Anno Haruna (杏野はるな): In 2008 at the age of 20, Anno Haruna became widely known as the Queen of Retro Game Idols. She is undefeated in Street Fighter 2, spends her free time training and her income contributing to her private software collection, among the largest repositories for retro games in Japan. Born in rural Kumamoto and raised in the 64-bit console generation, her wholesome character, interest in the nostalgic 8-bit hits of the past and
incredible gaming skills have uniquely positioned her the charismatic new face of the gaming industry.
PG: You have been an idol since age 15, but started playing retro games at age 17. What was the appeal?
AH: I started playing retro games to distinguish myself among the many idols in the industry, but then I really got hooked on them! I study the history of games, the creators and the culture. There is just so much to learn. It’s a little strange, but this is all new to me even though it is old. I really love the dots in retro games. I think they are so cute! It just seems to me that the simplicity of these games is the depth of their beauty. Games today have advanced too much and players have been robbed of our imagination. We see too much of the image like a movie playing and passively accept that rather than getting involved and playing the game itself.
PG: Being from rural Japan, what do your family and friends think about your career?
AH: Well, they don’t really understand that games are an industry, so they tell me to stop wasting all my time playing around. I always wanted to be on TV ever since I was in preschool, but my father wouldn’t allow it. When I reached middle school, I thought that if I got good enough grades, he might change his mind. I realized then that I couldn’t wait too long or I’d miss my chance, so I came to Tokyo alone and got started. I did it of my own will. First was, let me see, a photo album. We did the shoot in Indonesia, which I love. I like to ride around on a bike off the beaten path and share information with the people. I don’t want to be in a hotel room eating tourist food and shopping at duty free. I think it is that same desire to go deeper and learn more that basically transferred over to my love of games. There is so much more going on behind what we see and I want to know it and touch it. In anything you need to know the basics before you can truly appreciate.
PG: You also love movies and collect LDs, right? That seems connected to a desire for knowledge and material. How often do you play games?
AH: Maybe eight hours a day. I played Chrono Trigger for 36 hours straight once because I was so into it! I played Super Mario maybe 50 times over the course of two weeks so that I could do it blindfolded. The rest of the time I read old magazines to get more information from before I was born. One thing that I noticed when I started was that idols and promotion girls hired by game companies had no idea what they were talking about. It seems rude to have an amateur in the role of critic. That kind of thing would not happen with film, right?
PG: Where do you get the money for all this?
AH: I don’t spend money on makeup and have no interest in designer bags or fashionable clothing, so it isn’t so hard to budget. I have some Famicon games worth 11 thousand yen or more, but most things I buy for cheap at Galaxy, the Mandarake retro game store in Nakano Broadway, or at flea markets. Hunting for rare gems is half of the fun, and it just isn’t the same when you can buy it easily. I also spend a lot of time at the Capcom Plaza in Kichijoji, which has great games and atmosphere. I meet many gamers from overseas there.
AH: Kojima Hideo approached me to be the image girl for Metal Gear Solid 4, so that is coming up. I am doing a retro game DVD with Speed Wagon, a Japanese comedian duo, and that will be out for nationwide rental. There is also my second photo collection, which features kimono of the world and can be shown around the world. Street Fighter Online is going to have an Anno Haruna character, so I will have to do the movement captures at Capcom soon. My favorite game is Street Fighter 2 because the character balance is perfect, the pixels are beautiful and there aren’t that many needless combos. My type is a macho, bald, clean-cut guy, like Zangief, so I always play him and have never been defeated. I have played many people from around the world because it is such a solid game respected around the world. Street Fighter is the pinnacle and everything after was an imitation. What else, I also will be doing a follow up to the TV show “Tokyo Game Zukan,” which was my big break as a caster in 2006.
PG: I also hear you are involved in the campaign to get gaming in the Olympics. Can you tell us more?
AH: I think the image of gaming is still a little dark, like otaku in their rooms without any friends playing games. Like, movies have a lot of violence in them, but no one seems to blame them for youth crimes the way the media blames games in Japan. I think that is part of the negative otaku image. For me, games are pop and cool. I want to show people that gaming isn’t something only lonely people do in dark dirty rooms. That is one reason I try to display my collection this way and keep my room and clothes clean. I want to show people that anyone, even a young girl like me, can play games. Japan invented many of the games loved around the world, but now we have these stereotypes and are losing out to passionate and even professional gamers in Korea and Sweden. Yes, games should be part of the Olympics because players use their minds, skills and reflexes in a trained way others cannot. From now on I want to spread the love of Japanese retro games in Japan and the world. We can communicate this others this way.