Hi Score Girl brings the arcade boom of the 1990s to life on Netflix, with an adorably nerdy love triangle and tons of gaming deep cuts. This week, Nick and Andy share what makes this humble series so special.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Andy, after being buried in this mountain of Netflix
anime, I've frankly gotten kind of burned out. I think we need a change of pace. Perhaps we could talk about something else...
In the year 2019, I assume the phrase "transforms your house into an arcade" means your house has been closed for over a decade and turned into a Starbucks.
What're you talking about? It's not 2019. It's the era of the fighting game revolution! Arcades are thriving, we're on our 5th edition of Street Fighter II, and any day now this Neo Geo CD will finish loading.
I applaud whichever sick bastard included that real-time load speed in the show. It was an incredibly painful and successful gag. But yes, we're going retro! Back to the days of sizable pixels and less horrific presidents.
Welcome to Hi Score Girl
, a show so 90's you may literally drown in chunky plastic game hardware.
Personally, of all the looming Netflix
shows waiting to be released last year, HSG was the one I was most interested in. I ended up really liking the mangaka's previous short anime Pupipō!
, and I was also just interested to see a show that was nearly litigated out of existence.
I never saw Pupipō!, but I may be obligated to check it out after this. On the subject of the past, I wish I had taken the time to watch this before the New Year, because I can honestly say that it would've ended up on my best of 2018 list. Hi Score Girl is a show for a very specific audience, and it turns out that audience is me!
If you can recognize and remember playing any of this shit in the background, then you're gonna enjoy the show.
Mind you, this isn't Ready Player One style nostalgia. This is a show that recognizes your inner nerd-gremlin who grew up playing video games and learned to appreciate other people by playing games together with them.
I was never into most of the stuff featured in HSG myself. I was born too late to get into arcades and didn't get a gaming console until the PS2, so I was a little worried that watching this show would be more like...
Tons of sucking indeed.
But it turns out that behind all the pixel art, the bleeding heart of HSG is awkward kids trying to connect through their shared interests and passions. It's very much a nostalgia bomb for 90's kids, but it uses that as a hook to tell the story of a trio of weirdos learning about each other through games, and the result is really unique.
I can't believe I just watched a show where the main dude spends 90% of his screen time babbling about video games and I don't hate him. We see his life from elementary to high school, and he does manage to grow up emotionally in a relatable and endearing way while still maintaining his passion.
Yeah, at the start Haruo is a little shit, to put it bluntly.
He's a tiny arcade gremlin who turtles when he's losing and gets way too smug about it, but he's also the kind of kid many of us knew growing up, and it helps that he quickly grows out of that particular issue after a couple episodes of getting smacked down by our titular Hi Score Girl.
Despite never really talking, Ono is the best. And I'm not just saying that out of bias for her character choices.
If you like yourself some Zangief (as I do), then boy is this the show for you.
Ono's another character who could have turned out way different from how she did. Like she literally never speaks in the whole show, but she still manages to express a rounded and sympathetic personality.
It's something I'd probably call out as a gimmick in a lesser show, but the way Hi Score Girl uses her actions while playing games to communicate her feelings and moods is wonderful. It's delightful how her intentions are clear to the audience while Haruo completely misreads them.
It's a great way to tie the premise to real emotional stakes. Haruo, Ono, and Hidaka all learn more about each other and themselves by playing games together, and it makes the gaming references feel less like window dressing and more like character building.
How they play, their character choices, and even where and why they're playing certain games is all thematic—from the one-on-one bouts in various fighting games to co-op brawlers. It's especially heartening when Hidaka prefers to simply watch Haruo play.
It's a thoughtful and unique way to tell a story about adolescent romance, and I'm really glad I finally got to watch it. Now if only it were actually animated.
It definitely lacks in some aspects, but I thought the mixing of real video game footage and pixel art with that simple style ended up working, even though it initially felt like a terrible visual clash.
I mean, how can you not love spirit guide Guile?
Oh I loved all the game footage stuff. But I can't help but wonder what the show would look like in either traditional animation or with a more refined CG aesthetic. There's some interesting stuff going on with how faces are rendered on the body models, but on the whole the show looks its best when there's no movement on screen.
You're absolutely right. There's even some great off-the-wall visuals that would be cool if they were animated with more polish.
I do appreciate the show's face game.
Few words. Many faces.
I'm gonna nerd out a bit because I really want to talk about those character choices. The biggest interactions in the show are based on them, and I have an unhealthy love of fighting games so I might as well embrace this opportunity. Ono's primary is Zangief and other large grapple characters. These all have to play conservatively and look for small opportunities to finally make their move. They feature moves that are really hard to execute, but when the opportunity arises, any single thing they do can end up completely overwhelming their foe. This puts opponents under constant pressure to be perfect, for fear of what happens if they make a mistake. Hidaka plays highly technical characters that specialize in mix-ups and mind games. It takes a lot of constant precise inputs to get the flow of the game in your favor, so much of the match is spent trying to manipulate your opponent into doing what you want them to do. Finally, Haruo plays charge characters like Guile. Their special moves literally require them to hold back for a set amount of time before they'll work, so they may lead to players being seen as too defensive or resorting to cheap tactics to win, but it's more about learning patience to grind out a win.
See, as a non-gamer, I didn't get any of that. I just figured Ono liked 'em big and hairy. But it's a really cool touch to show how and why each character relates to certain games and play styles compared to their daily lives.
It's that unique mix of fighting game deep cuts and character writing that makes HSG feel so unique. I may not know a Darkstalker from a hole in the ground, but do know my romcoms, and this show nails the awkward teen romance angle with a ton of heart and laughs.
Watching Haruo and Ono's relationship grow from schoolyard rivals to friends to budding romance is really endearing, especially in how they both push each other to grow and change. They both offer the other something that they feel they lack, which drives them to improve or challenge themselves.
They hold on to the qualities that originally drew them together, while also growing into the spaces the other needs from them. It's one of the reasons that every time Hidaka tries to force herself into the mix, things don't work out for her. While video games may have come naturally to her, she doesn't have the same emotional chemistry that Haruo and Ono share. It's a little funny and a little sad, but overall it'll turn out alright, since she has found a personal passion. She just needs to be able to separate it from Haruo.
I mean, it's just too hard to come between people who are this close.
I like that while Hidaka originally picked up games to get closer to Haruo, she eventually starts enjoying them on her own. And also that she's better than him after like, a year. She spends much of her early episodes just quietly crushing, but she really comes into her own when she gets more confidence. And smugness.
Her internal dialogue finally sneaks out now that she's got the skills to back it up.
Thankfully, the show has taken great pains to show us that game skill isn't what makes you equals, which the cliffhanger in the last episode is setting up in a big way.
Oh right, that goddamn final episode. Listen Netflix. Y'all held this show back until the very last week of the year. The least you could have done is release the whole thing! I don't care if those OVAs aren't done yet, gimme the ending so I can watch these kids' CG bodies awkwardly contort into a hug.
Guess you'll just have to wait for Hi Score Girl
Hyper Fighting Turbo