In 1991, Street Fighter 2 was the biggest game in the world. Every arcade, laundromat, pizzeria, and grocery store had a machine, and the line to play often went out the door. Adolescents spent quarter after quarter refining their virtual martial art skills. Hi Score Girl is all about that special time in gaming, and about two kids who connect through their love of video games. Brought to the west by Square Enix Manga, Hi Score Girl volume 1 is available digitally and physically. You can also check out both seasons of the excellent anime on Netflix. Let’s find out if Hi Score Girl is worth reading?
Character select screen
Haruo is in his final year of elementary school. Although he’s a mediocre student, Haruo excels at video games, and he is particularly skilled at fighting games. He wants to become an elite gamer and seemingly never stops talking.
Akira Oono (pronounced “oh-no”)
Akira is an exceptional middle school student who is in the same class as Haruo. She has top grades and excels in music, art, and karate. She is also a superior gamer than Haruo. While exceptionally talented, Akira is the silent type.
Haruo is in his local arcade, playing a sit-down, dual-screen Street Fighter 2 machine. He’s usually untouchable at this game, but today he’s getting hammered, and the person giving him the ass-kicking is the seemingly perfect Akira Oono.
Akira is a wizard at the game with Zangief, one of the most challenging characters to use. She’s on a streak of twenty-eight wins and Haruo (with his Guile) refuses to become her twenty-ninth. Resorting to the most heinous of all strategies: he cheeses, using an unstoppable light attack/throw strategy. This earns him a well-deserved punch from Akira. I can tell you from experience that doing this earned real punches to real people in real life.
Harou and Akira continue to run into each other at various arcades. Akira proving over and over again that she’s the better gamer, even if that isn’t her intent. In one instance, she beats the single-player campaign in Street Fighter 2 on a machine with only two working buttons, something Haruo can’t dream of doing.
Everything comes to a head during a co-op game of Final Fight, where Haruo messes up her run towards a high score and earns some more punches from Akira in the process. Obviously, Haruo isn’t super friendly with Akira (I mean he’s often on the end of a beating). But, he has no choice but to respect her tremendous talent and skill. Still, will the relationship between these two ever progress beyond a one-sided rivalry?
Hi Score Girl volume 1 spoilers
Going for a hi score?
The ice between the two begins to melt when Haruo catches a cold and has to stay home from school. Akira, who is the class representative, brings by his homework printouts and stays to play Haruo’s PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16 in the US). A system that was popular in Japan, but never got much traction in the US.
From here, their friendship continues to develop as they search for a legendary arcade, and later go to an amusement park with a group of friends. But which direction will this slowly growing relationship go? You’ll have to read the book – and the series – to find out.
The art is highly stylized, with lots of alien-ish eyes, razor-sharp teeth, and all kinds of weird deformations representing different emotions and facial expressions. It’s not your typical manga style, but its uniqueness helps the book stand out.
A lot of care has gone into drawing the details of all the game machines and in-game characters. Prepare to feel some nostalgia if you grew up gaming in this era. My favourite part of the art is the callbacks to classic arcade games, like this image, which is a copy of what you see after every match in Street Fighter 2.
Lost in Translation
The manga uses the Japanese names of both game systems and video game characters, which may seem confusing, especially if you played these games in the US. Aside from the PC Engine (which US gamers knew as the TurboGrafx-16, as mentioned above), the Japanese names for Street Fighter characters are used.
Why is this important? Because the final boss in Street Fighter 2 is called Vega in Japan but M. Bison in the US. At one point in this volume, Haruo is amazed at the strategy Akira used to beat Vega, which confused me at first because I didn’t understand why beating a sub-boss was such a big deal. It wasn’t until I remembered this name switch that things started making sense. Keep this in mind to avoid confusion in future volumes.
Is Hi Score Girl, vol 1 worth reading?
Absolutely. Hi Score Girl volume 1 is a perfect combination of comedy and old-school gaming and an effective tonic for folks like me who love both. Haruo and Akira are both highly likeable characters, and watching their animosity gradually turn to friendship is engrossing. There’s a good chance you’ve already seen the anime based on this series – it’s been on Netflix for quite a while. But, whether this is your second time through this story or your first, it’s a fantastic book and a great start to what will probably be one of the best series of 2020.