This Week in Anime
Why Hi Score Girl II is a Perfect Gamer Romance

by Steve Jones & Nick Dupree,

Netflix dropped the arcade nostalgia bomb that is Hi Score Girl II on its streaming service. Haruo and Ono continue their fighting game rivalry-turned-friendship-turned...something more? Gaming dorks they may be but their romance is a guaranteed KO.

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.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Steve
Nick, we're about to talk about a series that takes place way back in the mid-'90s, but it's also one that's managed to capture how I've been surviving for the past two weeks.
Nick
Hi Score Girl is a franchise that understands some sentiments are timeless. Like love, loneliness, the struggle of growing up, and the fact that Gamers have always sucked.
Season 2 is also more broadly about the way teen boys have always sucked, but admittedly there's a lot of overlap in that particular Venn diagram.
So after months in Netflix Limbo we finally get to see the 2nd season of one of my absolute favorite shows of 2018. It may look jank as hell and be about an era of video games I never cared about, but I really friggin love these emotionally constipated idiot children and their flirty fighting game rivalries.
Meanwhile I ended up mainlining both seasons in a row, and wow! At the beginning I was literally just anticipating a show about "haha bideo james funny," but by the end of the first half I was ready to lay my life on the line for these precious bobble-head morons.
That mirrors my experience too. For a series absolutely drowning in constant 90s arcade references, it somehow manages to be both a timeless romantic dramedy and make me nostalgic for a childhood I never had. Like I've never played this game or anything like it, but this sentiment? I feel it in my bones.
Yeah, I was born in the late '80s, so I kinda missed out on the height of the arcade craze pictured here, but I absolutely remember going to them and playing some of these machines. It also helped that I've watched a pretty unconscionable amount of GameCenter CX, so my knowledge of Japan's arcade scene is decent enough. But basically as long as you know that Guile's theme goes with everything, you're pretty good.
Meanwhile my knowledge of any fighting games is entirely through watching EVO highlights. Which I mention mostly to highlight that HSG also had an official cross promotion with EVO last year and I want everyone to see it.
A literal match made in street fighting heaven.
Anyway, that's all season 1 stuff. Here in Season 2 we've moved beyond the halcyon days of preteen gaming romance and into the far more vicious world of teenage gaming romance. Where the Street Fighters are Alpha, the Fighters are Virtua, and Haruo might have to learn what sex is.
Never fear though, dear readers, because under no circumstances will he ever have the brain bandwidth to do so.

Sorry Hidaka, but you gotta be direct with this guy. The inside of his brain is just this video on repeat:
Seriously, watching this dumbass 16-year-old boy try to figure out what Feelings are gave me so much firsthand embarrassment about my OWN 16-year-old dumbassery that I had to pause the video on multiple occasions. Hi Score Girl gets arcade games right, but it really gets adolescent idiocy spot-on.
Haruo is a total dumbass, but it's a credit to HSG's writing that I never find him actively annoying. Frustrating at times, yes, but ultimately it's shown he has an empathetic and open heart at the end of the day. Though he could probably use better role models.
Oh no, honey. Please reconsider. It's only 1996. You have so much time to turn this around.
He'll be alright as long as Spirit Guide Guile is there to lead him back to the true path.
He's a likable little brat for sure tho. And another thing that also helps mitigate his thicker romcom protagonist tendencies is that literally every woman in his life is out to make his existence a living hell. As it should be.
Dude was already outclassed by his mom in S1, but the addition of Ono's sister just means he's playing checkers on a 4D chessboard.
The addition of a dirtbag oneesan to the cast is such a power move—a hadouken, if you will—by season 2.
She's here to make weird faces and give out useful life advice. And she's all out of advice.
Makoto's presence is a consistently welcome one, and she also provides a reasonable lore explanation for why Akira never talks: Makoto does so enough for the both of them. Perhaps, arguably, too much at times.
I'd also mention here that anyone looking to watch HSG season 2 should definitely watch the "Extra Stage" OVAs that came out between seasons. Netflix thankfully includes them in S1 and they're really important to understand the character dynamics at the start of this season. Also Haruo makes Ono her own game in RPG Maker and if that's not the CUTEST SHIT.

Oh my god yes. They're basically just regular episodes that bridge the two seasons in addition to featuring the aforementioned most romantic gesture ever to grace a gamer's greasy thumbs.
And they're good context for how S2 opens with a replay of S1's events through Ono's perspective. Now personally I thought S1 did a fine job letting us into Ono's head despite her never uttering a word, but S2 really ramps things up to further develop why exactly she fell in love with Haruo and gaming in tandem.
Everyone needs an outlet to vent their frustrations through, and sometimes you're the child of overbearing aristocrats and the only outlet that's wide enough to handle your frustrations is a burly man named Zangief who loves piledriving.
And sometimes you love Zangief so much he becomes your inner spirit guide to show you the ways of the FGC.

Like it sounds silly but I was honestly ecstatic when Ono got her own Gamersona, because it both gives the show a way to express her feelings outside of Haruo reading her, and puts her on an even level with him as their relationship grows. Look at these proud fighting fathers.
The best set of wingmen a gamer couple could ask for. And in general you can tell there's a lot of love poured into how the meditations on arcade gaming weave their way into the show's central relationships. It's one big hotpot of nostalgia, but the way it highlights arcades in particular as social spaces is really insightful.
Even if you've never slapped a single joystick, Hi Score Girl should make you understand why this was a unique and magical time for kids like these.
And that all works into how each of these characters approach games and their relationships. They bond, bicker, and have emotional epiphanies through games, but it never feels like a gimmick because it's all built into how they've grown up and learned to express themselves. Plus sometimes it's just...ridiculously metal. This has to be the most emotionally charged match of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo ever imagined.

Of course. Sometimes it's not ALL about gaming. As much as Haruo might want it to be.
She's got his number, all right.
Even Hidaka's O Maidens-esque impulsive attempt to bang Haruo after they have an arcade-related falling out is tied to how their relationship has evolved around their shared hobby. She thinks she can't compete with Ono as a gamer, so the next field of battle would be, well,
Hidaka is such a great character and my biggest legitimate frustration with the show is that it doesn't do more with her. That's the big downside of Hi Score Girl structuring itself around a love triangle that she ultimately loses, which means she disappears for a good while until popping up again in the last episode. It's a shame too because her surprise ascension as a fighting game wunderkind is a perfectly interesting story in its own right!
I think what resolution she gets ultimately works well. Once it becomes extra-obvious which way Haruo feels, her arc is more about trying to untangle her feelings for him from her feelings toward gaming, and the resulting 1-v-1 against Ono is surprisingly intense.
It's a great scene for sure! I just think we could've gotten even more out her in the end than "gets a Character Development Haircut in the finale." But I totally agree she's better off not dating Haruo, especially when Nikotama is right here putting the moves on like this.
Steve you're shipping her with Heybot!. Stop.
Look I can't help it if Hidaka's most compatible matchup is voiced by This Week In Anime's favorite esteemed Heybot! alumnus Shiori Izawa.
Anyway, I think I was mostly distracted from any qualms over Hidaka's character arc by HSG doing the ballsiest thing in the world and just playing the entirety of a Virtua Fighter CG Portrait Series disc during the next episode.

I did not dare hope that this was real, but it is and it's spectacular:
It's an amazing deep cut that's only topped by Season 1 showing an entire NeoGeo loading screen in dead fucking silence.
When video games are good, they're good.
Also in the very next episode Spirit Guile straight up tells Haruo to go get laid. You can see why I might be distracted from anything else.

I could watch an entire series that's just Spirit Guile providing sage guidance on the regular. And to be fair, I guess that's pretty much what Hi Score Girl already is.

And while Haruo might not have gotten laid at this particular juncture, he got the next best thing I'd say.
My favorite part is how they communicate Haruo seeing a new side of Ono he wasn't prepared for.

That's a visual metaphor and punchline 20 episodes in the making that I never say coming and it made me fall off my chair when I saw it. Bravo.
If there's one thing Hi Score Girl understands, it's Gamers.
That whole sequence is surprisingly sweet. It's two nervous neophytes trying to inch their way towards emotional intimacy as best they can, and it reminds me of some of the later episodes of Toradora! in a good way.
I'll never get sick of it's two emotionally stunted dorks sublimating their feelings into a form of communication that only they can understand—an act which, by its nature, confirms the validity of their connection.
I take it back, this is the most emotionally intense game of Super Street Fighter II Turbo ever.

This is so sappy and I'm HOLLERING all the same. This doesn't even approach the surreal brilliance of the big emotional climax of the entire show, which is so good I kinda don't even want to risk spoiling it.
Oh that climax has to be seen to be believed. But the last Street Fighter match deserves focus too. It's a final thesis statement on how the theme of competition and rivalry informs their relationship. Haruo and Ono push each other to better themselves while always reminding the other of who they really are, and that's what makes following them worth it regardless of the ups and downs.
That's all wonderful and true, but I think an equally powerful message to take away from the show is that getting beaten by a girl in a video game was the best thing to ever happen to Haruo. We can all learn from that.
I genuinely can't think of an anime couple in the last few years that stuck with me as hard as these two, and seeing their finale got me honest-to-god misty eyed. These kids are gonna be alright.
I also think it's VERY important to share this: there's a sequel spin-off manga called Hi Score Girl Dash that is apparently about a 30-year-old Hidaka who's still a gamer. So we BETTER get a adaptation of that, is all I'm saying.
Oh I'm sure it'll happen eventually. Though if it's anything like a certain other 3rd installment...well best not to hold your breath.

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