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High Score Girl Continue, vol. 7 (SquareEnix, 2015-16), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
And, we're back. These chapters actually ran in 2016, rather than being the older reprints of the earlier volumes. When we last saw our heroes - Yaguchi the slacker gamer, Hina the over-worked rich girl, and Koharu the bookworm smitten with Yaguchi - Yaguchi was still mooning over Hina, Hina had established a certain level of freedom from her tutor, and Koharu had suffered a humiliating loss against Yaguchi in her cage match to win a date with him. It's now 1996 and all three kids are first years in different high schools. Yaguchi's friend, Miyao, is attempting to get him emotionally involved in his own life, but Yaguchi really has no interest in anything beyond playing video games. Miyao guides them to the convenience store that Koharu's parents own, and Koharu initially shows contempt towards Yaguchi, but allows herself to be talked into going to his house with them. Guile tries to block them, but Koharu just blows past him and into the viper's pit. Turns out that Hina and her older sister, Moemi, are in his room playing word games with his mother, which is what Guile was trying to warn Yaguchi about. This leads to an awkward couple of hours as no one talks to each other, and Miyao and Moemi crack under the pressure and run screaming from the room. Hina and Koharu play a duel Street Fighter game against each other and Hina wins easily. Everyone leaves, and Hina and Yaguchi's mother blame him for all the troubles they had.
(Guile is no match against Koharu.)
The next day, Yaguchi is at a game center, when the Mizunokuchi gang (the ones that are training Koharu) show up and kick him out of the arcade. Stewing, Yaguchi takes the train into Shibuya, where he finds himself surrounded by Shibuya Girls (high school students with excessively heavy make-up and bad attitudes) and various street punks. He goes into an arcade, where three boys are unable to defeat the final boss, General, in Kaiser Knuckle. They browbeat him into taking over the game in the expectation that he's going to be easily defeated as well, and when he wins they enlist him in their gamer group. To fit in, Yaguchi starts hanging out in Shibuya, wearing a black stocking cap and a skull t-shirt. This causes his mother and Miyao to get concerned about him, and word gets back to Hina about Yaguchi's sudden weird behavior. Moemi decides to visit Shibuya herself for the first time, and after a day of harassing the boy, comes back to the Ohno estate wearing a black t-shirt of her own, getting the tutor to chase her around the house, yelling all the time. Afterward, the tutor lays the law down about Hina not being allowed to go into Shibuya herself. So of course, the next day, that's what she does.
The Mizunokuchi gang shows up in Shibuya to drive the Shibuya gang out of their own turf. This results in a 10-on-10 duel on one of the machines. One of the Shibuya gang girl hangers-on starts flirting with Yaguchi just to mess with him, and Koharu gets so angry that she faces all ten of the Shibuya players, and beats everyone by herself. She uses this victory over Yaguchi to get him into spending the day with her, but just as friends. She makes a point of saying that while he's paying for the both of them, this isn't an official "date".
(Koharu wins, then tells the hanger-on to leave her boyfriend alone.)
They go to an amusement park, and play games in an arcade. Night falls, and Koharu refuses to go home. They're stuck at a train station, as Yaguchi notes that they've missed the last train for the night. It's raining hard, and the boy suggests calling their parents to let them know where they are, and possibly have someone come get them in a car, but Koharu would rather go to a love hotel and cuddle. Yaguchi instead gets her to go to Guest (a parody of Gusto, a family restaurant). She'd bought an umbrella that was intentionally too small for 2 people, and panics when she sees that Yaguchi is holding the umbrella over her so that his shoulder is getting soaked - she doesn't want him to come down with a cold again.
At the restaurant, the two talk for a bit, and Koharu gets around to saying that Yaguchi has been really horrible to her. She's been having dreams of him holding her, and she's tired of them just being dreams. When they leave the restaurant, the rain has stopped and the sun is coming up. Koharu suddenly throws her arms around the boy, crying, and pleading with him to hold her just this once. Yaguchi is trying to figure out what to do when he sees Hina standing a little ways to the side, watching them.
Summary: The main focus of High Score Girl is the series of video games that came out in the 90's at the game centers. We not only get to see each of the games, and some samplings of characters, but also what the arcades and small towns around Tokyo looked like at the time. So to that extent this is a nostalgia manga. Woven over this, though, is a story of young love and the trials of the boy stuck in the middle of a triangle he didn't know was forming. The writing and pacing is very good, and it's highly recommended if you like arcade games and don't mind the chunky-face character designs.