Brings me back.
I was born in 1991, actually, so I guess I was “too young” to be nostalgic for that year, but High Score Girl (ハイスコアガール, also Hi Score Girl) by Oshikiri Rensuke (押切蓮介) definitely makes me nostalgic. This is a series about video games and growing up being surrounded by video games; no doubt I can relate. It’s also not vague about things like many manga will try to be in order to avoid copyright infringement. Capcom is Capcom, Namco is Namco, and SNK is SNK. Yeah, about that…
I am unable to discuss this series without discussing the colossal mess that caused it to be stuck in legal limbo for two years. Well, technically one year but the mess started in 2014 and the manga resumed in 2016. Here’s an article about it. The simple rundown is that Oshikiri-sensei ran his manga under the assumption that everything on the legal end was copacetic and, as far as I’m aware, with basically every company it was. High Score Girl was getting pretty popular, an anime was greenlit, and a bunch of game companies were getting publicity without having to do a thing. All were satisfied, all except for SNK.
I won’t say it wasn’t within SNK’s rights to sue Square Enix, the manga’s publisher, and have police raid their offices, but I will say it was a dick move (especially to file charges against Oshikiri-sensei, who wouldn’t actually be responsible for whether or not the manga he drew was legally sound). My guess is that SNK, being the completely down on its luck and barely hanging on company it was, saw money in High Score Girl — money they weren’t getting despite their IPs being used in the series. At any rate, the manga was forced into hiatus in 2014, and after SNK was bought by another company the legal crap was cleared up in 2015. The charges were dropped, and in the meantime a fucking precious manga lost a lot of the hype it had been building up. Fuck. Yes, I am still mad. Mad at whoever was ultimately responsible! Be it SNK who couldn’t be cool, or be it Square who didn’t necessarily do their legal jobs properly. I don’t care, it sucks.
High Score Girl resumed serialization in July of 2016, meanwhile the first five volumes of the series were revised and re-released as High Score Girl CONTINUE (ハイスコアガール ＣＯＮＴＩＮＵＥ), featuring a new extra chapter within every volume and SNK being near-wiped from the pages (along with some other edits and differences for different publishers) save for references to Samurai Showdown and King of Fighters. This doesn’t actually do too much, I guess, but does drastically change one character at least. Kind of a real shame, but for what it’s worth the version of this series that you can (as of this writing) read in English is the original version, SNK and all.
Okay, that’s enough of that; what’s the deal with this manga?
Yaguchi Haruo is a kid who loves video games, living in the ’90s. The series begins with him in elementary school, facing off against a mysteriously skilled Zangief player in Street Fighter II. It’s his classmate, Oono Akira; an ojou/high-class sort of character who goes to public school for some reason and is, apparently, ridiculously good at video games. Oono doesn’t talk. She never talks. I’m not sure if she can’t talk, but she never does. She communicates through action or inaction, the first example of this being her beating the shit out of Yaguchi for some absolutely horrible cheesy and scumbag tactics he used to end her win-streak on those SFII arcade cabinets.
She does indeed, and throughout the first volume of this series Yaguchi and Oono slowly form a bond through gaming. Words aren’t really necessary, and even though Yaguchi is pretty much a fuckup whereas Oono is a perfect sort of girl of prestigious upbringing, the two of them can operate on a same or similar level while sitting or standing before screens. As they get closer, we see so many games. SO MANY GAMES. If you are a video game player, a game hobbyist, or otherwise a so-called “gamer”, this manga is likely to send you on an intense nostalgia trip.
It’s also just plain nostalgic in a “I remember when I was a kid, hanging with friends” way. And it may come as no surprise, but this series is also a romance, so along this road called “memory lane”, you’ll also be feeling warm and fluffy feelings, as well as some dramatic tension and legit pathos. Yaguchi and Oono’s relationship is adorable, especially since it starts from pure antagonism, but you might have figured out that because of Oono’s family, playing games and associating with kids like Yaguchi is frowned upon, which gets in the way of the two’s relationship. It doesn’t help that arcades in Japan are favored by children and adults alike, making them fairly violent, cigarette smoke-filled dens. A lady like Oono doesn’t belong in them.
Well, “doesn’t belong” in a class-sense. Oono is a dyed-in-the-wool gamer, forged in those very cigarette smoke-filled arcades that she’s told to stay away from. She’s just as violent and just as willing to throw-down, perhaps even more so. Maybe because of that attitude similar to an aggressive cat, it’s all the more nice watching her and Yaguchi grow fond of one another.
Anyway, this series doesn’t end with Oono in terms of cast, and it doesn’t end in 1991.
If your childhood lies in the ’90s, or you just like to recall those years, keep reading because it keeps going. The series is entrenched in reality, and the regular reminders of facts and frequent mentions of real IPs gives the manga a great feeling that you can only get by playing things straight and not being cute about self-censorship or whatever. It helps. It helps a great deal.
As the manga continues we get a couple new characters in the series. A literal couple, though, as in “2”. There are some other side characters, like Oono’s genial chauffeur and strict tutor, or Yaguchi’s weird mom, but they’re quite minor. As Yaguchi enters middle school a friend of his is introduced (who is not worth mentioning here beyond “man, what a bro”) as well as another girl: Hidaka Koharu.
Hidaka is a pain. Actually, maybe that’s saying it wrong. Hidaka is painful. This isn’t actually criticism; the reason I find her “painful” is because she’s an excellent character.
Basically, Hidaka is a girl from Yaguchi’s middle school who doesn’t play games. Her home has a little arcade cabinet out front but otherwise she doesn’t care about them. Due to the seedy nature of arcades as well as the fact that it’s not allowed by her school to even go to arcades, Hidaka wants nothing to do with them. She only becomes interested after circumstance gets her and Yaguchi together. Yaguchi, who’s so passionate about games, gets her interested in them eventually practically through sheer will. It’s cool watching her actually take the time to look into more games on her own, and slowly improve until she’s actually very good at them herself. She’s even got a company she was grown from: SNK! She’s a NEO GEO kid. Or, you know, was before being retconned into a gamer raised on miscellaneous cabinets. That said…
Yeah, she falls for him. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Now, contrary to how this usually goes with me and romance series that have love triangles or harems, I do not prefer or loathe the “other” love interest in favor of the “main” one here. I like Hidaka; I like her a great deal, but I can’t help liking Oono more. There is a lot — a LOT of time given to Hidaka, building a good rapport between her and Yaguchi, but any time Yaguchi and Oono are together…man, it’s just so moving.
The relationship between Oono and Yaguchi? That’s true fuckin’ love, man. And it builds. Furthermore, most of the time there’s a chill and relaxed atmosphere between them that feels very natural. They examine both strange and famous games and play them with varying degrees of cooperation or clashing of fists. There’s also many moments of them doing things aside from playing games, letting them bond over more than only that. It’s just so nice. Plus, the two of them grow as characters — Yaguchi especially, who grows to be increasingly responsible and surprisingly manly. This is without a doubt a coming of age series for the both of them, and where this series really shines is in how in spite of the dramatic moments, in spite of the romance, in spite of the love triangle, games never ever leave. In fact, games just support it all.
It doesn’t feel hackneyed, it doesn’t feel like a gimmick, it feels genuine. And goddamn it, it’s all crafted in such a way that not once, not twice, not even just three times but several times this manga made tears well up in my eyes.
When you start reading this, all this stuff isn’t necessarily what you’ll be expecting given the contents of the first volume. Make no mistake, there are moments for tears in volume 1, and there’s definitely heartfelt scenes and no shortage of games, but volume 1 also introduces you to Oshikiri-sensei’s utterly ridiculous art style and sense of humor. I don’t know what else to say about this but “well, against all odds, it works”. The characters who are not recurring in High Score Girl seem to be either deranged or otherwise distinctly ugly. It’s friggin’ weird, but it doesn’t actually clash with the otherwise realistic nature of the series. It’s almost…I don’t know…childish? Like, it’s another aspect that evokes nostalgia; seeing the world through the eyes of children, and thereby seeing the world as completely fucking insane. This doesn’t detract from the series, but I can’t not mention it all. I mean, just look at this stuff:
It’s so weird. All in all, this manga is pretty weird. With these elements, the frankly BAD art, the focus on games, a main heroine who doesn’t speak, and a love triangle, this series should be a recipe for disaster and yet it’s anything but. The strange humor magically works in its favor, the art is easy to forget or otherwise surprisingly cute, the games serve the story step for step, Oono’s lack of speech makes her really adorable and forces you, the reader, to analyze her thoughts and motivations (as well as puts it on the author to make it clear what she’s thinking without words and just using visuals), and the love triangle…now, I won’t say exactly how it works in the series favor, but I will say that even though love triangles are usually very awful, I doubt you’ll actually have any complaints about it and what it does for the main characters. All this in a lovely, nostalgia-fueled package. I cannot overstate just how happy I am to know the manga is back on track once more. I hope we see an anime some time down the road…
High Score Girl has my high recommendation. It has a few caveats — like, if you aren’t a gamer I’m not sure whether or not the series will work for you — but otherwise if you’re digging what you see in volume 1, don’t put the series down. It does a startling amount right with this rather strange premise. If you’d like to purchase High Score Girl, you may do so through Bookwalker (volumes 1-5 | volume 6+ | guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan.
To end with bad news: the series was recently dropped by the group scanlating it. The reason was due to not having a main translator Never mind. I can’t say I know all the details, but if you are interested in helping out the scanlation, allow me to direct you to [this image]. Alright, until next time; thanks for reading.