Title: High Score Girl
Author: Rensuke Oshikiri
Publisher: Square Enix
Anime and gaming have always been hobbies that are, more or less, linked at the hip. Many popular gaming franchises will often spawn anime of their own while numerous popular anime will find their way to the digital realm sooner or later. Even the fandom side of things, which so often converge at anime conventions and other gatherings of nerdy types, tend to meld as well. Leading to things like small-scale fighting game tournaments at anime conventions and the recent upswell in visual novels and other related games appearing on Western shores in the form of titles like Steins;Gate and Dangan Ronpa.
In honor of this long tradition of mingling among fandom culture, I’m happy to introduce our newest column; in which I will discuss anime-based games, game-based anime, and anything else that exists at the nexus point between the two cultures. We’ll start things off with an overview of the recent video game-themed manga, High-Score Girl.
While most anime and manga that dwell on the topic of gaming are often centered on very specific parts of the culture, such as MMOs in the likes of .Hack, Sword Art Online, and Log Horizon, High-Score Girl instead uses the video game culture of the early to mid 90s as a way to showcase the growth and development of its main characters as they grow up from elementary school students playing the likes of the original Street Fighter 2, to high school students debating the merits of Virtua Fighter and the rise of consoles, such as the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, that allowed for the reproduction, though not perfect, of arcade games in a home environment.
Through the lens of what we now consider retro gaming, High-Score Girl tells the story of two sixth grade students, Haruo Yaguchi and Akira Oono, who are worlds apart in terms of personality and home life. Haruo is a lazy kid who would rather hang out at the arcade all day rather then do his homework, while Akira is an elegant and proper young lady from a rich family who’s days are crammed full of lessons, studying, and little time for hobbies or socializing. The two meet after Haruo is horribly beaten by Akira in a game of Street Fighter 2, and he quickly becomes enthralled by the quiet girl’s passion for gaming.
Being that both of them are so young, this naturally turns into a romantic comedy of sorts, as Haruo does his best to overcome his own crass personality, and being a ten year old boy, to convey to Akira his feelings for her. While this romantic back and forth between the two leads sits firmly as the crux of the plot, what frames the story is the previously mentioned backdrop of classic games, both console and arcade, from the early part of 90s. These titles, which include the likes of Street Fighter 2, King of Fighters, and more, are often depicted in either actual screen shots of the games in question, or as lovingly reproduced artwork by the series’ author, Rensuke Oshikiri. Anyone who grew up in the era when these games were new, or at least recent, will likely be swimming in a sea of nostalgia as you recall your own history in that era and what gaming meant to you, I know I sure did. As for those to young to remember such a time, you will likely get a kick out of seeing these games for the first time and learning a little bit of history regarding the early days of popular gaming.
Gaming is not the main focus of he series, but rather a vehicle to explore its lead characters and their growth from children into young adults. This is most evident in Haruo’s constant drive to get back at Akira for beating him in their first game of Street Fighter 2, as his inability to best her in the virtual world is often compared to his similar ineptitude in expressing his own feelings. This metaphor carries even further, as the successive release of Street Fighter 2 upgrades in the 90s, such as Champion Edition, Hyper Fighting, and The New Challengers, carries on not only as a symbol of the marching force of change, but also Haruo’s evolving relationship with Akira. Games are also used as a vehicle to show just how Haruo sees the world around him, as characters from his favorite video games, most often Guile from Street Fighter, who is Haruo’s character of choice, appears several times over the course of the manga to act as the young boy’s voice of reason, telling him such things as to never give up and such. Things like this make High-Score Girl thus not truly a manga about gaming, but one that uses gaming to tell an engaging and often funny story.
High-Score Girl also does well to adapt the changing video game scene as a means to move its story forward. Thus far, the manga has been divided into through arcs, Elementary School (1991), Middle School (1993), and High School (1995), which show evolution not only through its characters changing lives and appearance, but also the games they play. As mentioned above with the various upgrades to Street Fighter 2, as the story wears on, we see a change from the NES, to the SNES, and finally to the Playstation, as the industry changes around our central character. This marks not only the passage of time, but a larger sentiment in High-Score Girl, that nothing stays the same. Gaming changes, people change, but sometimes the feelings we have, such as Haruo’s for Akira, don’t adapt to the times thus leading to lingering resentment and pain that is often hard to shake free of.
Unfortunately, the future of High-Score Girl as a series has been in limbo for quite some time. As of 2014, SNK, the maker of games like Samurai Showdown and King of Fighters, sued Square Enix, High-Score Girl’s publisher, for allegedly using their characters without proper permission. This led Square Enix to recall the bound volumes of the series in response though the on-going magazine print version of the manga is still ongoing as of writing. This also means that the anime version of High-Score Girl, which was announced a bit over a year ago, may never see release. That would be a shame as the series is one of the best I’ve read in years.
To conclude, High-Score Girl is in every way the sort of manga that I would reccomend not only to gamers, but anyone looking for a solid romantic-comedy/drama with decent art and fun and engaging characters. The only real issue here, is the fact that the series may never be finished. Which, as I said prior, would be something of a tragedy.
That does it for this week’s installment of Anime Review. If you’ve got an idea for what I should cover in the future, or just want to comment on the new column. Feel free to drop us a line either in the comments below, or on Twitter @APGNation or at my personal Twitter @Fluffyharpy.