Bocchi the Rock! and Living with Anxiety

Bocchi the Rock was a stand-out show in a stand-out season. Picture, for a moment, having to make a moe comedy and music anime in the same season as Chainsaw Man, Blue Lock, My Hero Academia, Mob Psycho 100, and the final arc of Bleach. Daunting.

Bocchi might have succeeded purely on the grounds that of the top ten most popular anime last fall, it was the only to not feature any action. It was a character-driven comedy in a season overflowing with battle anime, isekai, and anime with just a pinch of bombast for flavor, like To Your Eternity or Spy x Family. Just being something different was enough to set Bocchi apart from the crowd, but of course, it also happened to be better.

Bocchi the Rock was fiercely funny, giving Kaguya-sama a run for its money in the same year as that anime aired its first act climax. More than that, though, Bocchi spoke to the bleakness of living with anxiety, and still managed to find the humor in it.

Admittedly, most of that humor was in the fact that watching Bocchi’s tantrums is hilarious, but when we’re talking about something like social anxiety, hey, you got to learn to laugh through the pain.

I already reviewed Bocchi the Rock when it came out, so I won’t inundate you with a lengthy recap. What you need to know if you haven’t seen it already is that Hitori Gotoh, dubbed Bocchi by her friends (or she would, if she had any), became a guitarist with the expressed goal of becoming a rockstar who sold out Japan’s most prestigious stadium, Budokan.

She practices for years, letting her middle school and eventually high school career pass her by, missing the part where she actually needs to find friends to start a band with.

She even tried bringing her guitar case to school in the vain hope it would provoke someone into starting a conversation with her, and ignoring the fact that if someone did, she would melt into a puddle. Luckily for her, though, a certain drummer named Nijika notices her moping in the park, and seeing as the guitarist for her band just ghosted them, they need anybody with a guitar and a pulse at the moment.

This leads Bocchi down the path of actually becoming a professional musician, because the series is quite interested in what it’s like to start an indie band, with all its glamor and wrinkles. This puts her at odds and in cooperation with the band’s various personalities: you already know certified genki girl Nijika, and there’s her best friend and an actually stable introvert, Ryou, as well as Ikuyo Kita, the borderline psychotically extroverted singer.

And it is that group chemistry, created through carefully placing disparate personalities that spark when put together, that separates Bocchi from your average moe anime.

I’ve tried to explain why moe usually fails to interest me, but I don’t know if I’ve done it correctly. Perhaps because on its own, cuteness is not engaging enough to substitute for a plot.

When I watch something like K-On or A Place Further Than the Universe, they fall short because it feels like each character has been placed in the story for the same purpose. They are supposed to evoke that feeling of moe, and I can’t tell you much about the girls’ personalities themselves. They’re often silly, kind, or playful, but watching four characters who all serve the same function isn’t fun.

Whereas Bocchi the Rock’s Kessoku Bando is composed of four girls who serve a different role in making the comedy happen. Nijika is an effective straight man and a much-needed dose of moe sincerity, while Ryou demonstrates what Bocchi lacks; as a loner who enjoys being alone, Bocchi’s reclusive tendencies stick out as they clash with her desire for friends and approval. Kita, on the other hand, possesses that same desperate drive for social acceptance as Bocchi, but is able to read the room and embody the boundless energy of the typical popular girl.

Remove one piece from the equation, and you hobble the series’ razor-sharp comedy. Without Ryou, Bocchi would have no foothold in a group full of extroverts. Without Kita, Nijika would be drowned out by two homebodies who only play music and either can’t read social cues or don’t care to.

While each member of the band is sufficiently moe, if that’s what you’re here for, it’s secondary to the role they play in the story’s driving force, its comedy. And while that comedy’s pointed jokes at Bocchi’s condition can be harsh, it’s nowhere near as harsh as the plain old truth about living with anxiety.

I’m going to speak in generalizations here, based on my own experiences and that of people I’ve spoken to about anxiety. Your own mileage will vary, and this should not be indicative of a larger group.

That being said, Bocchi the Rock hurts as often as it pleases. If you suffer from anxiety, especially the social strain, there will be a moment in Bocchi where you will freeze, wonder just how the writer knew about that time with the thing, hopefully from when you were younger and a lot dumber, and then laugh and kinda forget about it. Mostly. Well, a little bit, because you never forget about that time with the thing, not really.

Maybe it’s when Bocchi decks herself out in band T-shirts, pins, and bracelets, hoping they’re trendy enough to get someone to talk to her about it (note to Bocchi: it doesn’t work). Perhaps it’s when she lends Ryou money, and the perpetually broke bassist has to be threatened by the club manager into paying her back. Or maybe it’s one of the many times where she’s asked an innocuous question and lies out of pure reflex because her idiot lizard brain thinks that’s what they wanted to hear, and now you’ve created an expectation, and oh goodness I’m going to throw myself into the sea.

I already mentioned it in my review, but it bears repeating. A lot of anime and manga treat anxiety as the very serious issue that it is, and I have tremendous respect and love for series like Horimiya. Despite that, everyone learns different coping mechanisms to handle the unique challenges that come with mental illness, and one of the most common is self-deprecating humor.

I’m not going to say it’s healthy to disparage someone for suffering from anxiety like Bocchi, but I believe that her story came from a very real place, with the intent of helping people grapple with their own issues, even if the person they help just winds up being the writer. A lot of coping mechanisms aren’t healthy, but there is a lot of merit to channeling your own insecurities and problems onto a fictional character, and then taking the absolute piss out of them for worrying about such silly stuff.

Like I said, your mileage will vary, but maybe, just maybe, if I had been lucky enough to watch Bocchi a decade ago when many of my problems were as severe as hers, I would have been able to help myself find help sooner. Maybe not, but that Bocchi was able to evoke that feeling at all makes this anime very special.

Sometimes, I have my doubts about getting personal with these essays. As I was famously told over my review of Triangle Strategy, “we don’t need to hear your life story.” Whether or not that jab was valid aside, though, I have always written on this blog because I believe it’s important how we engage with art.

Bocchi the Rock is a wonderful show without me injecting any of my personal experience with it, but I won’t pretend that I’m able to write about anything without letting that personal experience color my judgment. Sorry, that’s not how people work. If you want an objective appraisal of an anime, that simply doesn’t exist.

So, rather than neuter my own criticism in a vain attempt to appeal to nasty people on the internet seeking the objective truth about art criticism, an inherently subjective style of writing, you, me, and everybody else should strive to interpret art as personally as possible. It is only in our subjective interpretations that we can, as Kurt Vonnegut so eloquently put it, “experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

Bocchi the Rock does, actually, rock. Now, if Bocchi were to find out what’s inside her, she’d probably just find a screaming, tangled maelstrom of untreated mental health issues. Didn’t I say this show was relatable?

If you liked my little spiel about art and anxiety and how we’re all going to die one day so we may as well make a genuine human connection, then I sure would appreciate you liking the essay. If you want to read more about one person’s attempt to get real deep about anime, well, you can try following the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress for updates whenever a new essay goes live. And after that, if you feel like it, and only if you really feel like it, maybe go follow me on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku for some bite-sized takes on anime. Until next time, thanks for reading.


One response to “Bocchi the Rock! and Living with Anxiety”

  1. Great job with the subject matter. I would personally disagree with A Place Further Than the Universe lacking in distinct character roles, but as far as your characterization of most moe it makes sense. The show is hyperbolic, obviously, but does so to a good end. relatability can be a crutch if used too much, but even the less relatable bits still come off as incredibly funny.


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