I was wary for a long time about these CG anime shows. CG crept into anime bit by bit – first vehicles in shows like Last Exile, then mecha, then cute girls strictly when singing and dancing, and now we’ve reached the stage where whole shows are made in CG. I’d still much rather see traditional animation, and CG animation on TV still usually looks awkward and stiff, but slowly these shows are winning me over. I really enjoy watching Koneko no Chii even after its transitionto CG, and Kemono Friends is undoubtedly cute even if the animation style is rough around the edges.
With High Score Girl, I wanted to watch no matter the medium. I love shows that bring in characters or references from all kinds of properties that you don’t often see together. Maybe the trend got a bit out of hand lately with Wreck-It Ralph and Ready Player One and all the rest of it, but the prospect of the show heavily referencing nostalgic video games really appealed to me. There was also a bit of interesting history here, with SNK having made a copyright claim against Square for use of their characters in the original manga, later settled out of court. The very premise of these characters sharing pages with dozens of other retro game characters really piqued my interest.
There isn’t actually much of the game characters in the series. Aside from Guile from Street Fighter, who acts as a kind of guardian angel, generally we just see games as the characters play them. A few others pop up from time to time, but this isn’t a story about video game characters or anything like that. It’s a story about a boy who plays games.
Partly, this show is fun to watch because of the nostalgia goggles. Obviously, I didn’t grow up in Japan, but I did grow up at a time when the arcade scene was thriving. It’s so fun to see someone getting excited over Mortal Kombat or Darkstalkers games, and remembering back when Tekken and Virtua Fighter were the new kids on the block.
At its core, this is a love story. A love triangle story, in fact. There’s a funny-looking kid obsessed with games called Yaguchi Haruo, and the only thing that’s important to him is playing video games, right when they’re emerging. Otherwise he’s a bit useless. Useless at sports, useless in school, useless with girls. Except that one day he comes across his elite, rich, ladylike classmate Oono playing Street Fighter 2. The two of them then become close and begin to bond over escaping the problems of their daily lives by playing games. Not only that but a few years later, another girl called Hidaka is drawn to Yaguchi’s passion and develops a crush on him.
Now, on a superficial level, this is some pretty awkward wish-fulfilment with a certain level of objectification that is uncomfortable. Despite being a scrawny, ugly kid who just loves to game, this boy gets not one beautiful girl but two falling for him. Pretty standard wish-fulfilment. To make it even more questionable, the idealised, universally-adored, wonderful love interest Oono has a defining characteristic – she never talks. The perfect girl that everyone loves is the one who doesn’t ever speak. Just blushes, relies on the boy she likes and occasionally gets angry and lashes out at him in slapstick style. The perfect girl doesn’t speak. Not because she can’t. She just doesn’t, or is never seen doing so onscreen.
But y’know, strange as that is, Oono is very cute at the same time as being mute. I suppose there’s space to project onto her. And Yaguchi being so hapless yet having one all-consuming passion makes him very easy to identify with. He can be crude or neglectful at times, but it seems understandable, and he often gets the chance to demonstrate that he’s a good guy with a good heart. And that’s why I kept coming back to High Score Girl and will absolutely watch the OVA and any more they animate.
I don’t think this show will go down in history as one of the best, but it was absolutely a fun watch and satisfying from start to end. And the little appearances of some great games of the past definitely sweetened the deal.