The Awkwardness of Youth
Hitoribocchi No Marumaruseikatsu is the sort of show that seems to reliably come along once per season. The series is cut from broadly similar cloth as last year’s Anima Yell!. It’s the sort of light slice-of-life comedy that could’ve come out at any point in the past 10-ish years and not seemed out of place. Still, Hitoribocchi is an uncommonly strong entry into the genre.
First though, the premise. Hitoribocchi is ostensibly about the titular Bocchi Hitori, a middle schooler with truly devastating amounts of social anxiety, and her quest to befriend everyone in her class in spite of that. Stories like these are not super rare in the medium. Cult favorite It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! (aka Watamote) is technically built on broadly similar territory. Key differences exist, though. Stories like Watamote channel the central character’s anxiety into a source of what is essentially cringe comedy. Hitoribocchi is a much warmer story, and one might thus consider it a more traditional example of the school life genre.
This, is a good thing. The show is built on the idea that anybody can make friends, and is a very optimistic series. Though it is also a comedy. These two aspects in balance are what makes Hitoribocchi as good as it is. A solid command of what you’re trying to do is useful to have in general. That this season is somewhat oversaturated with good-but-not-great shows, which makes it near-mandatory.
The Girls In The Corner
Bocchi has been joined so far by two other characters. One is Nako Sunao. She’s an outwardly brusque girl with a heart of gold who often inadvertently drives people away with her delinquent-esque looks. The other is Aru Honshou, the class vice president. Her “model student” facade hides an occasionally grouchy person cursed with terrible luck. Bocchi, Nako, and Aru all play off each other wonderfully. Character interaction is what separates a merely decent school life comedy from a good to great one, and it’s encouraging to see the characters banter so well so early on.
An example: Bocchi get sick, and Nako ends up taking her school work to her friend’s house. Shows with less inventiveness would have this progress as a pretty standard “the characters get closer” type episode. They would perhaps play up the sweetness and cuteness. That is not something that Hitoribocchi really traffics in. This show’s particular form of sweetness involves different things. Things like Bocchi showing up to greet Nako in a bear costume.
Which shortly thereafter leads to this:
If the girls didn’t bond in spite of this kind of weirdness, the show would merely be pretty funny. They actually do, though, which is another thing that elevates it above the same old same old for this type of series. Nako and Aru in particular don’t initially get along when they meet in the second episode. By the end of the third, however, their relationship has advanced to this rather amusing state:
Hitoribocchi knows how to use its characters well, is the main point. That’s far from its only strength, though.
The Art of The School
Something that the series has that many school life comedies lack is notably strong art direction and animation. This is rarer than you might think. Even the aforementioned Anima Yell! from last year was often rather under-animated, getting by mostly on timing in lieu of any particularly fluid cuts. Common thought goes that the genre does not rely on visual spectacle, and thus doesn’t really need to look super good. That may be true, but that doesn’t make Hitoribocchi‘s going the extra mile in this field any less admirable.
The animation tends toward the subtle, but notable if you know what you’re looking for. Simple “moving frame” walk cycles are employed only very sparsely. Most scenes preferring to have the characters move a bit more realistically, something that adds a lot of charm.
The art direction gets a mention too. A good chunk of Bocchi’s interaction with Nako is in the form of text messages. These are animated quite cutely. Likewise, in the third episode when Bocchi has a problem approaching a classmate, all of her different expressions are animated in little pop-up bubbles. This gives you the full range of her expressions in a compact and creative way. This goes above and beyond say, animating her crying, which is what a less creative series may have done.
The short of it is: Bocchi is uncommonly creative for its genre. Plus, it’s just really, really charming. It joins a crop of similarly laid-back shows (mostly the shorts Senryu Girl and Joshi Kausei) as the torchbearers for comfy and comedic in equal measure for the Spring 2019 season.