Need The Warld Ken About My Ramblings?

'Read yourself happy! Read yourself thin!'

'Read yourself happy! Read yourself thin!'

I reacted positively when the idea of writing about Catcher on an anime blog was raised in certain quarters. It’s always easier to write about something if you have something else to compare it to, as you can dress up a simple list of points of similarities and difference and pretend that you’ve been thinking. Moreover, I like to compare seemingly unrelated things and – better still – lots of people have read The Catcher in the Rye. (The idea was/is essentially that people – anyone who wants to – could chip in, if they felt so inclined. Not that this is organised, or anything.)

I hunted around for some suitable anime series to connect the novel to. Unfortunately my Muse (I wonder which muse is responsible for blogging?) refused to come down from the peak of Parnassus and do any actual inspiring (because, if she’s anything like me, she’s irredeemably lazy). There’s Stand Alone Complex, except that I haven’t seen Stand Alone Complex: I have no money to buy it with, because I’ve spent my anime budget on various other anime series. So I decided to cheat and spit out a few notes involving the novel and another novel.

Before you close this tab (since even Inernet Explorer has tabbed browsing of a sort nowadays) in disgust, I should say that it’s a novel very much relevant to my (our?) interests: Welcome to the NHK.

With its title oddly lacking the exclamation mark of the anime and manga adaptions, this is Takimoto’s affecting tale of a considerably-more-than-borderline hikikomori in its original, rather rawer form. Raw not just because it isn’t an adaption, but raw in construction, too: I can’t speak about the manga, but the anime had a deliberate sense of ‘this is the Pyramid Selling Arc, this is the Offline Meeting Arc, this is the MMORPG Arc’ about it, while the novel works more by discrete incidents than by discrete arcs. Its content is also rawer than its anime adaption, featuring more drug-taking and bomb-making – but this isn’t a review.

* * *

In my notes I’ve jotted down ‘similar reception’, which isn’t really true: Catcher is of course far more famous (I’ve heard that it’s impossible to avoid encountering it at some schools) and acclaimed. What’s probably missing from my notes here is ‘. . . from those who’ve read both novels’, an entirely unjust assumption (it’s not as though I’ve conducted a survey) which I will now proceed to expand on.

Thing is, they’re both eminently readable and readers usually decide there’s some point to both novels. NHK itself actively encourages this, as – while it’s not pure agenda – it’s what I’d call an ‘Issue Novel’, the Issue in question being The Hikikomori Issue. (Obnoxious capitalisation!) Unhelpfully, I don’t know anything about The Hikikomori Issue beyond what I’ve learned from reading the book itself, and the odd idiosyncratically-spelt blog post. My knowledge about hikikomori, when applied to Welcome to the NHK, is pretty circular.

Anyway, as an Issue Novel, NHK is pretty blunt: Satou starts working and sorting himself out when he runs out of food, while Misaki is physically well-provided for but has problems which are probably more far-reaching than Satou’s. In his more lucid moments, Satou doesn’t have much sympathy for himself and I don’t feel much for him either, whereas Misaki provokes both rational sympathy and irrational – what’s that coinage Lelangir‘s always using – mamoru-ism? If this is meant to be read as the study of an Issue, from which we are meant to draw lessons, then the lessons are: starve your hikikomori and they’ll be provoked into self-improvement, but treat your wilting, traumatised violets with kid gloves.

Catcher is not an Issue Novel, or wasn’t until it became one of society-at-large’s Ways to Understand Teenagers. Salinger’s reclusiveness and his refusal to suggest a meaning contribute to an air of mystery surrounding what meaning, if any, the novel has – unlike Takimoto, who pops up in some helpful paratext(s) at the end of his novel, writing about the relationship between his life and Satou’s experience. But we assume the novel has a point despite this mystery, or perhaps because of it, or perhaps simply because that’s how we’re wired to read, or perhaps because it’s one of those books that people in authority make you read and write about.

* * *

I’ve also scrawled down ‘denaturing language’. It’s possible to do a similar thing in the safety and comfort of your own home: simply pick a word or write down a list of words, and then repeat your word(s) orally ad nauseam. What you’re saying should lose much of its meaning as you settle into the routine of repeating a set of empty syllables. Your word(s) may well take on a negative aura – after all, few people like pointless repetition.

Welcome to the NHK does something like this in one particular, focused passage (pp. 99-103, when Satou’s attempting to write the game scenario, if you have a copy to hand) which trots rapidly through eroge diction in such a concentrated manner that the words lose all erotic charge and become merely disgusting (we’re steered towards disgust by Satou’s italicised internal commentary on his efforts). Excellently, there’s a climax to all this:

“Swollen” . . . “swollen” . . . “swollen”  . . . “swollen” . . . “swollen!”
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Text has rarely been so erotophobic.

Catcher, too, repeats words to the point that they lose their force, more subtly but on a wider scale. By the end of the book, I was terribly tired of Holden Caulfield and Holden Caulfield’s lousy vocabulary. It’s not just the vocabulary: that persistent ‘really did’ (‘She looked terrific. She really did.’) and those italics. When you keep using them, they lose their value. Granted, Phoebe punctures Holden when she points out that he doesn’t actually like anything, and has no aspirations, but a relatively brief period in which we imagine what it is like to look at Holden from the outside is not enough to reconcile me to the novel.

[Is Phoebe moe?]

The irritation Holden causes me is the reason I’ll probably wind up re-reading Welcome to the NHK more times, despite the unexciting language of the translation. The prose used to create the Caulfield persona is well-put-together, but The Catcher in the Rye isn’t especially funny and, being narrated in retrospect by a young cynic, it feels irritating. (‘Grand. If there’s one word I hate, it’s grand': perhaps he sounds to me too much like me?) It’s a good novel, but one that I’ll find it hard to enjoy again until I’ve managed to put more years between me and my teenage self of a few years ago.

* * *

What have I learned? That arbitrary comparisons are not as easy or enlightening as I’d hoped. Perhaps the warld needn’t ken after all: it requires actual effort to produce something worth attention (like the greatest contribution to literary discourse ever).

EDIT: Lelangir examines Holden’s relationship with Phoebe via True Tears; cuchlann explains why he’s never read Catcher, and hunts around for a similarly-received anime (guess what it is, go on); hayase makes naunced points about previous Catcher posts and declares the novel to be the ‘[b]est contemporary ‘controversial’ book I’ve read'; coburn writes on (his title says it all, really) ‘Holden, Naruto, and being a wanker‘; the Asperger’s Anime Blogger contrasts Holden to the hero of The World Ends With You; and berkles draws a connection between Holden and Larry Davi- wait, what does Curb Your Enthusiasm have to do with anime?

Haiku: A Note

Since this is probably the only time I’m going have the chance to talk about Salinger here, and since ‘Seymour: An Introduction‘ brings in a Japanese element with its disquisition (heh) on haiku, allow me to put on my crusty, opinionated, Bloomian hat and say this: please don’t write a haiku in English and expect it to be good. If you want to say something profound, have the testicular fortitude to whip up a nice, rhythmic epigram, with plenty of cynicism and emotional disengagement. Reserve English haikus for comedy.

23 responses to “Need The Warld Ken About My Ramblings?

  1. This post killed me. It really did.

  2. Haha! Seconded. ^

    And it is the greatest contribution to literary discourse EVAR. If I ever have kids in the distant future, I want him as the English teacher, haha. (Trying to say this with a straight face)

    But now that I think of it, wow. Satou can be like another Holden. o_o The similarities are startling.

  3. “Is Phoebe moe?”
    Possibly. But Holden is definitelu tsun-tsun. I’d have used italics on ‘definitely’ if I weren’t so worried about the less-thans and greater-thans messing up the syntax.

    That pic of Misaki also made me think “Misaki’s hawt!” and simultaneously “ABe’s a genius!” His artwork stands out a mile, at least for me.

    I’m not sure if I’m making any sense here (it’s been a good year or two since I last read the novel) but I got the impression that the reader isn’t supposed to like Holden in the first place…coming to think of it, I’ll re-read it this weekend because I think you’re onto something there.

  4. So this time it’s NHK ni Youkoso! Very interesting read, and I see a good relation, but I, also, have not experience SAC.

    In presentation, the a reader may see both Holden and Satou in similar light, but fundamentally, I see them with differing “cores”. Aside from character singularity, the connection between character and reader does make for strong contrast.

  5. I remember reading Catcher in the Rye way back when. Supposedly the venerable major who fought in Vietnam and was the Rifle team coach was a roommate of the author for a while. In any case I never really liked the book it was passable but not the kind of thing is was spending a whole day reading just to fins out what happens next. Never read NHK though…

    I really dislike how everything they make you read in school is considered a classic but forcing it down student’s throats kinds of leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

  6. It’s been a couple years since I last read Catcher in the Rye but I still hate it. A series of random, boring events linked by the pitiable narration of Holden Caulfield, the worst protagonist in English literature. Then the book ends without really saying if he had progressed beyond his hateful ways.

    Welcome to the NHK is similar to Catcher in that it’s also a series of random events, though they end up much more entertaining. But much like Holden Satou ends the book without any sign of moving on either. This is why I view the manga as the definitive NHK product; it fleshes out the story and provides closure.

    So both novels could be said to be inherently flawed, though I would also take NHK over Catcher any day.

  7. I actually liked the novel. It’s good seeing people worse than you, and Holden is the worst hypocrite I’ve ever read in literature. He’s helped have a more positive outlook in life because of his cynicism.

    Well, Daniel and I decided to start from this, since it’s pretty simple, but we’ll probably progress in time. :)

    If it interests you, you can participate as well. :D

  8. Pingback: Misanthropic Sororiphilia, Non-Fictional Lacrimalation « Calamitous Intent

  9. Well, having read the book over 3 years ago, and being more forced to read it, at that, I don’t remember much about it; at times, reading a book for the sake of school just leads me to not appreciate it, and the fact I can’t even remember much of what happened in the book is testament to this.

  10. Pingback: anime|otaku » Blog Archive » The Catcher in the Rye: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

  11. @ Baka-Raptor: Was your body laid out in a bloody nunnery?

    @ Hoshi: They are surprisingly similar, though Satou’s older, more responsible and ultimately more successful in overcoming his problems.

    And Baka-Raptor would make a good English teacher, yes. I imagine him as the dinosaur equivalent of Onizuka.

    @ concretebadger: My eye for visuals isn’t really good enough to say if he’s a genius or not, but his work illustrating the Japanese edition is certainly good stuff. That image in particular struck me – maybe it’s the peculiar hopelessness in her expression?

    Fair point that we’re not necessarily intended to like Holden, but this time around I disliked him so very much that it really spoiled the whole novel – I’ve read books with unlikeable narrators before, and enjoyed them, too, so I’m tempted to suggest that the novel doesn’t have enough of those moments when Holden’s punctured.

    @ Crusader: NHK‘s worth a shot, if you can get hold of a copy. It certainly has more plot than Catcher, though that’s not hard.

    And I know what you mean about students being force-fed classic literature. I imagine it must be one of the greatest challenges for an English teacher, communicating enthusiasm. On the other hand, at least they have the privelege of teaching about things which are (or used to be) entertainment; I bet teachers of Geography would love it if mountains had narratives.

    @ Demian: I’m not sure that NHK is purely static: by the end of the novel, Satou’s working and Misaki’s not suicidal. They’re both moving, having previously been stuck, even if they haven’t really moved very far, which is quite lifelike even if it’s not as immediately satisfying as having them completely turn their lives around.

    @ Michael: I remember quite liking the book the first time I read it, but I think I missed most of what was going on, and mostly enjoyed the strangeness of its world (the US – more, the US some decades ago) and its momentum (which is odd, given that nothing inherently exciting happens).

    This time around, though . . . oh well. It’s more proof that I can dislike something even though it’s well-formed.

    @ omisyth: Mmm, like Crusader suggested, I suppose. There’s little satisfaction in finishing a book which you didn’t even choose to start.

  12. Pingback: Baka-Raptor » Blog Archive » The ShizNat in the Rye

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  14. LOL@baka-raptor’s comment

    also yes phoebe is moe…err at least endlessly adorable enough to make me think so

  15. I am not a homosexual and therefor don’t read novels, so Catcher is beyonf my knowledge, however I have read the ‘light’ novel NHK which is my second favorite of all time. When you were about to compare them I thought ‘maybe I should read catcher’ but then your comparison was flimsy, as you admitted, pointless, and boring to read. I shall continue to totally not read that book now.

  16. @ berkles: There must be a thin line between ‘endlessly adorable’ and moe. Maybe.

    @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: Do so. Catcher‘s well-written, but its fame is more a product of being published at the right time rather than of inherent quality, so it can safely be avoided especially if you want to stay healthily heterosexual and culturally illiterate.

  17. bwahaha, no no, I kid, after all, there’s no way I could, at this point, pass as a complete heterosexual. I don’t think anyone’s buying that. Not… one… bit.

  18. Pingback: Asperger’s Anime Blog » Catching Neku In The Rye

  19. I finished my post on The Catcher In The Rye based on The World Ends With You, and I think I did a good job at it. Not as good as your NHK one, IKnight, but still, it’s pretty good. It really is.

  20. @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: I dunno. If you rename your blog ‘Ecchiphoric Field’ and maintain a massive 18+ gallery like Meidocafe does, you might convince your readers.

    @ newgeekphilosopher: Is indeed a good post. In fact, it killed me.

  21. LULZ I just wrote mine half as a joke, because all the animes i had picked for the post had been taken.

    and the post just consists of basically the same jokes as baka-raptor’s, only much less funny

  22. Pingback: Franny and Zoey ~ Hikikomori no Satori « NeoShinka

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