Title: Hitoribocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu / Hitoribocchi
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Comedy, slice-of-life
Year of release: 2019
Hitoribocchi is one of those shows that gets friendship. Its skits don’t just go on as running gags, rather, they are the building blocks of the relationships at the heart of this show. In-jokes and other little tidbits bring the girls together, and cement them as very, very close characters.
Hitori Bocchi herself is a gem. Her shyness is over-exaggerated to the point that it’s not exactly relatable, but the way she navigates her issues is very relatable and universal! Whether she’s putting notices on doors saying class is ‘cancelled’ or endlessly researching online how to make friends, there’s definitely a lot to appreciate in her character’s problem-solving abilities (even if all of the barfing, fainting and crying at the nerves can seem a bit OTT and often only for laughs). Perhaps the major selling point to the protagonist is her voice actor’s performance; Chisaki Morishita put on quite the show over these last few weeks. Bocchi is extremely endearing as a character, and it makes so much sense why she’s so bizarrely enigmatic.
Particularly when she starts her quest with friendship with one of the most difficult characters, Nako, is when the show begins to become something really special. I won’t lie, Nako’s battle with her unapproachability made her easily the most sympathetic character in the series. It’s not so much that she doesn’t have friends, but that her new classmates steer clear of her and her standoffishness. Bocchi’s determination cracks this shell wide-open. As Bocchi spends more time with Nako, the pair bleed into one another, and share some very ordinary, but very special moments together. It’s a really beautiful friendship, and for me, why Hitoribocchi is one of the finest anime of the season.
Sadly, the other friendships aren’t so excellently put together – but that’s not to say they’re bad. Aru wants to be the perfect student, but her unfortunateness gets in the way. It’s extremely funny how she reacts with her running gags – the show even begins to use either simply the sound effect while the gag is off-screen, or cut off the stock footage halfway through – because the gag is so well crafted and ingrained! Her friendship with Bocchi isn’t quite as developed as Nako’s. For the laughs, I think Aru offers the most to Hitoribocchi as a series, and she even has some pretty moving moments, but for the personal core of the series, falters compared to Nako and Bocchi’s shared, tender moments.
And then you have Sotoko. Sotoko is easily the hardest character in the show to take seriously, and somewhat ruins the very realistic air the show was previously playing with. Put simply, her obsession that forms her character is just a bit much. It leads to some very funny sequences, granted, but she never manages to develop, either as a person or in her relationships, outside of this obsession. As the mid-series of Hitoribocchi approaches, it can feel like there are few developments in the air because it’s still her arc, and this makes it feel like a comfortable but inessential ride.
And the latter mid-series, despite offering up a small handful of well-handled dramatic twists, doesn’t really manage to shake-off that inessentialism. It’s still very good – these lovingly directed comic chops will always score a laugh – but the urgency with which the series marched into such heartstiring territory with felt lost. While Hitoribocchi attempts to enrich Bocchi’s personal relationships she’s made thus far, it struggles with the latter introduced characters not being given enough time. And it doesn’t help that, for all that padding, it produces such a weak final note.
But this is not the end of Bocchi’s quest. The sense that a major milestone has been achieved is there – even if the latter half of the series treads water on that very solid foundation. Hitoribocchi, then, is a series that flirts with greatness in the cute-girls-do-cute-things genre, but fails to do that consistently enough. Even when it’s not managing its early series standard, it’s still very good in the genre, but I’m struggling to call it one of the best of that genre.