Friday, December 2, 2016

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 2 review

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High Score Girl Continue, vol. 2 (SquareEnix, 2015-16), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
I wasn't quite expecting to read volume 2 in the series, but someone I know who likes the books gave me #2 and #3, and so here we are. In essence, High Score Girl Continue can be viewed on two levels. Superficially, we have a series of 26-page chapters that are effectively stand-alone gag stories. Our main character, Haruo Yaguchi, is an arcade game fanatic who is bad at school, but one of the best players in the Tokyo game centers. He sees the world in terms of Guile, from Street Fighter. Guile is his favorite character in the SF franchise because he's the only one with such a limited set of signature moves, which Haruo identifies with. Each of the chapters then has Haruo going through the day, either at school, at home, or in the game arcades, running into odd situations and having to resolve them in his own way. On a deeper level, though, we have a love triangle, between Haruo, the rich girl Hina Ohno, and a new character that gets introduced in this volume. There's no real point in summarizing the gags in each chapter, so instead I'll recap the highlights of the love triangle aspect.

(Koharu struggles to overcome her cold to save Haruo from himself as he plays Street Fighter during a snow storm.)

It's 1992, when Clinton was elected President of the U.S., and Street Fighter II Turbo was released to the arcades. Haruo is in his second year of middle school, and he struggles to avoid getting caught in the game centers by the teachers patrolling them. One of his fellow students is a transfer student named Koharu Hitaka. Koharu's father runs a small shop, and he's decided to install a few arcade machines outside the store to attract students in the area. Koharu herself has no interests in anything other than her school studies, but she finds herself attracted to Haruo's carefree approach to life. She starts tagging after him, and he introduces her to the world of arcade games, starting with Street Fighter, and continuing on to Mortal Combat, and everything else on the game shelves (Haruo has a PC Engine at home, and he carries a PC Engine GT handheld machine with him when he goes outside (actually, he also has a Famicom, Super Famicom, and a Gameboy in his closet)). If he's not playing games, he's sitting outside the game stores waiting to buy the next console game to come out.

(Harou discovers Hina next to him in a game center.)

At one point, Haruo gets into a fight with another boy playing against him on Street Fighter in the game center, and Koharu stomps out in a huff. The next day, she comes down with a cold and is stuck at home in bed during a nasty winter storm. Her parents tell her that the strange boy is outside playing one of their game machines in the snow. After several hours, Koharu goes out to save him with a cup of hot tea, and discovers that he's not there to win her over - he just wants to play games at the closest shop to his house. From here, Koharu tries to get more of Haruo's attention by reading the game magazines he gives her, and buying games to have him come over to her house to play with her, but the two of them have incompatible tastes in games. Instead, when Haruo does play machines that he likes, Koharu just stands behind him to watch him play. The main factor is that Haruo is everything she isn't (careless, thoughtless, and a total slacker), and she envies that about him. When Koharu loiters in front of Haruo's home, the boy's mother spots her and drags her inside to spend time with her son. We don't get her name (Haruo calls her "mom"), but she's kind of a pervert, and is intent on getting her son to date girls at an early age. What she doesn't realize is that Haruo is still hung up on Hina Ohno, who is still studying in the U.S.

Or, rather, Hina WAS in the U.S. She returns to Japan, and is greeted by her personal tutor, and her chauffeur. (We never see her parents, and it isn't until a later volume that we meet her older sister.) Haruo has been practicing all this time to have a rematch with Hina on Street Fighter, but when they do finally run into each other at the game center, she gives him the cold shoulder. Haruo is crushed, and vows revenge. But, he's still young and doesn't understand what's going on between them. When her driver takes her back home, Hina looks silently at the necklace Haruo had given her in volume 1. (She does everything silently, because she never speaks.)

While there are a couple other students that spend time talking to Haruo (a gap-toothed girl, Onizuka, (or something like that; the kanji is demon + hill) and a self-absorbed boy named Doi, who is in lust with Hina), his closest friend is a casual game player named Miyao. When Haruo is in a game center at night, he's usually accompanied by Miyao, who will give him advice that the other boy generally ignores.

Summary: A game fanatic slowly surrounds himself with girls that also like games, and like him, but he himself fails to recognize the attraction. This is a nostalgic story for anyone that grew up in the 90's and misses the heyday era of the arcade centers. Recommended to anyone that likes the older game consoles, and wants to see what the outskirts of Tokyo looked like before the economic bubble burst in the mid-90's.

As a sidenote: The chapters in this volume originally ran in Monthly Big Gangan magazine in 2012.

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