Bocchi the Rock

Hitori Gotō is so socially awkward and shy that by the time she leaves elementary school  she has no friends. Despite her best efforts in middle school, the situation doesn’t change; until one day, seeing a popular band being interviewed and hearing one of its members speak of their own shyness at school, Hitori decides to learn the guitar in order to improve her social standing. For the rest of her time as a middle schooler, she practices on the guitar given to her by her father, so that by the time she begins high school, she has become a highly adept musician. She has even carved out an online presence as “Guitarhero”, uploading videos of her guitar playing (without revealing her identity) and winning a significant fan base as a result. At high school, however, her social awkwardness and inability to overcome her shyness are as rampant as ever, leaving her lonely and isolated. That changes when Hitori has a chance encounter with Nijika Ijichi, a fellow high schooler who is desperately looking for a guitarist to replace the one who ran out on their band. Through Nijika, Hitori meets bass player Ryō Yamada, as well as Nijika’s older sister, Seika, who manages the club at which Nijika hopes her group – Kessoku Band – will eventually play. There follows a series of events in which Hitori gets to learn the ins and outs of the Tokyo live music scene, as well as struggles to manage her social awkwardness so that she can function in public. Along the way, she meets and becomes a guitar mentor to Ikuyo Kita – who is none other than the girl who ran away from Kessoku Band – and gets placed in charge of writing the lyrics for the songs with which the band hope to begin building a following. It all amounts to a lot of pressure for Hitori to overcome her extreme introversion – especially when they are enrolled to play in Hitori’s school’s Autumn Festival – in order to not only launch the band’s career but also realise her musical and personal dreams…

Based on the long-running manga by Aki Hamaji and produced by studio Cloverworks, Bocchi the Rock premiered on Japanese television in October 2022. Animated in a conventional animation form (with judicious use of CGI and stop-motion thrown in for good measure) that combines a mangaesque visual aesthetic and vibrant colour palette, Bocchi the Rock is in many respects an equally conventional story about an introvert learning to deal with a world that requires them to be something other than who they are. Beneath the familiar surface, however, there lurks a more substantial story driven by both the realism of the environments in which the characters find themselves (live music clubs, the online world, schools and general society) as well as by the engaging musical score that pays detailed attention to the craft of music and the dynamics of interpersonal engagement. Along the way we get to learn about some of the harsher realities associated with being a band trying to make their way in the live music scene, as well as (albeit indirectly) the personal costs linked to that struggle. Moreover, instead of applying the usual formula and serving up a heroic story of an individual overcoming all odds by dint of sheer will, the more nuanced conclusion posits a more realistic – and more hopeful – picture of what it means to struggle and “succeed”. Combining over-the-top, anarchic comedy with thoughtful, reflective introspection, Bocchi the Rock is at once lightweight and substantial, a feel-good piece that nonetheless possesses a solid emotional core to become a sweetly-natured tale that bears comparison with other music-centred series.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2023. All rights reserved.