Over the holidays, two BtT superfans of Bocchi the Rock! were chatting about their favorite series of the
season year, when they realized that the same minute-and-a-half-long scene in episode 10 had spoken to them both powerfully. Only, it said different things! So in celebration of the manifold ways in which we receive freedom-bringing truths from the One who knows us so well, those two superfans decided to collaborate in an attempt to do Hitori “Bocchi”-chan and her senpai, Hiroi, justice. And yes, you guessed it: those fans were us, sleepminusminus and claire.
gushing insightful analysis begin!
Take One: Hitori and Heroes
Hitori Gotoh wants to be a hero. Guitarhero is her username, and that’s exactly what she wants to be: a guitar champion who shreds on Japan’s biggest stages and bathes in the ensuing spectacle. There’s just one problem: she’s got the wrong picture of what a hero looks like.
Up to this point, Hitori seems to be getting closer to her dreams of heroism. She’s gone from uploading covers in the darkness of her cramped closet to playing live before an audience. She even has some fans! And she’s already Nijika’s hero for her role in reviving Kessoku Band and bringing Nijika’s dreams a little closer to becoming a reality. The hero’s journey is afoot, and it’s only a matter of time before the social anxiety dragon is slain, the princess of rock stardom is saved, and Hitori basks in the fame and musical glory that she’s earned.
But soon enough, Hitori’s adventure meets a classic obstacle: the troll’s bridge. The school festival is on the horizon, and Hitori must make a choice. Should she sign Kessoku Band up, bravely cross the troll’s bridge, and hope that she’s able to pull off a dazzling performance when she’s only ever performed in front of, like, ten people before? Or should she take the cowardly route, toss the application form, and hope for more confidence in the future?
Do heroes even wrestle with choices like that? Don’t they just naturally do the bold thing? Was Hitori never cut out for the hero’s life after all?
Hitori’s concerns are only amplified when the band goes to watch Hiroi, Hitori’s riotous bassist friend, perform. It’s there, faced with the blinding light and grand spectacle of the concert, that Hitori thinks, This is what a real hero looks like. Just look at the way Hiroi’s perfected the craft of playing bass! Look at how she effortlessly coordinates with the other band members! Look at the way she captivates and entices the audience, drawing them into the spectacle!
Hiroi’s the true hero. Hiroi’s the one who deserves that title—not some socially anxious high schooler who can’t even step onto a stage without rethinking it seventy times over.
But Hitori’s portrait of heroism is a little too touched up. She needs someone to undo the edits and show her the original picture, and that’s what Hiroi does for Hitori in those ten seconds after the concert. After all, Hiroi may have looked pretty cool up there on stage, but she wasn’t always that way. Just like Hitori, in high school, she was no hero at all. Shy, gloomy, and out-of-place, Hiroi found herself on the fringes of her class, hemmed in by the culture around her even as she desperately sought better things for herself. Even her first step toward the hero’s life was one she took inebriated, being so paralyzed by fear that alcohol was the only thing that could calm her down enough to perform.
Heroes never start out as heroes. Dorothy doesn’t start down the Yellow Brick Road already knowing the way home.
And that’s Hiroi’s message to the discouraged and defeated Hitori: don’t exaggerate what being a hero looks like. That’s what Hitori has been doing all this time: she’s been holding up this perfect picture of the perfectly charismatic musician who launches her career playing perfect chords in a perfectly packed stadium. Hitori wants to be the ideal hero up front, and this idealization forces her into the valley of disappointment and even jealousy, as she compares herself to the shining Hiroi and finds herself falling short.
There’s another word for that kind of idealization: idolatry—the pitfall of trying to find meaning by pursuing a desire that can’t give us what we want. If only I could be a famous, charming musician, like Hiroi, Hitori laments. And the more Hitori wants that for herself, the more she’s disheartened by the fact that she isn’t there yet. She’s not as popular as the others in the band. She can’t rile up an audience like Hiroi can. She’s not good enough to be a hero. And it tears her apart.
It’s a vain pursuit, like trying to catch the wind in your hands. Coincidentally, that’s why God opposes idolatry so much. It’s not because he’s an insecure deity, desperate for the attention of his people; it’s because when we put anything else—success, fame, romance—in the place of God and idealize that thing, we find that we’re always falling short. We chase our desires with everything we have and find that we’re gasping for breath, spent up, empty.
Hiroi helps Hitori break free from this painful idealization by showing her what being a hero actually looks like. And it’s not as pretty as her imagination had made it out to be. It looks like Hiroi, who just a few years ago was a terrified young woman grasping desperately for a life richer than the one she had. Hiroi had to learn how to be a hero. She had to grow her courageous spirit. And she needed—still needs—the bottle to make it happen.
It’s okay to linger in indecision. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay not to be a hero at first.
That’s the image of a hero that Hitori eventually adopts. When she realizes that her hero Hiroi isn’t as perfect as she thought, she begins to wonder: Maybe she doesn’t need to be perfect, either. Maybe it’s okay if she fails. Maybe it’s okay if she relies on her friends. Maybe it takes time to become a hero. Empowered, Hitori takes that first step forward and says “yes” to the school concert.
Like a true hero, she stands up, dusts herself off, and keeps fighting. ~sleepminusminus
Take Two: Bocchi and Birthmarks
Let me tell you a little story. There once was a midwife named Eunice. She was the real no-nonsense type, like Taiga from Toradora, only taller and tidier. One winter, Eunice was doing her rounds of remote villages in the wilds of Labrador—the kinds of places you can only get to by snowmobile—when she encountered a family with a toddler. Now, the strange thing was that this child had an almighty dirt ring around his neck, all the way around like a collar. Eunice called for some warm water and whipped out a cloth and began to scrub. “Oh no, miss,” protested the parents, “tha’ won’t come off. Tha’ thar’s a birthmark. ’Salways been thar.” Without pausing to stop, Eunice rejoined, “I beg your pardon, but it is nothing of the sort,” (yes, Eunice was British) “this is dirt, plain and simple. What this child needs is a good hearty scrub.” And to the parents’ shock, she was right. It was not a birthmark. It was just dirt.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between dirt and birthmarks. And that’s what Bocchi is facing after she sees her senpai Hiroi’s band perform. During the concert, she was blown away! Transported to another dimension, even, on the waves of glory emanating from Hiroi’s powerful bass lines and confident vocals. But afterward, in the post-concert comedown, it’s a different story. All her enthusiasm has drained away, and Bocchi is way, way down in the dumps.
The problem? Now that she’s had time to reflect on it, Hiroi’s god-tier performance reminds Bocchi of her own limitations, and especially of the birthmarks she lives with, those features that are a part of her very self and which she can never get away from: her timidity, her gloomy nature, her fear of others. These are the birthmarks that have shaped her life for as long as she can remember. Sure, she has been learning to cope with them a little better, becoming more functional in a public setting and so on (thanks to a certain mandarin box). But she’ll only ever be able to go so far before hitting the glass ceiling of her natural incapacities. They cannot be overcome, they are simply part of who she is. As such, she can never become a performer like her senpai. Or so she thinks.
And to her credit, Bocchi admits her train of thought when Hiroi picks up on her mood and prods her about its source. And here’s when the surprise comes—that incredible, mind-blowing ten seconds—as Hiroi basically explains that what Bocchi has been thinking of as birthmarks—indelible and inescapable, the defining features of her very self—are just dirt. They can be washed away. Granted, Hiroi’s method of washing involves copious amounts of alcohol (close your eyes, kids!). But the point is, Hiroi does for Bocchi exactly what Eunice did for that toddler. She tells her kohai in no uncertain terms that all the things that seem destined to limit Bocchi, locking her away into a medium-sized mandarin box, are not actually the final word in the matter. And because Hiroi is speaking from experience, Bocchi recognizes that there is hope.
What Bocchi considered to be a birthmark was actually only dirt.
We’re like Bocchi. We’re not so good at telling the difference between dirt and birthmarks—between the stuff that accumulates in our lives because we live in a dirty world, and the things that are truly part and parcel of who we are. We tend to see birthmarks—inescapable defects and limitations—where actually there is only dirt. We learn from the world that certain wounds can never heal; that certain conditions are hopeless; that some people just don’t have what it takes to succeed, to be healthy, to be whole. We learn that there’s such a thing as a point of no return and of missing out forever.
And it’s true that we are born into the world already marked: already oriented toward sin, toward hurting ourselves and others, and missing the mark of growing into the good, kind, honest people we want to become. It’s also true that this nature and its fruit of pain and fear is something that no one can make amends for, that no number of good, generous deeds can wash away.
But Jesus came with a different message: he came as healer and redeemer, as advocate and champion. Most importantly, he came as the giver of New Life and the offer of Rebirth. A chance to be free from the marks that come with our natural birth into a fallen world, and from the dirt of inherited problems and the damaging influence of broken homes, traumatic experiences, and bad choices. Christ was able to do what we never could: he washed away humanity’s ugliest birthmark, which runs not only around our necks, collaring us as slaves, but also through our hearts and minds, tainting how we see and feel and think about ourselves and the world around us. Christ’s sacrificial offering of his own life, his own blood, washes away these marks for anyone who will take him up on the offer of relationship with him. And not just the birthmarks: he washes away the scars and dirt that come from years of living in a tough world too.
When we give our lives to Christ, we experience a new birth and receive a new nature along with it. Often though, we don’t really understand this, and we don’t fully receive what’s offered to us. We go on calling ourselves sinners and living up to it, instead of taking to heart what God’s Word is saying when it calls believers saints, new creations, ones who are being perfected by Christ and made holy. And like Bocchi, we get down in the dumps about how we’ll never be good enough to truly soar. We let those old birthmarks define our new lives in Christ.
So where is the hope?
This is what I love about Bocchi: she’s learned to articulate her doubt rather than leaving it bottled up. And when she does this in her conversation with Hiroi, it’s like she’s extending an invitation to her senpai to speak into her life. She can only see the gloom of her birthmarks, but can Hiroi perhaps see something different? Yes! And here’s the key: Bocchi actually listens to what Hiroi has to say. She hears her. And in that moment of hearing, Bocchi discovers the will to let go of her inner narrative of disappointment and despair, and grab hold of hope instead. “I’d like you to come see our culture festival performance,” she says. What a beautiful testimony this simple line conveys of Bocchi’s changed heart!
As with Bocchi, so too is there yet hope for us when the reality of our new freedom and new creation in Christ is not sinking in and those birthmarks rear their ugly heads. Like Bocchi, we too have our senpais in the faith: those who’ve gone before us, who’ve walked this same path, who are filled with the Spirit (and not with sake!) and able to tell us, from their own experience, that what we think still defines us no longer does. We have been washed, made clean, clothed by Jesus’ own hand with his own pure white right-ness, and there’s a whole new world out there for us to discover and take by storm. Sometimes, we just need a friend to step in and show us. Just like Eunice with the toddler, and just like Hiroi with Bocchi. ~claire
Go watch Bocchi the Rock!! on Crunchyroll!