The year is 1991 and 6th grader Yaguchi Haruo only has video games to live for. He's not popular in school and he's neither handsome, funny, nice nor even friendly. The only thing he has going for him is that he is good at video games. One day at the local arcade, he plays Oono Akira, a fellow classmate but who's popular, smart, pretty and a rich girl that absolutely destroys him at Street Fighter II. Not only does he lose to her 30 times in a row, he can't beat her at any game. Haruo can't seem to shake Akira off as she follows him from arcade to arcade everyday after school and beats him every time. As weird as it sounds, the odd couple begins a strange bond and friendship.
High Score Girl was nominated for the 6th Manga Taishou Award and the 17th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2013. In the same year, it placed 2nd on the Kono Manga ga Sugoi! Top 20 Manga for Male Readers survey and ranked 9th for the Comic Natalie Grand Prize.
The series was put on hiatus between August 2014 and August 2015 due to copyright violation charges against publisher Square Enix by game company SNK Playmore for using characters from its games without permission. Serialization was resumed on July 25, 2016.
I was looking to chill for a bit and browsed around looking for a new manga to read. I ended up reading Hi Score Girl with at first not much hope for it : the theme seemed like some tweek of the ordinary, and the art, especially the design of the characters, suggested it was going to be a simple comedy.
I ended up feeling so enthusiastic about it that I'm a bit sorry to write about it while being so obviously biased. But in the meantime, I just want to tell how much I found this manga so surprisingly good. I'll push my qualms away
and just go for it.
The manga is built around two themes : video games, and school life romance. Both of them seem pretty basic, but they are here used very smartly.
First, they are told through time. In a lot of mangas the pacing is a huge problem. And it could clearly have been -- and a reader less enthusiastic than me might very well feel that it's still slow -- without the fact that the author studies these themes through time. Years go by fast, and although the characters don't evolve that much in these 35 first chapters, consequences are told and it all feels dynamic.
Second, both themes are tightly intertwined. The video games just seem to be the excuse for characters to meet and interact ; the characters' story are also an excuse to talk about old school video games.
But all that would only be smart, while this manga is just beautiful to me. The reason is that all three of the main characters are very touching.
Haruo is completely addict to video games. A lot in him pisses me off. How can you spend so much time on them ? How can you be so oblivious to so many things because you're obsessed with games, all the more arcade games ? In the meantime, his struggles with very human things -- self-confidence, friendship, love -- made me forgive his flaws and root for him.
Also, the game addict characters' obsession is often depicted as coldness and despise towards the "real world" (for example : The World God Only Knows), Haruo is kind and often considerate towards others -- but can also be very selfish, but hey nobody is perfect.
Oono is an oujo-sama, again one of these perfect students all around, from a very rich background, popular on top of it. This kind of character just pisses me off, because mangakas use them so widely and are usually straight stereotypes. But nothing about Oono is ordinary. She just doesn't speak -- which kinda bugs me since I can't get how such a problem wouldn't raise concerns. And she secretly is also very passionate about video games.
Her rivalry with Haruo changes into a deep bond ; and with time Haruo is able to read her mind with just the smallest facial expression, or any time they have a conversation where Haruo speaks for both of them, I just smile, feeling like I'm witnessing a very deep relationship.
Hidaka, last but not least, is at first a very diligent student. She's studying all the time because she doesn't know what else to do -- contrary to Oono, her parents don't mind her fooling around, even encourage her to do what she likes. She seems to have very little friends at the first appearance in the story. She doesn't seem to have much in common with Haruo, except she admires his ability to just chill and have fun. So she follows him in his video game world with a touching sincerity. While Haruo can't seem to think about anything but video games -- with selfishness a lot of the time -- she sticks with him, carrying on admiring him all throughout. Her behaviour is paradoxical yet very human : we've all been amazed by things we didn't understand.
The characters are unique, they are studied with quite some finesse, and a bit of drama did the trick for me. I'd recommend it blindly even for people that don't care about video games since I haven't read a better manga for quite a while.
A manga following the life of a game-addict and his life in the 80s/90s during the infancy of arcade and console games. A poor student, the protagonist spends nearly all his time thinking about and playing video games. One day, he is defeated at the arcade by a female classmate, sparking both a rivalry and friendship that is central to this manga.
The actual story takes a bit to take off, and feels very slow and unexciting until it does. However, once it does progress, you find yourself in the midst of a heartwarming relationship that you can't help but root for. The two main protagonists
come from separate worlds but are united by the common bond of arcade fighter games.
It may take some time to get used to the art styl. I personally was not a huge fan of the art and characters at times, particularly in the case of the protagonist and the background characters. The main protagonists see good character development as you get to know them better through various stories.
In the end, it does turn out to be a pretty heartwarming manga. If you pick up this manga, be a bit patient with it and you'll definitely enjoy it. Those of you who grew up alongside arcade fighting games will also have a good time with the references that this manga throws out. Those of you who aren't familiar with side-scrolling fighting games will still find a budding romance or two to cheer on.