For a while, the blogosphere was abuzz about the trope of Manic Pixie Dream Girls. In movies with male protagonists, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl was a quirky idealized woman who existed only to help the man discover himself while having very little internal life of her own. I remember reading how the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind upended that trope. Clementine, the mercurial female lead said:
Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours.
The women of Welcome to NHK, especially Misaki, seemed like "fucked up girl[s] looking for their own peace of mind in the same way. In fact, when I was watching the series, that quote went through my mind again and again. Misaki and to a lesser extent, Megumi and Hitomi are these complex female characters who define simplistic tropes. Their characters are developed in the context of a story that critiques many things about Japanese life, but one major theme was the idealization of women in certain types of anime and online games.
The protagonist, Satō and Yamazaki initially bond after Satō lied about being a game creator. They spent time making a pornographic video game, featuring women designed to fulfill the fantasies of men without any real motivation. In fact, Satō frequently refers to the ludicrous portrayal of these female characters, not having inner lives, while also being seduced by the fantasy. He even became more consumed by these idealized girls when Yamazaki introduced him to his world, loudly proclaiming that he is becoming a full fledged otaku.
Parallel to this story was Misaki, who quietly noticed that Satō was hikkomori and sought to help him through counseling, after reading Jung and Freud and trying to help him. It would be so easy to slide Misaki into that idealized female role but the story defies easy stereotypes, demonstrating that she has her own motivations. She described Satō as "more worthless than a stray dog" but she needed him because he was the only person who was more messed up than she was.
Misaki isn't just some idealized woman who is seeking to help him with completely altruistic motives, nor is she just manipulative or cruel, but a fucked up girl who is looking for her own peace of mind. I'm a therapist and I know that so many of us would be called "wounded healers," people who care about humanity but the seeds of our interest in our work are related to our own pain. And that's really okay, because pain and sadness and a degree of self interest does not diminish the power of the healing relationship, but rather gives it a deeper resonance, since it requires both people to be vulnerable. Misaki seems to be a wounded healer, one who needs to help other people and who defies easy categorization. And that depth is not lost on Satō, as Misaki keeps invading his fantasies of idealized and passive women.
There is so much that I could say about this series—including about the real critique of simplistic characterization of women that is throughout this series, but I'll just leave you with the suggestion that you should watch it if you haven't already.