“Abandoning your uniqueness is equivalent to dying.”Ryou Yamada, “Bocchi the Rock!”
When Madhouse’s “Nana” and Kyoto Animation’s “K-On!” set the stage for music anime in the late ‘00s, I doubt they were really prepared for the cascade of excellent shows that would follow. They exposed the potential within the genre and the character arcs that music-related settings would allow. Since then, some of my favorite anime of all time have come from the genre. From the rise of idol shows through the likes of the “Love Live” franchise to drama/action-oriented plots like “Symphogear” or “Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song” to more casual character-focused shows like “Hibike! Euphonium” or “Paripi Koumei,” they have become some of the most fulfilling viewing experiences in anime.
This makes it easy to trust “Bocchi the Rock!” going in, but even the lofty expectations set by the phenomenal shows that came before it couldn’t prepare me for the experience I was about to undertake.
The plot centers around Hitori Gotou (voiced by Yoshino Aoyama), a high school first-year with crippling social anxiety. Having not made any friends in middle school and spending the entire time practicing with her father’s guitar, she decides that the only way to break out of her shell is to join a band and make a name for herself. However, this is where it immediately diverges from the usual formula of the main character taking everything into their own hands and making a successful music group.
The use of “crippling” was far from an exaggeration. She can’t navigate social situations and, without any connections, there’s no way for her to actually communicate her desires until she runs into Nijika Ijichi (Sayumi Suzushiro), whose guitarist has just run out on the band before their concert. Gotou, who has been carrying her guitar around in hopes of building the courage to pursue a band, is a prime target for recruitment. Nijika is the drummer for “Kessoku Band,” a duo of her and bassist Ryou Yamada (Saku Mizuno) which is seeking to make their debut. Gotou accepts her proposal because she’s too nervous to say no and then performs… albeit inside a large cardboard box.
The rest of the story is predictable, following these three plus Ikuyo Kita (Ikumi Hasegawa), the vocalist/guitarist who joins later, as they attempt to make a name for themselves as a band. It sounds generic, and it mostly is, but the character dynamics are phenomenal and create situations that feel wholly unique in the anime medium.
To start with the obvious, it feels like it would be hard to take humor from anxiety on Gotou’s level, as it’s a very real problem that stunts the emotional growth of countless people. But oftentimes, if difficult issues are handled properly, it helps the media achieve greatness. “3-Gatsu no Lion” by Shaft Studios has received must-watch status because of its ability to handle the coming of age issues of handling your emotions and finding an identity. “Bocchi the Rock!” achieves the same status by addressing Gotou’s anxiety meaningfully, yet still finding ways to stay lighthearted and humorous.
It’s this balance that ascends this show beyond the confines of your usual slice-of-life anime. It’s entertaining, and some of the gags related to Gotou are downright hilarious. But despite the issues she faces, her bandmates never abandon her. They accept her wholeheartedly, regardless of the struggle she has to deal with every day. And it’s that genuine compassion from her first real friends that helps her grow throughout the season.
I can’t recommend this enough. More anime is coming out every year, making it that much more important to take notice when something special releases. “Bocchi the Rock” is funny when it wants to be, but also delivers on the crucial story beats. The characters are all unique, but still feel organic to the universe (Maaya Uchida does a phenomenal job as Nijika’s older sister). It’s an anime that deserves the attention of both hardcore music anime fans and more casual watchers.