Hi-Score Girl, an anime series and recent addition to Netflix Australia, did not impress me to a great extent. Perhaps my steadily declining interest in anime as a medium is to blame. Even my previously documented appreciation for video games (see post: Media Regulation In Action) has dwindled recently, either as a byproduct of natural maturation or the blinding over-saturation of the entertainment market by both industries. Nevertheless, the process of watching Hi-Score Girl awoke something primal within me, a nostalgic rush of relief and excitement that possessed me each weekend, the only time I was allowed by my parents to play computer games. Despite my lack of investment in the plot, I found that Hi-Score Girl is successful in accurately depicting the escape from the mundanity of life and the pressures of academia that video games are able to provide. Yet home plug-in-and-play systems and arcade experiences are two very different sides of the same token. The explosive popularity of quarter-swallowing fighting games in the early 1990s, from Street Fighter to Final Fight, fostered a die-hard subculture that was largely ignored by the coastal towns I had spent most of my life in. Arcade culture was practically non-existent in Australia, save for sparse interactions with family-oriented franchises such as Timezone, and the solitary Marvel vs Capcom cabinet at my local fish and chip shop some fifteen years ago. Conversely, Japanese arcade culture is famously expansive – rapidly developing from humble postwar carnival roots to a thriving multi-story, multi-location, nationwide empire today (Yuna Tanaka, 2018). Hi-Score Girl shines in its devotion to the subject matter, managing to include several references to arcade history and techniques per episode. For example, protagonist Haruo mimics the ‘one handed’ playing technique of Japanese Street Fighter champion “Kana” to show off, a reference unsurprisingly lost on an international audience (Andrew McKirdy, 2019).
Furthermore, the series allowed me to reassess my own experience of arcade culture in Japan. I came across the opportunity to visit the renowned SEGA Two Arcade in the heart of Akihabara during a holiday several years ago, and was able to draw distinct parallels between what was depicted in Hi-School Girl and my own personal experience. I remember struggling up flights of dankly neon-red lit staircases. The mild racket of frenzied crowds, a mix of personalities from high school students to middle aged salarymen, squabbling and cheering over a tiny display, akin to the madness of Aussie footy nights I had grown accustomed to. What stood out most was the dense atmosphere, one to the uninitiated would seem impossible to wade through. The air was warm with tobacco smoke, and something innately human. Not body odor, but certainly just as suffocating. As if the manifestation of timeless conflicts still wafted throughout the floors upon floors of Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros and Tekken machines, an uncanny residue manifested by competition. As the Roman coliseum once fell, so too will this megalith. The iconic SEGA arcade has announced its closure at the end of the summer season, likely due to a lack of visitation over fears of spreading COVID-19 (Kasey Furutani, 2020). What would be lost? What legendary clashes and rivalries would be left unsung? What memories would lie dormant in many a former regular, and which of those would live on?
I cannot guarantee that Hi-Score Girl will trigger a similar epiphany for you, dear reader. But for me, the series was able to contextualize my own memories and experiences of a culture that (despite appreciating immensely) I will always remain an outsider to.
Furutani, K. (2020). Sorry, gamers: Akihabara’s iconic Sega arcade will close at the end of August 2020. [online] Time Out Tokyo. Available at: https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/news/sorry-gamers-akihabaras-iconic-sega-arcade-will-close-at-the-end-of-august-080420 [Accessed 27 Aug. 2020].
McKirdy, A. (2019). Game not over: Japan’s amusement arcades tap community spirit to stay relevant. [online] The Japan Times. Available at: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2019/08/17/general/japan-video-game-arcades-relevant/ [Accessed 27 Aug. 2020].
Tanaka, Y (2018). Understanding the Arcade Culture in Japan. [online] Expat Bets. Available at: https://www.expatbets.com/japan/understanding-the-arcade-culture-in-japan/ [Accessed 27 Aug. 2020].
Image 1 Credit: Sean (2018). What (Else) I Watched Today: High Score Girl a.k.a. Violent Gamer Girl. [online] Moe Sucks. Available at: https://moesucks.com/2018/07/16/what-else-i-watched-today-high-score-girl-a-k-a-violent-gamer-girl/ [Accessed 2 Sep. 2020].
Image 2 Credit: stopXwhispering (2014). Arcades in Akihabara, Tokyo. [online] Retro Video Gaming. Available at: https://retro-video-gaming.com/2014/05/10/arcades-in-akihabara-tokyo/ [Accessed 2 Sep. 2020].