Living for Enjoyment: High Score Girl 1 and 2

In 1991, sixth-grader Haruo Yaguchi í a slacker in all things except fighting games. With poor grades and few friends at school, he pours all his energy into arcade games in hopes that they would offer him some sort of future. Akira Ono, on the other hand, is a wealthy, pretty, intelligent and beloved by their classmates. When she beats Haruo at Street Fighter II, he set out to defeat her in the most humiliating way he can imagine. He usé the cowardice turtle technique to gain victory, and he is rewarded by a punch in the gut by Ono. This is how their relationship began.

Hi-Score Girl is an incredibly sweet romantic comedy and a love letter to the 90s arcade scene of Japan. As someone who was part of the arcade boom in Vietnam in the 2000s, this was a fun watch. Vietnam was growing economically, so the opening of game centers in HCMC was happening in a lot of places. I was never a hardcore or good player like Haruto because we only visit the arcades during the summer holidays or during friends’ birthday, and then my parent bought me the NES and subsequent consoles until the x-box -360. Therefore, my brother and I never went to the arcade that often to practice like Haruo. However, I am still familiar with Street Fighter. OH, wait kid isn’t that the only game you know well enough to talk about in the series? Yes, unfortunately that is the case, I am not knowledgeable about the other games in show. Let us go back to the series because while I understood some of the references and the finer details were lost on me.

The series has a lot of references to early-’90s games, as Haruo excitedly describes the latest technology available and eagerly anticipates every new release and Street Fighter reboot. The show lovingly recreates the pixel art that characterises the 8- and 16-bit games that were available at the time, and his inner monologues are represented by Guile and Ryu.

The main complain people will have with this show is its animation because it is not very “pretty”. the show is made using 3d models on 2d background, and the characters eyes are almond-shaped with toothy grins; however, the animation flow well and remains consistent throughout the first season. Amazingly even with the 3d models, the animators make the faces really expressive which helped us the viewers understand Ono’s feelings. Sensei here, tanteikid forgot to mention that Ono is mute which make the facial expression animations important to understanding her.

At first, Ono’s muteness is a major source of frustration for young Haruo. She is a short-tempered girl who growls, scowls, and attacks instead of using words. Haruo struggles at first, but with time, he and Ono grow closer, and he gets better at picking up on her nonverbal cues. When Haruo discovers Ono’s strict upbringing and loneliness, their rivalry slowly melts away becoming allies and then friends.

Haruo and Ono’s relationship is the main point of the series. The smart and funny writing sets the stages of development for the two to grow closer over their mutual respect and love of games. Haruo’s empathy toward Ono makes him unique as a romance show lead; even though he is a slacker at school, he is genuine and earness with games and tries to connect with people through them.

Ono moves in and out of Haruo’s life, as tends to be the case with childhood friends. They either sticks to the MC like glue, or he/she moves away only to suddenly returns with a vengeance. During the time that Ono was gone, the show focuses on Haruo’s relationship with Koharu Hidaka. Hidaka, unlike Ono, doesn’t care about games when she meets Haruo. She prefers to stand behind him and watch, at first. Hidaka may seem flat in the beginning because She has no goals, interests, or hobbies of her own, but that all changes when she takes an interest in Haruo. She learns her way around an arcade even using her family’s store game machine to train in fighting games to get closer to Haruo. I admire her a lot. That part was season 1.

Sensei here, the next part is season 2 readers.

In Hi-Score Girl Season 2, Ono/Akira has returned to the story and has an even more prominent role as we learn more about her background and see the story from her perspective. The ability to tell Akira’s story without much dialogue from her has to be commended.  Akira has a lot of emotional troubles because she is the second daughter of a rich family whose expectations are not met by her sister. She is being crushed by the weight of having to meet her family’s expectations, so she turns to video games and chooses her mains by picking the characters that no other players want to pick as she feels their sadness match her own.

Coming from last season as the girl who plays games for attention, Koharu realises that games meant something more to her and becoming a focal point. Her character is given more development in this season 2; she is more forward in Haruo. She had defeated him on an opposition team in Shibuya and confessed to him.  Koharu was specifically focused on trying to get Haruo to kiss her and stay with her in a love hotel unfortunately, Haruo did not feel the same. The final hug she give him brought tears to my eyes. In the final episode, we find out Ono challenged Koharu to many more matches to test Koharu love for Haruo because Ono is leaving Japan, and she wants to leave Haruo to Koharu; however, when Koharu sees Haruo moping around in front of her shop, she sets him straight and encourage him to go see Ono. ( I found a spin-off manga starting Koharu in 2007 as a teacher; I hope it gets licensed soon, so I can follow this amazing girl).

Next, let’s talk about how Haruo and Akira’s relationship has grown; Haruo’s realization that he’s actually in love with Akira instead of just being competitive is a moment that is both cute and frustrating because Ono is leaving soon. The reactions of his mother, Miyao, Ono’s sister and Dole are so funny. The fact that Haruo decided to go an Street Fighter tournament with Ono and let the result of their match determine if he will confess is so unique to him an Ono. The relationship between them on the trip, from the train ride to arcade sightseeing, is suppper cute and their connection while playing co-op is amazing. In Haruo words. “the way we beat every level so easily when we are playing together”. Their romance is coming through their game play. Their final match against each other had me screaming in excitement, and I wanted Haruo to win, but their trip around the arcades foreshadowed his lost because he could not beat Ono once during it.

In my opinion, the last episode felt fast, but maybe that is the nature of Haruo. He always acts on his emotion and his promise with Ono at the airport is good enough for me. Overall, Hi-Score Girl Season 2 did as well as season 1.

One good thing about the series is how it looks at fighter strategy and mechanics by showcasing hard to beat bosses, pattern moves to conquer them, and the different ways that gamers play. Season 2 also shows the impromptu teams that formed in arcades around Japan like the gang groups protecting their place. In this season,there is also more girl gamers introduced along with their fashion and attitudes, so Ono and Koharu are not rare in unicorn in this world.

Another thing to love is the soundtrack by legendary game composer Yoko Shimomura. Shimomura is best known now for popular series like Kingdom Hearts and Radiant Historia, but she got her beginnings composing chiptune music in the early ‘90s, including the soundtracks for some of the games featured in the show. It’s a cool way to pay tribute to an artist who shaped the medium from the very outset.

Netflix can be hit-or-miss when it comes to OG, But I believe that this is one of the best anime Netflix released in the Summer season of 2018. Give it a shot, and you we and as a community should be more accepting of CG in anime.

3 thoughts on “Living for Enjoyment: High Score Girl 1 and 2

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