I’m very happy and grateful that Otoi Rekomaru’s full Hi Score Girl manga series has been published in English. This is one of those manga series that back in the day releasing in America would have been a pipe dream. A nostalgic nerd love story revolving around Street Fighter II and a video game setting in ’90s Japan? That era is also significant in Japanese gaming history, but it’s a niche among the nooks and crannies. And yet, here we are.
I first discovered it 8 years ago and was immediately captivated by two things. First, there’s the eccentric nature of the main duo: obnoxiously loud gamer Haruo and his friend/rival/lover, the reserved and aggressive Akira. They originally met at an arcade and feuded over Guile and Zangief, and although they never stopped antagonizing each other, they basically communicated through the game which was silly and sweet. That’s not a metaphor either; Akira almost never talks. Second, the way the 90s games are portrayed and the way Haruo bases his perspective on them can only come from an authentic place. Otherwise, jokes like “tampering with Akuma’s secret selection code” and “Akira has a soft spot for big characters because she feels bad when they’re chosen too little” won’t land well. so.
The characters age throughout the 11 episodes, from elementary school to middle school, and grow up alongside the rapid development of game technology. Their maturation took place concurrently with the continued upgrade to Street Fighter II, the advent of 3D fighting games like Virtua Fighter, etc. A nice storytelling device for sure, but really worth it. surprised to see how much Haruo actually matures as he understands responsibility in his own way. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but his conviction is real.
Hi Score Girl reminds me of one of my all-time favorites, 81 Diver. The art is similarly raw, and the core relationship is as competitive as it is a love story (if not more). This is actually quite rare in manga that focus on romance and is often the realm of works adjacent to fujoshi. But here it’s convincing because of the way Otoi portrays his desire for real connection and how to bridge that gap through the game. Sure, the premise of a guy meeting a super rich gamer girl is in many ways unrealistic, but the depiction makes me want to believe their love.
Beyond the authenticity of his passion for fighting games, I think what ultimately makes Hi Score Girl work is that while Haruo exists primarily in his game-obsessed mental space, the lessons the life he draws from the game is ultimately his own. He’s a guy who has an imaginary friend who always gives him words of encouragement and acts as his conscience, and that friend is usually just Guile. Haruo and Akira bring greater meaning to the game, and the game reciprocates by giving them the thrill of victory, the pain of defeat, the comfort of friendship, and the joy of love.