I’ve written this after watching all twelve episodes, plus the three OVA’s but having never read the Manga. Everything I’ve watched is available via Netflix.
At its heart Hi-Score Girl is a romantic love triangle, lead character, Haruo Yaguchi, is a videogame obsessed kid who spends every moment he’s not at school in his local arcades playing the likes of Street Fighter 2. He’s not academic, atheletic or particularly sociable, every waking moment he’s not playing a game he is thinking about and counting down the time to when he can next boot up a game. We’re introduced to Akira Ono as academically the opposite of Haruo, she’s a straight A student from a wealthy family but secretly she also loves videogames and is exceptionally good at them, especially Street Fighter 2. Like Haruo, however, she has no social skills, but whilst Haruo is awkward around other people, Ono doesn’t speak, instead she tends to display her emotions in a child like manner, usually abusing people (Haruo) who disagree or do something to annoy her.
For the opening few episodes the show lets the “relationship” between the two develop, this mostly amounts to Haruo man-splaining pretty much everything about the games he’s playing both to the viewer and to Ono. The sheer amount of dialogue that comes from Haruo is overwhelming at times and the relationship between the two is mostly friendly rivalry (Haruo seems unable to comprehend that his main competitor in the arcades is female). Soon after, Ono leaves Japan, and we’re introduced to another girl as Haruo enters Junior High. Koharu Hidaka is more sociable than Haruo, and the relationship between the two, like with Ono, develops thanks to Haruo’s love of videogames, however Hidaka (initially) prefers to watch, and once again there’s a bit of a “girls dont understand games” attitude from Haruo.
Despite watching the whole series I never really warmed to Haruo, he never really develops as a character, despite the show being set over a few years (The characters go from Elementary to Junior High to High School, I think), his attitudes and behaviour never really alters and it isn’t until Ono runs away from home that he shows any semblence of being considerate of others (and even then during his search for her he finds the time to buy a new/old console), but quickly reverts to type when Hidaka gives him an ultimatum and beating his opponent becomes priority number 1. You’re left feeling sorry for both girls by the very end of Hi-Score Girl and I was certainly rooting against Haruo developing any relationship with either of them. Essentially, like Scott Pilgrim, Haruo is a complete and utter dick who by the end of the shows run time still has not developed any character beyond being “a bit of a nerd”.
I’m probably being a bit harsh on it overall, especially as many seem to quite like it, but the constant name checking and lack of character development (which I appreciate is hard to do over 12 + 3 twenty-two minute episodes/OVA’s) and maybe I’ve gone into it expecting more than it was ever intending to do. But if all you want from a 90’s video-game scene anime is for the writers to name drop Virtua Cop, Darkstalkers, PlayStation and “TURBO GRAFX 16!!!!” then you’ll be pretty damn happy with this.