In the less than 20 years since our last installment, there have been still more changes in streaming services as various companies attempt to eat each other while making us pick up the tab. In particular, anime site Funimation has now been absorbed into Crunchyroll, now owned by Sony.
Crunchyroll is now the dominant platform—and has axed its free-to-watch tier, so now it’s a monthly subscription after a 14-day free trial. Netflix continues its own attempts to gain market share but is hindered by the same gawdawful Netflix interface that seems designed to make sure you find nothing and like it that way. HiDive scrapes up a few exclusives each season but is difficult to justify as a separate subscription unless you just can’t stand being without those particular shows.
If you look back through our own back catalog you’ll find titles available on all three. And note that exclusivity and quality are, ahem, unconnected concepts. Ready? All right, let’s get this show on the road.
We’re going to devote these next two posts to two shows that are just finishing up their current runs, and both are contenders for best series of 2022. Yes, really. The Pandemic Guide to Anime is all about series that redeem your faith in the world for at least a—wait, that’s not right at all. This Guide has been all about finding some brief respite from at least three different real-world apocalypses. Apocalyii? Apocaply? Hmm. That’s gonna need some work.
In the top spot:
Bocchi the Rock!
Hitori Gotoh, or Bocchi to her few friends, is a high school student and an ever-quivering ball of social anxieties. This is not everyday life as an introvert; Hitori’s social anxiety is very close to paralyzing. She wants to have friends. She wants to be popular. She wants to be famous, even. None of that matters when you’re a high school kid who freezes up even at the mere thought of having to talk to your classmates, though, and Bocchi is fairly convinced she’ll be spending the rest of her life hidden away in her bedroom as a beer-sipping NEET.
Her desire to break away from her anxieties and gain the friends she’s always wanted leads her to learn guitar in the hopes of someday impressing the people she can’t bear to bring herself to even talk to. She still can’t bring herself to talk to them, but after putting in years of secret practice this high schooler shreds. She’s got a secret online life as “guitarhero,” the name of the anonymous account she uses to post her no-face, no-commentary solos.
And that’s how things stay until the bestworst possible thing an introvert can experience comes to pass. She brings her guitar to school in a futile attempt to spark classmate interest and conversation. It doesn’t work, but Bocchi’s spotted by another high schooler when she’s sulking in a public park with her guitar case still on her back. Ever-outgoing Ijichi Nijika waylays Bocchi to act as stand-in in her three-person amateur rock band after the previous guitarist quits. A shocked Bocchi doesn’t even have the mental strength to say no, is dragged into the band, and away we go.
What follows is a season of three, then four high school girls trying to will their newbie rock band into, if not fame, at least small-venue competence, and they’re starting with a lead guitarist who can’t even will herself onstage unless she’s wearing a full-body cardboard box to hide in.
The premise of Bocchi the Rock! is about a band trying to make good; the reason Bocchi the Rock! immediately rocketed to meme status is for over-the-top depictions of Bocchi’s daily struggles with basic social interactions. The scenes are both implausibly ridiculous and, as countless fans will insist, agonizingly true to life. Bocchi is me is a common fan refrain; this is a show that explores the tortures of life for those on the very edge of what our current very loud and very connected society deems “functional.”
Among the things Bocchi has to learn to do in order to take each step toward the version of herself she first picked up the guitar to create: play guitar without wearing a box on her head. Call her bandmates on the phone. Enter the club she works and practices at without having to be forcibly dragged in by someone else. It’s all punctuated with scenes of stop-motion, art and pop culture references, and anything else the animators can throw at it.
Does your social anxiety get so bad that it sometimes requires your best friends to re-draw your face after you’ve lost it? No? Then good news, there’s someone out there who’s got it even worse than you do. But that person might turn out to be one of the top guitarists in the city, if she doesn’t die from stage fright first.
Is it disrespectful to make such severe anxieties into an unending series of cringe-inducing sequences and sight gags? Listen, buddy, the real-life fans who themselves have those sorts of anxieties seem more of the opinion that it’s more disrespectful not to. We are Bocchi, and we are legion.
But, you know, we are legion privately. Don’t call us on the phone about it or anything.
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