Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu
Bocchi Hitori suffers from a rather tough case of social anxiety, so when she's about to enter middle school, her one friend, Kai Yawara, puts her to a task that's just about impossible: make friends with everyone in her class. And while that seems like a lofty goal, her many attempts at sabotaging her own goal or the panic attacks she has when they inevitable fail is what draws some of her first friends to her.
What do you consider a friend? Where do you draw that line that separates a friend from an aquaintance, when you could probably interact somewhat normally with both, but would only consider spending any significant amount of time with the former? And how does all of this differ from someone with heavy social anxiety, where even that becomes a challenge?
Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu isn't the first show I've ever watched with people who have trouble approaching strangers, but that isn't particularly strange, given that anxiety can come in a lot of different forms and strengths. When a show also features teenagers -- members of that fun time era in everyone's life where everything seems to matter just that much more, however small a thing that is -- you can be sure that "making friends" is on everyone's to-do list.
Now, everyone has anxiety to some level when it comes to situations that are strange and alien to them, but in Bocchi's case it's a bit more than that. Just the idea of talking to someone is enough to send her into panic attacks, and some of the plans she comes up with to avoid this are more than a bit outrageous... and liable to backfire anyway. The first example is when she, realizing that she has to introduce herself to a whole class of people, tries putting up a poster saying the class has been abolished, which leads the others to think this class will be interesting and filled with fun people instead. If this really had been intended as a joke, it would've been funny, but Bocchi really thought this plan would work.
She's a hard character to peg, partially because I'm not sure how someone who really does suffer from social anxiety in any form will take Bocchi as a character, never mind her many attempts at socializing.... or avoiding it. While her stressed-out attempts at talking with people feels natural enough, as would some of her plans for avoiding dealing with people, it still feels like the show takes its jokes a bit too far off course by driving them home with a freight train. And the reason I think so is because the show kind of does the same to some of the friends Bocchi make.
Like Aru Honsho, the very class president-like character who's not really a class president, but in fact somewhat of an "unfortunate person", as the show puts it. She forgets to remove clothes hangers from clothes she's putting on, or even somehow puts on a child's randsel before heading off for school, and tries to cover up this fact by pretending to be her own younger sister. Part of the joke being that her "class president" personea is so well liked by the others that they all think she's doing it for someone else's benefit anyway. Except Nako Sunao, who is the show's straight girl and the only one to see through Honsho's "unfortunate" nature and poke fun of her for it. She's the first friend Bocchi makes, and since she doesn't have any particular aspects to her that goes beyond her bleached hair and mild delinquent aura -- which is lessened anyway, since all of their classmates' hair comes in various shades of brown, and is very rarely entirely black -- so the most tiresome repeat joke about her is the fact that her homeroom teacher, Oshie Teruyo, is terrified of her despite the fact that Sunao is pretty laidback and isn't liable to start a fight with anyone, even if she will tease her friends at the drop of a pin.
And finally, we have Sotoka Rakita, who's a foreigner who aims to become a ninja, which apparently starts with her having a very Japanese name despite being a foreigner. (Though it bears mention that the names of all the characters in the show also work as descriptions of their general personality or situation.) In this, she seeks out Bocchi because she mistakenly thought of Bocchi's crab shuffle towards school as ninja training, and Bocchi on her end decides to just roll with it to make another friend. This does put their friendship in a pinch later on, since Sotca have a bit of a problem reconciling being both a friend and a student, even though she does really want to be both. The show never really goes into why she wants to be a ninja, though, other than that it's got more to do than it just being a popular thing due to shows like Naruto, or just because of the mysticism surrounding it. Part of the reason might be because most of her classmates thinks she's really, really pretty, which alongside her foreigner status makes her a bit difficult to approach. She also lives alone, which I suspect is partially the reason why she approached Bocchi to begin with. We never see her parents, but for one or two short moments are invited to her sparse, somewhat empty apartment, and the rather lonely impression it gives.
The four of them make up the bulk of the show with their antics, but while they also are the only four who show up in the opening animation riding on the back of the "Ganbatte Fairy" -- a weird cellphone strap mascot looking like an elderly man with angel wings adorning his bare upper body and wearing fishnet stockings -- we do also get introduced to two repeat characters. well, one who shows up from time to time and one who might; she shows up at the end of the show, so it's a bit hard to tell yet. Kurai Kako is the first of the two to make an appearance in the show, and she immediately becomes a hurdle for Bocchi to overcome because she believes making friends also makes you weak, because relying on someone -- friends in particular -- makes you less capable yourself... somehow. She isn't entirely wrong in her assessment -- reaching adulthood is basically reached by becoming largely independent -- but human beings are social "animals" in general and shutting yourself off from everyone save only the most necessary interaction just strikes me as a recipe for disaster. Of course, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is a comedy first and foremost, so disasters probably aren't on the menu unless it can play them up for laughs somehow.
More than the comedy being a bit hit and miss, I think the main reason I don't gel very well with it is that it often throws out random nonsequitors in a show that is otherwise very slice of life, and there being a reason why everyone have the personalities they do. With... for instance Hidamari Sketch, the show worked because the jokes were mostly built around their everyday activities, and the eccentrics among the group colored this everyday humor with their own brand of weirdness. Compared to that, Nako seems to be the only regular person among a bunch of people who are never allowed to stray far beyond their set roles and the jokes that are being mined from it. There is only so many times you can hear Nako call Aru "unfortunate" before you start getting a bit tired of it. And the whole joke with Aru trying to pass herself off as her younger sister or otherwise cover up for the fact that she left for school wearing an elementary school children's backpack is allowed to go on for far too long. And no matter how the show is trying to dress it up, you can only watch Miss Teruyo bow to Nako because she's terrified of her so many times, and Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu quickly crossed that line where it becomes uncomfortable.
What saves the show, however, is that the light drama elements works much better. The lessons Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu tries to impart aren't exactly new, but there's no harm in that, and the characters issues and negative traits does work well enough for the kind of show it's trying to be. Bocchi's anxiety doesn't magically get cured once she starts making some new friends, and each person she meets are still a bit of a hurdle for her. Even as she's made some friends, she tends to fret over minor mistakes she probably hasn't often made before far beyond what one normally would. And while Aru's "unfortunateness" can become a bit tiresome in the long run, the duality of herself that she shows to her friends compared to her school aquaintances still works from a dramatical perspective. And Sotoka, despite being on "weird foreigner" mode most of the time, does occasionally show that vulnerability that only comes from being a literal outsider. She shares the whole "being placed on a pedestal" thing that becomes a problem for Aru, but unlike Aru, Sotoka never really made hers. As for Nako, well... she's almost surpremely herself and owns those flaws of hers in that way only a somewhat sardonic straight woman could.
Maybe another season would actually help this show. Not that I necessarily think its comedy would improve in the long run -- although I'd love to be proven wrong there, and, if nothing else, the comedy is at least not meanspirited in any way -- but I think getting to know these character even better would be beneficial by itself in the long run. Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is at its best when it steps away from the laughs for a second and allows their characters to grow closer to each other, and that, in the end, is the main reason why I liked the show to the extent I did.
A pretty nice and heartfelt light drama that is under heavy fire from repeat jokes that only serves to exhaust you. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: There is some mild slapstick violence in the show, mostly in the form of Aru battering-ramming herself on Nako, head first, whenever Nako calls her "unfortunate" in some way or the other. Outside of that, the show has nothing particularly objectionable. There is no fanservice -- they are middle-schoolers, after all -- and nothing more serious on the drama scales than what can be joked about.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs only.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu © 2019 C2C
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