Hi Score Girl is a Love Letter to Gaming
How many of us, during the torturous turmoil of adolescence, escaped into the world of gaming in order to survive? Haruo Yaguchi, protagonist of Hi Score Girl, is one such unlucky wretch. He doesn’t really have any friends, he’s awful at school, and has zero interest in sports. However, when it comes to gaming, he’s untouchable.
Whether battling it out in Street Fighter II at the local arcade or ripping through rounds of Final Fight on his Super Famicom, Haruo crushes the competition. That is until Akira Oono enters his life. The rich prodigy of the Oono family, Akira excels at everything she tries, and that includes video games. Now, with his one claim to fame and his only escape from reality being threatened, Haruo vows to crush his new rival, once and for all.
This is the set-up for Hi Score Girl, the anime series animated by J.C Staff. Set mainly around fierce fighting game battles between Haruo and Akira, Hi Score Girl benefits greatly from having gained permission from the likes of Capcom, Konami and Sega to show actual in-game footage of their games in the anime. This means when characters are battling it out in one game or another, the fights are executed as they would be if you were playing the game yourself, rather than adapted into some poor facsimile that misses the look and feel of the game in question.
For fans of gaming and anime, this makes Hi Score Girl almost like a wet dream of crossover potential. If you grew up in the 90s, expect to see some of your favorite games rendered into the action of this series. Better still, the characters from the games featured in Hi Score Girl don’t only appear during play sessions. Characters like Guile and Zangief often appear to speak to or coach the protagonists of the series through their emotions and the growing pains of entering adulthood.
In fact, these cameos often make for some of Hi Score Girl‘s funniest moments (and rest assured, this anime is very funny). When Haruo makes one in an increasingly long string of selfish or stupid decisions, he can always count on a dropkick to the back of the head from a heavily pixelated Guile. Meanwhile, Akira, who embodies the classic gaming trope of the silent protagonist, must often allow video game characters to speak for her.
Of course, only a show featuring a protagonist as pigheaded as Haruo, and a silent character as his rival, could make the series’ eventual turn into will they-won’t they love story, and even a full-blown love triangle, actually work. Only because these characters are naive, self-involved, and insecure teenagers can a concept this batty, and this off-kilter, create a baseline for the world its characters inhabit.
However, the growth into a love story feels natural, and never takes away from the passion the characters feel for their favorite mode of escapism. Even with significant time jumps that go from primary school to high school, and from 16-bit gaming to 32-bit gaming, the world of Hi Score Girl always feels so lived in and fondly remembered by its writers that the story rarely suffers as a result.
A nostalgia-fuelled love letter to the golden age of gaming, Hi Score Girl is the ultimate crossover between anime and gaming as mediums. With enough anime personality and tropes to make it easily accessible and some painstaking tributes to the great games of yesteryear, Hi Score Girl will transport you back to one of the best runs gaming ever had as a hobby and a past time… and it might even make your heart swell along the way.
Both seasons, comprising the entire run of Hi Score Girl, are currently available on Netflix.