The Infinite Zenith

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Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and An Unexpected Road to Friendship

“Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” –Thomas J. Watson

When Bocchi graduates from primary school and enters middle school, her best friend, Kai, determines that they shan’t be friends again until the shy and withdrawn Bocchi can befriend everyone in her new class. This seems an insurmountable mountain to climb for Bocchi, who cannot even speak to strangers without getting the dry heaves. On her first day of class at middle school, she manages to strike up a conversation with Nako, who comes to care for Bocchi. Over time, Bocchi ends up befriending the vice representative, Aru, and the foreign student, Sotoka. While Bocchi finds herself unable to convince Kako to hang out with her, she gradually becomes more familiar with her classmates, and so, enters her second year of middle school with a bit more confidence. This is Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu (alternatively, Hitori Bocchi no ○○ Seikatsu, or The Life of Being Alone), a Manga Time Kirara adaptation that aired during the spring 2019 season. While I did have plans to watch Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, procrastination caused me to sit on this for months, and then years. Fortunately, with a bit of open time now that my schedule’s settled down, I’ve decided it was time to give Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu a go, and for my time, I was met with an anime that is adorable, telling a whimsical and honest story about how friendship comes about. The premise and setup in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu appears trite at first glance. Bocchi brings to mind Azumanga Daioh‘s Osaka, while Nako is not dissimilar to Yuyushiki‘s Yui. Likewise, Sotoka is Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen. Familiar character archetypes in a purely school setting sets the stage for familiar antics and experiences. However, this is only what the premise conveys; in practise, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a fantastic job of having the characters bounce off one another with their eccentricities, and in the end, contrary to the initial impressions the anime might suggest, the final result is a very rewarding one.

The goal Kai sets for Bocchi is one that appears unbeatable; befriending every last person in class is something that most folks typically won’t consider, since it implies forming a larger social circle than is typical of people of that age group, and indeed, even the folks considered popular usually do not make aquaintances of everyone in their class. Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu chooses to show how this Herculean task has humble beginnings: Bocchi starts out by talking to Nako, and while Nako may appear to be harsh, she’s actually considerate, taking the time to look after Bocchi and patiently walks Bocchi through her troubles. Bocchi herself is friendly, despite being shy, and as Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu progresses, it is clear that Bocchi could succeed in her task; she’s pursuing interpersonal connections to those around her for the sake of getting to know others better, and this falls under the realm of likeability. It is generally stated that popularity is built around likeability and social status. The former refers to how well one gets along with others, and how well others trusts one. Someone who builds relationships around this aspect will be inclined to listen to others. Social status, on the other hand, refers to envy (or admiration) for others. While building relationships around status gives the impression of success, it also entails being controlling, dismissive and unkind: I recall the cliques in high school, during which the popular students were centred around a handful of likeable individuals for clout. While the people at the centre of these cliques were respectable and reasonably kind to those around them, the followers were considerably less so; people who build relationships around status tend to find it difficult to maintain meaningful connections to others, but fortunately, in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Bocchi is not doing anything for status: she genuinely wishes for solid connections to those around her, and while the anime has her definitively friends with Nako, Aru and Sotoka, by the season’s end, she’s beginning to get along with more people in her class, as well: Bocchi’s definitely acting in a likeable manner, and those whom she befriends will likely stick around.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Bocchi’s journey begins, she starts out with zero friends and only the vaguest idea of how to communicate with people: Bocchi figures it’s a good idea to employ some unorthodox strategies, but these all end up backfiring. Without any outs, Bocchi is forced to introduce herself to others, and while Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that she’s vomiting out of stress, the reactions of those around her suggest that Bocchi is dry heaving rather than vomiting; no shirts are ruined, and no custodians are called in to clean up the associated mess.

  • It is the case that stress and anxiety can induce dry heaves, so this aspect of Bocchi’s character is not particularly unrealistic or implausible, even if Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does exaggerate its characters’ traits. After summoning the courage to speak with Nako, Bocchi ends up befriending Aru, as well. One of the most pleasant side effects of Bocchi’s attempts to get to know everyone better means that those around Bocchi also end up becoming friends; Nako and Aru most certainly do not get along, but initially set aside their differences for Bocchi’s sake. Over time, the pair get a long better, although Nako remains fond of pressing Aru’s buttons late into the series (all in good fun, of course).

  • While Aru is occasionally busy with club activities, Nako has more time on her hands, and one weekend, decides to swing by Bocchi’s place. Bocchi’s idiosyncrasies are a little unusual, as evidenced when she wears a full bear costume while hosting Nako. Nako seems to take everything in stride, and while some of Bocchi’s antics are exasperating, Nako also comes to appreciate that at heart, Bocchi is kind and capable: she just needs a little push to be on her way: she’s voiced by Chisaki Morishita, whose roles in other anime are ones I’m not familiar with. Conversely, Minami Tanaka plays Nako, and I know her from Wake Up, Girls (Minami Katayama), Hanayamata (Hana N. Fountainstand) and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo (Himeno Toyokawa).

  • Sotoka is the classic foreign student with a very curious understanding of Japanese culture: like Karen from Kiniro Mosaic, Sotoka makes certain assumptions, leading her to view Bocchi as a ninjutsu expert of sorts. This misunderstanding lingers throughout much of Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, but initially, the unusual dynamic between Bocchi and Sotoka also means that Bocchi also has the chance to hang out with one more person: Sotoka is fond of learning ninjutsu, and while Bocchi is no ninja, she does pass along some curious skills to Sotoka, including origami.

  • One cannot help but feel bad for Aru (Akari Kitō, Kaho Hinata from Blend S and Harukana Receive‘s Ai Tanahara): despite her attempts to maintain a confident and successful air about her, she’s also said to be “unfortunate”, which really gets on her nerves (to the point where she flies at Nako whenever Nako pokes fun at her). While 残念 (Hepburn zannen) corresponds to “unlucky”, Aru’s circumstance is probably better described as a “loser”: she somehow manages to kit herself out in a grade schooler’s uniform and resorts to increasingly desperate measures to conceal this. While it works on a few people, Nako sees right through things, forcing Aru to go home and change.

  • The characters’ names are all puns on their leading trait. Bocchi’s full name, Hitori Bocchi, means “alone”, Sunao Nako is a play on the phrase “honest child”, Honshō Aru is “true nature” and Rakita Sotoka is a pun on “outsider”. Some folks had a tough time working out why everyone’s names were puns and how this related to Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s main themes; this is, fortunately, a simple enough exercise. Everyone is named after their defining characteristics, and their name thus gives insight as to their circumstances. The variety of situations, when placed together, creates a rather colourful set of experiences for everyone, showing how friendships can form among the most disparate of individuals.

  • If and when I’m asked, Aru is my favourite character: her cheerful personality and efforts to overcome adversity, especially in light of her poor luck, is admirable. It suddenly strikes me that the misfortune that Aru experiences is relatively minor (usually, losing bets or similar); when it comes down to the wire, Aru is helpful and supportive of those around her. The traits surrounding each character’s namesake are not debilitating in any way, and a major part of the charm in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is the fact that none of the characters suffer unnecessarily.

  • I’ve never been fond of series where a given character is made the in-show punching bag, and Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu mitigates this by having the characters be supportive of one another. Here, Bocchi recoils at a karaoke session. What happens next shows the extent of Kai’s desire to see Bocchi reach her goal: the pair meet at the same karaoke bar, but Kai adamantly refuses to even acknowledge Bocchi, causing Bocchi no small amount of distress. It turns out this was just as hard on Kai as it was for Bocchi, and fortunately, Bocchi’s small circle of friends do end up supporting her.

  • In this way, it is clear that Bocchi’s journey forward is about how well she can overcome whatever setbacks she may face; with everyone in her corner, Bocchi’s journey is no longer one she must undertake herself. This moment, of Sotoka carrying Bocchi, demonstrates the sort of artwork present in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu – from a technical standpoint, the anime is middle-of-the-road, offering smooth animation and consistent artwork. Where the anime stands out is how the voice actresses play their part to bring their characters to life.

  • Kako is probably the toughest challenge for Bocchi: unlike Bocchi, who wishes to further herself by building up new connections, Kako is the polar opposite and believes that the best way ahead is to be independent, relying on no one. This is why Kako refuses to be friends with Bocchi: it’s got nothing to do with any shortcomings on Bocchi’s part, but rather, the personal code that Kako has set for herself. While this is unusual (no-one is an island, after all), it means that Kako is the perfect foil for Bocchi.

  • Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does an excellent job of showing how being likeable (exhibiting politeness, empathy and a willingness to listen) is more important in maintaining good interpersonal relationships than status alone. In popularity, likeability and status are the two leading factors; the latter entails traits that make one appear more respectable or impressive, requiring one keep up appearances all the time. While Aru is prone to doing precisely this, I like her character precisely because she shows her true self around Bocchi and the others.

  • However, Aru’s desire to be seen as doing alright often means she will go out of her way to help others. Altogether, being more honest about herself and doing good will likely result in Aru learning to accept herself while, at the same time, continuing to do right by those around her. When Bocchi messes up during a home economics class, Aru steps in to help Bocchi: this action is seen by others as a sign of how well-adjusted Aru is, but she’s primarily helping out because she wants Bocchi to be happy, as well. The sum of these actions help two of Bocchi’s teammates, Peko and Ito, become friends with her later on.

  • While Kako might refuse to count herself as a friend to Bocchi and her crew, this doesn’t stop her from agreeing to team up with Bocchi on a class trip. It’s clear that of the two facets of popularity, Bocchi (and Nako) are spurred on by likeability: they do the things that make them more approachable to others. Looking back, I always approached friendship from the likeability side, and I’ve always preferred maintaining a small group of close friends, with whom I could confide in about various matters, as opposed to having a much larger social circle.

  • When I entered university out of high school, I ended up following a very similar route that Bocchi took: I made friends with exactly one of my classmates during orientation, and as term wore on, and there was a chance to work with different people, our social circles grew. One of the topics we took, Christopher Boorse’s Health as a Theoretical Concept, galvinised the entire class into working together, and after my first year ended, while I couldn’t say I was friends with every one of my classmates, I could say that I became acquainted with everyone to the point where we could talk about both coursework and other matters. I’m not sure this satisfies Kai’s expectations for Bocchi, but being on good terms with my entire graduating class (around ninety students) was a fun experience.

  • Back in high school, assuming my memories are still accurate, while I wasn’t in popular clique or anything, I found that I got along fine with most people (save those with a profound interest in activism), and maintained friendships with a comparatively smaller group of people that I still am in contact with today. Ironically, I actually do have a few friends now that I’d met because I’d unintentionally antagonised them, although we made amends on short order and ended up with amusing stories to tell. I imagine that this will naturally happen with Nako and Aru, although since it is relatively early in the game, Aru instinctively jumps into Nako every time the latter mentions the word “unfortunate”, resulting in some visual humour.

  • As a general rule, I don’t like making enemies of people because antagonising others always requires twice as much effort. Conversely, being nice to people comes quite naturally and entails almost no effort beyond approaching someone and making their day brighter. Here, Sotoka, Aru, Bocchi and Nako make acquaintances of Mayo, who hails from a wealthy family; her parents are always working, and she’s somewhat lonely, but after encountering Bocchi, Mayo becomes curious about Bocchi and suggests that Bocchi take up a job of making paper cranes. Thanks to Sotoka’s skill, they manage to make a bunch.

  • In the end, Mayo joins Bocchi’s group of friends, sharing a day with them. She later writes to her parents, saying that she’s made new friends, but also would appreciate it if her parents could make some time for her. With this, Bocchi is one step closer to her goal of befriending every single person in her class: towards the end of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, the rate at which Bocchi befriends others increases: she manages to convince Sotoka that they’ve been friends the whole time, as well. This isn’t too surprising, since she’s gotten over the initial hurdle, and now, has a group of people in her corner to support her goals. Along the way, Bocchi has also brought others together.

  • As Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu sees Bocchi enter her second year, she acquires a smartphone, allowing her to better keep in touch with her friends. While smartphones are superior to feature phones in terms of functionality, feature phones (flip phones) remain relatively common in Japan owing to their durability and ability to hold a charge. In anime, smartphones are slowly displacing feature phones: everyone in Yuru Camp△, for instance, rock iPhones. In having Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu transition over to smartphones, then, the anime is suggesting that technology might be integral in helping Bocchi on her quest.

  • The finale has Bocchi successfully pin a corsage on a graduating third year student, and finding an uncommonly cheerful Kako who’s afflicted with a fever. Despite her stoic mannerisms, Kako is grateful that Bocchi goes to the lengths that she does to ensure everyone’s alright. If memory serves, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s manga began in 2013 and finished running this year – any continuation of the series in anime form would probably have Bocchi befriend Kako towards the end and reunite with Kai a changed person, better equipped with navigate the complex social networks of the world.

  • Where the anime ends remains satisfactory: overall, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu earns a B+ grade in my books (3.3 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten-point system, eight points). Despite being a seemingly unassuming anime set in a mundane setting, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a wonderful job of showing how chance meetings can precipitate something much bigger. The anime thus exceeds my expectations for this Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is not terrible by any stretch, although my propensity towards procrastination are, and I imagine that I’ll only get worse from here on out as I become busier.

Ultimately, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that the first step of the journey is always the hardest. It takes several episodes for Bocchi to open up to Nako, but once she does, she’s able to slowly get to know Aru better, as well. Similarly, Bocchi and Sotoka realise that they’re as close as friends are, and openly acknowledge one another as such. As Bocchi becomes more connected to the first group of friends she’s had outside of Kai, she is able to reach out to and interact with others in her class. While Kako is a special case (and reluctantly joins Bocchi’s group anyways), Bocchi manages to even strike up conversations with Mayo, a girl from a rich family, along with Peko and Ito, who were in Bocchi’s home economics group. The initial chat with Nako thus sets in motion a series of fortunate events for Bocchi, and while she still has a long way to go before she can speak in front of a crowd with confidence, at the very least, Bocchi is starting to mature and appreciate that her classmates are generally friendly and warm people who enjoy her company as much as she enjoys theirs. Things do speed up towards Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s final few episodes; the series suggests to viewers that having now taken her first steps, Bocchi’s future is a bit more exciting and bright than she’d imagined it to be. Leaving this anime, one can therefore be confident that whatever happens next, Bocchi has good company in her corner: her own increasing comfort around others, coupled with support from Nako, Aru, Sotoka, Mayo, Peko and Ito, will be a valuable asset in helping her to overcome her own limits and fulfil a promise to Kai, who, despite her cold reception towards Bocchi, very much gives the indicator that she wishes for Bocchi’s success, as well. It’s certainly an optimistic message, and consequently, I am happy to say that I had a great time with Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu: this is another one of those cases where, my tendencies to procrastinate notwithstanding, I should make an effort to check out the series in my backlog where possible, as there are many solid anime dating back many years that are quite worthwhile to watch.