OP: 「New Stranger」 by sora tob sakana
All jokes aside about Street Fighter‘s 1961 release, Hi Score Girl captures the magic, aura, and skill it takes to learn about arcade games from the inside out, and is a loving homage to the experience of navigating through an arcade in one of its finest hours. Other than the movie theater, my home away from home as a kid was a dark, neon-tinted arcade nestled near the entrance to my local mall, with a constantly updating roster of games. I missed 1991 by a long shot so my poisons-of-choice were Tekken, Mortal Kombat, NFL Blitz, The Simpsons, the first Marvel vs. Capcom, Cruisin’, and, most importantly, Street Fighter II. Seeing the opening sequence with a man in a street brawl winding up for the first punch was always fun to watch, and with all of the re-releases that happened up to that point, Cammy, Fei Long, and Claw (Vega) were able to join my A-team alongside Chun Li and E. Honda.
Excuse the flood of memories, but Hi Score Girl‘s greatest asset is tapping into the energy that comes from being lost in the moment of these games. With Haruo and Akira finding common ground with games like Street Fighter II and Final Fight, it makes it fun to go into this series with some working knowledge of the two games. Street Fighter II in particular gets a lot of love in the first episode as we get lessons on strategies and movements associated with the pair’s respective choices, Guile and Zangief. As a fan of fighting games, it was funny to see an extensive lesson on turtling as Haruo is chided by a crowd for playing cheap with Guile or the amazement that comes from the joystick motions needed for Zangief’s infamous Spinning Piledriver. While Haruo plays through other games like Splatterhouse and we get a small appearance from Ghosts & Goblins, it’s Final Fight that gets an equally fun nod with how Akira played with the full intention of using an arcade system exploit to clone items.
At the moment, the story is more focused on showing the characters struggle and fight with/against each other in the classic arcade games of ’91, so there isn’t as much time dedicated to fleshing out the characters in better detail. Haruo isn’t currently made to be likable or sympathetic as a boy whose only talent is playing arcade games, and holds a deep resentment for a girl, especially a girl like Akira, trying to best him at these games. Akira is positioned as a silent lead, offering only cute or angry responses to situations around her as her main source of characterization outside of her level of skill at certain games or her reaction to horror. In fact, although the games are the cornerstone of the series during the beginning, it’s the pairs reaction to the arcade and its denizens that made for the best moments such as when they had to bear with a couple that got increasingly angry every time they lost. Seeing Haruo give the angry boyfriend a win to shut him up was funny, but not as hilarious as the complete disregard Akira has as she uses E. Honda to suggestively grapple the angry girlfriend’s Chun Li. There’s definitely potential with how close the two could possibly get as well as the blonde girl within the OP having a role, but for the time being, we’re mostly given the games as a main attraction.
On a technical level, Hi Score Girl is impressive in that it makes CG animation look palatable. It’s definitely noticeable, but not distracting in the way of ruining the animation or looking cheap. Adapting the artstyle certainly helps as it looks far more natural when the characters are still, and looks convincing enough to resemble traditional 2D at times. The OP hints at what’s to come with the plot and games featured on the show, but it exponentially stands out with the ED where the pleasant vocals and production of Etsuko Yakushimaru sends the episode off with a calm, peaceful vibe to go alongside the cutesy visuals of the sequence. Hi Score Girl still has a ways to go with its characters, but there is a ton of promise that comes with how dedicated the show is to capturing the feeling of camping out in front of an arcade machine with a few coins and a dream.
ED: 「放課後ディストラクション」 (Houkago Destruction ) by Etsuko Yakushimaru