Netflix’s Hi Score girl, aka Hai Sukoa Garu will make you feel things you haven’t felt in a long time
I have to admit, I haven’t read a single page of Rensuke Oshikiri’s original manga. Sure, that’s an odd way to start a review, but in the interest of fairness I have to throw that fact out there to illustrate the idea that when I sat down to watch this series I was walking into it completely blind.
In fact, it sat in my Netflix’s to watch list for around 3 months before my overall dissatisfaction with the rest of my list eventually forced me to throw up my hands in frustration and scream “Fine, I’ll watch this”.
So to kick-start this review let me prefix everything by telling you to not make the same mistake I did. Watch this series.
Perhaps it’s age or perhaps it’s the never-ending desire to quench an insatiable thirst for nostalgia, but if you’re like me this series will start making you feel things you haven’t felt in such a long time. It’s an homage to that one special person we knew from school that made us feel funny inside and we found ourselves incapable of being around without feeling awkward. It’s about growing up and being unable to communicate with anyone because you just don’t have time for the nonsense of traditional teenage hangups. It’s about finding someone that actually ‘gets you’ and then blowing it all because you don’t know how people work.
Have you ever traveled to another city just to play an arcade machine that isn’t in your town? Well, in the 90’s people did and oh boy that gets me right in the feels.
To summarize the general idea behind the series: it’s 1991 and Haruo Yaguchi is an outgoing year six student that is obsessed with video games; he analyzes combo moves, reads gaming magazines obsessively and spends all of his free time in his local arcade racking up win after win on his favorite machine Street Fighter II.
Enter Akira Ono, a wealthy, emotionally distant and seemingly mute classmate that catches Haruo’s eye after she demolishes everyone in the arcade in a game of Street Fighter with her incredible gaming skills.
And using Zangief too. I mean, really?
The two form a close bond, but with them both having invested all their time and energy into video games and not into the finer points of social interaction, their relationship is both frustrating and occasionally prone to fits of anger. As years pass they grow more distant and yet yearn for each other with greater intensity; at the end of the day, who else is actually going to be able to understand them?
For fans of romantic comedies and slice of life anime this kind of thing is just your average walk in the park, but what makes Hi Score Girl stand apart from the rest isn’t the oversimplified story of boy-meets-girl, it’s the setting that the author has chosen to indulge in.
What makes it great is the intricacies of a world that the audience thought they left behind years ago – arcade hit-combos, hidden character reveals, the politics of game spectators and the otaku-like obsession over graphics and fluid motion. For instance in the series Haruo has a fanatical obsession with the TurboGrafx-16, a gaming console that didn’t quite take off in the west, an obsession driven by his insistence that the graphics were superior to Nintendo’s Super Famicom. It’s the level of detail you attribute to an author that not only indulged in the world of early 90’s gaming, but absolutely 100% had the same argument with his friends and fellow gamers.
To illustrate this point some more, here’s a clip from the first episode where Haruo discusses ‘Guile Turtling’, a technique developed by Street Fighter II players that allows the character of Guile to win rounds by playing dirty and preventing opponents from making attacks:
At one point Haruo explains to a classmate the politics behind leaving coins on the machine as an indicator of waiting in line to play a particular machine. When that happened I nearly died of nostalgia right then and there.
While 90’s arcade machines probably rate a 0.2 on the average anime viewer’s “Like-I-care-ometer”, the series has still somehow proven to be quite popular. Oshikiri’s manga is now 10 volumes deep and the original 12 episode anime that was released in 2018 already has a 3-episode OVA follow up, with a second season slated for release this year.
There are some quibbles however; like The Magnificent Kotobuki, the series seems to switch back and forth between 2D and 3D animation. To be more precise, more than likely the anime is 3D animated throughout, most of the time presenting itself in a more traditional anime style with the occasional flare of 3-dimensional movement. While it isn’t as glaringly obvious or as big of a problem as it is with Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai, there’s something about it that takes the viewer out of the early 90’s aesthetic and makes it seem a little tacky.
Plus some of the voice acting in the original Japanese version doesn’t quite hit the mark for me, which is odd on my behalf because I generally watch subs exclusively (not snobbery, I just like them a lot). For instance there are times when Haruo would fly into a rage and, even in his elementary school years, sound more like an angry old man shouting at kids skateboarding up and down his driveway more than a child himself. It’s a small thing, but when you’re building realism there are some elements that unknowingly start to rub you the wrong way.
But overall that’s just me being overly pedantic. Hi Score Girl is a great series that is definitely a standout among the quickly dwindling array of anime that Netlix have on display for consumption. With Crunchyroll, Animelab and other anime streaming services diluting Netflix’s global offerings, it’s nice to know that Netflix still have an eye for a good quality series. Other services seem to be more miss than hit when it comes to licenses and Hi Score Girl joins the ranks of Ajin, B the Beginning, Blame! and Dragon Pilot as another in a line of excellent Netflix Originals.
- Andrew Archer