The year is 1991, and arcade video games are the latest craze. Becoming a professional gamer is a far-fetched dream in an industry that has yet to spread its influence. Yet, that is the path sixth-grader Haruo Yaguchi wants to pursue. His aptitude for video games has earned him respect in local arcades and bestowed him with confidence and pride, both of which are shattered when fellow classmate Akira Oono easily defeats him in Street Fighter 2. Akira is rich, pretty, and smart—as close as can be to a perfect girl. But Haruo had never cared about these things as, despite his multiple shortcomings as a person, his supremacy in video games was, in his mind, undisputed. So, now that someone has appeared who can rival him, part of Haruo cannot help but loathe her. Another part, however, itches for somebody who can compete with him on equal terms, and Akira is more than capable. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
There’s often times when I feel a bit of nostalgia in life. Who doesn’t really? The 1990s may not be technological advanced compared to our current modern times but it had great music, a more relaxing atmosphere, and moments that we’ll never forget. I remember the days when people actually went to places like Blockbuster to rent home videos rather than binge watching Netflix. People weren’t on their phones half the day. Nowadays, everything is just too convenient and people operate at their homes through the digital web. Why do I mention this?
It’s because High Score Girl made me feel a bit of that nostalgia.
Don’t get me wrong though. I love the convenience of our current times and everything being so simple. However, watching High Score Girl gave me the impression of old school video gaming nostalgia. I was never too big about retro games or playing at the arcades. However, the contemporary times of this show made it feel like it’s both realistic and inspiring. As a series about video games, it takes an approach at decorating its story with a 1990s sensation.
We meet 6th grader Haruo Yaguchi from the start and he is not exactly someone I’d describe as popular at school. He’s a video game addict who spends his time playing games than studying or doing anything else. In many ways, Haruo doesn’t really have a goal in life other than to be the best gamer. His favorite genre seems to be fighting games such as Street Fighter II. He even earned a self-proclaimed title by calling himself “Beastly Fingers Haruo”. His life seems to be unchanging until meeting a rich girl named Akira Oono. After getting curb stomped by her at video gaming, it became obvious that he is no longer the best. This sets the main story as we see the relationship between the two and how they develop.
Jumping into this series felt unusual at first. It felt like a coming of age story that mixes in drama, comedy, and even some romance. The last part isn’t noticeable at first so I’ll get to it later. Rather, the story chronicles about how Haruo’s character changes throughout the series. In the beginning, he is more of a brat who tends to get angry when things don’t go his way. You ever seen a kid rage at video games because he lost like a sore loser? That’s the sort of imagery you can imagine coming from Haruo. However, meeting Oono changes his character as he matures and becomes a more tolerable person. I think it’s rather ironic that he offers to be friends with Oono as the two are more like rivals in the beginning. However, the show makes it clear that there’s a skill difference between the two though so perhaps it isn’t really a close rivalry. I think it’s important to address the friendship between Haruo and Oono as it develops into perhaps something more than just a bond. In later episodes, Oono seems to show feelings towards Haruo while the boy remains oblivious. It’s more of an innocent affection than anything else since the series doesn’t truly commit to romance. Despite this, I think it goes to show how far these two bonded together. Because let’s face it, Oono is a character with a quiet nature. No one besides Haruo seems to be able to get close to her. Even with her popularity, she is shy and throughout the show, we never once hear her speak directly to a character. She is able to open herself more thanks to Haruo’s influence and we see her show more emotions rather than being aloof all the time. There seems to be even feelings of jealousy coming from the girl in later episodes.
We eventually meet a girl named Koharu Hidata. Unlike Oono, she is more outspoken and easily fits with the crowd. Despite not being a child prodigy, Hidata is a much more sociable person as she is able to converse with anyone. Hidata’s relationship with Haruo in the show is pretty typical that transforms from being normal friends to her developing a crush towards him. In terms of technical skills, she isn’t as talented as Haruo or Oono when it comes to video games. However, the creators establishes her as a determined girl who wants to prove herself, and most importantly to Haruo. I’d say that she is more of a tsundere after observing her behavior. You be the judge but Hidata does add a different side of the series. She fills the role of being a character that Haruo doesn’t feel inferior to and can get along normally. Still, the series doesn’t do a well job at building their relationship because as usual, Haruo is oblivious to romance like a stone cold rock.
There’s a lot of emphasis on these three characters so you’re probably asking yourself if there are any others to worth mention. Unfortunately, most of the side characters in the series can be easily forgettable. Characters like Miyao (the chick magnet) hardly influences the story. The adult characters also makes little impact such as Oono’s butler or Haruo’s parents. It feels like these characters are just there and nothing more. Nonetheless, this really shouldn’t sway your attention as the heart of the show is about how characters changes through common interests and how they understand each other. There’s a good amount of heartwarming moments and clever comedy if you’re into that too.
It’s almost impossible to not talk about the art style of this series. When it comes down to it, the show feels like a mixture of old school aesthetic blending with video game graphics. Even the theme songs is crafted with its peculiar video game style. Thankfully, it’s very faithful to the manga especially in terms of character design. And on most parts, I think they did a phenomenal job at portraying Oono. Despite not speaking at all in the show, she is able to express herself with body language and facial expressions. It’s important to also realize Oono’s change in those expressions that represent her development. Meanwhile, I’m also grateful for the realistic 1990s setting the series takes place in with the arcade games. Retro games like Street Fighter is shown with clever creativity while the graphic style represents the old school ways of playing. However, I wish the series presented more variety. Besides Street Fighter, there’s hardly any other games that are worth mentioning.
The 1990s really was a time that I missed. Everything just felt so simple and while I’m not as dedicated to retro games as the characters in this show, it still made me want to play them. That is to say, they still exist in our modern times but playing them now just feels different. Nonetheless, this series isn’t just about gaming but also how characters change. The creators really wanted us to get attached to the main characters and it worked. High Score Girl is a show that I recommend to anyone even if you’re not a video game fanatic. It has enough of a story with themes and main characters that will get your attention.