Review: Hi Score Girl scores pretty average

Hi Score Girl

You may not see it among the flood of automated recommendations but Netflix has been steadily increasing their anime catalogue with newer titles. Hi Score Girl is one such example, its TV run ending as recently as September last year. The full season is now already available on the streaming platform, and with a premise steeped in arcades and gaming it proved hard to resist.

Hi Score Girl is romantic comedy set in the early ’90s, among Japan’s arcade and gaming boom. Our main character, Yaguchi Haruo, is a hardcore gamer who predictably struggles with a different set of challenges: life and relationships. While the story mostly centers on him, Haruo is eventually joined by classmates Oono Akira and Hidaka Koharu.

The art in Hi Score Girl is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It goes with a simple and distinct approach, which works to the show’s advantage due to its 3D production instead of traditional 2D. While the animation can be rather stiff and janky at times (which might turn off some people), the 3D backgrounds work well and gives quite the sense of depth and spacing.

Sadly, the story itself is standard fare. It runs the whole gamut of anime tropes, making it feel as if you’ve already seen it all before. Tsundere characters? Check. Obtuse main character? Check. Love triangle? Check. Finding love only to lose it? Check.

The key difference between Hi Score Girl and the myriad of anime romcoms out there is its focus on games. The show begins in a game center, with Harou bragging about his skills at Street Fighter 2.

It doesn’t last for long. Akira swiftly proceeds to crush him in the game, and this chance meeting becomes the catalyst for them hanging out after school. Things slowly develop from a one-sided rivalry into mutual affection but, without revealing too much, their budding relationship never gets a chance to blossom. This is where Koharu enters the picture.

Koharu develops a crush for Haruo after seeing him being so passionate about games, teaching her how to let loose and to have some fun. Although Haruo only has eyes for Akira, Koharu refuses to give up.

Who knows why? Haruo is loud, obnoxious, and pretty much a loser in school. I found him bland and somewhat unlikable, and though he does grow as a character towards the end he lacks overall development. It seems that his bigger purpose is to function as a video game exposition dump, feeding our nostalgia with all the latest gaming developments of the ’90s.

Akira, on the other hand, is the strong, silent type and very much the image of the perfect girl trope. She’s popular, gets top grades in school, is beautiful, and comes from a well-off family. But a trope does not a character make. Like Haruo, she has minimal character development throughout the season, never growing beyond the handful of scenes where she actually manages to express her feelings.

All we eventually learn about her is the strict home life she has, but it’s always used as a setup to her using game centers as an escape.

The only character I liked, and the only one with actual character development, is Koharu. She’s a normal high school girl, albeit too serious and studious, until she starts getting interested in Harou and by osmosis, video games. We get to see her go from playing video games purely because of someone she likes, to her coming to genuinely enjoy them.

Overall, Hi Score Girl is a decent anime that banks heavily on its nostalgia factor. If you take off those rose-tinted goggles, however, all you’ll find is an average romcom anime.

I didn’t find the show to be particularly funny or memorable by its own merit. What I did like was the amount of research that went into it, and there are times where the show gets technical — it even goes as far as explaining some moves and timings of various games. It does turn into an exposition dump at times, but it still manages to retain enough entertainment value that it doesn’t feel like a total wash.

If you grew up in that ’90s era of gaming then you’ll probably find enough to make Hi Score Girl enjoyable. It’s always nice to see games being treated with this much reverence, and if nothing else this is a fun history lesson wrapped up in some romance and comedy.

Wei Song

A bullet fired is better than two in the chamber