“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.” –Ray Bradbury
After Ikuyo rejoins Kessoku, Hitori ends up taking on the task of writing the lyrics for their next performance, and while she struggles, after a day out with Nijika, Ryō and Ikuyo, she finds the inspiration she needs, and ends up writing lyrics the others like. However, Seika has decided to put on auditions for performers in STARRY’s upcoming show. In order to pass, Hitori and the others practise in earnest, making the cut. As it turns out, Seika had wanted to spur everyone on, and with a spot in STARRY’s next live house, the Kessoku head out to sell tickets. While the others have an easier time of selling tickets, Hitori finds this extremely difficult. While commiserating in the park, she runs into Kikuri Hiroi, an alcoholic performer with some knowledge in music. After a conversation, Kikuri convinces Hitori to put on an impromptu performance to promote Kessoku, and this ends up drawing the attention of two schoolgirls, who end up buying tickets from Hitori. Ahead of the performance, Nijika and Ikuyo visit Hitori’s home to prepare t-shirt designs, although Nijika and Ikuyo end up spending more time hanging out with Hotori’s family. On the day of the concert, a typhoon grazes Tokyo, and while the number of attendees is lessened, Kessoku proceeds with their performance. While the audience is initially unimpressed with Kessoku, as they begin making rookie mistakes, Hitori decides to improvise, pushing Nijika, Ryō and Ikuyo to play their best and turning things around for the audience, who find Kessoku’s performance enjoyable. At the after-party, Nijika explains she wanted to succeed to help Seika out, and had long known that Hitori was guitarhero. After seeing Hitori play, Nijika is confident she can realise her dream. With summer vacation drawing to a close, Hitori realises she never did any classic summer activities with Nijika and the others. While she lacks the courage to openly ask everyone, they quickly deduce as much and take her to Enoshima. Despite a rougher experience, Hitori has a great time and finds herself wishing summer could last longer. When the school year resumes, Hitori is torn about whether or not to submit a request to perform. Ikuyo submits this request but becomes guilt-ridden after seeing Hitori’s response. Kikuri later takes Hitori to a concert and explains that she’d also been similar to Hitori, joining a band to get over her social anxiety. Encouraged, Hitori decides to do her best and lets Ikuyo know she’s looking forward to the school festival. On the day of the festival, Hitori disappears into a remote part of the school after nerves overtake her, preventing her from helping her class out. Once Ikuyo and the others find her, they swing by Hitori’s class and lend a hand. As the culture festival’s second day arrives, Kessoku is slated to perform, and despite hiccoughs arising, the show is successful. When Ikuyo turns the floor over to Hitori, she ends up diving into the crowd. Some time after the concert, Hitori’s parents reveal they monitised her YouTube account and she’s made enough to buy a new guitar. Hitori ends up going out with Nijika, Ryō and Ikuyo to buy one, and despite being frightened by the staff’s enthusiasm, she manages to buy a new guitar of her own. Thus ends Bocchi The Rock!, one of last season’s more recognisable works that became acclaimed for its art style, music and portrayal of social anxiety.
What makes Bocchi The Rock!‘s story standout is that through the course the series, Hitori isn’t magically lifted out of her fear of social interactions and made as confident and outgoing as Ikuyo. Instead, her growth happens at an incremental rate; with support from Nijika, Ryō and Ikuyo, Hitori is able to slowly step outside her comfort zone and experience the world, and even if things do happen uncomfortably fast for Hitori, her new friends in Kessoku band look out for her, dialing things back so she isn’t overwhelmed. In this way, for every step back Hitori suffers, she’s taken two steps forward: by the end of Bocchi The Rock!, even though Hitori still finds it challenging to engage a shop keeper in conversation or even maintain eye contact with someone she’d just met, she was able to fulfil a dream she’d had since middle school, and while she may not believe it to be true, the skill she’d accrued while playing on her own means she’s certainly not a burden. Seeing Hitori perform skillfully even in difficult situations show that despite her lack of confidence, she’s got what it takes, and this is where Bocchi The Rock! shines: the anime ultimately shows how difficult it is to push people from their comfort zones, but in spite of this difficulty, with the right people in one’s corner, one can still take those difficult first steps forward. In this way, Hitori’s growth in Bocchi The Rock! never comes across as unrealistic, and while she’s still largely the same person she was when starting out, she is a little more confident and open to new experiences by the series’ end. Similarly, Bocchi The Rock! suggests that people are often more talented and skillful than they give themselves credit for, and it is only with encouragement from others that their potential is realised. While Hitori had previously performed online and accrued a reputation for being a skilled guitar player, being with Kessoku band has allowed her to see first-hand how far she’d come from those early days: on two separate occasions, she was able to save the show, and moments like these show how the soft-spoken folks can be unlikely heroes, acting as a reminder to viewers that excellence and talent can come from anywhere despite appearances, and that people who support and encourage one another will reap the rewards of these efforts when the going becomes challenging.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The praises out there for Bocchi The Rock! are quite varied, speaking yet again to how anime can find success with viewers when they excel in a range of areas: although Bocchi The Rock! is a Manga Time Kirara series, which are typically known for their emphasis on the ordinary and adorable, Bocchi The Rock! manages to give the characters additional personality through their unique traits. The characters in Bocchi The Rock! maintain a kawaii aesthetic about them, and this comes through in their actions, but they aren’t saccharine and over the top, either.
- Longtime Manga Time Kirara fans will therefore be right at home with Bocchi The Rock!, but at the same time, by not relying on age-old gags and archetypes, Bocchi The Rock! is also able to appeal to viewers who would otherwise not watch a Manga Time Kirara series. Coupled with the fact that music isn’t a problem for the already-competent Hitori, and that her issues come from dealing with social situations that she’s otherwise unaccustomed to, Bocchi The Rock! is able to show viewers that Hitori’s guitar skill is present, and this leaves the series to focus on Kessoku’s journey, as well as how Hitori changes over time.
- Hitori’s outbursts and imagination are quite dramatic; CloverWorks takes moments of awkwardness and elevates them in a way that isn’t present in the original manga. Besides allowing CloverWorks’ animation team to show off the skill, Bocchi The Rock! is able to really convey how some things are for folks who do not have a natural disposition or training in conversations with others. By comparison, the manga is actually more conventional in aesthetics: the characters in Bocchi The Rock‘s manga resemble the characters from GochiUsa.
- The departure from the manga’s aesthetic in favour of one that’s a bit more wild means CloverWorks is free to adapt things in their own style, and this is what makes Bocchi The Rock! so visually distinct. Over the years, I’ve heard arguments both for and against the idea of maintaining complete faithfulness to the source material during an adaptation. On one hand, a work that’s faithful wholly brings the original to life through motion and sound, but there are also some design choices in the source material that may not adapt as elegantly. Similarly, deviating from the source material may cause some things to become lost, but it also allows a studio to potentially do something that wasn’t possible in the source.
- Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer: whether or not an adaptation is faithful to the source is secondary to the outcomes, and in the case of Bocchi The Rock!, the final product ends up standing of its own accord. After three episodes, I had commented on how the series’ wilder moments might become a distraction, but as time wore on, it became clear that as Hitori becomes more comfortable being around Nijika, Ikuyo and Ryō, she begins to show her true self more often, and as her anxiety wears away, more of her competence is shown to viewers.
- While CloverWorks is no Kyoto Animation, all performances within Bocchi The Rock! remain of a fair standard and are quite fun to watch. The music that Kessoku performs has a youthful vibe about it that gives it the same aural aesthetic as do the ending songs to K-On!. Whereas Houkago Teatime’s music was quite fluffy, and Aki Toyosaki’s delivery of K-On!‘s opening themes gave a kawaii feeling, Yōko Hikasa’s performance of the ending songs always conveyed a more mature, yet rebellious and carefree feeling compared to the other songs in the series.
- After managing to pass the audition, the next step for Kessoku’s first real performance is to sell tickets. For Ikuyo, Nijika and Ryō, this presumably isn’t too difficult. For Hitori, it’s a tall order, and while she’s too prideful to sell to family, she becomes intimidated at the thought of approaching strangers to close a sale. It takes a chance meeting with Kikuri, an experienced bassist, to turn things around, and while Kikuri is smashed when she meets Hitori, she’s still alert enough to see herself in Hitori, which is why she takes an interest in the latter. With some nudging from Kikuri, Hitori is able to put on an impromtu performance that convinces a pair of passing girls to buy tickets and check out Kessoku band out.
- Because Hitori finds herself incapacitated by her own thoughts at times, and speaking with others is a great difficulty for her, every win she earns in the series feels meaningful. With this in mind, I’ve seen some viewers praising Bocchi The Rock! because they related strongly to Hitori and her social anxiety, saying the anime captures how they feel perfectly. While this does speak to the series’ strengths, I do not believe that Bocchi The Rock! is validating this sort of thing. Instead, Bocchi The Rock! speaks to how important it is to step out of one’s comfort zone and embrace the process of being open to new experiences (along with handling failure).
- Curiously enough, while Hitori tends to over-emphasise the drawbacks associated with failure, when she does actually fail, she is able to pick herself back up. Meeting Kikuri is one such moment, as she’s able to move her tickets so effectively that the others immediately conclude Hitori must’ve been lying. This is a character trait that makes Hitori relatable for me: while she does fear to try new things and worries about failing, she’s actually more capable than she believes herself to be. After Kessoku’s concert is scheduled, Nijika and Ikuyo end up swinging by Hitori’s place on a hot summer’s day, and scenes like these show CloverWorks’ typical style for making backgrounds feel lifelike.
- The object of the visit had originally been to come up with a t-shirt design, but in typical anime fashion, everyone goes off mission, and the t-shirts aren’t designed. Instead, Nijika and Ikuyo end up spending time with members of Hitori’s family, to her chagrin when it’s clear her family get along with Ikuyo and Nijika better than she does. I would imagine that, while the Gotōs support Hitori to the best of their ability, it is probably a little difficult for them since she’s so reclusive, and this is why they just assume that she’s got no friends.
- As a secondary student, I never had friends over, but I did visit friends, mostly to play games: one of my buddies had set up his own Ragnarok: Online servers, and he would host War of Emperium events over at his place. It always took a long time to get set up, and the matches where total chaos, but they remained immensely enjoyable nonetheless. While I did briefly have my own private Ragnarok: Online and World of Warcraft servers a year ago, ever since my move, I’ve been using an ISP that blocks ports, which prevents port forwarding. This, in turn, prevents me from opening the ports needed to get my private servers running, even locally.
- After managing to persuade Hitori into trying some new outfits out beyond her usual tracksuit, Nijika is pleased with herself for having an eye for fashion, while Ikuyo finds herself thoroughly impressed. She breaks out her iPhone for some photos, and Hitori is rendered speechless, eventually disappearing into ashes similarly to what happened when Thanos dusted half the universe in Infinity War. In the aftermath, the t-shirts somehow get designed, and Kessoku is ready for their big day. However, a typhoon grazes Tokyo, and the ensuing rainfall dissuades a number of guests from attending.
- Because of this and the initially cool reception, Kessoku starts out poorly, fumbling their performance and leading some members of the audience to dismiss them as novices. Spotting the decrease in engagement, Hitori steps up her game, and jazzes up her solo in a way that fires the crowd up. Seeing the crowd in better spirits leads Nijika and Ikuyo to begin playing with a renewed enthusiasm, and by the end of their performance, the crowd is reasonably pleased. The two girls Hitori ended up selling tickets to are thrilled with Kessoku’s performance.
- Following the performance, Kessoku have a party with Kikuri, Seika and STARRY’s systems engineer, an unnamed lady who dropped out of high school and assists Seika in keeping STARRY operational. During their celebration, Ikuyo explains to Seika that she enjoys doing publicity work for Kessoku because it’s more fun to do thing with others, and Ikuyo’s energy overwhelms even Seika. Throughout Bocchi The Rock, whenever Ikuyo’s positivity manifests, it’s accompanied by a キターン (Kitaan), which is translated as “Kit-aura”. The original kitaan is probably derived from the cutesy way of saying “Kita-tan”, but there’s no equivalent in English, so I imagine that translations choose to render things as “Kita’s (positive) aura”.
- For me, watching Ikuyo’s rant about how her name is a bad pun (きた, 行くよ!, Hepburn kita, iku yo!, or “I’m here, let’s go!”) was one of Bocchi the Rock!‘s most adorable moments and shows how even the outgoing, extroverted Ikuyo has things she’s insecure about. Moments like these, although short, do add to the characters, and Ryō’s smile was similarly fun to behold. Although Ryō resembles The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Yuki Nagato and every other stoic character of that manner, she also has her moments.
- In a moment that makes it clear to viewers (but ironically, not Hitori herself) that Hitori’s become an integral member of Kessoku, Nijika and Hitori exchange a conversation that details Nijika’s past. It turns out that she’d lost her parents at a young age, but Seika managed to stay in her life, and since then, Nijika feels that her dream is to help Seika succeed in her goals. Despite her past, Nijika remains the most level-headed and friendly of Kessoku, helping Hitori to navigate the world of interpersonal relationships and keeping Kessoku together as a cohesive unit.
- Of everyone in Kessoku, it does feel that Nijika is always on top of figuring out how to manage Hitori whenever the latter becomes consumed by her thoughts. While the band’s had a good summer and managed a successful debut performance, the break has evaporated, and Hitori finds herself wanting to do more traditional summer activities. Hitori’s feeling, that something like this cannot be accommodated, is a mindset that is seen amongst folks with less confidence in themselves. For people with an open mind, adventure and novelty can be found in almost any way, and here in Bocchi The Rock!, Nijika and Ikuyo bring this to the table to try and raise Hitori’s spirits.
- In this way, Hitori and her friends end up visiting Enoshima. Although their impromptu day doesn’t go quite as smoothly as they’d like, the trip still represents a fantastic time for Hitori, who has a great day in spite of herself. Anime are very fond of sending their characters on wonderful day trips, and this is accommodated by Japan’s extensive rail network, which allows people to reach destinations in Japan quite readily even without a personal vehicle. On the flipside, over here in Canada, if one has a vehicle and an inquisitive mind, one can partake in similarly relaxing excursions.
- During the course of the day, it becomes clear that of everyone, Ikuyo is the most adventurous and would rather do things that are less touristy in nature. She’s the one who suggests ascending the stairs leading to Enoshima shrine, and upon reaching the top, has energy to spare. Bocchi The Rock! is another anime about light music, but unlike its predecessor, K-On!, more attention is paid towards the world of independent music and live performances. K-On! had been set purely in a school setting, and Houkago Tea Time only ever performed for their classmates, or at community events. Instead, the anime struck a balance between everyday life in a club and Yui’s journey towards becoming a competent guitarist.
- By comparison, Bocchi The Rock! eliminated the need for Hitori to become skilled with a guitar by introducing her as being competent already, and this let the series focus on a more social experience. Both anime excel in their respective stories, but the overwhelmingly positive reception in the contemporary community regarding Bocchi The Rock! suggests that people do desire something that’s a little more focused on music, and characters that are a bit more nuanced. K-On!, with its emphasis on enjoying tea and cakes in the clubroom, is not quite as adventurous as Bocchi The Rock!, which has Hitori taking up a part time position at STARRY, actively write lyrics and participate in an audition, personally help out in selling tickets and even performing at a live house.
- I therefore wonder about how, were Bocchi The Rock! to be released back in 2009 instead of K-On!, would the community of the time have received it a little more warmly, or if Bocchi The Rock! would have been as polarising as K-On! was. I have found that, perhaps surprisingly, that slice-of-life anime often generate more controversy and vitriol than even the series with topics that are more polarising or difficult; while shows that deal with more involved topics naturally invite such discussion, even now, I fail to understand why anime about everyday life, of finding the extraordinary in the mundane, self-discovery and common experiences are regarded with such severity.
- Although Kikuri was introduced as a bit of a trouble-maker with experience in music, being part of the band SICK HACK, a conversation Hitori shares with her later reveals that Kikuri had also been shy and withdrawn, and after discovering music, utilised alcohol to calm her nerves before a performance. Over time, she would become more confident and outgoing. Of course, drinking so often has meant that Kikuri’s become something of an alcoholic and is hammered in almost all of her appearances. However, in spite of this, she does offer Hitori some good advice, and suggests that it’s actually quite noteworthy that Hitori is able to get on stage without any alcohol. In this way, Bocchi The Rock! hints at how spending time with Kessoku will likely be what eventually leads her to become more comfortable in social interactions.
- In my discussion of Bocchi The Rock!, I’ve not mentioned Ryō to any extent, and found her role in the anime was actually quite limited. However, despite her limited screentime, her reason for being a member of Kessoku stems from a disagreement she had with her previous band, and in a conversation with Hitori, she encourages Hitori to write lyrics in her own style rather than sell out and produce what she thinks people will want. Despite her stoic and cool manner, Ryō has a few eccentricities, such as spending all of her money on instruments and leaving her to consume wild edibles. As a result, while she does help Hitori in her own way, Ryō also exploits Hitori’s friendship by asking her to pay for her food and transportation, creating a bit of a running joke where Ryō’s monetary debt to Hitori continues to grow.
- In this post, I’ve elected to skip over the culture festival – while culture festivals are an essential part of the Japanese secondary experience (and where some pivotal things happen, such as with The Quintessential Quintuplets), Hitori’s struggles with her class’ maid café don’t really impact the series’ pièce de résistance moment, which is Kessoku’s live performance in front of Hitori and Ikuyo’s classmates. Such a moment allows Hitori to fulfil her old dream of performing in front of classmates, and this acts as a suitable way to wrap up Bocchi The Rock!‘s run.
- The last time I watched an anime with a live rock performance was K-On!, where Houkago Tea Time had put on several memorable performances. Their concerts were quite lengthy, and I remember how their final performance spanned a full episode, featuring multiple songs and Yui’s emceeing. By comparison, Bocchi The Rock!‘s culture festival performance is more concise. However, it is no less fun to watch, and Kessoku’s performance remained a wonderful way to round out the series. I found the vocal performances in Bocchi The Rock! to be an integral piece of the anime: like K-On!, the animated format allows for additional dimensionality that wouldn’t be possible in the manga.
- The rock music of Bocchi The Rock! has a very energetic, youthful vibe to it. Over the years, I’ve come to really enjoy music of this style, and if I had to guess, it’s because this music reminds me of my time as a secondary and post-secondary student – there’s a carefree tenour and feeling of wistfulness in these songs. Bands like Stereopony and H△G capture this aesthetic best, and I now understand why older people are so fond of music from the 80s and 70s. For me, I actually grew up with things like the Bee Gees, Beatles, Carpenters and the like, so I’ve always connected with the music of my parents’ age more, but since I became an anime fan and found Stereopony through their performance of Gundam 00‘s second season’s second opening.
- With her natural affinity for people, Ikuyo does the emceeing for the culture festival performance. After introducing Ryō and and Nijika, Ikuyo turns to Hitori, who’s seized with a panic at the thought of having to say something memorable. As far as I can remember, I’ve never really had a fear of public speaking per se – early on, I would simply prepare for a presentation or oration weeks in advance. Since graduate school, I’ve become better at improvisation, and these days, I can gear up for a presentation in as little as a day if needed. Being put on the spot is not a problem, although I will comment that coming up with something amusing to say can be challenging still.
- Hitori ends up diving off the stage into the crowd, and gets knocked out for her trouble. Hitori does end up leaving quite an impression, and this moment similarly speaks to how when the moment calls for it, Hitori can uncharacteristically bold when spurred on. Her classmates are left with a memorable show, but for Hitori herself, it’s a bit of an anticlimactic outcome to a moment she’d been dreaming about since she picked up the guitar. Some time after the culture festival, Hitori learns that her parents had secretly monitised her YouTube channel, and with the ad revenue, she’s able to buy her own guitar. Until now, Hitori had played her father’s guitar, and this moment shows yet another instance of how Hitori’s been able to do things at her own pace.
- After an eventful afternoon, Hitori ends up with a guitar of her own, ready to continue her journey with Kessoku band, and with this, Bocchi The Rock! draws to a close. Overall, this series was remarkably entertaining, and for me, it was a clear-cut A (4 of 4, or 9 points of 10). With lovable characters, a natural story and innovative use of visuals, Bocchi The Rock! does indeed deserve the praise that it’s garnered – there’s a little something in Bocchi The Rock! for everyone. Manga Time Kirara fans will feel right at home with things, and people who don’t usually watch Manga Time Kirara adaptations won’t find themselves overwhelmed with gags or idiosyncrasies that make Manga Time Kirara anime appeal to fans of moé.
- I’m not sure of whether or not Bocchi The Rock! was well received in Japan, but if it was, and given that there is more source material to adapt, then one could reasonably expect this series to continue. I’ve been keeping an eye on Bocchi The Rock! since seeing advertisements about it on Twitter a year ago and becoming curious about the premise. A year later, I’m glad to have gone through this journey at my own pace and decide for myself what makes Bocchi The Rock! standout. Here, I remark that normally, hype among the community has no bearing on what I choose to watch, but in CloverWorks’ case, their top productions of 2022 have all been home runs.
The story and characters in Bocchi The Rock! were already of a solid standard, providing a clear-cut journey for Hitori as she joined Kessoku and began playing in a band with others. However, with CloverWorks at the helm, Bocchi The Rock! also appeals to animation enthusiasts. The anime utilises a variety of art styles to convey Hitori’s social anxiety and visualise it to viewers; at minimum, such moments create comedy, but in some contexts, it really captures the short of psychological conga that takes place inside one’s mind if they’re thinking themselves into a frenzy or locking up. From rendering Hitori with her iconic facial expression, transforming into an amorphous blob and becoming dusted the same way people become dusted after The Snap, to more subtle cues like seeing her hair ornaments melt like ice cubes, Bocchi The Rock! has no shortage of creative means of showing what social anxiety may look like to those who experience it, and by incorporating a range of art styles into the anime, CloverWorks simultaneously gives viewers a visercal show of what anxiety looks like, as well as showing off the talents at their studio. At the same time, concerts are animated well, and backgrounds are detailed. The world of Bocchi The Rock! is vivid and conveys a lived-in sense. All of these elements come together ith the music, narrative and characters to create a memorable experience, serving as a fantastic way for CloverWorks to round out what was probably one of their best years in recent memory: 2022 has seen this studio produce smash-hits like Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, My Dress-Up Darling and Spy × Family in addition to Bocchi The Rock!. Bocchi The Rock! is, in short, a worthwhile experience: it’s got all of the elements from a classic Manga Time Kirara adaptation (adorable characters and an emphasis on finding the extraordinary in the everyday), but at the same time, pushes the envelope with its animation, using the medium to convey emotions and feelings in novel, engaging ways. Even for folks who do not watch Manga Time Kirara series, there’s enough happening in Bocchi The Rock! to make it fun. The story in Bocchi The Rock! is still ongoing: there’s a total of five manga volumes, and the anime has reached the latter chapters of the second volume, so depending on sales, there is a possibility that a continuation could be made. Additions to the story would be welcome, showing how Hitori matures over time as she continues to play music and learn more about a world she’d, up until meeting Nijika and the others, had remained largely separated herself from.