The truth of the matter is, there’s really no manga or anime romance like Hi Score Girl. There are other great ones obviously, but HSG is unique. Oshikiri Rensuke is a genre onto himself both in terms of writing and art, and the more I see of this odd and quirky JC Staff adaptation the more I think they’re making all the right choices. The anime makes me think and feel things I didn’t when I was reading the manga, but they all seem like they were there all along, waiting to be discovered.
There are times in watching this series when I wonder in all seriousness – is Koharu actually too great a character? I suspect Oshikiri-sensei had this in mind all along, but there’s a very real danger that she overshadows the heroine. That happens in anime romance of course, but when it does usually because that heroine is bland or unlikeable. That’s not the case at all here, but Hidaka glows so brightly that when she’s really on her game, nothing else seems to matter.
One thing I know – I often feel that things would be so much simpler if Haruo felt about Koharu the way she feels about him. She has so much to offer and they share so much in common. She would be a very easy girl for a boy like Haruo to love, and they might just make a wonderful couple. Purely as a reader and viewer I appreciate what a breath of fresh air Koharu is. She actually says what’s on her mind, and she tells the guy she loves exactly how she feels. She’s the opposite of Akira in many ways, ways that speak volumes about both girls and their struggles in life.
The whole Shibuya Squad-Mizunokuchi Force turf war is kind of silly, but rather than something to complain about (as I’ve seen some fans do) I think that’s exactly the point. Let’s not forget that this series is autobiographical and to at least some extent, Haruo is Oshikiri Rensuke. Haruo sums all this up in his inimitable straightforward way – yes, the throwdown is silly but isn’t it better than people beating each other up? They’re actually expressing a shared love of gaming, in fact. And the whole “Shibuya = delinquent” (I’d love to know if Oshikiri really lived that) thing is, as Haruo says, a form of prejudice. It’s a provincial bias against any big city, but that doesn’t make it any less condescending than city slickers looking down on townies.
It’s hard to overstate how much I love the sequence where Haruo and Hidaka go off together after she juliennes the entire Shibuya Squad (including Haruo) at “VF2”. Much as I love almost all their shared moments, which is the problem (if there is one). Haruo can convince himself that she’s merely saving him from the predatory interest of a glomping Shibuya girl, but Koharu doesn’t let that fantasy go unchallenged. A rainy night and halted trains are the breaks she’s been waiting for, and she takes full advantage of them to lay her cards on the table in no uncertain terms.
Koharu’s behavior here is effectively proof that it’s not only alcohol that can get you drunk – when you’re 16 and in love, hormones are every bit as effective. Indeed intoxicated is the best way I can describe her at the family restaurant, and while I totally respect her for being brutally open and honest – and telling Haruo they should go to a love hotel is a brutal as it gets – she’s really putting him in a terrible position. Haruo is pretty innocent but he’s not a fool – he knows exactly what’s being suggested here. Of course he does – and Haruo is a good boy, he doesn’t want to hurt Koharu. He considers her a valued friend but even if he didn’t, he wouldn’t want to hurt her – that’s just the kind of guy he is.
Alas, cruel fate. Haruo is in love with Oono, that’s the problem. He knows it, he’s known it for a long time, and Koharu has known it too. Koharu gives him everything Akira doesn’t – clarity, honestly, communication. She’s a peer, a bro, a good friend – but she’s not Oono. She’s not the girl he’s in love with, the one whose life he’s seen impacted by his kindness and care in profound and meaningful ways. And the really cruel part of this is, the main impact of Koharu’s honesty may be to force things along between he and Akira – because that’s something neither of them has been able to do themselves. Koharu’s lot is indeed a painful one, but I never expect her to give up – she just doesn’t seem to have that in her.