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Hi Score Girl is a heartfelt love letter to arcade culture

By Brittany Vincent

Girls who game have never been anything of a rarity in anime, but most shows rarely revolve around such characters who make it their passion. Enter Hi Score Girl, an intriguing adventure that brings a highly skilled male player together with a young girl who games partially to escape the strict upbringing she deals with daily at home. What's her deal? Oh, nothing. She's only a gaming prodigy, that's all.

Haruo Yaguchi is a young man who doesn't have a lot going for him. He isn't especially good-looking, nor is he intelligent. He's not athletic, either — but he can play a mean game. In fact, he's the king of the arcade circuit, and is known to all as "Beastly Fingers Haruo." It's thought that he's unbeatable ... that is, until he meets a girl named Akira Ono.

Akira is playing one of Haruo's favorites, Street Fighter II, and it looks like she's amazing. Naturally, the two play against each other, and Haruo loses, much to his surprise. Haruo comes out of the encounter with a bruised ego after thinking he could take her (she's just a girl, after all, how could he lose?) but vows to one day beat her in a match. From that day forward, he sees Akira as his rival.

Akira is basically the opposite of Haruo in every way. She's got a lot of talent, is well-liked among her peers, and has tons of cash. She heads out to the arcade each day to lose herself in her favorite games, which serve as an escape from life as a rich girl with plenty of strict family members with daunting expectations. She's got her own following of admirers who watch her as she plays, fascinated, but she has one quirk: She never talks. She usually prefers to use gestures and expressions to get her point across.

Even though she doesn't speak a word, Akira is one of the most endearing characters anime has produced in some time. She's simply relatable — she loves her games, is starting to enjoy Haruo's company, and she's believable as a young woman engulfed in this world. She's the girl you wish you could have befriended at the arcade growing up, and watching her blossom into a more confident woman than the one who was first introduced to the audience is very satisfying.

The developing relationship between both Akira and Haruo is an exciting part of Hi Score Girl, namely because it doesn't sensationalize the idea that Akira is a hardcore gamer just like Haruo, and it's no big deal that she's highly skilled. The idea of the Geeky Gamer Girl isn't fetishized or portrayed as something designed solely to appeal to boys. She's one badass gamer who could probably kick anyone's butt in any game, even when she has to deal with an overbearing and dissatisfied family. It's a dynamic that will likely seem familiar to many viewers, even if they aren't as strict as Ono's.

The core of Hi Score Girl may revolve around Haruo and Akira, but it also oozes with passion for its subject matter. Given that it's set in the '90s, it takes great care to explore various beloved titles from the era, as well as provide accurate depictions of video game software, hardware, and the games themselves. It's a dream for tech nerds.

High-level fighting game strategies are discussed, and you get to see some seriously awesome shots of the characters playing. This ups the immersion factor considerably, because it feels so much more real. It definitely wouldn't have had the same impact if the characters were playing generic titles made up for the sake of the show. There's a love for arcade culture that permeates every area of the series that feels so palpably real, even across cultural barriers. And let's not forget how awesome it is to watch a girl kick everyone's ass at video games. Yep, that never gets old.

For anime fans who love a nostalgic mix of gaming and quality character development (and the familiar will-they-or-won't-they of shows like Love Hina or Nisekoi), Hi Score Girl will be an instant classic. For anyone else who simply loves video games, it's a fun week-long watch that's rewarding, exciting, and chock-full of gaming culture. You may just be inspired to go hone your craft at an arcade near you ... if you still have one, anyway.

Hi Score Girl is available to stream now via Netflix.

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