As one might have expected after last week’s episode, this was Hi Score Girl stripped down to its bare essentials. As much as I love Koharu (which is a ton) even I have to admit this is the core of HSG – Haruo, Akira, Guile and Zangief. It’s a masterpiece of my favorite “simple yet profound” manta – two characters, one of whom doesn’t even speak (at least verbally) and video games. But it’s also the crash scene where childhood slams into the brick wall of adulthood – and what could be any less simple than that?
One element of Oshikiri Rensuke’s writing that doesn’t get enough credit is the humor. Some of that he brings on himself by over-relying on tropey violence gags at times, but there’s a zaniness – and I don’t use that word often with anime – element to his aesthetic that really appeals to me. That whole sequence on the Shinkansen with the animal-counting game – first a kappa, then an increasingly random string of mythical creatures – is totally charming and hilarious. Is it actually happening? Is Oono dreaming it? It doesn’t really even matter in a series where childish flights of fancy are so integral to the tone.
On that note, I also love the way Guile and Zangief are used here. Effectively they’re Haruo and Oono’s spirit animals, but a modern Japanese take on that Native American idea. It’s a splendid conceit but especially so essential given Oono-san’s silent persona (which is in itself an interesting Oshikiri conceit). Plus I could listen to Guile’s “sonic booms” for hours. Call them the subconscious, imaginary friends, whatever – what they (especially Guile) allow the characters (especially Haruo) to do is hash out their feelings through dialogue when there’s no one around to talk to. Every adolescent could probably use one of those.
Then we have Osaka, a particularly appealing playground for a couple of kids with ample Yen (Haruo’s through his job, Akira through her wealth) burning holes in their pockets. Takoyaki, weird art, ¥10 arcades – all these are a part of the fabric of Osaka. One could throw up their hands at the notion that after traveling all the way from Tokyo Haruo and Akira just want to do what they do back home, only here – but we love what we love, just like we love who we love. And it’s pretty clear from Akira’s reactions that she’s having the time of her life.
Indeed, this is by far the most “verbal” – if not literally – we’ve heard Oono in the entire series. She grunts and gasps a veritable symphony by her standards, and she’s never laughed this much where we were privy to it. While Haruo notes that Akira’s silence can make things awkward (obviously), what’s really magic about their chemistry is that he fills in the gaps she leaves so naturally. “I’m bad with silences”, the boy muses, and it’s true – but it’s that very fact which makes he and Akira fit together hand-in-glove.
Haruo (as Guile notes) has come a long way in his relationship with Oono, to the point where he’s now proud to be know someone as gifted a gamer as she is. But the inescapable fact here is that while he’s distilled their future down to the results of playing a video game, they’re not children anymore – well they are, but they’re also sixteen years old. 16 and in adjoining hotel rooms, with no adults around. In love. Would it be a bad thing for them to hook up? Wouldn’t it be the most natural thing in the world? I’m pretty sure Haruo’s mom wouldn’t mind. They do wind up in the same bed of course (the last time in a hotel it was the same room, so I guess this is progress), but what happens after that? And how would Haruo knowing the truth influence that?