Bocchi the Rock

Happy New Year my fellow gamers! I may-or-may not have ended up taking a little bit longer to finish Bocchi the Rock than I originally planned—I mentioned during my review of Arknights: Prelude to Dawn that I was going to binge it when it finished airing on Christmas day, but I spent that entire day working on a Koikatsu card and a Christmas-themed Charastudio scene like an absolute fucking weeaboo, so here we are. I couldn’t even binge the show—I kept getting distracted, being too tired or not having enough time, and spaced it out among more sittings than I would’ve liked. My own procrastination and recent obsession with the novel I’m trying to write aside though (something I hope to have done by the end of this year), Bocchi the Rock is no less of a fucking fantastic show for it! I found out about Bocchi the Rock sometime either around when its first episode aired or shortly before then—I got recommended some random article about it and thought it seemed interesting, so I put it on my ever expanding plan-to-watch list assuming it was probably obscure. Imagine my surprise, glancing at the show’s MyAnimeList page right before watching it and seeing that it’s the 12th highest rated show on the entire fucking site! Bocchi the Rock has kind-of exploded since it released, becoming hugely popular and to be totally honest it deserves all of the recognition it has garnered. But just what the heck is it even about? Essentially, Bocchi the Rock is a comedic Slice-of-Life anime (which could arguably be considered to fall within the “cute-girls-doing-cute-things” subgenre) starring the titular “Bocchi”, the nickname given to protagonist Hitori Gotou by her band-mates. Bocchi is a super introverted, socially anxious shut-in who picks up the guitar years before the show begins, hoping that one day she’ll be able to join a band, overcome her anxiety and become a famous musician. By sheer coincidence, she gets roped into joining the newly formed “Kessoku Band”, and hijinks ensue. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s pretty undeniable that Bocchi the Rock is heavily influenced by K-On—to be honest, I think that’s unavoidable if you’re going to make a show in this particular genre about this particular subject matter. But it would be a mistake to assume that just because it’s inspired by K-On that it follows K-On’s exact formula, or is just trying to copy what made K-On great. In fact, one of the most noticeable strengths setting Bocchi the Rock apart from its competition is its incredibly strong sense of identity. This show absolutely oozes style out of every pore in its fucking body; the music is absolutely stellar, the animation and artwork are damn good and very impressive to look at, the direction and comedic timing are spot-on and in general, Bocchi the Rock is a show giving off the distinct feeling that not only did its creatives have vision, but they were seriously enjoying what they were doing—it actually reminded me of One Punch Man in that sense. There’s a palpable passion that the viewer can feel while watching the show; the sense that you are going through an experience that everybody in the animation studio desperately wanted to make you care about. But before we talk about the story, let’s talk about the thing this show does better than almost any other—comedy. Bocchi the Rock is absolutely fucking hilarious—whoever directed this needs an award because my God, these jokes aren’t just well-written and animated, they’re delivered in such a god-damn perfect way every single time that the show constantly had me laughing out loud, often to the point of being forced to pause so that I could actually read the dialogue. They get seriously creative with the ways in which they use visuals and sound to complement the jokes they’re delivering, turning Bocchi especially into a character that’s simultaneously believable enough to evoke sympathy and understanding yet also ridiculously over-the-top and god-damn hilarious, a surreal experience not unlike laughing with and at somebody at the same time. Actually, the show does a really good job of that on the whole—taking its over-the-top comedic elements and blending them into moments of serious reflection in order to create a cohesive, emotionally affecting story with a genuine message behind it. Now, do I think Bocchi the Rock is the greatest piece of literature ever conceived? No, I don’t. It’d be a pretty tall order for a show with comedy as strong as this to tell a serious story equally as amazing, and I’d say the primary reason as to why that’s so difficult—beyond just the nature of living up to something great in-and-of-itself—is that the show’s comedic and lighthearted tone work against you. That’s not to say that the writing here is poor, or that the comedy is a bad thing, not at all—the comedy is the best part of the show, something the writers and directors clearly understood and took full advantage of in order to make it enjoyable and compelling for the viewer. When I reviewed K-On a while back, I described it as being “a story that’s given meaning just by the relationships of the characters and the viewer’s attachment to them”. Ultimately, that was the crux of what made K-On great. But Bocchi the Rock is different; its story is a very deliberate one about the personal growth of its protagonist, targeting the sort-of audience who find Bocchi relatable and going out of its way to try and make a point to them, something K-On didn’t really do at all. “Bocchi” might be a pretty familiar sounding name to you; quite a while back, I reviewed a show called “Hitoribocchi no OO Seikatsu”, a show I wasn’t really a fan of. The core of my argument as to why that show didn’t work was how it failed to portray its protagonist as being genuinely flawed or as going through a realistic, relatable struggle, making everything devolve into generic cutesy Slice-of-Life nonsense while consigning its core concept to the realm of pure gimmickry. While making that argument, my point of comparison was a show by the name of “Watamote”, which you’ve likely at least heard of before assuming you’ve gone far enough into the deep end of the metaphorical anime pool. If you’ve seen it, you know the reason why Watamote did work is because its protagonist didn’t succeed; a thought provoking and really well constructed narrative criticizing and making a mockery of the romanticized reality that a lot of cutesy Slice-of-Life shows depict. In a nutshell, that’s why Bocchi the Rock can’t really be a perfect version of the story that it’s trying to be; it’s too idyllic and convenient, too romantic and unrealistic. Still, that doesn’t make it bad. A lot of the reason as to why Bocchi can still be a relatable, relatively realistic protagonist with depth despite the show being such a ridiculous feel-good comedy is because there’s a lot of subtext underlying what happens within it. The lyrics of songs like “Guitar, Solitude and the Blue Planet”, “Never Forget” or “That Band” give you a real appreciation for the genuine serious depth of Bocchi’s character when you pay attention to them, especially with how god damn amazing all of the music in this show is (though to be fair, I have something of a soft spot for fictional bands like Houkago Tea Time, Girls Dead Monster, Death Devil or Kessoku Band in this case). It’s all dramatized and ultimately spun into having a positive outcome, but the actual core of what Bocchi is experiencing and the way in which her traumas are being portrayed is plenty real enough to resonate with people who have been in her same position, no matter to what extent. You could make the argument that the climax the show is building to devalues that… which is kind-of what I’m doing actually, but I don’t really think it makes Bocchi’s character any less believable. That’s not the issue, the issue lies in the question of “what is the likelihood the events of this story could happen to anyone”. A core message Watamote delivers in its story is that your problems won’t solve themselves; happiness won’t just come knocking on your door one day. But to be honest, that’s pretty much exactly what happens here, something made especially funny when considering how at the beginning of the show, a point is made as to how Bocchi trying to get her classmates to talk to her without approaching them herself fails miserably. They clearly understand the concept of what Watamote was preaching, but the story still ends up playing out in a way that is arguably too convenient to feel real or have serious weight. Maybe that’s a side-effect of the more positive message they’re trying to send to people in Bocchi’s position, and you know, there isn’t anything wrong with that at all. Not everything has to be bittersweet, and just because something is unlikely or extremely positive doesn’t mean that it’s totally outside the realm of possibility. Whether or not the “feel-good” elements and the idyllic nature of how this particular story unfolds devalue the crisis of its protagonist and destroy the illusion of her social anxiety we’re presented is honestly up to individual interpretation. Honestly, I’m of two minds about it. When you think about it, the concept of “feel-good” in-and-of-itself is something the show explores quite a lot; the so-called “seishun complex”. But where is the line drawn between self-awareness and poor execution? Does that seishun complex still have weight if, ultimately, a protagonist defined largely by their rejection-of-yet-longing-for youthful joy has it handed to them on a silver platter? Or is it the contrast between her internal bitterness against that feeling and the experiences she goes through despite it what give the show its meaning? Honestly, I don’t have an answer for you. Look, this is undoubtedly a feel-good Slice-of-Life comedy where you can turn your brain off and enjoy—there’s no question about that, and it does it really, really well (though I’d argue the jokes are funnier if you pay better attention to what’s happening onscreen in this case). But at the same time, it’s thought provoking. I can’t really peg the actual structure of the plot and its climax as being good or bad regardless of the actual quality of the writing (which I thought was great), so instead I’ll say that the show is nuanced and forces you to decide for yourself how you feel about the subtext underlying its narrative and how that affects what you’ll take away from your experience of it. Personally, I liked it, but I thought the ending was maybe just a bit too neat, a little bit shallow and not wholly satisfying or emotionally affecting. The characters here are all likeable, but this isn’t K-On; the show can’t make you emotional just because you know it’s eventually going to end, especially considering how open-ended the ending actually is and how much it’s clearly encouraging a second season to be made (something that is actually feasible given how well this show has done for itself). I was having a conversation with one of my buddies the other day when the topic of “feeling empty after finishing a good anime” came up, something I’m sure most anime fans have experienced at some point or another, and I said “At this point, there’s so much I still need to watch that it’s hard to be depressed after finishing anything, especially since the ending of a show plays such a huge part in determining whether or not it’s good.” That’s the point I’m at now, honestly; I care too much about the takeaway of a show to dread the thought of finishing one, since how something ends—the feelings and thoughts that it leaves you with—are one of the biggest determining factors as to whether or not a show is worth your time. I joke about shows like No Game No Life that will never see the multiple seasons they deserve, but that doesn’t make my experiences with them bitter at all. There’s always another avenue to explore, an overabundance of good material and fantastic experiences difficult to comprehend or digest, which is one of the primary reasons I do all of this critique in the first place. All of that aside, Bocchi the Rock ended up being a really well made, incredibly funny show with humour better than the vast majority of competitors out there, solid writing with an arguably thought provoking, interesting plotline hiding within the pretext of a show that could be described as “feel-good” primarily on its surface level. It’s expertly directed, it has absolutely banging music (which also includes opening and ending songs by the way, none of which I skipped at any point), it oozes style and feels like a vibrant passion project, the artwork and animation are fucking excellent and I was a big fan of the art style and the way they used 3D references and CGI throughout in order to make things look really seamless and clean (not to mention the detailed, impressive backdrops and setpieces), and I would have absolutely no issue recommending anybody to go and watch it. I mentioned with K-On that its appeal is a bit more limited to those who find the cute-girls-doing-cute-things subgenre enjoyable, but I’d honestly say that while Bocchi the Rock has arguable issues with its plot structure and story making it fall short of that particular golden standard, its appeal is actually much broader and pretty much anybody can enjoy it. It’s a great comedy even for those who normally don’t like Slice-of-Life, and I’d say it’s especially good as a gateway into other shows like it for those more accustomed to action-oriented or extremely dramatic, serious shows like Death Note for example—probably the only point I’d argue against using Bocchi the Rock as a way to get into other shows is that if you aren’t familiar with some of the tropes present within it (regardless of whether it’s mocking them or actually using them, both of which happen here), some of the humour might be a bit difficult to understand, but that’s a relatively small hurdle; to be perfectly honest, literacy with and understanding of anime tropes or Japanese culture is something you figure out over time the more you’re exposed to it assuming you’re dedicated enough to put the pieces together. Go give this one a watch even if only for the comedy alone, it’s worth your time. Anyways, it’s 9 AM and I need to crawl into bed before I spend any more time on this; New Year though it may be, some things never change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *