Premiere Report: Hi Score Girl at Otakon 2018

by Kyle Cardine,

The Hi Score Girl anime had a long road to production. Originally announced in 2013, the project was sidelined after SNK Playmore filed a criminal complaint against Square Enix saying  the manga used SNK characters without their permission. After settling in 2015 and the manga returning as Hi Score Girl CONTINUE in 2016, J.C. Staff announced in March it would head the long awaited adaptation. Warner Bros. Anime hosted a special screening of the anime's U.S. premiere at Otakon, with J.C. Staff Producer Yuji Matsukura and Square Enix Producer Yasutaka Kimura in attendance.

Q: What exactly is Hi Score Girl?

Matsukura: This is actually based in the 90s around that time Street Fighter 2 was pretty popular. Are there any Street Fighter 2 players in the audience? [Applause]. Oh, just a few then. Since I'm a little bit older than you guys, that's maybe why we know more about it, but that's ok! The game was really popular around that time and we wanted to create something that was based around the style of Street Fighter 2. The main character is a boy and he's the best gamer from his town. His name is Haruo, and suddenly one day this girl named Akira shows up, and she's really good. We're gonna see how their relationship and their gaming rivalry develops. The title is from the original manga. Is anyone familiar? [A few hands are raised]

Kimura: It was my understanding that the manga hasn't been translated so I'm impressed you all know about it.

Matsukura: We're premiering the anime today, so not surprised if you don't know too much about it, but we are glad you're here. Let's enjoy it together.

Q: The manga is in Big Gangan which is published by Square Enix. Can you tell us about Rensuke Oshikiri?

Kimura: Oshikiri is both a creator and a huge gamer himself. Because of that we were able to get his input on a lot of things. He's participated in and won competitions in Japan so he's a really good player.

Q: The animation is joint production between J.C. Staff and SMDE. Matsukura, the anime is in 3D - why?

Matsukura: As you saw, Yamakawa is the director of a show called “Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?” Maybe some of you have heard of that? We wanted to put together a great team, so we have a powerful person who's created music for popular games, Yoko Shimomura, and we got a great director who has had a lot of success with DanMachi. Together we really want to create an anime by gamers for gamers. As for going for that CGI look, we really wanted to recreate the feeling of being at a old school arcade. I don't know if any of you have bought a lot of the old consoles, so we wanted to recreate that experience. As a huge gamer myself, I wanted to bring something that I love, that experience, into the anime. We thought that was the only way we could do it. As you'll see, we use actual game screens in the anime and it fits really well with the GCI style in the series itself. So we're really happy with all it all came together.

The panel then played a few short video comments from the original manga creator Rensuke Oshikiri and the two main voice actors of Haruo (Kōhei Amasaki) and Akira (Sayumi Suzushiro). After announcing the anime will premiere on Netflix in December, it was time for the first episode.

Hi Score Girl begins in 1991, shortly after Street Fighter II came onto the scene. A crowd gathers around Haruo Yaguchi, an elementary school student, who mains Guile and is one of the best players at his local arcade. As a new player joins to fight him, Haruo notices it is his classmate Akira Ōno. To Haruo's surprise, she picks Zangief and wipes the floor with him. Haruo, with his last bit of money and a thirst for vengeance, plays one more round against her using a particular Guile strategy known as the “Waiting Guile.”

It is here where the show really shines. The narrator (Houchu Ohtsuka) interjects and describes this technique in detail, how it's used, why it's used, and why it's so hated so much (especially against Zangief players). I was actually quite surprised Hi Score Girl went out of its way to elaborate on this, whereas some shows may have left it as an reference for the initiated. Even playing Street Fighter II myself as a child, something like “Waiting Guile” was one of those things that I knew but never really understood. The rest of the first episode would have other mechanical lessons, including “throw loops” in fighting games and the “alchemy” item transformation trick in Final Fight.

J.C. Staff teamed up with SMDE to adapt Hi Score Girl in 3D and for as many shows that are choosing to fully go that route, Hi Score Girl seems to work just fine. What is impressive is the captured footage for the various games shown throughout the episode, which look like they are actually played in real time. Matsukura later added the footage was captured from professional players. The show also has a bit of fun with the original sprites during the narrated segments, so it will be interesting to see how the show uses the models to explain aspects in different games.

One puzzling aspect of the show is despite Sayumi Suzushiro voicing Akira Ōno, I don't think she actually spoke a single word of dialogue. Ōno primarily communicates through grunting or violence, particularly towards Haruo. For example, Haruo only learns about the “alchemy” trick in Final Fight after Ōno stomps on his foot and he realizes she's trying to get the special items. I just hope Suzushiro will have the chance to showcase her talent more as this is her first leading role.

After watching the premiere, I was chatting with some people about old gaming theories. I mentioned the old “trick” in Pokémon that went like this: After throwing a Pokéball, if you pressed the B button really fast or quickly circled around the directional pad it would increase the chance of capturing the Pokémon. Despite us growing up in totally different parts of the country, they also remembered this old “trick.” The same goes for older arcade fans who may remember the tales of how to make Guile pull out a gun or handcuffs, and the numerous stories on how to play as secret Mortal Kombat characters. Hi Score Girl put me back in a time before accessible internet walkthroughs, where theories, strategies and secrets were tested on the spot and people lined up quarters on the monitor calling for the next round. If the show continues this trajectory, I'm ready to go down memory lane.

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