“I will protect you. I will always protect you, Satou-kun.”
Welcome to the Next Stage! ("Nekusutosutēji ni yōkoso!", ネクストステージにようこそ！) is the twenty-fifth chapter of the Welcome to the N.H.K manga.
Four cases of problems happening within Tatsuhiro Satou's circle of acquaintances is shown in panel format. Hitomi Kashiwa is having problems with Akira Jougasaki due to personality conflicts and personal psychological problems. She is shown to have violent behavior when mad, to the point of throwing knives. Kaoru Yamazaki is on the verge of moving back to Hokkaido with his family to be a farmer, and his love interest, Nanako Hidorikawa, is venting in his room—not in woe for his departure, but because her director boyfriend broke up with her.
Then Satou is moping about his own situations in life, looking through old yearbooks, knowing he didn't belong. He's seen outside in fetal position, in way of traffic, and almost got ran over by a car. However, the car swerved out of the way, the man driving it furious. Satou then realized that the driver was actually a classmate of his back in middle school, Furuta. Furuta asks to hang out for the day, and he brings Satou to a hospital. There, Satou sees his old middle-school sensei that used to abuse Satou, now aged and crippled. Satou had a tender feeling for him, and tried to comfort him, but the teacher began yelling at him, entirely delusional. Satou darts out of the room.
Nanako shows contempt for "otaku losers", claiming that they objectify girls, and use games as a supplement for an inability to get real life girls. Yamazaki becomes defensive, decisively stating that he has no need for real life girls, and that she is simply a tsundere. Nanako is absolutely desperate after the breakup, and she strips down naked behind Yamazaki. He refuses to look, and she jumps on him and begins deep kissing and hugging while in tears, shouting to him about how much she hates him. Yamazaki is in some form of shock.
Satou catches his former classmate shouting at the old man, forcing him physically to give him the "stamp" for his paycheck, and that the fool Satou would testify against him in a heart beat.
Hitomi emails Satou. She says that the real way to make a man out of him is to commit adultery with her. He escapes from it all, and rejoins Toto in his video game. A voice echoes in Satou's head as he receives a phone call from Misaki. The voice, in Misaki's voice, is saying "I'll protect you", and it's repeating itself over and over. Satou picks up the phone and hears Misaki laughing and telling him that she's attending school again, and she's with another guy, to which she says that Satou is only her friend. Satou's eyes begin to water, and he tells her that he's proud of her and that he's gotten over his depression. He begins to break down and claims that Misaki Nakahara couldn't exist. A girl like her would never go out of her way to save him, and it's all to surreal.
Suddenly, as part of his imagination, an angel reminiscent of Misaki floats out of the refrigerator, and crawls on top of him on the bed. She swears always to protect him, her face up close to his crying and broken down face.