Is “Bocchi the Rock!” Mean to Bocchi?

Something I’ve been considering almost since the start of Bocchi the Rock! is the central source of the show’s comedy and how that intersects with a compassionate understanding of mental health. Whenever you have a story that wants to mine a character’s struggles (in whatever form) for laughs, inevitably it raises the question of whether the humor is coming from a place of understanding or cruelty.

And thus, the question: Is Bocchi the Rock! mean to Bocchi?

Bocchi the Rock! OP

I’ll start off by saying, I don’t think so. While the reality is that Bocchi probably needs counseling more than she needs the affirmation of a random girl on the street cheering Ganbare!, proposing professional mental health care as the solution to Bocchi’s social anxiety just isn’t going to happen. In that equation, this story doesn’t exist. And Bocchi’s not alone in that. Shinji doesn’t get a therapist in Evangelion, Max and Milia don’t find an LMFT to fix their relationship for Mylene’s sake in Macross 7, and no social worker sweeps in to save the kids in Iron-Blooded Orphans.

This, though, raises another question. If, given Bocchi’s real-life setting, it’s clear that professional help is what Hitori-chan needs, is the show wrong to propose the band milieu as a crucible-cum-cradle for her slow but undeniable growth? Said another way, is it fair for the show to ask Bocchi to be roped into a street performance by a drunk indie bassist in order to reach the realization that she has no enemies?

This, I think, is a fairly complex question at the intersection of how we think about mental health and mental health treatment, about stories and storytelling, about responsibility and freedom. We are contacting the intersection between reality and fiction, between concerns for how real people are treated and how stories work. Lean all the way into reality, and you’d say that it’s cruel and unusual to force a socially anxious person like Hitori Gotoh into such a situation. Lean all that way into fiction, and you’d say worrying about Hitori Gotoh’s mental health is ridiculous because she is not, well, real.

But Bocchi the Rock! doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We live in a world where real people have real needs and struggle with social anxiety. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that laughing at Bocchi’s flailing is the same as laughing at real people who experience challenges similar to hers, but it certainly is fair to wonder where the line is. In high school, our theater director often told us that “comedy=tragedy plus time,” and in a show that somberly lingers on Bocchi’s various breakdowns instead of whipping through them at pace, we’d be reflecting on her emotional realities rather than giggling at her elastic faces.

All this is to say that Bocchi the Rock! can’t help but contact a sensitive subject, and therefore it’s valid to question whether the way it handles that material is kind or not.

Bocchi the Rock!

Now, one way to assess this in a highly serious manner is to consider Bocchi as if she were a real person and not a cartoon character. I’m not a mental health professional, but I have done extensive research on the topic, co-authored a book with a clinical psychologist on mental health, and had hands-on experience with people going through various mental health crises. From that perspective, Bocchi to me doesn’t appear to be a person whose mental health issues are life-destroying (disclaimer: this is not a clinical diagnosis). Although her social anxiety has a clear impact on her life, she’s still able to eat, go to school, pursue hobbies she enjoys, and has a positive support structure in the form of her family (and, increasingly, her new friends).

In addition, Bocchi has both a clear desire to change her situation and overcome her social anxiety as well as the capacity to do so (even if its difficult for her). This isn’t to downplay her struggles, but simply to point out that Bocchi’s mental health issues aren’t all encompassing. They may define her life to a great degree, but they don’t entirely dominate it. Would Bocchi benefit from a counselor? Definitely. Is Bocchi incapable of overcoming her issues without professional help? I don’t think so.

And that, to me, is one of the keys that allows Bocchi the Rock! to function without coming across as mean-spirited toward our track-suited rocker girl. If Hitori Gotoh was genuinely unable to make changes to her life through her own efforts, then forcing her to confront her fears would completely unkind. Asking her to do things she simply cannot do and then holding up her failures as laughable would be mean. But Bocchi-chan is capable, if not exactly efficient, and the show is very clearly out to provide her with ample opportunity to succeed—even if achieving that success is hard.

The other thing working in Bocchi the Rock!’s favor is that Bocchi herself is very much aware of her own absurdities. She’s of course self-conscious to an often self-sabotaging degree, but her willingness to riff on herself in both her own thoughts and other ways (silly acoustic tracks, for example) indicate that even Bocchi sees the comedy in her own behavior at times.

But for me, the most important thing is that the show undeniably cares about Bocchi. Despite all the comedy the show mines from her behavior, what ultimately keeps the show going is her small but steady steps toward becoming a more functional, fulfilled person. Bocchi putting her foot down while playing the audition is a triumph because she decides to commit to changing herself for the sake of the band. Bocchi realizing the people outside of her own head aren’t scary enemies is depicted in shimmering lights, another triumph of present Bocchi over the Bocchi of the past. It’s abundantly clear that Bocchi the Rock! wants the viewer to celebrate her success with her.

So, no, I don’t think Bocchi the Rock! is mean to Bocchi. I think it sets out a particular portrait of a young woman who is struggling, but neither hopeless nor helpless. I think it uses comedy to portray her struggles in a way that facilitates great humor and great compassion side by side. You can’t help but love Bocchi, just as you can’t help but root for her.

Bocchi the Rock!

postscript

By the way, another element of all this that didn’t really fit into the rest of the discussion is the question of how seriously, or perhaps how literally, we interpret comedy. As I see it, Bocchi the Rock! deliberately exaggerates (often visually) Bocchi’s mental state and reactions for the sake of humor. Bocchi ends up on the floor quite a lot, but I don’t think that means we’re supposed to believe that Bocchi is constantly collapsing and glitching out on the sidewalk.

In a way, it’s the same sort of thing as a tsundere girl punching out her dense love interest. I’ve always been a little baffled by people who claim this kind of cartoonishly exaggerated expression of character promotes abuse in romantic relationships. While I understand people being uncomfortable with it (just as I can understand someone being uncomfortable with Bocchi’s portrayal of social anxiety), I don’t think it makes interpretive sense to treat these kinds of abstractions as the show’s reality. When Chitoge winds up a ball of fire to punch Raku in Nisekoi, that’s obviously not meant to be taken as literally happening. The same effect happens, just to a lesser degree, with a less fantastical punch.

Likewise, I think, it is with the innumerable, creative ways the animators depict Bocchi-chan. More on the craft of all that on Sakugablog.

discussion

After saying all this, I’d like to note that I’m not someone who has really dealt with social anxiety in my own life—and certainly not to the extent that Bocchi experiences it. So while I can share my thoughts, ultimately I think it’s more important to hear from people who relate more to her (I relate much more to Ryou’s lone wolf lifestyle than Bocchi’s anxieties). So, if Bocchi’s social anxiety is something you’ve experiencde, what are your thoughts?Is it relatable? Cathartic? Offensive? Uncomfortable? Maybe a mix? If you’re comfortable doing so, feel free to comment below with your own thoughts!

14 thoughts on “Is “Bocchi the Rock!” Mean to Bocchi?

  1. As an introvert but not necessarily someone with social anxiety, my perspective on Bocchi is that she has occasional moments of being hashtag relatable, but it’s mostly cartoon exaggeration. The art has so much abstraction and absurd visual metaphors specifically when it comes to her loner thoughts that it’s very obvious when her histrionics are in her head. This is contrasted with very detailed character acting during the scenes that are obviously taking place within all the other characters’ shared reality. Looking at just those bits, Bocchi comes off as meek and gloomy, but not to the extent that I would worry about her immediate well-being.

    Also, people bring up therapy a lot when talking about fictional characters with mental health issues, but I think if you were in the other characters’ shoes it would be hard to just come out and suggest it, especially when nothing upsetting has happened. It’s the kind of thing people would gently and awkwardly bring up to a friend after they’ve witnessed a major meltdown, or when they’re specifically asking for help. An audience member feels like they know everything there is to know about a character, but even between friends in real life… it can be hard to broach a delicate subject. That’s just my two cents on the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point. The way her freak outs are illustrated differs quite a lot in style of animation from the more grounded pieces. I always like when shows have different modes—in this case, a comedy mode and a more “realistic” mode. I do agree with you; even if you look at the “realistic” mode, Bocchi doesn’t really come across as a person in immediate danger due to her mental health. I don’t really think anyone probably thinks that, but I wanted to mention it just to give a sense of perspective since there is a whole spectrum of severity when it comes to mental health.

      As for bringing up therapy, I always think about it from the story side (like, how many anime would just not have plots if the characters just went to therapy lol) as I talked about in the post, but I like your way of considering it as well. Especially in the case of Bocchi, her friends haven’t known her very long, so I’d imagine they’d feel as if they were overstepping to recommend therapy.

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  2. I want to ask the inevitable question that comes forth with Ep7 when you do watch it (I saw on twitter you hadn’t seen it yet so minor spoilers until you do).

    Was ep7 a bit too mean spirited to Bocchi? Particularly in regards to her parent’s reaction to Bocchi having friends over. For the sake of comedy, Bocchi’s parents react in a way in which they can’t believe she actually has friends and managed to invite them over, even going so far as to assume she might have used a friend rental service of sorts amongst other gag remarks. In a reality setting, this could have a devastating effect on Bocchi and potentially reverse all the progress she’s made thus far considering her family are the only people she likely feels fully comfortable around. As this is a comedy however, Bocchi acknowledges her parent’s doubts, which like you said, makes it clear that Bocchi is aware of her shortcomings but isn’t letting them completely destroy her life and even laugh at them at times. Some people have pointed out this episode goes a bit too far in being mean to Bocchi, but I want to believe that her parents do it out of concern along the lines of “is my daughter genuinely making friends or doing something potentially harmful to her health(friend rental)”. Considering her parents haven’t explored options of help for Bocchi thus far, we come back to the idea of both Bocchi and her parents acknowledging that Bocchi’s issues aren’t life destroying and thus counseling isn’t necessary yet.
    

    I personally don’t think the ep7 was too mean with Bocchi but with all that said, I’d like to hear your opinion. Your write up of the show and Bocchi’s character so far is great!

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    • Episode 7, which I watched later today, definitely does walk a bit of a line. It does get a little more complex when family is involved, but to this point I think they’re the only ones who actually joke at Bocchi (while others usually react with amusement or concern). To me, a decent amount of it is typical “parents embarrassing their child at home” material, and we do see Bocchi even acknowledge that, yeah, doing a friend rental does sound like something she’d do.

      Like much of the show, the comedy is exaggerated to make it funny, so I think it’s hard to read too deeply into a lot of it (especially since her familial reactions are much smaller sample size compared to the rest of the show’s material).

      So, yeah, while I think episode 7 maybe gets closer to a line, I don’t think it crosses it. And, again, family relationships are just different, so that’s another factor to consider. Glad you liked the post!

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  3. Thanks for the post. As someone who’s dealt with social anxiety for most of their life, BTR is an incredibly cathartic show, with a lot of quite realistic stuff (Bocchi bringing her albums to school in the hopes that someone will talk to her is a great moment; I described the scene to a friend and we laughed about how we’d both done something like this).

    I think the key distinction is that BTR is joking about Bocchi’s failures, not that she is a failure. Whether we’re talking about social anxiety or not, joking about our missteps is a pretty universal experience; it’s when you step into pure deprecation (or self-deprecation) that things become very unhealthy. “I’m such a fuckup,” those kinds of ideas. Bocchi may have her moments of turning into scribbles, but the show never depicts her as someone incapable of ever forming meaningful bonds with people on her own.

    It’s not like her friends have forced themselves upon her; it’s the thoughtfulness she displays in her lyrics that helps her bond with Ryou, it’s her willingness to help Ikuyo that cements their friendship. BTR overall is a show about what an admirable person Bocchi is. Love it to bits. Rock on

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, what tips the scales in favor of the show for me is how much it’s rooting for Hitori, even as it pokes fun at the absurd situations she gets herself into. Even the first episode—she’s sitting on the swings, despairing of ever making any in-person friends, and while the show does crack a joke about the way she projects her gloom on others, it also conveniently brings Nijika around to pull Hitori into the band she’s been looking for all this time. The authors love Hitori, and you can tell as you’re watching. So even when they’re laughing at her shenanigans, you can tell it’s from a place of endearment rather than mockery.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m very glad to hear your perspective! Thank you for sharing! A lot of the funny things that Bocchi does really do feel like they come out of lived experience, or at least serious and thoughtful observation of real people.

      I think you make a good point about the distinction between joking about Bocchi’s failures (behaviors and actions) versus Bocchi as a person. Although Bocchi herself does sometimes call herself a worm, etc., it never really comes across as being self-flagelating. It’s more just her incredible imagination at work.

      I hope the show continues to be cathartic for you. 🙂

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  4. I find some of Bocchi’s struggles quite relatable, to the point that sometimes, especially in the first couple of episodes, I didn’t laugh and was like “yep, it’s like that”. Which also ends up being funny! But I also relate a lot to Ryou’s nature, so it’s kind of a back and forth when watching the series.

    And I agree with this: “Bocchi has both a clear desire to change her situation and overcome her social anxiety as well as the capacity to do so”. The series shows that Bocchi is clearly smart and aware, not only of her situation, but also of her surroundings. I loved when she realized that Nijika proposed the group photo outing in part to give Kita a break from practice. Or when she thought that writing cheery, popular lyrics is irresponsible, giving a sense of the kind of ideas she has apart from her anxiety. And in her inner monologue during the audition, she says that she wants to help Nijika with her true dream, even though she doesn’t know what it is. All of this to say, that Hitori Gotoh comes off as a thoughtful and well realized character, and like you said, she is capable of growth.

    Thank you for writing this article, love to read and think about the good cartoons.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yup, the realism of Bocchi’s struggles really adds a lot to the whole show. I think even people who don’t struggle with social anxiety can still find a lot to relate to with her various struggles.

      And I think you make a great point about Bocchi’s awareness of others. It’s kind of nice to see the show make efforts to show that, because sometimes I think there is a stereotype that people with such struggles only really can think about themselves and their own problems, when that’s not true.

      Glad you liked reading the article! Many good cartoons to think about!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve struggled with social anxiety, to various degrees of seriousness over the years, and the “meaner” shows are usually the ones that provide catharsis, while the “nicer” shows are the ones that… calm me down?

    Bocchi the Rock is interesting, in that respect, in that it sort of feels like it sits in the middle. It’s got the character structure of the extremely cute Hitori Bocchi show: the ganbatte epic, where you need the failures to give the successes meaning. There’s the sense of the character pushing herself harder than anyone else, and always getting back up. But Hitori’s inner dialogue in this show has some of the edge of something like Watamote or Welcome to the NHK, if you listen to it. The surreal depictions, here, take away a lot of the edge, though. It’s less immediate; it’s more stylised.

    And this middle-ground is sort-of-less effective than either approach. It’s neither particularly calming, nor really uncomforable enough to provide catharsis. It’s more some sort of weird nostalgia: yeah, it gets better. The show works at that node because of one aspect neither of the other two shows I’ve mentioned have. And that’s a hobby focus: the show takes music seriously. Music, in this show, doesn’t feel like a gimmick; it feels like a topic. That’s partly why the street performance scene works. Whoever played Hitori’s guitar in that scene was good: moving from hesitant to getting into it can’t have been easy. By having the music focus, the show can decentralise from being just about the social anxiety. The show wouldn’t have worked with the K-On approach to music (as a gimmick and insert song sales vehicle). There’s something that ties all those girls together. (We still don’t quite know, for example, what the blonde girl wants to accomplish by having a band; the show hinted at it, but didn’t go into great detail.)

    I actually sort of wish they’d focus more on the music, and less on the anxiety. If anything, it’s starting wear me out a little; it’s starting to become a bore. What’s there usually makes sense, but it’s also repetitive and comes with diminishing returns. The humour isn’t mean, but it’s also not something that can carry the show for me, and some of the scenes go on too long.

    I quite enjoy the show as it is, though. No need to change anything, as long as I’m the audience.

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    • Interesting to hear that the “meaner” shows, so to speak, are the ones you find more cathartic. But, having said that, I think I can definitely see where you’re coming from in describing Bocchi as somewhere in the middle ground.

      I think your points about the stylization making things less immediate makes a lot of sense, as well as your thoughts about music as a topic rather than a gimmick. Having the music aspect to focus on allows the show to be able something other than just Hitori’s social anxiety, as well as giving the narrative material that it can build her growth through.

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying it!

      Like

  6. As somebody who has struggled with social anxiety, Bocchi has felt to me like a character written by somebody who also has. The visually depicted delusions are, to me, so clearly woven from those threads that tendril outwards from anxious thoughts during stressful social situations. In college once I went to go visit some friends in their dorm room. When I got there I could hear them talking and laughing inside. The door was usually open, but that day it was closed. I was so convinced in the moment that they had closed it just because they didn’t want me there, that I didn’t even knock, and I just stood there thinking about how annoyed they’d be with me if I did, before just giving up and going back to my own room. Taking that rather fleeting thought to it’s illogical, fantastical, anime extreme would have me starring as Bocchi, knocking and immediately shrinking down to the height of a shoe, camera panning upwards from behind my back as the door would burst open with a kick and my friends would loom from above, Gamagori style, asking me what the hell I wanted before stomping me out like a bug and going back to their partying without me.
    All of that is to say, I’ve been there before, and when the show spirals into a comedic section based on one of Bocchi’s insecurities it’s never felt to me like it’s been at her expense, it’s only ever felt relatable, and fun. I don’t think that the show is directed with the degree of realism that it would need for me to feel bad for Bocchi, or to feel bad along with her while she goes up against challenges that are familiar to me. It seems like it’s directed with a lot of awareness, and to me Bocchi is less of a character and more of a vehicle to relay to an audience the, in a lot of ways, laughable absurdities and contradictions of anxiety.

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