Sometimes we think back with nostalgia to the 90s, and we realize that we miss the mornings and afternoons spent in the arcades. The deafening noises that joined together in a chaotic sound; the intense lights projected by the monitors; children waiting for their turn at the best positions; dirty ashtrays used as temporary "piggy banks", where to place the tokens. At the time we did not know English well, but we knew perfectly well what it meant Insert Coin: it was enough to insert a simple token in the cabinet to temporarily leave the real world. We were invited to take up guns to stop terrorists, to explore fantastic worlds, to shed blood and sweat to win tournaments: to live unique experiences that we would never forget.
Even if for a few moments, those digital places came to life and we never wanted to separate from them. Unfortunately, now the arcades have almost completely disappeared, and in the few still open it is possible to find forgotten cabinets, on which dust accumulates. For this reason, see the first season of Hi score girl, taken from the manga of Rensuke Oshikiri, it was a pleasant dive into the past: we have temporarily returned to being children, and we have experienced the pleasure of sitting again in front of an arcade game. Hi score girl, however, is not only a pleasant example of a nostalgia effect, but it is the story of the relationship between Haruo and Akira, which was born among the cabinets and matures over the years, hand in hand with the videogame evolution. And now it's back with the second season, exclusively on Netflix.
The finale of the first season introduced significant changes both between the characters and on the narrative side: Haruo Yaguchi won the bet against Koharu, but the latter does not seem to want to put aside her feelings; MakotoAkira's sister made her appearance, mediating between the two protagonists, and pushing Haruo to be closer to Akira; Moemi, the strict guardian, has softened, realizing that she cannot prevent her student from enjoying life.
Finally, we witnessed the culminating event, which could give a twist to the script: we had left Haruo and Akira returning from a video game fair, as they open their hearts. She shows the ring she never separated from when she was a child; he reveals that everything seems better in his company, finally starting to understand his feelings. Now, after a break lasting about a year, we are ready to find out how Haruo and Akira's relationship will develop.
Let's admit that when we started seeing the pilot of the second season of Hi score girl we were eager to find out how the story would continue after the appointment between Haruo and Akira; what the first episode offers us, though, surprised us and at the same time satisfied us. The episode, in fact, is divided into two halves: an original recap and the continuation of the events.
Episode 16 opens showing Akira returning from the appointment, which closes the closet where she keeps all the prizes won in the arcades. Haruo's voiceover is heard: "So what's your favorite prize so far?"The girl touches the chain to which the ring she received years before is tied. Suddenly, the narrative moves back in time, in 1991, the year in which the two protagonists met for the first time, but now from the point of Akira's view, and Haruo is a simple cameo.
During the long flashback, we are offered the opportunity to know better the reasons behind the hard and stressful study imposed by the guardian, although some clues have already been provided in the final episodes of the first season. In the beginning, Makoto and the protagonist should have become perfect daughters of the Ono family, and the two should have been interested in the financial issues of the family business; Makoto, however, with a rebellious soul, not accepting to submit to the orders of the family, leaves the house and the family.
Inevitably, all the tasks and duties fell on Akira, forcing her to an unhappy life. This is forced to endure the pressures of Moemi, who always demands the maximum and forbids any form of entertainment.
Not tolerating imprisonment, one day Akira runs away from home to reach a game room, a place considered a den of criminals. Here he has a first encounter with Street Fighter 2 and with Final Fight, and with Zangief is Haggar: muscular and strong characters, almost wanting to show his desire to be strong enough to stand up to his life. Without wishing to dwell a lot on Akira's past, we can tell you that the narration is circular: she will continue to frequent the game room, until she meets-confronts Haruo. After showing the first meeting, we witness short sections of the moments that Akira and Haruo spent together, until the last date, making us understand how the girl has never forgotten her partner, and that her feelings for him have matured over the course of the years, to the detriment of separation and the adversities of life.
With a clever gimmick, the authors of Hi score girl have achieved a well camouflaged recap: the first half of the introductory episode not only allows you to recap in a few words what happened in the previous season, but offers the opportunity to better understand Akira's life and emotions.
Zero and one hundred
In the second half of the episode, however, the story resumes one year after the appointment, in 1996; the video game industry has developed and changed considerably over the years.
Haruo is in the game room with his friend Miyao, and he asks about the relationship with Akira. The protagonist, however, still cannot fully feel his feelings, being hard-fought over what he actually feels for his partner. The friend urges him not to let her go, because now I'm in high school and a girl like Akira could easily find another suitor. In this circumstance one perceives how the series continues to follow the development and growth of Haruo: now the protagonist has to put aside his childish side, to start facing the first ones amorous difficulties, and be guided by your emotions. To help his friend, Miyao decides to talk to him at his home, but before doing so they must buy something to eat. Unfortunately, the shop where they stop is from Koharu: this, as we said, did not accept Haruo's refusal well, but experiences mixed feelings towards him. On the one hand, she hates him with all of herself, because she deluded her and rejected her in a childish way; on the other, she is still attracted to him and is convinced that she has a chance with him. Miyao also invites Koharu to follow them.
The moment the three go through the door, we perceived that something was not as it should: perhaps the mother talking to someone in the kitchen; perhaps the almost intrusive presence of Koharu who does not want to step aside, despite the promise.
Even before it was shown, we perceived that in that house, in addition to the three, there was a guest who, after all, would not have been completely unexpected. In fact, before Haruo, Miyao and Koharu arrived, Akira and Makoto were already there with the protagonist's mother. When those present close in Haruo's room, it is possible to hear an awkward silence, full of tension and rivalry, and the only one who seems not to worry about what's going on is Haruo. The episode ends with Koharu who tries to break the silence, starting a conversation with Akira.
In the face of what has been seen, we can say that the second season promises to be more engaging than the first, also because we are curious to know how the events will develop, and to find out what role the various characters will play during the series. We cannot exclude that Koharu, in order to be happy with his beloved, will try to meddle in the relationship between Haruo and Akira; or she might try to enter her rival's psychology, to understand what she has better than she; his fate may be another and he may be able to find new love.
After watching the first episode, it seems that the second round wants to give more space also for secondary characters, which in the first were not very remarkable: just think of the guardian, whose psychological side and the reasons behind such severity, we started to know, even if at the moment she had only a few jokes; o Makoto, and why he left the family; or Miyao, who now appears to be more than just a friend, but a shoulder for Koharu. From the pilot we perceived that the series has not yet lost its appeal and did not put aside the strengths: the arcade games are still present, with pleasant repertoire images that pleasantly tickle the memory, and the video games are not reduced to a simple ornament, but once again express the feelings of the protagonists, when they can't do it verbally. The digital characters are part of the subconscious of the main actors and try to help them: just look at the sudden appearance of Guile trying to stop Haruo, to avoid him reaching home, as if the young man knew or hoped to find Akira. As for the artistic sector, we can say that Hi score girl has not made many changes.
Show off again a well-made, clean and cured 3D CGI, which adapts perfectly to the manual design, used for rendering the rooms. Especially in the close-ups, it seems difficult to distinguish the CGI from the manual trait. Unfortunately, digital drawing is once again affected by woody animations, which immediately catch the eye, but the situations in which this occurs are truly sporadic. It is still early to say how events will evolve: the token has just been inserted, the new game has just begun.