In 2018 Hi Score Girl was adapted into what became a highly popular anime series. Today I’m here to check out the first volume of the original manga series to find out if it’s as entertaining as the anime’s cult following suggests.
Our story revolves around Haruo Yaguchi in the year 1991. Haruo isn’t great at school or sports, but he is a fearsome opponent when it comes to 2-D fighting games. That is, until the day he’s challenged by classmate Akira Oono!
Haruo loses his fight against Akira, but he’s determined to best her in a rematch. The two ultimately get thrown out of the arcade for being rowdy just as Haruo is about to claim victory, but from here on the two begin to bond over their love of video games.
At first, Haruo is resentful of Akira whenever he runs into her. As someone who prefers to play by himself, he feels like Akira is encroaching on his safe space – but the more he interacts with her, the more he realises she’s just like him. Akira is lonely, diving into video games to ignore the pressures of life and briefly escape from the world around her. Together, perhaps, the two can bring something irreplaceable to each other’s lives.
Hi Score Girl is a romantic comedy with a love of everything to do with video games. One of the best parts of the series is mangaka Rensuke Oshikiri’s attention to detail when recreating the consoles and arcades readers may or may not be familiar with. The backgrounds are beautifully drawn and it’s easy to see how passionate Oshikiri is about the subject matter.
However, I really struggled to enjoy Hi Score Girl. While I loved the video game focus, I didn’t like the cast. Haruo is a young boy (not yet even in middle school) with a stubborn and sometimes obnoxious attitude. While he does grow throughout this volume, he’s more often than not just irritating.
I also have problems where Akira is concerned. Our heroine spends the whole volume never uttering a word. I think this is because she’s shy (she doesn’t seem to be mute), but it means that anything she’s thinking or feeling has to be explained to the audience through Haruo’s dialogue. The biggest issue with this is that Oshikiri’s art just doesn’t capture the cast all that well and without Haruo’s explanations it’s near impossible for the audience to understand what Akira is thinking most of the time.
Oshikiri’s character designs are unattractive and badly proportioned (which seems to be a theme with all of their manga). The heads of the cast are too big for the bodies, which left me wondering more than once how their bodies supported them. It’s a stylistic choice, but just not one I could get on with.
I think if you’re coming to the manga from having watched the anime then you’ll enjoy it. Readers who can look past the issues I had with the characters are sure to get on with it as well, provided they hold an interest in games. Hi Score Girl isn’t a bad manga, it’s just not for everyone – even if you usually like this genre.
This release comes to the West thanks to newly established publisher Square Enix Manga and has been translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson. The translation reads well and there is a handy page of translation notes at the back of the book for some of the more obscure video game references. If you’ve come across any of Kodansha’s print releases before then you’ll be familiar with how Square Enix has released Hi Score Girl Volume 1. The book is the same size and paper quality as your average Kodansha series, which is perfectly fine. There is even a colour page at the beginning.
Overall, Hi Score Girl Volume 1 gets off on the wrong foot with some unlikeable characters and odd designs for its cast. However, if you like the anime adaptation or have an interest in the history of video games, it’s certainly worth a look.
Read a free preview at the Square Enix Manga website here.