The review contains some minor spoilers for the manga’s conclusion, so if you don’t want to learn anything new, just know that the reviews are generally positive and that you should read them.
Volumes 9 and 10 of the Hi Score Girl series bring this beautiful story to a satisfying conclusion with a rousing sendoff that leaves room for future stories for the cast. It manages to land so solidly that my little complaints about the volumes are almost completely overshadowed by the overwhelming power of the conclusion.
These two volumes mostly offer more of the charming combination of teen romance and combat games that first made the series stand out. The heart of the story stays unchanged as Haruo, Akira, and Hidaka continue to use combat games as a means of coping with their real-world troubles, despite the fact that the stakes keep rising as the finale approaches. Up to the very last few scenes, the fists speak when the heart cannot. Why explain what you mean when it’s far simpler to fire a barrage of Hadokens at your romantic rival? Why reveal your true feelings when Lariats and enormous green hands may spare you the agonizing risk of an honest confession? Although many series naturally escalate when a conflict or the emotional impact of their final bouts arises, Hi Score Girl doesn’t, and that’s a huge plus. It demonstrates Rensuke Oshikiri’s skill with a pen because it can be difficult to write conflicts with rising stakes that primarily revolve around the same basic ideas.
The level of artwork on show is one area where there has been a significant uptick. The art has so far been enjoyable; it goes nicely with the tone and subject matter. Additionally, the work depicts occurrences as they would actually occur in a somewhat stylized but essentially realistic environment. Except for the representations of video games and their characters, there haven’t been many options for the fashionable or the absurd.
That is why it is such a joy that more than ever in these volumes, the real world seeps into video games. Exhilarating moments include the big ones, such as when Haruo transforms into a higher version of himself as he rides to make his final confession while dodging a great flock of video game characters, or when Hidaka transforms into something that resembles a demon as she gets ready to destroy Akira while dodging a barrage of air fireballs from Akuma. Except for a brief comic interlude or the talking video game characters, the series has not yet displayed a supernatural flair like that in these characters’ leaps off the page.
This ups the ante on how intense the emotional conclusion is for our protagonists. The situation between Haruo, Akira, and Hidaka must be accepted by all three of them. At some point, Haruo will have to face the issue of discovering why he feels the way he does about Akira. The arguments are connected to video games in a way that feels quite natural in yet another clever piece of writing. Heartfelt admissions and brutal truth-telling moments build to a satisfying conclusion for the trio’s journey, one that doesn’t completely tie up all the loose ends.
I also appreciate the story’s sporadic use of more artistic elements. The connection between Haruo and Guile has been a humorous and (sadly?) relatable recurring topic. I can understand a young person who is so preoccupied with video games that he imagines conversing with a video game character. But the big dramatic moment when Haruo realizes he has, in many ways, been Guile all along — overly emotionally defensive, timid, and seeking certainty when, in fact, he needs to grow and take more risks — all for it to culminate in Guile fading as Haruo has to become his own man — great stuff, really. In my opinion, excellent writing is a pleasant side detail that leads to a significant emotional payout.
Of course, some of the same old issues come back to haunt us. Without going into too much detail, Hidaka’s emotional path seems incredibly hurried. Although I’m delighted she gets to make her point in a lengthy speech, it’s difficult to help but notice how much more of a supporting role she plays in these last volumes. When she instructs Haruo on what to do and what he should know because he is too uninformed or has previously been too selfish to know better, she feels the most like she is fulfilling a role in the story. Hidaka speaks up, but it’s not really about her, and it doesn’t really satisfy her.
Akira’s persistent silence is annoying as well. At the very end, it would have been lovely to hear her say something, anything. The growing presence of Akira’s sister in the narrative, in my opinion, is a subliminal admission that having Akira remain absolutely silent causes numerous issues. However, we are now committed to the bit. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but it’s acceptable to have a character who doesn’t speak much; I think it’s strange that she would prefer to never speak. Even after ten volumes, it still feels out of character, and by the conclusion, many persons are present to tell Haruo how Akira feels. This makes you question if, I dunno, maybe she might say something herself.
However, these are only small quibbles in a beautiful series’ powerful conclusion.
With a sensitive and awkward love story at its center, Hi Score Girl is a charming time capsule of video gaming history that is mostly built around the fighting games of the 1990s. It doesn’t necessary aim for the moon, but it succeeds and goes above and beyond. I fervently urge everyone to read this series.