I’m someone who often gets a ticket and boards the Hype Train. I’m not even a casual rider of the Hype Train. I would save money with an annual pass. And one of my favorite Hype Train destinations is the express ride to Nostalgia Town. High Score Girl can be found on the Nostalgia Town Express. It rides all the way back to 1991 (which is almost 30 years ago, believe it or not). I’m not even old enough to remember 1991, but I’m going to say it anyway. Only 90’s kids remember. Spoilers ahead.
Remember the big arcade boom in the 90s? I don’t because 1. I was too little, 2. We were poor, and 3. I was too little. But I’ve read about it enough to make me look stupid in a conversation about it. High Score Girl (Hi Score Girl; ハイスコアガール ) centers around this boom, during the height of Street Fighter II dominance.
Haruo Yaguchi is a game obsessed elementary schooler who loves going to arcades and dominating the competition. He really likes to kick people when they’re down and most vulnerable on their way home from slaving at the hands of Corporate
America Japan. But, they say Pride cometh before the Fall, and The Fall’s name is Akira Oono, a shy rich girl who enjoys the escape that arcades can provide from her rigorous academic life. She comes in and absolutely trashes Haruo. Multiple multiple times. It’s not even close. Haruo can’t take the humiliation, and a (mostly) friendly rivalry is born.
This show takes place over an extended period of time, beginning in elementary school for the first arc, that ends with Akira Oono moving to America for school with her family. It isn’t until she’s parting that Haruo realizes he doesn’t want her to go, and vows to keep training so that he can beat her again when she returns.
The series then time-jumps to middle school, where Akira Oono transfers back to Japan, but is placed in another class. While Haruo is trying to figure out how to rebuild their friendship, another girl enters the picture, Koharu Hidaka. Despite his one-track gaming mind, Koharu develops a crush on Haruo, going so far as to learn and become good at video games so that Haruo will acknowledge her, much in the same way that Haruo is training for Akira Oono.
Haruo eventually is determined to join Akira at an academically prestigious high school, going so far as to put video games aside for months to try to study and make up for lost time. He, of course, fails miserably.
Haruo spends the entire show in an immature rut, as most boys his age do. He knows he likes Akira, but rather than being honest with her and himself, he decides his feelings would be more effectively conveyed through an obnoxious attitude and mockery. It’s almost so real it hurts.
The art…I’m not a fan of anime that uses these 3D CGI bits. While this show isn’t the worst offender, it’s often just OK. There are no fast action sequences that would bring out how very awkward it is, but it still isn’t great to look at. I can only assume they had to use so much of the budget to pay for the game screen sequences (of which there are a lot) and licensed art that they didn’t have any left over to animate the characters. It is what it is, I guess, but I do wish they had been able to do something different.
But those game sequences really are something to behold (there’s even footage of the PS1 boot screen that gave me chills. What a time to be alive!). Even a lot of the strategy is narrated for all of these old fighting games, which I appreciated.
If you’re looking for the most beautiful anime you’ve ever seen, maybe give this one a pass. But if you want something with an innocent child romance with a ticket to ride the Nostalgia Town Express (especially if you’re an old school arcade nerd), this one will very likely hit all the right notes.