“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” –Walter Anderson
Hitori Gotō has always been a shy introvert who had trouble socialising with her peers. When she reaches middle school, after seeing how a band can garner applause and adoration from their audience, Hitori decides to take up guitar and put on a performance before graduating. Her nerves end up preventing her from ever performing in front of classmates, but over her three years, Hitori practises alone and puts her performances up online, where other netizens find themselves impressed with Hotori’s playing. Upon reaching high school, Hitori continues to struggle until one day, she runs into Nijika Ijichi, who’s a member of the band, Kessoku, and in desperate need of a new guitarist ever since their previous guitarist unexpectedly left. Hitori’s social anxiety makes it difficult for her to turn Nijika down, and she ends up being introduced to the band Nijika’s a part of – Nijika is a drummer, and their other member, Ryō Yamada, is a guitarist. Although performing poorly in their show, Nijika is happy to have met Hitori, while Hitori is quite excited about thing despite being exhausted from the day’s events. Nijika and Ryō later recruit Hitori to work at their bar, STARRY, and despite her attempts to ditch, she ends up showing up anyways, learning that serving customers isn’t as daunting as she’d imagined. At school, Hitori encounters Ikuyo Kita, who’s enamoured with guitar and wants to play. Hitori has difficulty in relating to the energetic Ikuyo, and ends up bringing her to STARRY. The normally cheerful Ikuyo becomes worried, and it turns out that she’d been the guitarist who’d quit Kessoku; she had happily volunteered to play guitar for them because of her crush on Ryō, but quit after realising that guitar was more involved than she had imagined. Hitori and the others convince her to stay, with Hitori offering to teach her how to play properly. This is Bocchi The Rock! three episodes in – this season’s Manga Time Kirara anime is an amalgamation of 2009’s K-On!, and 2019’s Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, combining the former’s light music with themes of overcoming social anxiety from the latter. Although the premise is not particularly novel or innovative, Bocchi The Rock! sets the table for a story of how music and camaraderie creates a suitable environment for people to open up and incrementally become more confident in their ability to interact with others.
Bocchi The Rock! follows in the footsteps of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu with its lead character – both series are characterised by highly exaggerated traits in the protagonist. Hitori of Bocchi The Rock and Hitori of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, for instance, both suffer from crippling social anxiety to the point where neither can carry a conversation with others, second guess the intentions of others at every turn and withdraw at the first sign of trouble, becoming reduced into a squeaky mess. Such propensities are a caricature of introverted tendencies, and while at first glance, it can appear as though such anime are mocking folks who are less comfortable with social interactions, such characters actually are immensely valuable in the series they appear in. Exaggerations serve to emphasise the sort of thing that people uncomfortable with approaching others may experience in a way that’s clear to those who do not share their same situation. For instance, when Hitori attempts to turn down an invite to work at STARRY, she decides to catch a cold rather than approach Nijika and Ryō directly. In reality, being forward with Nijika and Ryō would yield the quickest results, and one can turn things down politely without burning any bridges. However, the roundabout approach that Hitori takes is a show of how difficult it can be do take this route. In this way, the exaggerated traits of characters like Hitori serve to emphasise that some people really do have a tough go at social interactions, and in turn, when viewers see Hitori improving throughout Bocchi The Rock!, the changes become more apparent and rewarding, similarly to how by the end of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Hitori had similarly amassed a group of friends; while taking a very unconventional route, Hitori is reaching out to more people and finding friendship anyways, showing how a desirable result can arise even if one’s methods aren’t the smoothest. In this way, Bocchi The Rock! is quite fun to watch, being a rather visceral depiction of the sorts of challenges that folks with social anxiety may experience, and even then, how the right people at the right time can help catalyse growth that helps one to gradually become more comfortable around other people and even embrace new experiences.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Hitori initially resembles Machikado Mazoku‘s Momo, and her beginnings with the guitar are humble; she practises on her own with the hope that one day, she’ll be able to join a band. I remember that, back in my time as a middle school student, prior to entering my final year, I decided I wanted to give jazz band a whirl and ended up teaching myself how to play the trumpet. I therefore rented a trumpet during the summer break and spent two hours a day practising. By the time September came around, I was able to play alongside my peers, although the instructor flat out refused to believe that I was self-taught and suggested I took lessons.
- While some people learn better when they have someone walking them through things, I’ve found that being self-taught means that, since there’s no safety net, one must adapt to problems and sort out issues for themselves before continuing. There are merits to being instructed, and while I’ll probably say I’m more comfortable with an instructor, in practise, I am technically a self-taught iOS developer, and I learn best by experimenting. Hitori is likely similar, owing to her reservations about social interaction, and while she’s unable to perform at a concert for her classmates, her skill as a guitarist becomes passable owing to how dedicated she is.
- Cloverworks’ visual work for Bocchi The Rock! is impressive, equivalent to the artwork and animation seen in their past works. Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, My Dress-Up Darling and Spy × Family are all excellent titles both in terms of story and technical elements. With a solid repertoire, it is clear that wherever Bocchi The Rock! is headed, one can reasonably expect an enjoyable experience ahead. I acknowledge that this is akin to judging a book by its cover, but because Cloverworks’ track record is of a fine standard, my expectations for Bocchi The Rock! is that this is going to be something I have a good time with.
- A leading complaint about K-On! had been how Yui had a near-supernatural tendency to become remarkably skilled in the things that she put any effort towards, and that throughout K-On!, Houkago Teatime were never actually shown practising extensively or taking music as seriously as other bands would. However, the point of K-On! wasn’t the music, but rather, how shared experiences and camaraderie creates memories worth holding onto and worth giving thanks for. Anime bloggers and anime critics of the late 2000s and early 2010s missed this, leading K-On! to become a highly polarising series, even though the series itself had been sincere and authentic.
- Bocchi The Rock! circumvents this possibility by establishing that Hitori is a decent guitar player as a result of having spent so much time practising, and although she’s never participated in any concerts, she does upload her playing to YouTube, where she’s built out a decently-sized following and developed a reputation for being an enjoyable guitarist to listen to. In real life, Hitori is so shy that she can hardly carry out a conversation; lacking the courage to initiate one, she also has no idea of how to respond when someone else starts a conversation.
- I relate to Hitori more than I do the typical extrovert. Left to my own devices, I am perfectly content with doing my own thing and maintaining the silence. However, people have stated that I have an extrovert’s tendencies: after I warm up to people, I can carry out conversations about almost anything without too much trouble and have a propensity for lame puns and bad jokes that people find amusing. The truth is that extroversion and introversion exist along a spectrum; I lean towards introversion even though I’m comfortable with people, and while I prefer doing things on my own, I won’t experience any physical difficulty in attending events with more people.
- Because Hitori has difficulties with social interactions, Bocchi The Rock! introduces Nijika in order to jump-start things and break the status quo. The younger sister of the STARRY live house’s manager, Nijika is friendly and outgoing, being quite involved with the family business. Nijika knows her way around bands and the industry, making her a valuable asset. In appearance, Nijika resembles Blend S‘ Kaho Hinata. Seeing familiar faces in Bocchi The Rock! shouldn’t be too surprising: character archetypes are commonplace in Manga Time Kirara series, and the joy of watching these adaptations comes not from individual characters and their traits, but rather, how everyone gets along once together, and how their interactions drive new developments.
- Nijika’s request is to have Hitori act as their guitarist, since their previous one suddenly rage-quit. Although any other guitarist would’ve probably felt at home, Hitori struggles to summon the courage needed to play. Bocchi The Rock! does this for comedy’s sake, but I do relate to the situation of developing nerves when performing outside of one’s comfort zone. Having said this, I have found that, if I focus on the task at hand, I am able to relax more. For instance, when I left my first startup and joined my second startup, what allowed me to settle in within a month was the fact that my day-to-day was still to work with Swift.
- Hitori hasn’t been around the block quite as long as I have, and after butchering things during practise, she throws herself in the trash (marked by the kanji 可燃, or “burnable”). This was especially piteous, since Hotori doesn’t even consider herself as being recyclable (the container on the right is for cans and bottles). Bocchi The Rock! is an example of what is colloquially referred to as “pity anime”, in which the characters are in situations that evoke a sense of pathos. My heart always melts when seeing these moments, and while such traits in reality are debilitating, anime choose to go with things like these to really emphasise a character’s traits. Kiniro Mosaic had done something similar; when Karen was feeling left out as the other girls discussed their future aspirations, she hid in a cardboard box and resembled an abandoned kitten as a result.
- A quick look around finds that perhaps I’m unique in referring to anime like Bocchi The Rock! as a “pity anime”. I’m sure there’s a specific term referring to anime like Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Sansha San’yo, Anne Happy, Comic Girls and Bocchi The Rock!, but if there is, I’ve not learnt of it yet. These anime are characterised by mannerisms that would be outrageous in reality, but utilised effectively to drive character growth. To really show her as being socially inept, Bocchi The Rock! indicates that Hitori will go to great lengths to avoid interactions, even proposing that she perform in a box so she doesn’t have to see the audience.
- In the end, although Kessoku performs quite poorly thanks to Hitori rushing ahead. A good band is in sync, and in K-On!, Mio, Yui and Tsumugi will often speed up their playing to match Ritsu’s pace during a concert. A skilled musician like Azusa will notice this; Azusa has commented that even though Houkago Teatime is rough around the edges, their synchronisation with one another is good, resulting in moving performances. At this point, it is still very early in Hitori’s time as a member of Kessoku, so gaffes like these are forgivable.
- Although their first live performance is a bit of a let-down, and Hitori still has a long way to go before she’s able to play in front of an audience as herself, bring able to perform to any capacity for an in-person audience is a step up for Hitori. Of course, when Nijika offers Hitori a job at STARRY to help pay for upkeep costs. Nijika explains that live halls like STARRY use revenue to stay afloat, and often run a side business to bring in revenue because with many bands, agreeing to let them perform actually results in a net loss.
- To keep in business, live halls are also licensed restaurants, and this conveniently suits Bocchi The Rock! – having Hitori work at STARRY pushes her in front of customers. I’ve long believed that the fastest way to learn is to metaphorically throw someone into the pool; this is achieved by putting someone into a situation where there is a clear objective, but where they must pick things as they go. This forces one to adapt and learn in response to whatever demands arise, fostering a stronger connection to the material. For instance, if one wanted to learn how to build an iOS app, reading algorithmic theory will only get one so far, and the best way to learn is to make an app in Xcode.
- Applying this analogy in Bocchi The Rock! would probably end in disaster. Instead, Nijika and Ryō start with baby steps by trying to talk to Hitori and at the same time, introduce themselves to her. Although things start out well enough, Hitori’s lack of confidence causes her to lose composure with the questions. I’ve found that to overcome this, it’s helpful to do some introspection and have a set of basic answers about oneself. Then, depending on the context, one can fall back on an answer and tune it to address a question. It’s good practise, and coming up with answers and responses ahead of time could be a helpful means of aiding Hitori in communicating with others; if one knows roughly what to say in a given situation, then one can more readily adapt to the conversation and keep things flowing.
- Seika, Nijika’s sister, runs STARRY, and she resembles New Game‘s Ko in appearance. Formerly a band member herself, Seika sports an aloof appearance and detached manner, but despite this, she cares very much about Nijika, and is more than happy to accept Hitori’s help, as it frees her to look after the reception desk. This is counted as being the easiest job, since on most days, there aren’t very many customers. In years past, some viewers would take this detail and use it to draw conclusions about Seika’s character, before using this as the basis for speculation that would invariably be incorrect.
- However, in more recent years, anime discussions have trended away from attempting to psychoanalyse every detail in a given Manga Time Kirara series. I’ve always found this approach to be extraneous – knowing small details, like the fact that Hitori rocks a Gibson Les Paul guitar (the same model as K-On!‘s Yui, albeit in a different colour), might be cool, but it doesn’t generally contribute to overall enjoyment, or improved comprehension with respect to what a given work is trying to say. Because fewer people are taking this route in the present, I’ve found that it is far easier to enjoy whatever Manga Time Kirara anime is shown in a given season.
- The reason I do not believe that it is meaningful to psychoanalyse characters, in an already-running slice-of-life anime, is because their actions and outcomes are already pre-determined – the writers have already laid down a path for what will happen in accordance with the themes that work was intended to convey, so speculating what will happen is unnecessary. Slice-of-life anime aren’t complicated, and once one figures out what messages are being shown to viewers, it becomes easy to work out the outcomes. As a result, I find it much more valuable to take in the journey, and see how pivotal moments contribute to a given character’s growth.
- For instance, while Hitori initially struggles to present a drink to a customer after pouring it, support from Ryō and Nijika eventually leads her to succeed. Small victories like these are essential in a character’s growth; as Hitori acclimatises to interacting with customers, people she won’t usually know well,, she’ll slowly grow used to people in general. Understanding how slice-of-life anime operate is the key to enjoying them – anime like these are inevitably slow and seemingly incoherent, but over time, they speak to life lessons of at least some value.
- Hitori is aware of these changes, and although she had spent a better part of a day trying to get out of things, once she realises working at STARRY isn’t anywhere as bad as she’d imagined, she suddenly finds herself looking forwards to returning STARRY the next day and do things at her own pace, one step at a time. In typical Manga Time Kirara fashion, however, Hitori does end up catching a cold, creating a bit of situational irony.
- Par the course for a Manga Time Kirara series, characters are gradually introduced to avoid overwhelming viewers, and by the third episode, Ikuyo joins the cast. Hitori had initially tied to approach Ikuyo after Nijika and Ryō remarked they still need an additional guitarist. However, nerves gets the better of her, and Hitori is unable to act, at least until Ikuyo notices her. An outgoing and excitable girl who’s a people person, Ikuyo becomes interested in Hitori after hearing about her guitar playing, and attempts to convince Hitori to teach her.
- Hitori tries to paint her band members as being exceptionally cool and talented in an attempt to dissuade Ikuyo from meeting Nijika and Ryō. However, when all efforts fail, Hitori reluctantly brings Ikuyo over to STARRY. The situation quickly changes as Ikuyo recognises the street, and tries to turn Hitori around. The pair soon run into Nijika; Ikuyo’s reactions hinted at her own past relationship with Kessoku and STARRY, and here, her reaction is adorable; although Ikuyo might have a happy-go-lucky attitude about approaching people, she’s not above feelings of shame and embarassment, either. In this way, Ikuyo might be seen as being Bocchi The Rock!‘s equivalent of Aru Honshō.
- As it turns out, Ikuyo had joined Kessoku so she could be with Ryō, whom she’s got a crush on. However, once she realised playing the guitar was much more difficult than she had anticipated, shame resulted in her quitting suddenly. This is where Hitori came in to fill the void, and now that the truth is in the open, Nijika and Ryō both accept what’s happened and make it clear to Ikuyo that there are no hard feelings. To make up for the trouble caused, Ikuyo decides to work at STARRY, and right out of the gates, her outgoing nature means she’s a great fit for the role, as she handles customers with grace, even while wearing a maid’s outfit.
- The trope of maids in a music anime is not a new one: K-On! previously had Sawako creating handmaid Victorian maid outfits for Houkago Teatime, and during the second season, to help Mio’s confidence prior to a stage play for the school festival, Tsumugi brings everyone to a café her family owns, where the girls spend the day waiting on customers as maids. Having been around anime for a shade over a decade, Victorian maids are a common part of the scenery, but the reason why they’re so prevalent is because maids are supposed to embody the concept of moé, being adorable and friendly.
- Because consumers of anime and Japenese video games tend to be of a specific demographic, anime include maids to create a sense of familiarity and comfort. In my case, since I have no particular penchant for Victorian maids, maids simply become a part of the scenery, as unremarkable as watching people parade around in cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats for ten days of the year here at home. However, while I do not personally see the appeal of Victorian maids as anime portray them, their frequent presence does offer insight into contemporary Japanese popular culture, and specifically, the otaku subculture.
- Seeing Ikuyo fit in so well with Ryō and Nijika causes Hitori’s confidence to deflate, and she chucks herself in the burnable trash container again. Moment such as these evoke pathos mixed with humour, and one could say that the pity in a given scene creates situational irony, which in turn drives comedy. The scene composition here is a familiar one; I’ve seen this particular setup in World Witches Take Off! previously, but I’ve never been able to identify what this visual gag is called. Such scenes are characterised by a character lying in the ground next to a pile of words depicting their final words or similar, and while it’s a long shot, if readers would be able to help me in identifying this, it would be most appreciated.
- Once Ikuyo realise that there wasn’t really any bad blood following her departure, for both Hitori and the viewer’s benefit, she explains her story more fully, and decides that it’s probably for the better that she doesn’t rejoin Kessoku, even though she’s got a crush on Ryō. Moments like these reinforce the idea that despite their exaggerated characteristics, characters in Manga Time Kirara series also tend to be sincere, genuine and compassionate. This makes it easier to get behind and root for the characters as they learn and grow with one another.
- Once STARRY closes for the day, it’s Hitori who takes the initiative and reaches out to Ikuyo. Although the manner of delivery is still piteous, the fact that she’s made the effort to keep Ikuyo around is admirable. She’s spotted that even though Ikuyo is inexperienced with the guitar, she’s still been practising on her own, and this is encouraging enough to move Hitori. Moments like these are why Manga Time Kirara series tend to be heartwarming: smaller details relevant to the story remind viewers of moments in their own lives where others extended them kindness, and in some cases, these simple actions have had a far-reaching impact on people. Ryō and Nijika have no problem with Ikuyo returning, especially now that Hitori’s offered to teach her, even if she is worried about
- Of course, it wouldn’t be Manga Time Kirara if a touching moment wasn’t offset by comedy seconds later; it turns out that Ikuyo had bought a bass rather than a guitar, at great personal expense. Ryō would later buy the bass off Ikuyo and give her a loaner guitar to practise.
- Viewers familiar with K-On! will probably be glad that Hitori is a ways more experienced with guitar than Yui was, which eliminates the concern that Ikuyo is learning under someone inexperienced. While Hitori’s weakness is her ability to communicate and open up to people, once she does, it does feel that she’s able to carry out conversations without trouble, and even teach with some degree of confidence. Of course, looking ahead, Bocchi The Rock! does appear to be one of those “two steps forward, one step back” stories in that, if the characters were allowed to advance too quickly, the story’s initial charms would be lost.
- As such, as Bocchi The Rock! hits its stride, I expect Hitori to incrementally improve, but still suffer from nerves and lack of confidence from time to time. Bocchi The Rock! is off to a solid start, and while Hitori’s got a ways to go yet, I am hoping that throughout the course of this series, viewers will have the chance to hear Kessoku perform, too: the musical style here in Bocchi The Rock! is similar to that of K-On!‘s, and with Kessoku’s current composition, it does appear that they’re only short one keyboardist of having the same setup as Houkago Teatime.
While Bocchi The Rock! is thematically strong, and the anime is off to an excellent start, I am finding that Hitori’s runaway imagination and thought process to be a bit disruptive. The shorter scenes offer a modicum of insight into what Hitori is going through, and accentuate the tenour of a moment. However, lengthier scenes are presented as being in a separate context removed from a given moment, and as a result, have a tendency to break a scene’s flow. For instance, while imagining what would happen if she were to be a clerk at a convenience store, Hitori’s thoughts lead her to imagine her inadequacies going viral, leading her to be tried for frightening customers and being handed a death sentence. While speaking to how pessimism and doubt can result in a runaway cascade of negative thoughts, seeing this repeatedly occupies time that could otherwise be spent advancing the story. A few moments like these spaced sporadically throughout Bocchi The Rock! is unlikely to be an issue, but my hope is that such moments are used strategically: Family Guy is a series infamous for its use of cutaway gags, and while some people hold that they are essential to Family Guy‘s humour, I personally find them vapid and uninspired because the show has shown it can deliver excellent humour without them. In the episode “To Love and Die in Dixie”, after the Griffins move into the Deep South as a part of the Witness Protection Programme, they find their new home decrepit, and for the next two minutes, it’s nonstop jokes using their situation. This shows how jokes can be woven into the story without disrupting flow. Similarly, in Bocchi The Rock!, shorter moments of Hitori panicking are effective, reminding viewers that many situations still give her trouble, but excessively long fantasies can take away from things. However, aside from this minor grievance, Bocchi The Rock! is a very charming anime, and Cloverworks’ handling of the anime means that the series has excellent animation and art styles. Ordinary scenes are detailed and vivid, while Hitori’s own world is shown with a very cartoon-like aesthetic to accentuate the differences between reality and the inner machinations of her mind. The dramatic gaps in art style are reconciled elegantly, and as a result, one can surmise that over time, Hitori will similarly begin to feel less separated from the world around her as she gains confidence in her ability to perform in front of others and express how she feels to others more effectively.
Actually, I _think_ Bocchi’s over-the-top description of the band’s activities was not an attempt to dissuade Kita-san from joining the band but rather was a (wildly misguided) attempt to woo her into joining. Bocchi really really wants this band to be a success — and she is going to (for her) extraordinary lengths to help out.
I would say that the “cinematography” of this and Do It Yourself are both first-rate. Probably more imaginative than many of the heralded action shows of the season.
All the characters in this show are wonderful, but I have to say I really have particular fondness at this point for Ryo. Very taciturn overall, but with a very strong personality and sense of personal values. She seems to have a high estimation of her own abilities — but it is quite possible her self-perception is not especially exaggerated. She is the professional backbone for this set of eccentric girls.
Considering that Ryō tends to be very blunt about things, I’d tend to say she is as skillful as she says. We recall that when she remarked that her latest guitar purchase would leave her eating weeds, she’s actually shown to be eating weeds. While this is a great bit of visual humour, it shows that yes, she’s got a truthful personality and is likely as professional and capable as you suggest.
The visuals in Bocchi The Rock are very distinct, and when I learnt Cloverworks was helming the production, I was not surprised. On the other hand, I’ve yet to give Do It Yourself a go: I have heard good things about it, but my season’s become very busy thanks to Yama no Susume now commanding weekly posts. If things slow down, Do It Yourself is next on my list.
On Hitori’s remarks to Ikuyo about Kessoku’s style, I went back and rewatched it to gain some clarity. The scene is a little ambiguous, but you do make a convincing case: Hitori could be seen as wanting her newfound friends to succeed. At the same time, Hitori’s still suffering from nerves, and some parts of her thought process isn’t shown, which leaves things open for us viewers. Either way, as viewers, I’m confident that all of us would love to see Kessoku succeed 🙂