Friday, December 9, 2016

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 4 review

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High Score Girl Continue, vol. 4 (SquareEnix, 2016), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
It's June, 1995. The Sega Saturn and Playstation consoles have just come out, with games that rival the quality of the arcade machines. Haruo is in his first year of high school, but spends most of his evenings playing the new games. He's got a part-time job now, at a factory for hand-making convenience store bento lunches, and he uses the money to buy a new Saturn. He and his friend, Miyao, got into the same school, but Koharu and Hina were both accepted elsewhere. Koharu drops by his house, is spotted by "mom" and yanked inside. The two kids talk, and it turns out that Haruo has been spending very little time in the arcades now, while that's where Koharu has been every day. They go out to an arcade, and Koharu very easily beats him on Street Fighter (and most of the other games in the center), but rather than being impressed, the boy gets depressed and retreats to his bed. Along the way, he sees Hina on a shopping trip and hides to avoid being seen. Then, he realizes that he needs a game reset, and vows to start playing game center games from scratch to recapture the joy he felt with them at the beginning, in order to play against Hina again.

(Haruo spots Hina and her driver, and hides from them. He retreats to his bed in a funk, as Guile warns him that time is running out of his current game.)

Later, Doi, Miyao and Haruo go to a game center, where Doi keeps fantasizing over being able to date Hina. Koharu shows up, and keeps beating Haruo at the various games, until Harou runs away in tears. A few seconds later, Koharu accidentally tries putting a coin in the change maker at the same time Hina does, and the two girls end up playing against each other on Virtua Cop. Koharu does all the talking, and Hina doesn't react much at all. Until Koharu asks if Hina likes Haruo, to which the rich girl responds by shooting all of the targets on the screen in half a second. Miyao has been eavesdropping on the conversation, and he's relieved that a cat fight doesn't break out. But, Hina walks away in a funk. The reason for her depression is that her private tutor, Ms. Gouda, is really angry with her taking breaks from her studies, and is getting more and more overbearing. At home, Gouda tells her that the family is cutting off all money to her, so she can't spend anything on games, and that further, her own life is not her own - her parents are going to arrange a husband for her when she comes of age. That's why she needs to excel in her studies now (piano, judo, history, language, etc.) to make herself the perfect bride. That night, lying in bed and remembering Koharu's question about how she feels about Haruo, Hina cries herself to sleep.

(Hina's response to Koharu's question of "do you like Haruo?" is to rapidly clear the stage in Virtua Cop.)

The next day, the chauffeur shows up at Haruo's house, frantic. It seems that Hina has run away from home, and none of the household staff can find her in her normal haunts. Haruo tries visiting a few of their regular game centers, with no success. Eventually, Guile and the other Street Fighter characters lead him to a tiny shop in a back alley, where Hina is just beating her 70th challenger. Hina refuses to return home, so Haruo calls his mother for advice. Mom tells him to spend the night in a business hotel, and she'll arrange to have money delivered to the hotel by the the following morning. In part, she's hoping for "chemistry" between the two kids. However, Haruo is too young and clueless, and Hina is too conflicted. On the other hand, Haruo has his New Famicom console in his bag, plus some games, and the TV in the room has aux. jacks in back. They play video games until Haruo falls asleep. Hina tucks him in, and goes to sleep herself. The next morning, Haruo leaves for his job, promising to come back at lunch to pick her up and take her back home. He finishes work, and as they're walking past a Puri Kura machine (Print Club), Hina indicates that she wants their photo taken together. Haruo decides to make faces in front of the camera, so Hina headbutts him,

(Koharu tells Haruo that she loves him. When the boy tries to respond, she hits him with the bag containing the Playstation console, and tells him to shut up and listen.)

Later, Koharu is at the game center, racking up the high scores on the machines when Haruo drops by. They end up competing to see who is the better player, with Koharu giving up and going home by herself, while the city puts on a fireworks display that none of them ends up watching. The next day, Koharu drops by Haruo's house with her new Playstation console and a copy of Tekken. Haruo loves the way the PS controller mimics the arcade machine controls. Haruo plays the games, and Koharu contents herself with sitting back and watching him play. She looks at his desk, and her initial wonder at seeing his study materials turns to dismay on spotting the Puri Kura photos of him and Hina together. She announces that she's going to leave now, and "mom" berates her son for making a girl cry. Haruo ends up walking Koharu the short distance to her house. Along the way, Koharu stops and declares that she really likes him. And, she's willing to face him in an arcade rematch. If Haruo wins, she'll leave him alone. If she wins, he has to take her on a date. Haruo goes into a panic and has no idea how to react.

Summary: The love triangle has finally taken form. Hina and Haruo are starting to realize that they're more than just game center partners, while Koharu works up the courage to tell the boy that she really likes him a lot. At the same time, though, Hina's tutor, Gouda, is tightening the screws on her student and is in the process of turning her into a caged bird with no freedom and a future that she absolutely hates. High Score Girl Continue is highly recommended to game fans.

Sidenote: These chapters originally ran in Monthly Big Gangan in 2013.

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