I think it’s safe to say at this point that I’m not a fan of anime centered around nerds. It’s not that I’m against the idea or anything. It’s just that I grew up during a time when anime about nerds meant stories about normies slowly assimilating to the culture due to their significant others being huge otakus or stories about NEETs dealing with suicidal tendencies and how unflattering the online world actually is. And my big problem with the current trend of anime about nerds is that they seem to be nothing more than cut-and-paste stories that just have nerdy characters in them because “muh representation”.
Most of you are probably aware of how there’s a lot of forced diversity and representation going on in today’s entertainment. I’m not a fan of it, and in anime’s case, I absolutely hate how the medium automatically assumes I’m going to relate to the characters in stuff like Wotakoi just because I’m an adult nerd approaching his thirties and working in an office. This is why “representation” as a whole is fucking stupid. Because human beings in general are complicated, and there’s a lot more to me than just being an anime fan who likes to hang out with friends, play video games, suffer occasional depression, and get stressed by deadlines. If your characters are nothing but that, you’re not actually representing me. You’re representing some shallow tool who is so far from the real me that to even suggest I can relate to him is borderline insulting.
Not to mention, these anime are terrible when it comes to integrating the nerd stuff with the actual storytelling. A lot of the times the nerd stuff is just “there” for relatability purposes and not for any important story reasons. Also, watching people play MMOs is just so boring, always settling for that incredibly tired “people are different online than they are in real life” or “you can make friends on the Internet” crap. No shit Sherlock, but I don’t see how that makes those Fruit de Mar scenes in MMO Junkie any fun to watch. The reason it was fun in Welcome to the NHK was because the MMO there was obviously unhealthy for the lead character to the point that he didn’t consider the possibility that the female avatar he fell in love with was a massive troll. It was basically dark satire on how dangerous online relationships can be, and if you’re going to go the route of portraying how beneficial they can be, you still have to do something interesting with it besides saying “they can be good”.
Hell, if you want something recent that does everything I ask for just so you’re aware that I’m not nostalgia-biased, look no further than Hi Score Girl. You guys ever heard of this anime? It’s an entirely CG-animated series from Summer 2018 that was a big hit in Japan but the Netflix restrictions worldwide caused it to become underground. Although I notice that it’s been getting a pretty decent increase in viewership since January so even though the damage is done, there are people paying attention to it.
Hi Score Girl comes to us from J.C. Staff, that one anime studio whose output you’ve seen, but can never remember they made it because they have no distinct style and aren’t automatically associated with shit like A-1 Pictures is (although I’m guessing after the recent One-Punch Man trailer that fans would have preferred A-1). I’m neutral towards them personally. They make a lot of boring anime, but they also make stuff I’m occasionally okay with. And while their animation is never great, it at least has energy on the stuff that people enjoy like The Pet Girl of Sakurasou or Food Wars.
The director is a bit of a veteran as well. Yoshiki Yamakawa, who you may remember as the director of Danmachi and Little Busters, as well as the cult anime film that was recently dubbed by TeamFourStar, Hells. Not a great visionary, but at least he’s willing to try new things, as the decision to put him in charge of an entirely CG anime has proven. Also, Yoko Shimomura does the music for this anime. Yes you heard me right.
That Yoko Shimomura.
Hi Score Girl’s story can basically be summed up as a love triangle between two girls and one guy (as in the standard two girl/one guy love triangle. Not the kind where one of the girls is gay for another) who all happen to be gamers in their own way. There’s our male lead Haruo Yaguchi, who is basically a poor student that has nothing on his mind but gaming and yet somehow that dogged determination of being the best Street Fighter player ever gets two cute girls falling for him. There’s Akira Oono, a somewhat mute rich girl who is even better at games than Haruo but lives a very restricted lifestyle due to her social status. And there’s Koharu Hidaka, who is basically a normie that gets roped into the world of video games in an effort to impress the boy she likes and ends up surpassing him as a result whilst growing more beautiful in the process.
You may think this sounds a little masturbatory in a manner that would make Reki Kawahara blush, but Hi Score Girl actually does quite a lot to make sure the audience is buying this apparently romanticized version of the author’s real life. It takes place in the 90s and actually goes out of its way to accurately capture gaming culture during that time period with the evolution of Street Fighter as a franchise and the growth of arcades in general back when they were relevant. The romance itself actually takes place over the course of several years rather than just several months of high school life. We’re first introduced to Haruo and Akira when they’re in elementary school. We see them split apart whilst in middle school, allowing Koharu to swoop in until Akira inevitably returns. And the anime ends with them in high school, with years of built-up feelings and enough time for the Playstation to come out and change the gaming landscape.
The tone of the series is about what you’d expect from an anime romantic comedy in both good and bad ways. There’s a lot of unfunny physical abuse dished out by Akira whenever Haruo is acting like a prick as well as some moments when Haruo acts very insensitively to the girls in his life that make me question if he’s just acting that way because the script says so. Even Koharu joins in on the Haruo abuse after losing to him in a competition to win his heart, which is borderline psychotic in my opinion, especially considering she didn’t keep her promise to give up on him whilst her fanboys decide a guy winning fair and square is grounds for getting the shit kicked out of him. Seriously, the only time I’ve ever found anime slapstick to be funny is in Ken Akamatsu manga, and it’s also one of the many things about Akamatsu that stop working when translated to anime.
And there’s no denying that the love triangle just drags on too long to the point that it’s continuing into the goddamn second season. Koharu gets a few good moments to showcase why she’s a top-tier waifu during the time when Akira had moved away, but it’s pretty obvious who the winner is going to be when the non-hentai version of Fujino from Hatsu Inu comes back. And I have to be honest, I just can’t see a relationship between her and Haruo working because all of the chemistry seems to be on her side. It just seems like an unnecessary complication to the already engaging story of a normal boy trying to be good enough for that rich gamer girl that should have been resolved before the characters entered high school.
However, I do my best to tolerate these faults, because there are a lot of legitimately heartwarming moments peppered throughout the anime, most of them centered around Haruo’s relationship with Akira and the difficulties that come from Akira being one of those rich girls who is forced to study all the time and not hang out with commoners, preventing her from actually hanging out at arcades. Yes, that backstory is reminiscent of the last arc in Sword Art Online II in concept, but Hi Score Girl treats it more seriously, highlighting how much Akira likes Haruo because he’s one of the few people who can provide an escape for her whilst treating her like an equal in the gaming world. And the show doesn’t make the journey to win her freedom easy. I mean they were separated for the the entirety of their middle school period for god’s sakes.
Haruo himself isn’t the most likable guy around, but that at least makes him stand out from the wave of indistinguishable romantic comedy protagonists out there. He starts out as a sort of ugly-looking kid who prioritizes video games over school work, but over time he realizes he has to take his future seriously so that he can live a fun life. And it’s cool to see him work jobs and try to get into a top school in order to be with his love interest, even if reality isn’t quite on his side. Plus, his desire to impress Akira is pretty cute.
CG animation is obviously still not at the point where Land of the Lustrous looks like shit, so of course Hi Score Girl’s visuals aren’t for everyone. From what I’ve read, apparently the reason for this series to be done in CG was because it was the best way to capture the unnatural-looking art of the original manga, as well as some other reasons related to gaming culture that I can’t be bothered to remember. Just know that the animation is a bit stiff, except when it’s depicting actual video game characters, in which case they look about as pixellated as they did in the SNES days. But hey, at least it’s not…
But of course, the thing that makes Hi Score Girl stand out the most is its portrayal of 90s video game culture and how that’s worked into the romance, not too dissimilar from Sakamichi no Apollon and its portrayal of jazz. And boy is there a lot of nerd trivia to drool over in this show to the point that if I tried to list half of them, it would make the review twice as long. Zangief and Guile from the Street Fighter series are actually used in order to convey Haruo’s inner feelings and what he must do in order to come out on top. There’s even a hilarious usage of Tokimeki Memorial in this show, which if you’re not familiar with the game, is a dating sim where you have to keep every girl happy whilst pursuing one of them because otherwise they can ruin your relationships.
And despite having so many references to gaming’s past, Hi Score Girl never feels like it is pandering to days gone by the way a lot of people feel Ready Player One did, let alone most anime centered on video games. Because again like Sakamichi no Apollon, this is a show where gaming history and the icons of its time actually matter to the romance and the gradual growth of its characters. Trends change over time, but gaming’s ability to connect people never does, and even as romanticized as it is, Hi Score Girl gets gaming culture.
Not only do the characters react to how arcades grow and new consoles arrive to take the market by storm (which is done with remarkable accuracy), they use these machines to further their growth as individuals. If you were like me, your parents only allowed you to have one type of console growing up and you were only allowed to play on the weekends after finishing your homework. However, these games really affected me growing up in ways we couldn’t have imagined back then, and it’s certainly affected a lot of people who review games on Youtube, that’s for sure. Obviously the setting prevents Hi Score Girl from showcasing how gaming has evolved into a profession, but it gets that in moderation, games are fun and can be used to connect people together, or even get people married. Also, try denying that you didn’t feel something when Akira was playing that RPG Maker game Haruo made to ease the burdens she’s going through. Reki Kawahara should probably take notes from this series in order to understand how to mix gaming and romance together.
I don’t want people to think that I’m overselling Hi Score Girl or anything. It isn’t exactly a revolutionary entry for the romance genre and there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. Not to mention the story isn’t finished yet and we’ll have to wait a few months for Season 2 to hopefully conclude the series. However, this is without a doubt a series by gamers for gamers, which most anime fans are. You can’t just remove the nerd references from the story and get the same results the way you could with other recent nerd shows. So unless you’re one of those anime fans who aren’t in that demographic or are just allergic to romance in general, I do suggest giving it at least one glance. I mean what other romance choices do you have at the moment? A semi-incestual soap opera and a harem series that’s practically guaranteed to end with nothing resolved?
- Personally, if a girl ever came to my house to give me a Playstation, I would ask for her hand in marriage right then and there.
- Don’t ask me how Akira managed to find time to get as good with video games as she did with her guardian watching her like a hawk.
- Does Johnny Young Bosch voice every kid protagonist in a Netflix anime now?