Reviewby James Beckett,
Hi Score Girl II
It is 1996, and Haruo Yaguchi and Akira Ono may be high school students now, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Akira is just as enigmatic as ever, and Haruo is just as determined to perfect his gaming skills, and the pair's obsession with fighting games and arcade games burns as bright as ever. Likewise, Koharu Hidaka's competitive prowess has only grown as she continues to pursue Haruo's affections as Akira's romantic rival. The trio aren't children anymore, though, and soon enough, they will each have to figure out how their relationships with each other and the games they love will square with work, family ambitions, and the uncertain futures that come with adulthood. Haruo may have mastered every combo and secret input in the book, but he still has a lot to learn before he can get his name onto the leaderboards of love!
Hi Score Girl II has arrived on Netflix a little over a year after the first series, though when you factor in the three OVAs that were dropped in the meantime, it feels like no time at all has passed since we checked in on this retro-arcade themed adolescent romance. In the first season, we watched as turned-budding- Akira and Haruo met in their middle-school years and shared an arcade-game rivalry that eventually blossomed into something much sweeter before Akira had to leave Japan. Then, poor Koharu managed to fall hard in love with Haruo right when Akira made her grand reentrance into his life. There was a lot of comic misunderstanding as the three kids each discovered the feelings that they harbored in their hearts, with some bit of drama sprinkled throughout to keep the tension high, and more references to early-nineties arcade and console games than you could toss a Hadouken at. The show also made great work of its era-appropriate soundtrack and polished CG animation; though rarely an aesthetically ambitious show, Hi Score Girl could always turn up the charm and the wackiness when the need arose.
If you enjoyed everything Hi Score Girl brought to the table, then you'll likely enjoy Hi Score Girl II, as it is a direct continuation of everything the first season started. The video-game history lessons that the show uses as its main gimmick are fun, and the comedy is breezy enough to make the seasons 9 episodes (and the 3 OVAs tagged on to Season One) go by in a flash. This is a love story first and foremost, though, about an unlikely romance years in the making. Indeed, one of the series' chief strengths is how much time we have spent watching the characters grow up together. Half a decade goes by between the series' beginning and its finale, and after twenty-four episodes' worth of playing up its central love triangle, Hi Score Girl II makes it a priority to bring Haruo, Akira, and Koharu's stories to a mostly-satisfying conclusion. Lessons are learned, video-games are beaten, and Haruo does indeed make some very important decisions regarding the women in his life. How exactly you will feel about those decisions will be a deciding factor in how much you enjoy Hi Score Girl, in the end.
Haruo continues to be a likable but dense teenager, and his dynamics with Akira and Koharu have their respective prose and cons. Though she is consistently framed as the underdog of the story, Koharu is ostensibly the more “relatable” of the girls, because she is the only one of Haruo's love interests that actually speaks. Meanwhile, while Akira is plenty communicative, it is exclusively through facial expressions and pantomime. Even as the more adult emotions and experiences of Hi Score Girl II test our protagonists in different ways, Akira represents a much more exaggerated vision of romance compared to Koharu, who is very verbal in her desires to get all wrapped up in Haruo's business.
To be honest, though I find the non-verbal connection Haruo and Akira share to be quite adorable most of the time, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how these two would function as a couple, realistically. Is Akira literally mute? She never uses any sign-language or writing to get her points across, and characters will often speak of her as if she is plenty talkative off-screen…but then Haruo will make a point of how he's never heard Akira speak in the years he's known her. My biggest worry going into the series' ending was whether it could make a convincing argument for both Koharu and Akira as believable characters that we can root for equally.
Thankfully, the members of the Ono household help even more in this season when it comes to leveling the romantic playing field and rounding out Akira as a character, since they essentially describe and translate Akira's thoughts and motivations. It isn't the smoothest method of character development I could imagine, but it works. Akira's sister Makoto is especially is someone I'm glad we get to see much more of, and her delightfully mischievous friendship with Haruo's mother, Namie, elevates another character was already one of the secret MVPs of the series. The strict tutor, Moemi, and the kindly driver, Jiiya, also get minor but impactful opportunities to storylines that show how they too have been affected by Akira and Haruo.
Also, since Hi Score Girl II is building up to a fairly definitive conclusion, it allows itself to challenge Haruo and Akira's relationship even more directly than what we saw at the end of season one. Haruo has to learn to be much more aware of others' feelings and desires, which in turn makes Akira that much more understandable to the audience. The show also gets to flex its visual muscles too, as it approaches its finale, playing up the use of familiar video-game spites and music and tying them all into the intense emotions at play. I won't spoil what goes down in that last episode, but I was surprised at how affected I was by it, and by how happy I was with where all of the characters ended up.
Netflix's dub is also just as good as it was in the first season, even though the dialogue can sound wonky in English sometimes (no thanks to the many lines that are devoted to explaining fighting game mechanics). There are some noticeable differences between the subtitles and the English lines, though they are mostly minor, and hardly worth fretting over. The season benefits from gives allowing the more actors time to shine, too. Makoto, Cristina Vee as Makoto and Cindy Robinson as Namie are some of the highlights of Netflix's dub this season in general, while returning stars Johnny Yong Bosch and Erika Harlacher continue to do solid work playing Haruo and Koharu as older (and maybe even wiser) young adults.
For as dramatically limiting as it can be, the Akira's strictly non-verbal communication is handled with just a touch more nuance here, and all three protagonists show how much they have grown and matured since their rivalries first ignited. I would gladly welcome the opportunity to see where these characters end up at a later point in their lives. The thought of Haruo, Akira, and Koharu continuing to kick each other's butts well into the hi-definition era of game consoles makes me pretty happy, which means Hi Score Girl II accomplished exactly what it set out to do. It isn't ambitious or emotionally rich enough to be considered any great masterpiece, the series has earned a well-deserved spot in the annals of cute and heartwarming anime rom-coms.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ The show remains a sweet romantic comedy that builds to a satisfying and emotional conclusion, the CG and music complement the arcade aesthetic, Akira's is a little more complex this time around
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