Hitori "Bocchi-chan" ("Loner") Gotō is a lonely high school girl whose heart lies in her guitar. She does nothing every day except strum her guitar by herself at home. However, she happens one day to meet Nijika Ijichi, who is looking for a guitarist for her group named "Kessoku Band."
Bocchi the Rock! is based on Aki Hamaji's four-panel manga and streams on Crunchyroll on Saturdays.
Most excellent, indeed! I'm pretty sure I said some variation of this phrase at least once or twice a year throughout all of the Preview Guides, but just in case I haven't reminded anyone recently enough: I freaking love stories about getting a band together. There's just something so satisfying and compelling to me about a group of weirdos who all have specific (yet compatibly diverse) musical talents that come together despite their differences to put on a hell of a show. One of the reasons I struggle so much with a lot of idol anime that I've seen is that the focus in those shows is usually never about the specific elements of musical performance and stagecraft that go into creating a kickass rock-n-roll show. The minute you put an electric guitar, a bass, and some drums in my sights, though? Then you have my undivided attention.
What is especially helpful in Bocchi the Rock!'s case is that it also has a strong emotional core centered on a likeably anxious leading lady's quest to use her love for music to finally make some friends now that she's entered into the high school phase of her teenage years. Hitori is great not just because she can lay down some mean riffs on her guitar, and not just because she has an appreciation for death metal, but because her anxiety isn't just a goofy quirk that will be easily resolved once she makes some likeminded band friends. This girl really struggles to connect with people, and as her new almost-friends make perfectly clear during their first practice jam together, Hitori's devotion to her musical pursuits won't amount to much if she can't gel well enough with her bandmates to actually, you know, play a song.
That means that Bocchi the Rock! offers one of those ideal scenarios where an awesome premise is paired with a story that can do justice to it, not to mention some slick execution that will ensure nobody is disappointed in the scenes where Kessoku Band performs their music on stage. Granted, we don't get quite enough of that performance element to satisfy a greedy fan like me, though the visual of Hitori playing inside of a cardboard box is funny enough for me to begrudgingly wait for a real showstopper to demonstrate Bocchi the Rock!'s audio-visual chops. Still, that's small potatoes compared to the feast of cuteness and righteous rockage that this show seems set to deliver us, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be standing right there in the front row in the coming weeks to see what these gals can do.
I love music. I love stories about music. I especially love stories about music and adolescence and people trying to define themselves through art. BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad is one of my all-time favorite pieces of fiction ever made, and while this series is definitely going for a different vibe than the late, great Osamu Kobayashi's masterpiece, it nonetheless captures a very similar feeling.
Most of that comes down to our anxious disaster of a heroine, Hitori. While her personality is obviously heightened a bit for comedy's sake, she really does feel like the kind of nervous, socially awkward kid who would turn to music as a way to forge her identity and make connections. She genuinely loves music, but especially when you're a teenager, your taste in anything is as much about the image and lifestyle that pop culture attaches to it. Bocchi doesn't just want to be a musician – she wants to be a rocker, selling out stadiums and seeming as effortlessly cool and stunning as the people she sees on stage. But more directly, she wants to seem interesting enough that people will approach her, rather than having to bridge the yawning chasm of social interaction on her own. Even filtered through a marketable Cute Girls 4-koma setup, she feels like a remarkably authentic representation of the kind of introverted kid who would wear band merch and carry their guitar to school in a bid to seem interesting. Not that I have any experience with that, nosiree.
But even if you weren't a cringe-inducing metalhead in high school, Bocchi – the character and the show – still has a lot of charm to offer you. It looks gorgeous, with the production going on artistic tangents to sell punchlines just as often as it meticulously renders the characters' body language and instruments. There are a ton of eye-catching angles used to punctuate jokes or set the mood, or just look cool for a hot second, and it all gels together really well. It's also just plain hilarious, with Bocchi providing the strongest gags. There are the big jokes of course, like her having to hide inside a cardboard box to get over stage fright, but also little things like how her gaze instinctively moves to avoid eye contact, or the way even her inner monologue second-guesses itself. It's not quite at the level of Do It Yourself!!, this season's gift from the anime gods, but it's an expertly delivered introduction in its own right. Basically my only complaint is we don't see much of the band's first concert, as it's largely setup for a punch line, but I can't be too upset when the gag is that funny.
I'm gonna be straight with y'all: it's virtually impossible for me to be objective about this show. It's a production so laser-targeted at my tastes and interests that it may very well have been made by the Illuminati as part of some convoluted scheme to keep me distracted for the next three months. And mission accomplished: I am ready to dedicate my life to following Bocchi and the band like I'm their roadie.
There's one major pet peeve I have with Bocchi the Rock!, and that's that it seems to conflate introversion and social anxiety. The two absolutely coexist at times (just look at me – wait, please don't), but they aren't the same thing at all, and poor Hitori doesn't seem to realize that. And while she does show signs of introversion – her comment at the end about being exhausted from too much socializing shows that – most of her issues seem to stem from anxiety instead. Maybe it's a silly nitpick, but it's one that's important to me.
That out of the way, Hitori is a protagonist who's easy to get behind. She knows she has a problem (and it's only a problem because it specifically bothers her) and she really, really wants to find a way to solve it. She'd really like to have friends and social interactions with other kids at school, but somehow she just can't get past her own mind blocks. There's just something really relatable about her planning out how this time, she's going to be able to do the thing she's never been able to do before, and that moment in the end when she realizes that Nijika and Ryo are not only listeners, but also fans, of her online persona is wonderful, because that's when Hitori realizes that she's not been playing into the void for three years and that people, REAL people, really do care about her. Mind you, translating that into actual meaningful human interaction is a whole different kettle of fish, but still, it's validation that she very much needed. I also love that her new bandmates are fine with her going onstage in a big cardboard box. Sure, they're in a bad position and they really, really need her to play, but they're also willing to work with her. Nijika may think she picked the wrong random guitarist off the street, but she's still willing to help Hitori to feel more comfortable.
I may not love the look of the show (though that scene where Hitori is quietly sipping her drink while her classmates freak out about her death metal request is great) and have that nitpick with its presentation of Hitori's “introversion,” but I do think it musters up an engaging first episode. Hitori wants to help herself, and she deserves to be able to do it – here's hoping that the music and her bandmates can soothe the voice in her head that tells her otherwise.
If you ever were the outcast growing up, you probably believed at one point or another that if you had some specific item or skill, you'd suddenly be popular. And if you then did happen to obtain that item or skill, you also likely discovered that things don't quite work that way, and it's more a matter of personality and social skills than anything else. Unfortunately, that is what our young heroine Hitori is coming to realize over the course of this episode.
Thinking that being able to play the guitar would make her stand out, she's spent three years mastering the instrument. Of course, it's not like playing the guitar will make people suddenly want to be your friend—especially when no one even knows that's what you've been spending all your free time on. While learning an instrument can no doubt be a conversation starter, you also have to... well, start a conversation. The thing that Hitori has completely missed is that, just as you have to practice guitar to get good at guitar, you have to have conversations to build conversational skills. It's not something that spontaneously happens.
Of course, the sad fact is that the anonymity of the internet has allowed her a way to feel like she's being social without any of the experience that comes from actually talking to people. However, even she is able to realize that trying to use parasocial relationships as a substitute for real ones is far from healthy.
Still, despite all this, she finally does get her chance to not only join a band and potentially make friends but even play a live gig as well. Of course, it's then that she learns that playing guitar alone all the time is way different from playing with other people—not to mention that her stage fright is so bad she has to perform from within a cardboard box.
All in all, this is a show all about teaching life lessons through comedy. Hitori is always the butt of the joke—though in a way that's easy to empathize with. Many of us have been where she is at some point or another and it's hard not to want her to succeed. Unfortunately in my case, despite the solid lessons being told here, this kind of cringe comedy isn't really my thing. However, if you gel with the humor, then I think you'll enjoy this one.
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