*This review uses the Japanese way of writing full names for Hitoribocchi’s characters, i.e. family name first followed by given name, as the show’s puns only make sense with this format. The cast names also follow the format for consistency.
Hitoribocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is a slice-of-life comedy about a middle schooler who suffers from social anxiety. The main character is also named Hitori Bocchi, but she’s not a typical title character. Like all the characters in the show, and the manga it’s based on, her name functions as a pun. Her surname sounds like the word “hitori” (一人), which means one person or alone. When you factor in the premise and the character’s lack of social skills, it becomes both amusing and sad to hear Bocchi being addressed as such. Meanwhile, her full name sounds like “hitoribocchi” (ひとりぼっち), which is funnier, or worse. According to Weblio, the word means “loneliness” or “solitariness”. For context, the set-up has Bocchi trying to befriend everyone in her class to avoid being unfriended in real life by her only friend, Yawara Kai.
So yes, the show makes fun of the fact that an almost friendless and socially anxious middle-schooler has a name that pokes fun at her not-so-funny status. All this suggests the possibility of a hard-to-watch experience, but Hitoribocchi is actually a pleasant show.
The use of Bocchi’s anxiety as a source of humor works because of the show’s light-hearted approach and kind treatment of her. Her behavior and occasional absurdity is funny, like when she sends text messages to remind her new friends of her existence, but the show doesn’t demean Bocchi or give her bad endings. She is also able to gradually improve her social skills throughout the show, usually with the support of her new friends. The only problem is that even with the tone of the show, Kai’s plan leaves a slightly bitter taste as it seems very ill-thought-of despite the good intentions. At least it works out well and creates some emotional moments between Bocchi and Kai.
Bocchi’s core group of new friends are a lovely bunch. There are three of them: Sunao Nako, Honshou Aru, and Sotoka Rakita, which are puns for “honest child” (素直な子), “has a hidden nature” (本性ある), and “came from outside” (外から来た) respectively. Nako is the first one whom Bocchi befriends, and my initial favorite. She looks like a delinquent (albeit a cute and unathletic one), but while her initial meeting with Bocchi is a little frosty, she’s ultimately nice at heart and supportive of her. She’s the straight man of the group, and is also slight frenemies with Aru.
Bocchi befriends Aru after Nako. She’s the literally green-eyed class vice-president, and constantly strives to be a model student and reliable classmate. Aru is a good person, but her efforts are also an attempt to overcome her bad luck which usually makes her seem like a goof (hence the hidden nature pun, although the literal meaning of honshou is “true nature”). While most of the class is unaware of Aru’s misfortune, it’s often pointed out by Nako, who finds her circumstances amusing. Aru in turn is annoyed by Nako’s reactions as well as the latter’s tendency to call her “omae” (a rude way of saying “you”) rather than by her name. Her typical response is to literally headbutt Nako.
Both the headbutting punchline and the whole misfortune aspect felt like undercooked shticks to me at first. However, Hitoribocchi quickly changed my opinion with an Aru-centric episode about a wardrobe mishap involving an elementary school uniform and a silly tennis match. It’s also hard not to find the girl endearing when she has a self-inspirational character song where she sings lyrics like “don’t lose Aru” and “perfect Aru”.
Rakita, a foreign student, starts off as the most one-dimensional member of the group. At first, she’s mainly defined by her desire to become a ninja, which somehow leads to her becoming Bocchi’s apprentice. That, combined with a lack of synergy with Nako and Aru, made it difficult for me to like her character. Thankfully, Hitoribocchi fixes this issue by developing her character and relationships with the others, especially Bocchi. It happens a little belatedly, but I was nevertheless delighted to see her fleshed out and able to fit in better with the group’s dynamic.
The friendship between these girls is as central to the show as Bocchi’s attempt to make friends and overcome her social anxiety. Although the synopsis focuses on Bocchi, this is ultimately one of those high school comedies where it’s about the lives of the cast as a whole. It’s really nice to see Nako, Aru, and Rakita encourage and support Bocchi, as well as the former two’s patient attitude towards her eccentricities (Rakita doesn’t really notice since she’s a bit of an airhead). Their slice-of-life experiences are also entertaining, and I found myself chuckling more and more as the show progressed. Some of the funniest moments are due to side character Oshie Teruyo, the homeroom teacher, who has an intense fear of Nako’s delinquent appearance.
The voice cast does a pretty solid job. This is Morishita Chisaki’s first time in a named role, and she successfully expresses both the vulnerable and enthusiastic parts of Bocchi without overdoing either of them. Tanaka Minami mixes cuteness and gruffness as Nako, while Kitou Akari does Aru justice as the world’s best class vice-president. Kurose Yuuko gives Sotoka an anime foreigner inflection, which I’m not crazy about, but it becomes endearing when the character evolves from apprentice to genuine friend. Another highlight is Ichinose Kana, who lends her distinctively gentle and slightly breathy voice to side character Kurai Kako. The public morals committee member is stern but has a soft side, which occasionally reminds me of Darling in the FranXX’s Ichigo, whom Kana also voiced.
Hitoribocchi has cute character designs and a mostly bright color palette. There’s a little too much blue clothing among the characters, but Nako’s brown-ish sweater thankfully injects some variety and a sense of warmth that suits the character. The animation and presentation are solid both in the show and the cheerful opening and ending songs. Hitoribocchi also livens things through the use of small pop-up panels, sometimes resembling speech or thought bubbles, within shots. I can’t recall any examples of this in other shows, but it doesn’t feel like a new technique as the use of stylized expressions for comedic purposes in anime certainly isn’t. Both however feel rather prevalent, mostly in the second half. As a result, this direction makes the show a bit more distinctive and interesting to watch.
I had pretty low expectations of Hitoribocchi at the start, but Bocchi, Nako, Aru, and Rakita turned out to be a pleasant crowd to be with. It’s not a standout watch, but it’s a really nice and positive show, and that’s good enough for me.
Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu is available on Crunchyroll.