Video Games? Check!
Video Games mainly from Capcom? Check!
Romance story? Check!
Set in the early 90’s in gaming’s second golden age? SIGN ME UP FOR THAT!
Welcome to High Score Girl
Akira Oono is a silent girl that comes from a well-off family that is trying to groom her in the most stereotypical way possible… make her smart and marry her off to a pre-determined lover which will benefit the family greatly! If you’ve seen this type of story then you’re not missing anything new here… or are you?
Oono is a gamer at heart and uses video games to escape the reality that she doesn’t want to be a part of. She’s pretty good at Street Fighter II, especially when playing Zangief. One day, she ends up playing one of the local arcade’s Street Fighter II heroes, Haruo Yaguchi, who is on an incredible win streak with his main character Guile. This is the beginning of their love story!
In short, High Score Girl is about two gamers who are good at Street Fighter II developing a rivalry between each other which leads to them falling in love but while the story is pretty straightforward, the complexity of it is really surprising given the type of show this is. It’s something that takes you off guard and draws you in, wanting to see what happens next. The misdirection used in the early part of the show was pretty well-executed. Just when you think that Oono and Yaguchi are about to hit it off, Oono is sent to America in order to study abroad. Time passes and when she returns, it’s like everything that happened between them before she left never happened at all. In the meantime, Koharu Hidaka is introduced and becomes the third point in a love triangle.
One of the things this show does best blatantly conveys the feelings of each character to the viewer but not to the other characters. They are all holding it inside of themselves, just waiting for that moment of self-discovery. Of course, the show isn’t all about serious romance… it heavily intertwines everything into an early 90’s gaming culture. The pure nostalgia of going to an arcade, taking turns playing each other, and honing your skills to be the best are equally as important here as the romance side of the series. They even get technical, at times, going into how different characters work or how some of the game mechanics themselves work. High Score Girl is a show that cares about its gaming story as much as it does its romance story and when equal respect is shown to both facets, as it has here with this series, you get an intangible feeling of goodness from watching it all unfold!
Our main protagonist here who is your typical, loud-mouthed, boastful gamer. He is absolutely in love with video games to the point where he makes them his entire life, even going as far as to neglect his studies for the sake of gaming. He’s the type of friend who never shuts up and goes a bit too far with his boasting about how good a game is or how good he’s at playing said game.
Despite those nuances, you don’t end up finding him annoying at all. His personality has a certain charm about him because Yaguchi reminds you of the kid inside of us that always got excited over a new video game or a kid who just found a bunch of quarters and realized that they can go to the arcade and waste the day away with them. There is a little bit of Yaguchi in all of us which is why he is so relatable. Despite his brashness, he does care about Oono and slowly begins to realize that his rivalry is becoming something deeper.
You get to see that transition where he goes from excited and obsessed with playing Oono in matches in order to solidify the fact that he’s the best to wanting to just spend time gaming with her. You see him develop his feelings slowly over time and the pacing at which he does is perfectly timed out… especially for a show that only got 12 episodes. While Yaguchi can be a little brain dead at times, it does add some comedy to the show and the fact that Oono is constantly beating the crap out of him, both in games and in real life, it makes it fun watching him be the punching bag of the show!
Really well done!
First and foremost…. My hat is off completely to this series for making a bold move. We have a main character who doesn’t utter a single, solitary word for the entire duration of the show! Oono speaks in mannerisms, low grunts, and facial expressions, yet, you can always tell exactly how she’s feeling and her actions speak louder than any word could have. The fact she doesn’t have a single voice line in this whole series sounds like it would be a recipe for disaster but I have never seen a character like this pulled off so well in all of my years watching anime.
The fact that they were able to convey Oono’s feelings PERFECTLY through mannerisms alone is a hard feat in an of itself… add in the fact that this was pulled off in a show that was in full CG and not traditional animation… and your head just explodes trying to understand how they were able to pull this off so flawlessly.
Needless to say, Oono made this show. Without her, this show would have been as generic as all hell. I wouldn’t be sitting here singing its praises if it weren’t for this one and only character. Sure, Hidaka had her own charms and was a very solid character, Yaguchi was fun as hell and if it were just the two of them, the show would still be enjoyable but it wouldn’t be as great as it was.
Oono made that much of a difference. The fact that the show FORCED you to pay attention to every little nuance about her character rather than glossing your attention down at the bottom to read subtitles while listening to tone and inflection, allowed you to have a much deeper connection with the character. It allowed to take in everything with Oono and it made you appreciate her all that much more. You got to see her natural reactions to every situation from getting annoyed by Yaguchi’s brashness to being emotionally stomped into the ground by her upbringing. Everything was there on display and this made her one of the most unique characters I’ve had the pleasure of watching.
In fact, when it comes time for the Crunchyroll awards…. If they can manage to pull their collective members out of the My Hero Academia sphincter, Oono should win best girl of the year for 2018. No other character this year has done so much with so little. Yes, I’m even putting Oono up against Violet Evergarden, which is a show I said would be a sleeper anime of the year candidate just for how good it was. I was that impressed by this character!
Hidaka is a classmate of Yaguchi’s during high school She lives upstairs from their family’s convenience store and when they install an arcade outside, who else but game-addicted Yaguchi shows up to spend a lot of his free time there! This causes a love/hate relationship between Hidaka as she wasn’t really all that interested in games at first but the more she got to know Yaguchi, the more she became converted to the religion known as gaming!
This new love for games ended up causing a different kind of love to brew inside of her. Despite the fact that Yaguchi was a bit insufferable at times, she begins to feel a connection to him and, eventually, falls in love. However, it’s not as simple as confessing your love because she discovers that Oono is in the picture and then there’s the whole “Does he love me or does he just love games to the point where I’m confusing his emotions?” aspect that was pulled off very well.
This conflict allowed you to connect with Hidaka and relate to her and is a prime example of how to feel a connection to a character using dialogue. It’s like Oono and Hidaka are on opposite ends of the spectrum yet they accomplished the same goals with the viewing audience. It’s almost as if the writers wanted the viewers to feel that the same connection could be made using traditional and non-traditional methods. If that was their modus operandi, I say that they were highly successful. The only thing that stops Hidaka being the best girl of the series is just how well they pulled off Oono as a character.
Oono just stands out way too much for Hidaka to even have a chance but it’s knowing that she has no chance of being best girl that makes you root for her even more! It’s like you, yourself, are involved in this rivalry as a spectator but it’s not just in a viewing role. It’s in a way where you feel helpless because you want to interject but you know that all you can do is watch!
Art, Animation, & Sound
I was highly skeptical when I heard that this show would be in full CG. After all, Ajin took a pretty good stab at CG and I felt that the show did well. Then we have the other end of the spectrum… the long-awaited and highly disappointing second season of Berserk… which has become a measuring stick for all the wrong reasons when it came to CG. Of course, we also had Land of the Lustrous which took anime CG to a new level so there was a mixed bag of expectations going into this show.
All I will say is that I wouldn’t have this show any other way. J.C. Staff… Yes… J.C. M’FN STAFF of all people… the LJN Games of the anime world… pulled off this show to absolute perfection. Sure, the CG wasn’t always the best and there were some clunky moments but, for the majority of the show, everything blended perfectly. The characters felt alive, expressive, and part of the show instead of sticking out like sore thumbs.
The fact that this show was made by J.C. Staff should have been a red flag. They have a history of producing some pretty bad anime but that’s not to say ALL of their shows are bad. They’ve had a few gems over the years and I think it’s safe to say that you can add High Score Girl to that list of gems. It’s like when they focus and put effort into a series, it ends up being really well-done and that’s what we got here with High Score Girl. The art, animation, characters, expressions, and emotions were all conveyed really well through the usage of CG.
Whenever I see CG in anime, I can just hear Gigguk screaming “BAD CG” at the top of his lungs (which I did hear him screaming in my head as I watched the 46th episode of Attack on Titan) at most shows but I don’t think that even he would have a case here with this show. Leave it to a studio like J.C. Staff to produce some of the best CG I’ve seen in an anime on a low-profile show like High Score Girl. It’s mind-blowing!
The soundtrack to this show is amazing. Heck, it was expected to be because Yoko freakin’ Shimomura was behind it. Never heard of her before? Go play Final Fight, Street Fighter II, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom, Super Mario RPG, Parasite Eve, Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy XV, and many other games from Capcom and Square-Enix. She was part of, behind most of, or involved in all of those OSTs and now she has lent those talents to High Score Girl.
The soundtrack is amazing. Go buy it. That’s all that can be said.
Watch this show. If you love video games… if you love the nostalgia of gaming’s second golden era… if you love seeing some of the timeless classics embedded into this show with actual gaming footage… if you love unique characters and well pulled off love story… watch this show!
High Score Girl is going to be one of those anime that’s going to fly under a lot of people’s radars because of the artwork and the premise. Do not let that deter you. For the love of God, DO NOT LET THAT DETER YOU! High Score Girl is filled with memorable moments… moments that will make you laugh, cry, smile, and make you wish you were a kid in the 90’s all over again. I cannot say enough good things about this show.
My only fear is that people gloss over this one and its greatness will forever be lost into the annals of time. Don’t let that happen. Make an effort to watch this show. Go in with skepticism if you want because, hell, I did. It will change your mind in a hurry, guaranteed!
If you thought WotaKoi: Love is Hard for Otaku was a great meshing of otaku culture and love… then you can take that feeling and add in nostalgia, and more light-hearted theme and you will get High Score Girl. I can’t say it enough. The show is not perfect enough to get a 5-star rating but it’s damn good enough to EARN a 4.5.
Also… three additional episodes were announced! Episodes 13-15 come out in March. Normally, I don’t review shows where there’s still a handful of episodes left but this show was too good to wait until March to talk about. Needless to say, I will be giving Episodes 13-15 their own separate review when the time comes!
High Score Girl
High Score Girl is a full CG anime that actually conveys emotion using that CG! It’s an amazing hybrid of a love story mixed with gaming culture set in the second golden age of gaming during the early 90’s. It makes you laugh, cry, and wish you were a 90’s kid all over again!
- Great characters
- Great nostalgia
- A deceptively simple, yet complex love story
- Great Soundtrack
- Six month wait to see the final three episodes
- Some animation was clunky
- Overall Score