Poor Hitori Gotoh. She's a talented guitarist with loads of online fans, but when it comes to the real world, she's a introverted shut-in desperate for someone - anyone - to notice her and become a friend. Sadly her entire time in middle school remains a very lonely place for Hitori, and only a chance encounter in a park once she's in high school changes her fortunes. Drafted into "Kessoku Band" by Nijika Ijichi, Hitori is given the nickname Bocchi and finally starts her life in the real world.
Aki Hamazi's manga starts off desperately sad, with poor Hitori trying valiantly to initiate conversation by wearing popular band merch and carrying her guitar around, but she mostly creeps people out (especially with her music request over school radio, a hard mosh anthem with hilariously violent lyrics) our star-to-be is just unlucky and clueless. I genuinely felt bad for her, and she's fictional!
Adopting a mostly 4-koma (4 panel) format, the manga breaks down most of its interactions to short and sharp dialogues and skits to move the story forward. It's never been my favourite format for storytelling, with punchlines often failing to land or the flow of the story needlessly inhibited by the restrictive conventions required for this kind of sequential storytelling, but here it actually works. The artist uses each set of four panels to convey singular interactions in a larger scene very effectively, with multiple viewpoints catered to and allowing for some genuinely funny or moving experiences. There's a great amount of skill utilised in keeping everything in even-sized panels, occasionally using half a page to insert a larger image and providing the eye a respite from the grid-like pages.
Hitori's band mates are almost exactly what you'd expect - a strict manager, an odd bass player and genki drummer, they're all very different and the various personality-types bounce off one another with plenty of energy and comedic gusto. I found myself smiling or even chuckling at regular intervals, a sure sign that the book is winning me over. Much of the humour comes from the absurdist thoughts that Hitori has, whether it's her own internal reactions of joy at being given her first nickname or the negative fantasies she has sparked by other people's ideas, she's a font of neuroses and introvert angst that are portrayed so adorably you just can't help but smile at her naivete. Having her offer up her wedding dowry to cover performance costs due to her own belief she could never possibly use it is just tragically comic.
All of which makes Hitori easy to root for, her tragic existence up to this point being all you'd need to get behind her rock'n'roll dreams. Perhaps having a daughter myself makes the pull of being supportive and encouraging even stronger - you just want them to be happy, even if it means they play guitar inside a box on stage because their nerves are getting to them. Bless!
There's a really likeable set of characters within these pages, the layout providing snappy and entertaining encounters at a rapid rate. It's a fun read and I can absolutely understand why the anime (or which I have yet to experience beyond the first episode) is so popular.
If you enjoyed the anime, you'll find the characters perhaps even more rounded and entertaining in the source material, and with more time to take in every expression and joke, it's a worthy companion (or even standalone) manga to a series that's proving to be every bit the classic underdog story with plenty of wit and heart holding it all together.