Hi Score Girl Vol. 1 GN
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: February 25, 2020
Price: $12.99
Creator: Rensuke Oshikiri
Format: 192 pgs., Black & White, 5.8"x8.2", Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-6460-9016-7
Age Rating: Teen
ICv2 Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

Hi Score Girl is a romantic comedy that is also a love letter to the arcade games of the 1990s.  The first volume is set in 1991, and the action starts in a video game arcade where the protagonist, teenager Haruo Yaguchi, is showing off his prowess at Street Fighter II but has to step back when a new player shows up and racks up a 29-game winning streak.  The new player is Haruo’s classmate, Akira Oono, and she’s everything he’s not: smart, rich, and good-looking.  The son of a scrappy single mom, Haruo is usually short on cash, frequently mocked by his teacher, and anything but a ladies’ man.  The arcade is the one place where he excels, and he resents this rich girl taking even that away.

The twist is that Oono is a poor little rich girl.  The daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she slips out to arcades to escape the rigid regimen imposed on her by her tutor.  She’s as cash-poor as Haruo, and despite being the object of her female classmates’ adoration, she doesn’t have any real friends.  Games are her sole obsession, and since it’s one she shares with Haruo, the two soon form a bond.  It’s a strange friendship, with Oono alternately haughty and vulnerable and Haruo just trying to figure it all out.  He quickly learns to understand what she’s thinking despite the fact that she refuses to talk, but he spends as much time psyching out her game moves as trying to read her emotions.

Arcade games are the medium for their relationship, and much of the book is spent on their battles, with Haruo explaining the moves and strategy to the reader.  Hi Score Girl is known for its detailed, accurate portrayals of 2D arcade games (so much so that the publisher got into hot water with game manufacturer SNK Playmore over the use of their characters; the issue was eventually settled).  It’s also a slapstick comedy with lots of punches to the face and running gags such as Oono’s limo mowing Haruo down when her chauffeur comes to pick her up.

So obviously, the target audience for this series is nostalgic gamers, right?  Absolutely!  While the book is rated for teens, there are clearly a lot of adults who will enjoy reliving their misspent youth with this manga.  There’s also an anime that is available on Netflix, so fans of that may want to pick up the original.  And at its core, Hi Score Girl is a shonen romance, so readers of (to pick the obvious example) Komi Can’t Communicate will find a lot to like in this story.  It’s loaded with slapstick but light on fanservice, and while the gaming action is detailed, it’s also explained in a natural way, which means that this book has a lot for gamers and non-gamers alike to enjoy.

--Brigid Alverson

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