Bocchi the Rock! is now streaming on Crunchyroll.
In a season full of heavy hitters, spectacular conclusions, big sequels, anticipated blockbuster adaptations, and more, a little show about adorable girls doing adorable things enters the ring to blow the competition out of the water with a thematically rich, hilarious, heartfelt, and visually splendid first season. This is Bocchi the Rock! and Bocchi is here to, well, rock your world — if only she can avoid passing out and dissolving into dust in the process.
We follow Hitori Gotoh, a gloomy and shy high schooler with crippling social anxiety and a single desire: to muster the courage to talk to her classmates and become popular — or at least get a couple of friends. Learning that many big bands started out as a group of high schoolers hanging out, Gotoh — also known as Bocchi (literally “always alone”) — borrows a guitar from her dad to try and start a band with fellow classmates. The problem is that even after becoming quite good at playing guitar, and even after her guitar-playing videos gather an online following, Bocchi still isn’t able to talk to anyone at school, let alone ask them to join her band. That is until she runs into a girl from another school who asks Bocchi to join her band instead.
In many ways, it’s a spiritual successor to K-On!, a music anime that’s really more about a group of girls becoming friends. But Bocchi the Rock! hides a few aces up its anxiety-ridden sleeve. For one, it is poignant in its exploration of anxiety but without being overtly bleak or cruel towards Bocchi. It portrays the never-ending struggle she goes through – the cringe efforts she does to try and overcome her anxiety – all with enormous empathy towards the character in a way that doesn’t make fun of her but understands that her struggles are relatable.
It’s clearly made by people familiar with or at least empathetic towards social anxiety, and they know how to mine Bocchi for cringe comedy without making light of its main character in the way Komi-san Can’t Communicate does. A lot of the jokes come through via the animation. Studio CloverWorks almost redeems itself from the fiasco that was The Promised Neverland Season 2 by giving us one of the most experimental seasons of anime, a show full of genre and even medium parodies without feeling like pastiche a la Pop Team Epic.
From claymation, paper-cutouts, zoetrope, and even live-action footage – and with comedic references to all kinds of anime from Neon Genesis Evangelion to Ashita no Joe and Dragon Ball Z – Bocchi the Rock! is one of the funniest and most imaginative comedies of the season. Watching Bocchi’s many, many, many hilarious facial expressions for when her dissociative anxiety episodes are triggered is one of the show’s biggest joys, with plenty of fantastic visual gags of Bocchi turning into kaiju, slugs, radioactive dust, and more.
Granted, it’s still a musical show, and thankfully Bocchi the Rock! has not only great songs, but it knows how to deliver excellent musical performances. The first time the full Kessoku Band performs live, it starts out as a disaster, and the show conveys the off-timing and the lack of rhythm and confidence through the animation, even using the frame rate to reflect the state of mind of the characters and how they slowly gain confidence in their skills.
At the same time, the show is reminiscent of Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! in the way it explores the nitty-gritty of the industry and the economical pains that go into making art. There’s the booking of shows, the audition process, facing indifferent and disinterested crowds, writers’ block, and even just the financial issue of having to cover your own ticket quota. While most of Bocchi the Rock! is about the titular character gradually facing her anxieties, it is also looking forward to her dreamed future as a rock star, and the show is cleverly illustrating that an artist’s life isn’t made of roses.
Bocchi the Rock! may not boast dynamic fight scenes or a hugely popular source material, yet its charm, imaginative animation, and endearing and lovable characters are enough for the show to stand toe to toe with the best anime of the year.