High Score Girl – A Love Letter to Childhood Gaming

If you’re a fan of anime, there’s a chance you play games as well, and that lead producers to making anime linking the two. That’s given us series like Pokemon, .Hack, Sword Art: Online, Log Horizon and the like. Most shows that tried to mix video games in there by making the game actually manifest itself in reality, or having the characters themselves be transported in to the game world. Usually this has been paired up with power fantasies where your protagonist would achieve great feats that wouldn’t be possible in the current society he resides in. High Score Girl doesn’t do any of this, it simply tells a story of a kid who’s a gamer during the age that the industry was exploding. For those who are aware of Dagashi Kashi, it’s like that but better, as it manages to combine featuring games and their little quirks, and at the same time use it as a device to move the story and characters forward. And sure, the anime doesn’t look very impressive, I’d say it’s more of an acquired taste. But it delivers on things that makes it worth watching even if you’re not attracted to the style.

First of all, meet Yaguchi Haruo, a kid who thinks of nothing but games and plays as often as he can. Whether it be in school, on the way home, or even at home. With no notable achievements or abilities, he has become the subject of ridicule of his class especially because of his obsessive gamer hobby. And boy, that’s making projecting myself onto this guy a lot easier than I’m willing to admit.

One fateful day he fights Oono Akira in an arcade and pisses her off by beating her with cheap arcade tactics in Street Fighter 2. Despite having a terrible first impression with each other, they end up hanging out as they explore various arcades and videogames. Hidaka Koharu later comes into the picture but generally it’s the same setup. The two girls fall for him (which I don’t relate to) as he shared the world of games he experienced with them. By episode 3, it had already set itself up to be one of the best romances of the season.

While I was pretty charmed myself because of the trip down memory lane along with the enthusiastic narration by Haruo, they did something else to make watching them very endearing. The most obvious example would be Haruo’s method of thinking and acting. Characters from the various games he plays talks to him in his imagination, playing as his conscience, challenging him to be a better person. He sees and thinks of things in terms of gaming and he can’t help it. The author also allows him to journey through the various scenes like arcades and tournaments, never dragging something on for too long.

While other anime use game mechanics to set a world’s rules or as a power system for your characters, High Score Girl uses this mainly as a way for expressing and exploring characters. Haruo who was viewed as a good-for-nothing, became a cheerful walking wiki when it came to games. Hidaka, who initially had a pretty boring set of characteristics, had developed a more fleshed out personality as she was able to pour herself into video games. Oono who never really talks, was quickly understood by Haruo when they started playing together. This was best illustrated when Haruo noticed that something was wrong with his tournament game against Oono.

And to top it off, the characters feel pretty real. They act like spoiled brats when they’re kids, get embarrassed over petty things, act selfishly, make mistakes, mess up basic social interactions, and don’t think about getting a boyfriend/girlfriend from the start. All the characters develop a certain amount by themselves or with some help from others. They all feel natural as you get to know them, and you cheer for each one of them as they grow.

What sucks about the series though, is how the TV series ends at episode 12. And a pretty heavy cliffhanger at that. While I completely understand from a production point of view, it’s seriously frustrating that it ended where it did. There’s at least an announced OVA that should close it out nicely, but I feel for those who won’t have the patience to wait for March next year.

Still, I can’t help but appreciate what High Score Girl managed to do with its story. Showing how it would be like for a gamer during that day and age, the habits he picked up, and the growth and challenges he faced as new things came into his life. How the it’s creators had thoughtfully synthesized a gamer’s perception, choosing the genre of fighting games which I has a special place in my heart made encounters and expressions that much more personal for every character involved.

I hope more people check out this sleeper hit.

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