Rock and Roll Sometimes and Party Never: Bocchi the Rock!

I’m a little late to the Bocchi the Rock! party. I saw the positive reactions every week, from the discussion to the clips of creative animation to the fanart, yet I still decided to wait. Having now watched the entire season of the anime, I understand what the hype is all about. In the perennially popular genre of “cute girls doing things,” Bocchi remains anything but static. 

Gotou Hitori is a girl who wishes to make friends but suffers from severe anxiety. Upon seeing a band play on TV, she gets a brilliant idea: If she can become a great guitarist, she can stay shy and reticent and have people come to her instead. As with all best-laid plans, however, she remains lonely through middle school and into high school even as she hones her skills and even started a music channel on a social media platform. When all hope seems lost, Hitori gets roped in by two girls around her age who have started a band of their own and are desperate to find a last-minute replacement for their missing bandmate. It’s her chance to shine, though first she has to deal with her biggest fear: actual social interaction. Noticing her personality, Hitori’s new acquaintances nickname her “Bocchi,” or “lonesome.”

With a show like this, there was always a possibility that Bocchi’s social anxiety would be treated pras a kind of characterization seasoning; many anime only go so far. But it becomes immediately obvious that even though her panicking is portrayed with some levity, the anime is not treating Bocchi’s emotions frivolously. From her frustrations to her tendency to catastrophize, everything feels painfully genuine.

There’s an example that hits particularly close to home for me: Bocchi initially tries to make friends by displaying band stickers on her stuff and carrying around her guitar so that others might notice and strike up a conversation. As soon as I saw this, I could feel myself cringe as I remembered doing similar things at her age. While I never had Bocchi’s debilitating levels of anxiety, I distinctly recall putting anime merchandise on my bag, and maybe even playing my music a little loud so that someone might recognize “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” and the like. And just like with Bocchi, I learned that this never works. 

(As an aside, whenever I see people with anime goods these days, I don’t say anything out of fear of being too old or overstepping boundaries. Ahh…)

Bocchi the Rock! could have easily remained in this space of comedic suffering—what I refer to as the moe of tiny tragedies. But what gives the anime real legs is that it depicts Bocchi’s imperfect progress towards overcoming her issues. Specifically, it shows how her relationship with music and her gradually strengthening connections with her bandmates work in tandem to help Bocchi come out of her shell. The fact that it’s often a matter of “two steps forward, one step back” only makes her journey feel more authentic.

Given the premise of Bocchi the Rock!, it draws an inevitable comparison to one of the most titanic cute-girls series of the past 20 years: K-On! Both are works capable of providing comfort to its viewers and inspire them to take up music, but they’re as different as a Swedish massage versus a deep-tissue massage. The former is a soothing experience meant to invigorate (K-On!) while the latter hurts so that it can heal (Bocchi the Rock!). This contrast is evident in their protagonists. Hirasawa Yui is a silly and cheerful sort who can never remain sad for long, while Bocchi is a gigantic bundle of frayed nerves. It makes me wonder if Bocchi the Rock! might resonate better with a current-day audience than K-On! would if it first aired in 2022 instead of 2009. 

So I’m definitely a fan now. It’s a series that hits hard in so many unexpected ways, and in that regard, I actually think there’s a moment in the opening that perfectly encapsulates its essence. As the opening draws to a close, there’s a closeup of Bocchi at school just staring while the shot zooms in very, very slowly. There’s no “animation” to speak of, yet it conveys the tempestuous turmoil behind her eyes and the difficult inner journey she faces. It’s amazing that something so simple contains so much power—that’s Bocchi the Rock! in a nutshell.

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