The fall 2022 season of anime was stacked full of juggernaut shows such as the triumphant return of Bleach after 10 years, the extremely hyped adaption of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man, and the finale to one of the most beloved series in recent memory, Mob Psycho 100. But unexpectedly, another show rose up seemingly out of nowhere that is now held in equally high, if not potentially higher regard to these other shows, Bocchi the Rock!
This show didn’t quite come out of nowhere for me as it did the general community. I’d heard murmurings that the original manga, by Aki Hamaji, was great and as such I should be looking out for this adaptation. But the quality of the adaptation, by studio CloverWorks, was something I wasn’t expecting.
Bocchi the Rock! is a comedy show that follows the titular character Bocchi (real name Hitori Gotou), a girl who suffers from extreme social anxiety and her journey towards her slightly self-centred dream of becoming a popular girl by joining a band.
I think for a lot of people Bocchi is one of the main reasons this anime stands out so much. While the “Bocchi is literally me” comments might be going a bit too far, it’s easy to see why Bocchi as a character can so easily resonate with people given how realistically the show is able to portray her social anxiety. A lot of the show’s jokes end up stemming from Bocchi’s condition, but it is always careful to make sure that we are never laughing at Bocchi and making light of it. This delicate handling is a big part of why the show is able to deliver such relatable and hilarious comedic moments throughout.
The rest of the cast are also incredibly considerate of Bocchi. Being understanding of her as a person, giving her time whenever it is needed, and being supportive in helping her get better at dealing with others slowly over time. This alone wouldn’t work if Bocchi herself didn’t also want to change so it is always inspiring to watch Bocchi try to get over her issues whenever she is able to muster up the ability to do so despite how hard it is for her. I just can’t help but feel incredibly proud of Bocchi in moments like when she gets the determination to serve a customer on her own after realising that her stagnation will never help her grow as a person, and that she needs to do so not just for herself but for her friends. But then this transforms into hearty laughter after seeing her facial expression while doing so, due to how well the show is able to juggle its more touching moments with its usual comedy.
Some of the strongest moments of Bocchi’s character occur during the performance scenes in the show. While she is on stage she is able to realise what playing music means to her and how much she wants her band to be a success. An extension of this being how her mindset slowly shifts over time from her self-centred desire to be popular to one where she wants to do so with her friends, making the best band possible with them, and this shows how she is able to grow over the course of the series. This growth can be seen when she is able to step up and take charge by making decisions in the performances, keeping them from being failures for the band. And it’s this growth that truly cements Bocchi as one of my favourite characters of last year.
One character does not make a show, but luckily the rest of Bocchi the Rock!'s cast are also great. Together with Bocchi her bandmates, drummer Nijika Ijichi, bassist Ryou Yamada, and guitarist/vocalist Ikuyo Kita make up Kessoku Band. Nijika and Kita’s extroverted personalities work great in contrast with Bocchi’s while still feeling distinct from each other. Ryou’s personality is closer to Bocchi’s, but this by choice as opposed to Bocchi, whose personality is a result of her condition, even though she desperately wants to be popular. These differing personalities lead to great chemistry within the group, while at the same time feel distinct through their interactions and their own lives outside of being a part of the band.
While a lot of the comedy in the show comes from Bocchi, the strong chemistry within the cast also makes for great comedic moments with the other characters. Outside of the band Nijika’s sister, Seika, manager of the live house STARRY, and frontwoman of another band in the show called SICK HACK, Kikuri Hiroi, add a much needed adult presence to the show, with Kikuri being a musical role model for the band even if she doesn’t always seem that way with her drunken antics. Bocchi’s parents are always supportive of her endeavours and her sister, Futari’s, innocent comments on Bocchi acting in weird ways always make for a good laugh. While they’re all great, the rest of the cast aren’t quite on the level of Bocchi due to her getting the most focus in the show.
I mentioned earlier that the quality of the adaptation that studio CloverWorks was able to create was something I wasn’t expecting. I said this because of how incredible this show is from a visual perspective. Directed by Keiichirou Saitou, the cinematography of Bocchi the Rock! is the aspect that truly makes it stand out. A number of visual gags in this show can only have been created due to the seeming lack of boundaries the show appears to have with regards to them. The show is able to change its style at the drop of a hat to whatever is needed to create a joke, even using mixed media. Black and white crosshatched backgrounds, older anime inspired look complete with 4:3 resolution, blender models, a zoetrope, various irl scenes, and so much more. All of this creates for absolutely hilarious jokes when combined with the generally impeccable comedic timing that the show has throughout.
Like the rest of the show, comedy is not the only area of Bocchi the Rock!’s cinematography that is excellent. The show is also able to craft compelling scenes visually that are more dramatic in tone. Starting from the opening scene of the show ,which has effective use of framing and other techniques like visual metaphors to showcase Bocchi’s isolation. This style of framing is used often throughout the rest of the show to reflect Bocchi’s loneliness, but is seen less and less later in the show as Bocchi gradually becomes more open which is a nice touch. Some of the most heart-warming scenes in the show, which happen to be at night, feature strong lighting that effectively sets their tone. The performance scenes are also well directed utilising some great stage lighting and things like a pretty novel GoPro style camera angle mounted to the head of Bocchi’s guitar. The outdoor performance scene in episode 4 is a particular highlight here.
The cinematography isn’t the only exceptional visual element of Bocchi the Rock! The show also features some wonderful character animation. The visual creativity continues to the animation where the character designs can be manipulated however necessary for the sake of a joke. The performance scenes make use of rotoscoping, ensuring realism and leading to things such as correct finger placement on the instruments (or so I’ve been told), and does a great job of showing off each character’s personality through how they act on stage.
The character designs by the debut character designer and chief animation director for the show Kerorira are another strong point. Bocchi’s character design has become very iconic in part due to her strong colour design. It is amazing how you’re able to connect any pink blob with a blue and yellow hair tie back to Bocchi so easily. Bocchi’s tracksuit is a standout part of her design that contributes towards the strong colour design, but while their outfits aren’t bad the other character’s outfits aren’t quite as interesting as Bocchi’s. With how inventive the show is visually it does a lot with Bocchi’s character design such as melting her facial features and most memorably the scene where her body glitches out. The rest of the characters however aren’t used anywhere near as creatively which is a shame. The show’s designs also feature strong silhouettes, in particular, Nijika and her sister’s dorito shaped ahoge standout in a fun way.
The one visual element of the show that ends up being a bit of a letdown are its backgrounds. Their usage of real life images in creating them does lead to a lot of detail but also just isn’t particularly interesting and their usage leads to compositing issues. This is twofold where the characters often stick out like a sore thumb from the backgrounds to where I can’t imagine them inhabiting the same world and also in rougher moments where the backgrounds themselves end up looking rather bad. This does occasionally work however, in particular with STARRY, and the backgrounds during Bocchi’s numerous delusions do feature a great sense of style that the normal backgrounds lack.
While not perfect, Bocchi the Rock! has some of the best performance scenes I’ve ever seen in anime. As I’ve already mentioned, visually they’re a delight. The songs themselves are also top notch, featuring powerful vocals by Kita’s VA, Ikumi Hasegawa. I’m a fan of intricate guitar riffs and technical solos, and due to Bocchi being insanely talented at the guitar in the anime these songs feature them in spades which I adore. I still regularly listen to them even now, over half a year since the show has ended (I’ve been listening to some Kessoku Band songs while writing this review in fact). One nice detail in these performances is that there are often things like extra guitar solos when compared to the studio versions of the track, and even different solos when the same song is played multiple times in the show, which really gives the feeling that they’re playing these songs live. There’s also a psychedelic rock track by Kikuri’s band SICK HACK, and while this isn’t really my kind of music I have been told that it’s a good song for the genre. Similarly, the vocals sung by Kikuri’s VA Sayaka Senbongi are also top notch.
Yoshino Aoyama’s performance as Bocchi is something that I think really helps add to the realistic feeling of her social anxiety during the show, as with the way she is able to portray Bocchi on her many descents into madness. And I have absolutely no idea how she was able to scream like she did during the scene where Bocchi glitches out. The rest of the voice cast also deliver stellar performances, but in a similar fashion to the rest of the show, none of the performances live up to what Bocchi’s VA is able to deliver outside of the aforementioned vocal work during the songs.
In conclusion, Bocchi the Rock! is a realistic, relatable, and understanding depiction of social anxiety, with top notch visual and audio production almost across the board. It has unbounded visual creativity and a solid cast of characters that mesh really well together, leading to genuinely hilarious comedic moments. But it really does feel like Bocchi is the star of the show. While everyone else is still great, Bocchi is the only character that truly shines.
Finishing off with a quick anecdote. I once got asked during a podcast to explain Bocchi the Rock! in one word and my answer was simply “Bocchi”. While Bocchi is similar to many other shows, when you combine all its elements together, for me it stands on its own as something that feels truly unique.