Hi Score Girl: Horrible Atmosphere

Hey! Do you like video games? To be specific, do you like arcade games from the 1980s and 1990s? Do you like mastering them and spouting trivia about them to the point where you ignore everything else? Do we have a show for you!

Meet Haruo Yaguchi, the protagonist of Hi Score Girl. He’s exceptionally good at arcade games, and he’s growing up smack dab in the middle of the Street Fighter II craze of the early 1990s. One fateful encounter at an arcade pits him against Akira Ono, a girl from his school and an unsuspected arcade game prodigy. The two of them forge a contentious friendship around arcade games, somewhat impaired by Akira being well-off, graceful, and exceptionally popular at school despite the fact that she never says anything. At all. Stifled by her rich-girl life, she interacts with Haruo through glares, physical violence, and, of course, video games. Her only display of emotion comes when she moves to America and bids Haruo goodbye.

The narrative then moves forward a few years and makes the bold, stunning move of introducing a prominent female character who actually speaks. Really! She forms complete sentences and everything! Her name is Koharu Hidaka and she’s a bookish classmate of Haruo, who’s now in middle school and still so obsessed with games that he’ll spend hours playing the latest Street Fighter update outside of the shop owned by Koharu’s family. This is all the reason she needs to fall for him, and soon she’s doing her best to learn all about these video games Haruo enjoys. And then Akira comes back.

Hi Score Girl‘s true conflict begins here, as two girls fight over a boy who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Haruo is bratty, self-absorbed, vaguely sadistic, relentlessly fixated on games, and, even after he matures, quite boring. His only notable skills lie in playing games and rattling off details about them like a Wikipedia entry in need of editing. It’s hard to imagine what either girl sees in him, though Akira is almost as horrible. She’s admired by everyone at school even though she never talks to or even smiles at them, and she has no personality traits beyond lashing out violently, getting scared of games like Splatterhouse and Space Gun (because she’s still a GIRL, haw haw), and showing our wretched protagonist the occasional hint of affection. Koharu is slightly more sympathetic, simply because she possesses recognizable emotions, thoughts, and the willingness to communicate them.