school. The release of the complete first season of Naruto Shippuden seems the perfect time to look back at some of the key players in the saga, and see where the new series finds them – and haven’t they grown…?

Naruto music: NICO Touches the Walls

Tom Smith dives in to the band behind Naruto Shippuden Box 15
Who’s NICO, and what’s their obsession with walls? It’s a question you may ask yourself upon discovering the artist name behind Naruto Shippuden’s eighth opening theme. They call themselves NICO Touches the Walls and, despite the ridiculous name, they are a pretty big deal in Japan right now.

Out Now: Naruto Shippuden 16

Ninja action sneaking to a store near you
Naruto Shippuden box 16 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

Time Travel in Anime

Paul Browne rewinds from Naruto Shippuden: The Lost Tower into the past
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Naruto Music: Asian Kung Fu Generation

Tom Smith on the Britmaniacs behind the Naruto theme.
They’re so loud and proud that they insist on writing it all in caps: ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION – possibly one of Japan’s most important alternative rock acts. The group’s tenth single ‘After Dark’ makes for the energetic, guitar-heavy opening theme to the latest volume of Bleach, released in the UK this month, and the group’s sound might at first seem reminiscent of America’s indie scene dashed with elements of punk, it actually has a lot more in common with The Who, their generation, and the sea of British-based guitar heroes that have appeared since.

Naruto Music: Okamoto's

Tom Smith on Naruto Shippuden’s 18th ending theme
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Anime on iTunes

Discover a whole new world of anime on your tablet or phone
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Blue Exorcist: the Movie

Melissa Francis on the hell-spawn creature-feature
If we look back at the 25 episodes of the TV series, Blue Exorcist: The Movie seemed more cohesive in comparison – there were certainly less of those ‘for the hell of it’ moments (no pun intended) and more well-connected, relevant events.

The magnificent 47 Ronin

Stephen Turnbull asks what (if anything) went wrong with the 47 Ronin?
When T. H. White’s great Arthurian fantasy The Once and Future King was first published the New York Times described it as “a glorious dream of the Middle Ages as they never were but as they should have been.” A very similar comment would not be inappropriate to describe the strange world of old Japan conjured up in the movie 47 Ronin.

The Weird World of Rotoscoping

Andrew Osmond on the history of animation’s corner-cutting secret
Rotoscoping and its descendants are an important part of American cinema, and recognised today. Many film fans know, for example, that Gollum, Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the rebel anthropoid Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes reboot are all based on physical performances by one actor, Andy Serkis. Again, it’s common knowledge that the Na’vi aliens in Avatar were human actors ‘made over’ by computer – the digital equivalent of those guys wearing prosthetic foreheads and noses in the older Star Trek series.

Arthur Rankin Jr (1924-2014)

An obituary of anime's secret angel
Arthur Rankin Jr, who died last Thursday, was not often thought of in connection with Japanese animation, though he played a major part in its history. In America, he’s best known as the co-founder of Rankin/Bass Productions. A stateside brand, the Rankin/Bass name is linked with handmade family cartoons as fondly as Oliver Postgate or Aardman are in Britain. But while the studio’s cartoons – especially the stop-motion Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) – are evergreens, few people know their animation was Japanese.

One Piece Cosplay: Madame Sharley

Paul Jacques nets the best anime costumes
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Tom Smith on the band behind Be As One
Unlike a number of the bands featured on the Manga UK blog, W-inds haven’t had much of a history with anime tie-ins despite their massive success. In fact, in 14 years they’ve only ever done two anime themes; their first in Akira Amano’s Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, and more recently with Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail, where their 29th single Be as One became its sixth ending.
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