Thursday, February 14th, 2019

Hi Score Girl is a Love Letter to 90's Fighting Game Players... and it's a Must Watch.

  

First off, I'm not the typical person who recommends anime.  Back in my younger days, I used to watch a lot more anime (some old school favorites include Berserk, Initial D and Death Note).  The last "modern" anime I really enjoyed (and couldn't get enough of) was One Punch Man (patiently waiting for Season 2).  In general, I spend much more of my time trying to get better at fighting games over watching TV or movies.  However, as a fighting game enthusiast for 30+ years, I'm here to recommend to you an anime called Hi Score Girl.

Originally written and illustrated by Rensuke Oshikiri, the manga released back in 2010.  Directed by Yoshiki Yamakawa, the anime was greenlit in December of 2013 and first aired last year, July 13th to September 28th, 2018.
 


Hi Score Girl is chock-full of fighting game references... and then some. 

 
Hi Score Girl follows sixth grader Haruo Yaguchi, a boy who is known for slacking off in school and athletics... but when it comes to video games, fighting games in particular, Haruo's true passion and persona comes alive.  To quote a line of show, Haruo spends his time at arcades to "escape the drags of everyday life"... and I know that a lot of us long-time fighting game players can immediately relate.  And Haruo is not the only character in the show who's a regular in the local arcade scene.
 


Akira Ono is a quiet girl....  she also racks up win streaks at arcades to escape a strict home life. 

 
Hi Score Girl takes us back to the year 1991.  For any old school gamer, this show is a true nostalgia trip back to simpler times... times we should remember and deeply appreciate.  In many ways, Hi Score Girl is a love letter to those of us who grew up playing games in late 80's / early 90's arcades.

The show wastes no time highlighting some very real "arcade kid / video gamer problems" back in the day... here's a few you might remember:  Which game systems can I afford to buy?  I can't wait for this (and that) game to be released... will I even have enough time to play all of these games while balancing school work and relationships?  I need to level up my skills, so next time I meet "that player" at the arcade, I'll have my fated revenge! 

Hi Score Girl immediately draws you in with its accurate depictions of classic video games, home consoles (and their epic release dates) and Japanese culture. Along with all the 90's nostalgia and authenticity, Hi Score Girl has rich moments of comedy, which shines through clearly in characters expressions and enthusiasm (or lack thereof) heard in their voices. To quote Haruo in one of my favorite scenes: "No, I really don't want to play Ghosts 'N Goblins... (because quarters last much longer in Final Fight)."    This kid speaks the truth.
 


Hi Score Girl hits on the "important" fighting game releases of the time. Darkstalkers yo! 

 
All of the characters in the anime are, impressively, made entirely of 3D models, but still manage to show convincing expression and substance.  Animation-wise, Hi Score Girl is not groundbreaking or particularly flashy... with the video games themselves (and gameplay) actually taking precedence a lot of the time.  However, there are some brilliant moments of character animation, such as Haruo walking like Cody or Guy from Final Fight.  (I was guilty of periodically doing this walk myself between 1989-1990.)

Camera angles during many scenes do a fantastic job of capturing that "arcade feel". In nearly every scene when characters are hanging out inside an arcade, your eyes tend to wander over characters' shoulders to check out what games are being played on the screens in the background. The gameplay on all the screens is crisp, looks to be running at a perfect 60fps, and character commentary during the full-screen segments is entertaining and witty.
 

 
In fact, one of my favorite aspects of Hi Score Girl is the many moments of gameplay in "full screen mode". Every episode of Season 1 is chock-full of full-screen goodness that brings you right into the game the kiddos are playing in the moment. We're not talking entire matches or levels, but you definitely get to enjoy the game along with 'em for a short while. Nostalgic 2D sprites also randomly fly across the backdrops at the weirdest times, breaking up some of the typical (slow-ish) storytelling and character development.
 
Before watching the anime, I knew a little bit about Hi Score Girl and its direct homages to Street Fighter 2, specifically. What I wasn't expecting... was how many other great homages there are, including a more-than-healthy dose to my all time favorite 2D beat-em-up title, Final Fight. There are plenty of other fighting games referenced too, including Darkstalkers, Samurai Shodown, Mortal Kombat, and plenty of other (non-fighting game) arcade classics.

The show doesn't take long to venture inside of the player's mindset during a Street Fighter 2 match, citing specific strategies such as "turtling" and "throw janks". Those of us who love playing fighting games competitively can immediately relate to some of the "mind game moments" that take place during an intense match with another human. And for those of us who remember actually playing games in arcades, the show comically brings up awkward (yet perhaps memorable) real life public situations when playing at an arcade.
 


Yeah, Guile just got bodied.... and if you've ever been a Guile main, you'll especially love this show. 

 
When it's not busy being a binge-worthy nostalgia trip, Hi Score Girl is something of a romantic comedy.  The snarky and sometimes rude Haruo Yaguchi doesn't seem at all interested in girls (an excusable flaw for a 6th grader) until, of course, he gets bodied by Miss Ono in Street Fighter II.  Haruo clearly takes his fighting game skills seriously... so seeing his bruised ego pushed to its limits after his losses (along with his cockiness after winning) is comedy gold.  Haruo eventually comes around in some ways, but I guess I won't spoil the love story part for you hopeless romantics.

Back to the games.... There are so many great references to small details of games and specific characters (and I won't spoil all of them for those who haven't seen it), along with the mention of iconic release dates for "life-changing" consoles at the time (including a few home consoles which were much more popular in Japan).

The show also provides us overseas fans with a historical walkthrough of Japanese culture in the 90's (as a kid) and its lucrative arcade scene.  From the little "mom & pop shop" arcades (with just a few sit-down cabinets), to the local "hotspot" where all the hardcore fighting game players hang out, to the overdone (and usually disappointing) theme park arcade... it's all very relatable to what many of us experienced overseas with the rise of fighting games in the 90's.
 


Among many of the show's random funny things... one of the teachers is actually Lau from Virtua Fighter. 

 
Time passes fairly quickly in the show, with characters aging and new games being released... even highlighting 3D fighters such as Virtua Fighter 1 & 2, and my personal favorite, TEKKEN  What the show gets very, very right is the "importance" the main character puts on the new games and systems coming out in the near future.  This struck a chord with me, as I could immediately relate to Haruo's excitement when talking to his friends about upcoming games (especially when those friends appear to be much less informed).  Going over to each other's houses to play on consoles and experiencing games for the first time with friends (because nobody can really afford to have all the systems by themselves)?  Those were the days.  Most kids of this new gaming generation will never know the struggle.
 


This screen speaks to me... This was exactly me in 1995/1996, minus the cute girl sitting on my bed. 

 
The anime's soundtrack is composed by the legendary Yoko Shimomura, known for her work on iconic and timeless soundtracks such as Final Fight, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, and Kingdom Hearts.  Besides the original songs heard in the intro and outro (which is especially catchy), most of the score (and sound effects) is designed to resemble music specifically from games like Street Fighter and Final Fight.  Needless to say, the audio design of Hi Score Girl is pretty fantastic all around.
 


You never know when and where Akuma is going to pop up.    

 
There are even some clever cameos by actual fighting game (and non-fighting game) characters in Hi Score Girl.  Many of the cameos are fighting game characters speaking directly to Haruo in his head.  (Again, I won't spoil this comedy gold.)  For any kind of video game fan, of any age, Hi Score Girl is a must watch for historical value alone.  I for one can't wait for Season 2.  What makes Hi Score Girl even more interesting and unique is the fact that it begins in '91, with the characters aging at least 4-5 years throughout the first season.

That said, could you imagine a High Score Girl  "Season 7" with characters fully grown and still enjoying modern fighting games such as Ultra Street Fighter IV or TEKKEN 7This would be an authentic reflection of a large part of the fighting game community (and really the only piece of media that exists to reflect this lifelong passion of ours).  It's a pretty exciting prospect that Hi Score Girl could continue for several more seasons, as we will get to vicariously experience the excitement of future game releases along with the main characters.  That said, there's a ton of potential for this show on many levels.  And I must say... being an adult who still loves playing fighting games after 20 or 30 years is actually a pretty special thing.
~TFG Webmaster / Mr. Yagami
 


Hi Score Girl was clearly made by fighting game fans... for fighting game fans.  Must watch! 

 
You can watch the entire first season (12 episodes) of Hi Score Girl on Netflix and Crunchy Roll.  Three "sequel" episodes 13-15 are planned for release on Netflix and as an OVA in March 2019. Below is an official trailer for the upcoming episodes.
 

 
Stay tuned on FightersGeneration.com for the best fighting game coverage and content.
 

Sources:  Hi Score Girl NetflixWarnerbrosanime
  Related News:  (2-11-2019): The History of Street Fighter: The Movie (The Game),
  (2-10-2019): Final Fight Developers Interview / TFG Retrospective

  Related TFG Links:  Street Fighter IIYie Ar Kung FuDarkstalkersVirtua FighterTEKKEN
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