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by Caitlin Moore,

Bocchi the Rock!

Anime Series Blu-ray Disc Review

Bocchi the Rock! Anime Series Blu-ray Disc Review
Hitori Gotoh has never had a friend. With her severe social anxiety, she has no idea how to talk to people, and none of her attempts at getting others to approach her have worked. She picked up the guitar when she saw a rock singer on TV talking about how he never talked to his classmates. While that hasn't gotten her any friends either, it has gotten her a pretty sizable following on YouTube because she spends all her time outside of school in her closet practicing. After another day of failing to talk to anyone, she's sitting alone in the park with her guitar when the unthinkable happens: another girl comes up to her and asks her to join their band.

Unless you're a brand-new anime fan, you probably have heard of Bocchi the Rock!. If you are a new fan, welcome! When it came onto the scene in the fall of 2023, it was an easy crowd-pleaser with the way it combined cute girl hobby anime aesthetics with classic indie rock sensibilities, with a dash of relatable social anxiety humor and a media-mixing visual style. Over a year later, Crunchyroll finally saw fit to grant it one of its rare physical releases. But is it worth spending the money to have on your shelf, or should you stick with streaming? Eh….

The original manga ran in Manga Time Kirara Max. This seinen magazine launched during the moe revolution of the mid-00s and has steadfastly retained its image, along with its sister magazines, as THE source for manga featuring cute girls doing things. This means that Bocchi the Rock! is published alongside series like Is the order a rabbit? and Magic of Stella. Without going into my personal feelings about the genre, their typical fare appeals to what is now a niche audience. So what made Bocchi the Rock! a breakout hit?

The plot description sounds like any other moe girl band show as well: Hitori Gotoh has such severe social anxiety that she has literally never had a friend. One day, while watching TV, she sees an interview with a rock band, and the lead describes how when he was in school, he would spend his days sitting in the back of the room, never talking to anyone. Hoping to replicate his success, she borrows her dad's old guitar and gets really into rock music, hoping it'll help her win friends. But she's still bad at talking to people, so she ends up holed up in her closet practicing. As a result, she may not have made any friends, but she is popular on YouTube for her guitar skills.

Her life changes when she's sitting in the park with her guitar, feeling sorry for herself and her inability to make friends, and another girl her age runs up to her and introduces herself as Nijika. Her band, Kessoku Band, has a gig coming up, but they just lost their guitarist and desperately need someone new, at least for the evening. Hitori agrees, but she's too afraid to be seen onstage. Her new friends, Nijika and Ryo, grant her a nickname – Bocchi – and let her hide under a mango box while she plays. But that's not exactly the recipe for a successful performance.

Based on the description alone, I would never have imagined that the series appealed to me in how it ended up doing. The first thing that caught my attention was the music, a far cry from the idol-driven, poppy tones that define the majority of girl band shows. Instead, the Kessoku Band's primary influence is Asian Kung-Fu Generation. This long-running rock band has been one of my favorites for nearly as long as I've been an anime fan, as reflected in the characters' surnames, which are all taken from band members. The club they perform at, Starry, looks everything like the dark venues I attended in my teens in Los Angeles, where I saw bands like The Pillows and Rilo Kiley. The music is equally evocative of that time, solid rock music with a bit of an indie, garage sensibility, but also carries the promise of mainstream appeal.

There's also an appealingly acerbic undertone to the humor and character writing that staves off any creeping hints of schmaltz and keeps things grounded. Bocchi's crippling anxiety isn't just a cute quirk that makes her an easy entry point for audiences that don't know anything about indie rock. It runs far deeper than stage fright and awkward stammering; she tends to spiral and catastrophize even over minor social missteps, which can feel painfully relatable to some but also feel like fun at her expense to others. She can get downright bitter about her inability to connect with others and have the kind of romanticized youth (left in the subtitles as "seishun," a translation decision I heartily disagree with) that is emblazoned all over Instagram and features prominently in pop culture. The story often goes out of its way to comment on the hollowness of that ideal, juxtaposing it with Kessoku Band's struggles with the realities of being in a band, occasional personality clashes, and other social missteps, even as they grow as musicians and deepen their friendships. At times, things can dip a bit too far into laughing at Bocchi's anxiety, which can add a level of discomfort to those who relate to her illness. It's good to laugh with the story, but not feel laughed at.

The visual presentation is one of the most unorthodox and innovative I've encountered outside of deliberately outside-the-box gag anime like Pop Team Epic. Under the guidance of the relatively new director Keiichirō Saitō, the animation team uses a wide variety of techniques to get Bocchi's state of mind across in visually innovative ways. Every episode brims with smart storyboarding, utilizing unusual camera angles and framing. There are also the usual flourishes expected for music and cute girl hobby anime: close attention to the body language during the musical scenes that combines hand-drawn animation and three-dimensional models, comically exaggerated facial expressions, and detailed, true-to-life renditions of the instruments that provide any interested viewers with a starting point, should they desire to pick up the hobby in real life. They're well-done, and some of Bocchi's expressions have become deservedly iconic in the time since it aired, but the truly special flourishes come when Bocchi's having some of her biggest meltdowns. As reality breaks down around her, the animation takes wild swings, using techniques like stop-motion, felting, and a zoetrope. Most of all, everything is done with a sense of purpose rather than a lot of excess for excess' sake.

I'm a big advocate of buying physical copies of the things you love whenever possible, especially as Sony controls a terrifying portion of the anime market and Blu-ray releases are becoming increasingly rare. That alone may be enough reason to buy Bocchi the Rock! for like-minded folks. However, if you need good bonuses to sweeten the deal and give up a bit of that precious shelf space, I doubt there'll be enough here to sway your heart. For one thing, there is no dub. I understand this, considering the unique challenges of dubbing music vocals, and the Japanese cast does an excellent job, but only having a subtitled version does create accessibility issues. The extras are utterly uninspiring: clean versions of the opening and endings and promos. A show like this is crying out for staff interviews, a feature about the unusual animation techniques, or even just clean versions of the insert songs. Still, streaming isn't forever, so if you want to enjoy Kessoku Band's music or Bocchi's fits of anxiety in perpetuity, go ahead and grab this one.

Overall : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Music : A

+ Excellent music inspired by real-life band Asian Kung-Fu Generation; acidic sense of humor prevents the cuteness from getting overwhelming; bold direction and animation that elevate the story
occasionally pushes too far into mockery

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Production Info:
Director: Keiichirō Saitō
Series Composition: Erika Yoshida
Script: Erika Yoshida
Yoshiyuki Fujiwara
Yoshihiro Hiramine
Toshimasa Ishii
Nobuhide Kariya
Yusuke Kawakami
Keiichirō Saitō
Yūsuke Yamamoto
Episode Director:
Yoshiyuki Fujiwara
Yoshihiro Hiramine
Nobuhide Kariya
Yusuke Kawakami
Keiichirō Saitō
Takeshi Seo
Keisuke Shinohara
Yūsuke Yamamoto
Unit Director:
Keiichirō Saitō
Haruka Suzuki
Music: Tomoki Kikuya
Original creator: Aki Hamaji
Character Design: Kerorira
Art Director: Yasunao Moriyasu
Chief Animation Director: Kerorira
Animation Director:
Kazumasa Ishida
Hiroki Itō
Tomomi Kawatsuma
Hayate Nakamura
Se Young Park
Maring Song
Hirohiko Sukegawa
Haruka Suzuki
Saki Takahashi
Mari Tomita
Franziska van Wulfen
Sound Director: Akiko Fujita
Cgi Director: Katsuaki Miyaji
Director of Photography: Tsubasa Kanamori
Tatsuya Ishikawa
Hiroyuki Kobayashi
Licensed by: Crunchyroll

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Bocchi the Rock! (TV)

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