Hi Score Girl – Anime Review
Synopsis: A chronic gamer abysmally inept in academics and sports finally meets his match at his usual shady arcade — and it’s his rich classmate, Akira. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Are you a fan of retro arcade games? Eager to take a trip down memory lane, filled with nostalgia galore as you watch lovingly rendered scenes from games of your childhood? Or maybe your interest stems from being an avid gamer curious about the retro arcade years? Then Hi Score Girl is THE show for you. This show is undoubtedly an ode to the glory years of arcade gaming and the period right around where gaming consoles began finding their way into households. Almost every episode features one or several scenes of the show’s protagonist, Haruo Yaguchi fawning and praising one game or the other, usually a fighting game with his biggest love reserved for Street Fighter II. Viewers with similar feelings about the fighting games of old are sure to connect and delight with Haruo’s excited ravings and find Hi Score Girl a delightful romp. If that viewer sounds like you, you do not need to read any further. You’re going to love the series and going beyond this point is only going to anger or upset you, so let’s amicably part ways here as you depart to go engage in a heart warming, happiness inducing nostalgia trip.
From this point on, I am going to assume you are either someone new or not particularly attached to older video games/arcade gaming or you’re hoping to watch and enjoy Hi Score Girl for something other than its boatload of gaming related sequences. Well, I may have some bad news for you. Let’s begin with the romance or rather the handling of its female characters. Hi Score Girl features a heroine (the titular high scoring girl, Akira Ono) who never speaks during the entire 12 episode run. Some may try to defend this as a plot device or something that adds a quirk to the story but honestly, it comes with a degree of uncomfortable male fantasy. We have a heroine who never gets to really define herself. Haruo is often assuming or deciphering what she’s actually thinking on his own, left almost free to infer just exactly what kind of a person she is. Sure, she lashes out in rage by hitting him when he angers her but they never have an open and deep discussion with each other where both parties actively say things. Instead, Akira Ono becomes the ideal dream girl, one who is not only amazing at video games but also never given a voice so our male protagonist can create a persona for her to his liking in his head. It makes the whole romance feel extremely fabricated and insincere, but I’ll concede that this is a teenage romance and those rarely tend to be that deep, so one might dismiss my complaints as simply expecting too much. However, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that the show’s titular character is not a great female characterization and any tragedy or exploration we get of her life is usually just a plot device to make Haruo’s story line develop rather than Akira herself.
Continuing on with the female characterization issues, we have Koharu Hidaka who runs the risk of being yet another male fantasy character, as not only does she also turn out to have some inherent latent skill at video games but she ends up utterly devoted to Haruo even after it is made clear again and again that his mind and heart belongs to Akira. Not only that, her initial interest in video games is a shallow one, meant to give her chances to spend time with Haruo rather than because of any actual interest on her part. The show even goes so far as to have an episode where she goes to visit him when he is sick, claims interest in his gaming console but then tells him she is happy to watch him play as that’s what gives her joy rather than playing the game herself. I would like to make it clear that I think these things do have some legitimacy as we are after all dealing with high school aged characters and honestly who of us hasn’t feigned interest in our crush’s passions to try and get their attention and company, especially in our teen years. In fact, this actually does give this show some real life authenticity and may even be material that will make some viewers connect with its romance angle. And to its further credit, Koharu does eventually grow to learn video games of her own volition and not just to impress Haruo. But seeing how the show handles its main female heroine as male fantasy stripped of expression, Koharu might also rub viewers the wrong way early on.
Moving on to the comedy, it’s mostly relegated to physical violence gags. Akira often attacks Haruo for saying or doing something not to her liking or showcasing some awkward characters, such as high strung opponent players in the arcades throwing tantrums or a strange looking female classmate who constantly says and does inappropriate things like demanding to see a male classmate’s private parts. It’s common juvenile comedy so unless you enjoy that kind of humour, you probably won’t be laughing much. It’s not terrible humour, just nothing especially inspired.
So, after all that, should you still watch Hi Score Girl? If you can enjoy stories solely focused on its main character to the point of sidelining and marginalizing its female cast, despite being labelled a romantic comedy, then go on ahead. Just keep in mind that the main theme and purpose of Hi Score Girl seems to be showcasing and fawning over the arcade years of gaming and the early emergence of console gaming thereafter with its characters often tools to frame and have video games on the screen. The cast itself isn’t especially mold breaking, and the less said about its female characters, especially through a female viewer’s point of view, the better. Its male protagonist, Haruo is given a bit of a character development journey but it isn’t one that’s amazing enough to impress anyone who isn’t also watching it for the video gaming element. There’s a chance that you could still enjoy and grow to appreciate the historic roots of gaming because of this show and be charmed by its vintage feel but Hi Score Girl is a show that definitely demands some interest or appreciation for gaming for its character and story to have a chance of thoroughly impressing the viewer.
Hi Score Girl is available for streaming via Netflix.com.