Mecha, Isekai, and the Changing Image of Anime

A while ago, a thought popped into my head: isekai is the mecha of the past decade and change. 

The comparison is not perfect by any means, but what I see in isekai today is a position in Japanese pop culture that’s not so different from where giant robots were in the 1980s. Namely, they have their roots in power fantasies, rely heavily on visual and conceptual tropes around that power, and are pretty niche genres that are ubiquitous enough to be considered mainstream nevertheless. In other words, where giant robots were assumed to be part and parcel with anime as a whole, being transported or reincarnated to another (extremely game-like) world is now the de facto stereotype for many fans of anime.

Another important similarity is that derivative titles have had to find a place in their respective media landscapes, navigating the desire to be different enough to stand out while looking comfortably familiar enough to appeal to genre fans. Only, instead of it being God Mars and Armored Trooper VOTOMS, and Aura Battle Dunbine (itself an earlier incarnation of isekai) nudging the envelope, it’s The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious, So I’m a Spider, So What?, and My Next Life as a Villainess. Also, of course, there’s Knights & Magic, the modern isekai that is also a mecha series and even starred in Super Robot Wars 30.

And like mecha, I expect isekai will have a downswing at some point, as people and cultures change. In that future, what I’m looking forward to is having people who are fans of isekai not so much as a way to live vicariously through these stories but in the sense of academic and anthropological fascination. Just as mecha fans like myself like to explore the history of giant robots, warts and all, I want to see enthusiasts looking at every obscure and major 2010s-2020s isekai title out of genuine curiosity over the genre as a whole.

As a final aside, I’ve been thinking about the legacy of Amuro Ray’s character and its influence on anime protagonists as an “otaku” before the term was even coined. Perhaps that’ll be for another post.

The Safe Yandere

I’ve been thinking about what I call “safe yandere,” or alternately “yandere aesthetic.”

Yandere character fetish feeds off many things. The notion of a character who’s so in love with another that she turns into a crazed axe murderer (and that this is a good thing!) is at the same time obvious and complex. It’s a realm of fantasy that, in my estimation, works by essentially being so hyper exaggerated as to feel real—like how food for astronauts is made extra spicy because the sense of taste is dulled in space.

Because yandere characters come primarily from media like anime, manga, and visual novels, there are many visual shortcuts to convey that quality. The thousand-yard stare, the creepy smile, the icons of sadism, and so on make portraying a yandere in a single drawing perfectly possible. What this also means is that this aesthetic can be extracted and placed onto characters who aren’t necessarily trying to trap their significant others in cement so that they can be together forever.

The first example that stands out to me is Jabami Yumeko in Kakegurui. She has all the visual hallmarks of a yandere, except she directs that primal energy towards the art of gambling instead of a person. She doesn’t take pleasure in hurting others so much as she does mutually experiencing the torrent of emotions that stir when everything is on the line. 

Another is the teasing girl. They’re not exactly yandere—more like a midway point between that and tsundere—but they can serve a somewhat similar function. Nagatoro might be the most well known at this point, and her sneers evoke a kind of pain/pleasure combo that aligns with the general yandere for vibe. 

The last example actually comes from the world of VTubers. The Hololive zombie girl Kureijii Ollie has a visual presentation that is very reminiscent of yandere, especially in the eyes, but her personality is far from it. I suspect that this contrast is part of her charm, though, and a reason she’s so popular. Incidentally, another Hololive member, Ceres Fauna is sort of the opposite: Her appearance is gentle but her words and demeanor can get yandere, especially in ASMR streams.

I don’t think separating out the visual component of yandere is a bad thing—far from it, in fact. It gives people the opportunity to assess themselves and what they enjoy, allowing for greater personal discovery. It also reminds me a bit of what has happened to the concept of vampires. Some people just want a specific sub-flavor of hotness, and that is okay.

I don’t know if we’ll reach a point where the definition of yandere has fundamentally changed and it goes towards the safe yandere. I doubt it, given the continued popularity of characters like Toga Himiko from My Hero Academia. But like so many things, I’d rather people be able to remember that this transformation has occurred rather than wholly adhere to some specific definition. History is important, even that of the yandere.

(And technically, all fictional yandere are safe precisely because they remain in the realm of fiction. Though that does mean VTubers can blur that line…)

Inugami Korone, Taira Isao, and My Fandom History

As a Virtual Youtuber, Inugami Korone has always been known to march to the beat of her own drum. From doing flips and cartwheels during the biggest Hololive events to squealing with glee over a fishing game getting ported to the Switch, you never quite know what to expect from her. Even knowing this, however, nothing could have prepared me for one of the special guests at her 4th Anniversary Concert: mecha anime singer Taira Isao.

I both saw and heard Taira as he came in on the second verse of the Galaxy Gale Braiger opening, and my jaw dropped. In a world where a cameo by a VTuber from a rival company is a big deal in itself (something Korone also included), to have such an established name and fan favorite is a boss move like practically no other. And on top of that, I would have expected at most to see him on the screen behind Korone, but there he was, standing next to her and sounding as amazing as ever.

Taira is not necessarily the biggest name among musicians of giant robot anime, but the songs he has under his belt occupy a sweet spot: somewhat obscure, beloved by hardcore fans, and actually incredible tunes. Other songs he’s performed are the openings to Trider G7, Daiohja, and Ideon, the last of which he also sang with Korone. In fact, Taira first became aware of Korone specifically because she sang “Fukkatsu no Ideon” during her 2022 birthday concert. 

A number of significant names in anime and game music have collaborated with Hololive, but Taira is perhaps the most personally significant thus far. Owing to my love of giant robots and my more recent interests in VTubers, I maintain an unorganized Youtube playlist called the rather self-explanatory “Virtual Youtubers Singing Giant Robot Anime Songs.” 

But my fondness for the singers of Taira’s generation has been with me for 20 years. Back in the mid-2000s before Youtube even was a thing, I was enthusiastically discovering and discussing video clips of live performances of musicians like Mizuki Ichiro, Kageyama Hironobu, and indeed Taira Isao. Through these concert videos, I bonded with friends online; in fact, this is how I first came to know my fellow mecha enthusiast and mahjong partner-in-crime, Dave, before we ever met offline. To see Taira show up with Korone, still snazzily dressed and still looking incredibly good for his age, feels like a culmination of various bits and pieces of my own history as an anime fan.

Even now, I find myself re-watching the 4th Anniversary performances of Braiger and Ideon music, and it actually reminds me of how I felt whenever a really good character trailer happened in Smash Ultimate. I’d watch the reveals over and over again to relive the excitement of the initial reveals, and to just remind myself that they’re real. It makes sense when you think about Tairas’ performance with Korone being a similar kind of hype crossover. 

How will Korone top herself next time? I’m looking forward to seeing what less-traveled road she takes. 

Trigun Stampede, Cowboy Bebop, and Scrapbook Worlds

When Studio Orange announced that they were making Trigun Stampede, I was pleasantly surprised. Trigun is a title that a lot of anime and manga fans around the turn of the 21st century cut their teeth on—I myself remember seeing it thanks to my school’s anime club. However, aside from a singular film in the form of 2010’s Trigun: Badlands Rumble, it hasn’t gotten much love, and it also isn’t as enduring in the general fandom consciousness as Cowboy Bebop. To be fair to both, they’re only vaguely similar, but they did come out around the same time and were anime convention staples together for years.

But here was a new Trigun TV series, and what’s more, it was clear that Trigun Stampede was going for an updated aesthetic. Anyone who’s familiar with the manga or anime remembers the iconic look of hero Vash the Stampede in his signature red trench coat and ultra-spiky hair—and both have been significantly altered for this remake. As I watched it, one thing became clear: While a lot of elements are similar to the 1990s anime, the story had been rearranged in noticeable ways. Where the previous iteration has a 50/50 balance of slapstick comedy via larger-than-life personalities and twist-filled science-fiction drama, Stampede is a lot more focused on telling a serious story. That said, I didn’t mind the changes, and was able to take all the changes in stride and appreciate them on their own terms. 

But as I was going over how I feel about Stampede, a thought occurred to me. Why is it that I was able to easily accept a different Trigun, yet the very idea of a new anime remake of Cowboy Bebop feels wrong? I’m not even someone who reveres Cowboy Bebop as a sacred cow, though I think it’s excellent in many ways. (I know there’s the live-action Cowboy Bebop, but I consider adaptations like that their own separate topic regardless of quality, so I‘m setting that aside.)

What I think the difference comes down to is just the way each series generally approaches storytelling. Cowboy Bebop is like a finely tuned machine, intricate and delicately balanced to give a very specific experience. Removing even one or two gears can throw the entire thing off, and overhauling it entirely feels pointless. Trigun, on the other hand, comes across as more of a scrapbook. Narratives can still be formed, but the strengths of the individual elements are more important, and they can be rearranged in different ways.

This brings to mind an old favorite topic of mine: the contrast between “character” and kyaraas written about by manga scholar Ito Go. Essentially, character is how a figure exists within their greater story, whereas kyara is how much of their identity can be maintained if divorced from their original context. I think neither Cowboy Bebop nor Trigun are severely lacking in either category, but the former has a relatively stronger  emphasis on character, while the latter focuses more on kyara

It’s why Trigun Stampede can be this more somber experience wholly lacking in things like a wacky black cat who makes cameos and meows a lot, yet still identifiably be Trigun. In fact, this new series can often feel like Trigun leaning in the direction of Cowboy Bebop without thoughtlessly aping it. So even though there’s a sequel to Stampede on the way that will actually incorporate more of the 1990s Trigun look, the new groundwork laid out makes me look forward to seeing both how similar and how different things get. And despite the fact that the franchise has its origins in the 1990s, I can’t help but wonder if the pacifist nature of Vash might actually resonate harder among fans today.

Omnidirectional Fan Extravaganza: Holocure Version 0.5

The Hololive fan project Holocure is what finally made me try a Vampire Survivors–type game. That’s not to say anything is wrong with Vampire Survivors—I had no particular qualms based on what I knew of the genre, but also no particular motivation to check it out. But now I’ve devoted more hours to Holocure than many games in recent memory, so I figured I should jot down my thoughts on it, no matter how disorganized.

I can see why this game type has become such a hit. There’s something simultaneously relaxing and stressful about the format. The whole automatic-firing thing exemplifies this, as it means you don’t have to worry about constantly mashing on a button or timing hits, but it also means you have less control in dire situations where you really wish you could be more precise. My only complaint is that collision with stage elements sometimes happens unexpectedly, and I feel like certain graphics such as fences and potted plants are kind of iffy in terms of how they interact with the playable characters. Either that, or my partial color blindness makes them hard to notice.

Wikipedia calls Vampire Survivor a “timed survival” game, and I don’t know how common or accepted that is as a term. I feel like it’s treated as a genre or subgenre of its own, though I can’t help but compare it to the 1980s arcade game Robotron 2084, which also features an overhead view plus dual sticks for movement and aiming respectively. There are differences but also a clear conceptual lineage, and it’s fascinating to see people try to coin a term to describe this game type. The term “Roguelite” is funny for all the reasons Metroidvania and Roguelike are.

Specifically regarding Holocure, the roster is an obvious point in its favor. Getting to use Hololive members is ultimately what pushed me to try it in the first place, especially after hearing that Haachama would get added to the game. Even if I weren’t already a Haachama fan, she’d probably still end up being my favorite in Holocure. The fact that she has a “stance change” mechanic (based on the #coexist arc that implied Haachama has two warring personalities inside her) just makes her fun to play and strategize with. 

I’ve now had the chance to use every character available in Version 0.5, and I just love the way that the girls’ lore, personality, and memes all get rolled into gameplay elements. It’s the advantage of being a fan game based on an existing property. I’m eager to see how future characters turn out. The entirety of Hololive Indonesia has already been announced for 0.6, and I want to try them all, especially Kureiji Ollie, Airani Iofifteen, Kobo Kanaeru, and Kaela Kovalskia—the last of whom has herself become addicted to playing Holocure for hours end while blaring an in-game trumpet for maximum cacophony. 

And of course, I can’t wait to see the eventual arrival of La+ Darknesss. Given that Gura has the power of Smolness that allows her to dodge attacks more easily, I wonder if La+ will have a similar ability, given that she is literally the shortest member of Hololive. Or will it be the case that her massive horns neutralize the advantage of short stature? What will her super be—a reference to her original song Dark Breath, perhaps?

Fun times ahead.

Randori Acts of Friendship: “Ippon” Again!

Anime is no stranger to judo, with titles like Yawara! being perennial favorites in Japan. “Ippon” Again! isn’t quite the same kind of work, but what it does do is successfully mix the joy of slice-of-life-adjacent everyday friendship with the emotional journeys that are a hallmark of sports-themed titles, resulting in a series that thrills just as much as it comforts. In other words, “Ippon” Again! is a series about cute girls doing judo where they actually do judo.

The title is a pun: In Japanese, mou ippon can mean “one more round,” but ippon is also the most points that can be scored by a single move in competitive judo. The main character, an energetic teen girl named Michi, loves judo—particularly the part where you land sweet throws and really lay the opponent on their back. But no matter what, she’s never been able to score an ippon in competition. She finishes middle school with this dream unfulfilled and a decision to quit judo in high school, but when she finds out her final opponent at her last tournament is one of her classmates, she gets drawn back into the world she loves so much. Together, they begin to re-establish the school’s defunct judo club.

“Ippon” Again! definitely takes its judo seriously, and it’s all the better for it. Like so many good sports series, it has an endearing core cast each of whom have their own reasons for practicing judo (or not, as the case may be), and they bring their training and their aspirations onto the mat against a variety of interesting opponents. The action is well executed, with high tension and fluid animation that make movement and techniques feel impactful. This is a more grounded portrayal of a sport, less Kuroko’s Basketball and more Haikyu! Yes, Michi has a tendency to shout out the names of her attacks, but that’s just a personal quirk of her direct and eager personality. The result is an anime that wants to show how much its characters grow both in practice and in the spotlight.

The overall feel reminds me a lot of one of my current favorite manga, the karate series Mabataki Yori Hayaku!!. While the characters and their dynamics aren’t quite the same (one features an experienced judo player protagonist while the other stars a karate neophyte, for example), it’s safe to say that if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. It’s also personally fascinating to see how similar yet different the scoring systems are based on the throwing-focused judo versus the striking-based karate, but your mileage may vary. Another title of a similar vein is Bamboo Blade, although “Ippon” Again feels a bit less prone to exaggeration and wacky personalities. 

I don’t know whether “Ippon” Again! is supposed to be a glorified ad for judo. Even if it is, I don’t really mind. It‘s a nice, solid story that delivers on everything it sets out to portray, and seeing the team get closer and come into their own is an absolute joy. There’s a lot more manga, and I hope we get to see it further adapted into manga.

Ironmouse, Opera, and a Kung Fu Analogy

Ironmouse, a pink-haired Virtual Youtuber, holding a slipper in her left hand

Sometimes, the perfect analogy to explain something can come from an unexpected place. For me, I recently found a way to organize some thoughts I’ve been having about martial arts, and it’s all thanks to VTuber mega star Ironmouse. 

As I peer more into the world of kung fu and the like, I’m frequently encountering the idea that many martial arts are not built around merely being a catalog of techniques one can add to their arsenal. Rather, they’re often systems of efficient power generation for particular circumstances, which then form the foundation for executing techniques. 

Something like western boxing has been proven effective for fighting, and it’s a system where specific implementation of techniques can be made functional by anyone if initially taught correctly. From what I understand, a less experienced person can learn to throw a 100% proper and effective punch even if it might not be as good as a veteran boxer’s. In contrast, many techniques across various kung fu disciplines will be largely ineffective without having trained extensively in how a style is meant to generate power and having passed a certain point in which your body has adapted to this counterintuitive movement.

It’s a difference that can be hard for people to grasp, myself included. I’m not a fighter or a martial artist, so it’s not something I can intuitively understand. But this is where Ironmouse comes in.

One of the many impressive things that Ironmouse is known for is that she actually has training in operatic singing. However, her opera voice is not her “normal” singing voice. During her 2023 birthday concert (see below), she sang well but without going into opera mode, and the difference is noticeable. In other words, a person can’t just improve their singing until it reaches “opera level”—it requires dedicated training in a particular way of producing sound

While not the only VTuber to have studied opera (Tokino Sora from Hololive and Banzoin Hakka from Holostars EN), Ironmouse is probably the most powerful example of how specific the training can be. This is because singing opera style can literally cause her physical pain due to chronic health issues, so she doesn’t often perform that way. When she does, though, Ironmouse sounds incredible. 

The similarities to different types of martial arts also extends to the topic of subjectivity. Opera may require a certain type of training to make a certain type of sound, but is it inherently better than other forms of singing? Not necessarily. It’s all down to personal wants, needs, and preferences, as well as what you aim to do with it. Is it the right move to train for years in a specific way of generating power found in certain martial arts, or to work from what one’s body can already do?

So thanks, Ironmouse. I don’t know if it makes sense to everyone, but your singing has helped me in a most unexpected way.

Memoriam-o-rama: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for April 2023

April is cherry blossoms in Japan, and their fleeting nature is associated with an aesthetic valuing of the ephemeral in Japanese culture. I normally don’t get all poetic about it, but recent events have me reminiscing and feeling the passage of time. One month after the death of Matsumoto Leiji, one of my favorite character designers, Kimura Takahiro, passed away. Ash Ketchum is being retired as the lead of the Pokemon after two decades. Not one but two VTubers are graduating: Heavenly King Mirai Akari and Pikamee Amano, one of the lights of the early COVID pandemic. And just today we learned that Sakamoto Ryuichi of Yellow Magic Orchestra passed on the 28th of March—the second member to go this year after Takahashi Yukihiro.

To my April Patreon subscribers, thank you:


Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado



Sue Hopkins fans:


Hato Kenjirou fans:


Yajima Mirei fans:


Blog highlights from March:

Farewell to One of Anime’s Great Character Designers: RIP Kimura Takahiro

I was devastated.

La+ Darknesss: Hololive’s Tiny Dancer Extraordinaire

My attempt to explain why I love La+’s dancing so much.

Pallet Cleanser: The End of Ash Ketchum as Pokemon Protagonist

Looking back on 20+ years of Pokemon anime, and Ash’s ride into the sunset.

Kio Shimoku

Kio tweeted a lot about Spotted Flower this past month because the latest volume came out on the 31st.

Apartment 507

My thoughts on Akiba Maid War.


Another new season of anime is upon us?! Already?! And it’s filled with a ridiculous amount of highly anticipated shows??!!

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights March 2023

March has been a big month for Kio, as Spotted Flower Volume 6 just came out today, the 31st! Not only that, but he’s been posting lots of high-quality art from the original Genshiken run, particularly about Kujibiki Unbalance

Spotted Flower Chapter 42 is out.

Front and back covers of Spotted Flower Volume 6. Like all volumes, the underjacket cover features the characters in their underwear, and you can just barely see it peeking through.

Kio stepped away for a brief moment, and in that time, his tortoise claimed Kio’s electric hot water bottle.

Clean version of the title page image for Genshiken Volume 3.

A commenter talks about how the line “You have a nose hair sticking out” comes to mind. Kio replies that such a line would be in a Saki route, and it would lead straight to a Bad Ending.

Kio has finished the manuscript for his first ero manga, clocking in at 50 pages.

A model kit of the Knight of Gold (K.O.G.) from The Five Star Stories that Kio built. When asked if the kit is lacking a Buster Launcher (a standard weapon in that universe), Kio replies that there actually aren’t many design specs for the K.O.G., and modelers had to use their imagination to make these kits. Likely, the K.O.G. doesn’t have a Buster Launcher because it would need a counterweight to balance it.

Unfortunately, the head portion might be warped a bit, and might need some epoxy to fix.

Genshiken Volume 3 extras: Artwork from Unbalance Fighter, a fictional Kujibiki Unbalance doujin fighting game. Kio notes that while Berserk Tokino is based on Berserk (Orochi) Iori from King of Fighters, all her attack names are based on NECO from the game Zero Divide.

The strategies as they’re written in the volume are inspired by the guides from the magazine Gamest.

Starting from here are “screenshots” from Unbalance Fighter. Here is Renko and Yamada vs. President (Ritsuko). Supposedly this isn’t an unblockable, but it is an incredibly strict high-low mixup.

Someone asks if this game will ever come out. Kio replies that if anyone out there in the world wants to make it happen, well…

Renko and Yamada vs. Izumi, demonstrating Renko’s super move “Giant Swing with Yamada.”

Komaki vs. President. According to Kio, not shown is the following moment where Ritsuko counters with a Bajiquan elbow attack and sends Komaki flying.

President vs. Shinobu-sensei. Ritsuko’s fighting style isn’t based on a fighting game character, but rather Jhons Lee from Air Master. Kio is an Air Master fan.

Vice President Kasumi vs. Izumi. Kasumi is using her “Mist” (i.e. “Kasumi”) super to move through projectiles.

Vice President vs. Tokino. This “screenshot” demonstrates Kasumi’s great reach and jump height.

And Spotted Flower Volume 6 is literally out by the time this blog post goes up.

Renko and Yamada vs. Lisa. This is an animation frame from Lisa’s “Coin Toss” attack. A commenter mentions that they used to play a lot of fighting games (like KoF ‘94) but not anymore. Seeing the fine details of Kio’s explanations takes him back, though. Kio responds that the depth of the characters is based on SNK, and that he owned a NEO-GEO. However, the animation impact is Capcom-esque.

Lisa’s super being performed on Kasumi. As mentioned in Volume 3, Kasumi loses a lot of her abilities if she gets grabbed as a way to be lore-accurate at the expense of game balance (Kasumi basically faints if she gets hugged). 

A commenter replies that in the modern era, broken stuff in fighting games gets patched, and this probably wouldn’t last. Kio replies that because Unbalance Fighter is a doujin game, it might have gotten a patch at some point.

President vs. Berserk Tokino (specifically, it’s “Tokino Drunk After Eating Komaki’s Brandy-Soaked Apple Cheesecake).

Berserk Tokino getting a perfect.

A Hellandeath mirror match. The character’s name is a reference to Fernandeath, the final boss of Waku Waku 7.

Kio got to use for the first time neodymium magnets to help stick together two model kit pieces that weren’t fitting right.

Kio reacting to the death of character designer and animator Kimura Takahiro. “What?! No…”

The title page image for Genshiken Chapter 18, which was later turned into a jigsaw puzzle. Kio tried to fill it with as much stuff as possible to make it good for a puzzle, but he feels like the results were iffy. One fan shows their completed puzzle, and as noted by another, it originally came in the Nov 2003 issue of Monthly Afternoon.

A fan recalls that the figure version of Ohno on the TV from Volume 3 was from a Wonder Festival. Kio replies that he has the entire series stored somewhere.

Kio’s Super Sasadango Machine plastic kit has arrived.

Kio is starting to build another kit: the Demi Trainer from Gundam: The Witch from Mercury.  It has three sets of runners and no polycaps. He’s also resisting the urge to start filing things down right away.

Kio’s progress on the Demi Trainer. His comments are basically marveling at the quality and advancements of current Gundam model kits, including the lack of need for polycaps (which used to be the standard for kits in the old days).

The completed kit!

This is the art used for store display for Spotted Flower Volume 6.

Kio learns about “hell puzzles,” jigsaw puzzles where there’s no picture to help. Your only hints are the shapes of the pieces themselves.

Copies of the cover jacket for Spotted Flower Volume 6.

“Sprites” and “backgrounds” for Unbalance Fighter. Someone in the replies comments that all this fine and detailed work shows how much love Kio put into it, and they’re glad to know that he had fun drawing it. Kio responds that “youth” was also a big factor.

Spotted Flower Volume 6 will have exclusive illustration cards at six different stores in Japan. (For the record, I plan on getting the one at Toranoana).

The illustration from the cover of Genshiken Volume 4. Someone in the replies says that her wearing a mask feels like this picture is happening in real time, and Kio says he has the same thought.

In response to a hashtag prompt, artist and character designer Kotobuki Tsukasa shows a drawing of his from 30 years ago: a manga titled Go Go! Our Marbet-san, from his Victory Gundam short story parody series. Kio mentions having this book all this time.

The back cover of Genshiken Volume 4. Kio wanted to draw Izumi from Kujibiki Unbalance in a cute manner.

The famous and long-running Akiba Blog wrote about Spotted Flower Volume 6!

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.