Netflix is the world’s most popular streaming service, and as such is in a unique position of appealing to the widest range of audiences and viewer types. Anime as a visual medium has always been rather niche, enjoyed almost exclusively by otaku types even in its native Japan (it’s a bit of a myth that everyone in Japan enjoys anime), but for the past year Netflix has been buying high-quality anime, giving it some very good English dubs, and attempting to compete with the big anime streaming services like Crunchyroll.
While this is arguably a capitalist move, it is also an opportunity for more people to get into Japanese anime. But what should they start with? Well, for fans of the award-winning anime movie A Silent Voice, Netflix has gifted us with the fun seinen anime High Score Girl.
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10 A Silent Love Interest
The story of A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) worked in part because of the differences between its protagonists, Shoya and Shoko. Shoko is deaf, and as such has difficulty communicating with her peers and teachers. She is immediately pitied by the audience, and we begin to root for her happiness from her very first scene. Likewise, in High Score Girl, we have Akira Ono, a girl of high class who is mute. While she isn’t bullied in the way that Shoko is, she is ostracized because of her inability to communicate easily, and so her character demands the same kind of sympathy for the audience. We feel that same kind of pity and adoration for her as we do for Shoko.
9 Two Classes Of People
The other big reason the story of A Silent Voice works so well is the disparate situation between its protagonists. We’ve seen this mismatch of two people before, most famously in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novel North and South and most recently in Sally Rooney’s excellent novel Normal People. Once again in A Silent Voice, we see Shoya as a disenfranchised boy, raised by an uncaring family, given a harder start in life, and who lashes out as a result. This backstory is given more time and detail in the manga, but you can still see it in the movie. Similarly, in High Score Girl, Ono is a wealthy girl cut off from ordinary life, unable to relate to those around her and feeling like she exists on a different plane entirely.
8 An Aggressive Boy
As mentioned, Shoya has had a tough start in life. So many schoolyard bullies lean on their popularity amongst the other boys and their bullying as a form of venting their frustration as a coping mechanism for their cruel or unfair upbringing.
High Score Girl’s male protagonist, Haruo Yaguchi, is a slightly different case, being from a single-parent household of a loving and quirky mother, but he is a distracted boy with failing grades, looked down upon by his classmates. He takes out his frustrations at the arcades, and games become his only real source of joy in life, to the point of absolute obsession. He plays with skill but with aggression, and when he isn’t at the arcade he is nothing but a ball of pent-up angst.
7 Time Lapse And Growth
The bulk of A Silent Voice is the story of the almost-adult protagonists meeting once more after the bully Shoya has mellowed and is looking for forgiveness from Shoko. Their time apart, maturing independently and reuniting as different people makes for a really beautiful caterpillar-into-butterfly plot progression. Similarly, after only three episodes of High Score Girl, Ono is shipped off by her cold family to the US at the end of elementary school. When she returns, she and Yaguchi are reunited after a little over two years apart and must confront their complicated feelings (more complicated for him because he’s a typical idiot boy).
6 A School Setting
This sounds simple enough, but it does provide a key aspect to the storytelling of both anime. While the recently excellent anime show Wotakoi did also explore the romance of video game addicts as adults in a Tokyo office, High Score Girl is able to go at the same topic from a sweeter and more juvenile angle, allowing for its audience to stretch to children and teenagers. This is important because the messages in this anime, and in A Silent Voice, are far more important to be absorbed and understood by young people. Bullying, understanding class difference, being ostracized and feeling alone, understanding one’s own feelings and being honest with one another – these are all themes seen in both anime, and all worth being understood by kids of all ages.
5 Learning To Understand Feelings
As just mentioned, this is a key theme for both the film and the anime series. In A Silent Voice, Shoya is very much lost. He relies on cheap laughs from his mates to sustain him as he lashes out against those more vulnerable than himself, as a way to mask his own vulnerability.
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Very similarly, Yaguchi in High Score Girl deals with his lack of understanding at school, his feeling of loneliness, his poor grades and inability to focus and work hard by attaching himself to video games. That’s not to say games are unhealthy; in fact, the anime is very much a celebration of classic Nintendo and arcade machines, what with it being published by Square Enix and all. However, for someone like Yaguchi, his goal in the story is to come to understand what he actually wants and needs; what he’s good and bad at. This is equally true for Shoya.
4 Understanding Disability
Shoya very much does not understand – or, at least, appreciate – disability as the movie opens. As an elementary school boy, he chooses to lash out, bully, and put down the deaf girl, to make himself feel validated as top dog. As he grows up, he sees the error of his ways and so a friendship blossoms. High Score Girl takes a different, and arguably more original, approach to this. Yaguchi doesn’t give two flying hecks about Ono’s muteness. He actually prefers her this way, since it means he can ramble on to his heart’s content. I have sympathy for this, since he is so lonely, but it’s also horribly irritating in equal measure. That being said, the bigger picture here is a boy who can overlook disability because he appreciates a good friend he can bond with above all else. Ono loves games, and is better at them than Yaguchi is. This relationship means far more than anything else to him. It’s kind of like the old adage, there’s someone out there for everyone.
3 Learning To Love Yourself
As has already been covered, the boys in these anime are very much the focus. They are lost and lonely kids who are on the edge of finding love. But that love isn’t just for someone else; it’s also for themselves. Yaguchi has no idea what he wants out of life, and so he turns to video games for answers, or at least for a distraction. Shoya bullies others for validation from his equally cruel buddies.
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But when these boys begin to look beyond their tunnel vision, they see people who can help them understand who and what they are; as a result, they can come to terms with their shortcomings, their strengths and weaknesses, and they can begin to feel a little less self-loathing and embarrassment, and much more self-acceptance.
2 A Unique Art Style
Of course, any plot-driven medium, like anime, has its story front and center. But we’ve covered the plot and characters at length so let’s look at how these shows look. Each one is certainly unique, in their own way. You could very easily pick them out of a crowd of similar anime by their character designs alone. For A Silent Voice, there’s a slightly more pastel tone to the way characters and settings are colored. The world is less vibrant, a little washed-out, but in a calming rather than a drab way. For High Score Girl, the characters are, admittedly, a little creepy. There’s an uncanny valley element to their design, as they’re all rounded shapes and aggressive eyes. Hidaka, a girl with a soft spot for Yaguchi, has these horrendously creepy yellow eyelashes that just make me shudder. That said, still unique. Certainly unique.
1 A Different Kind Of Animation
Alongside the art is the animation. A Silent Voice is a movie with a pretty high budget compared to your average series, but even so, its team has made an excellent choice to lower its framerate. Similar to last year’s hit series Megalobox, this movie has an aged aesthetic that makes it seem more grounded. This is creative and subtle but makes a pointed difference. Similarly, High Score Girl takes a unique approach to its animation, and blends 3D CGI animation into its 2D art. This is done a lot these days in anime, with very horribly mixed results. In High Score Girl it works, allowing for the frequent blend of anime art and actual vintage video game footage to be done a lot more seamlessly. If the anime is already half-CG, then the move to game footage is far less jarring. Wise choice, animation team!