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Blue Moon Reviews — Cross Game, Vol. 1

The back cover really says it best:

Cross Game is a moving drama that is heartfelt and true, yet in the brilliant hands of manga artist Mitsuru Adachi, delightfully flows with a light and amusing touch. The series centers around a boy named Ko, the family of four sisters who live down the street and the game of baseball. This poignant coming-of-age story will change your perception of what shonen manga can be.”

Cross Game, Vol. 1
By Mitsuru Adachi
VIZ, 576 pp.
Rating: Teen

Score: A-

Warning: it’s impossible to discuss one of the nicest aspects of this series without revealing a major spoiler. Proceed at your own risk.

The first of the three volumes of Cross Game that VIZ has bundled together in an attractive omnibus serves as a prologue, of sorts. We meet protagonist Ko Kitamura when he’s in fifth grade, a mischievous and lazy kid whose parents run a sporting goods shop. Nearby, Mr. Tsukishima runs a batting center and his four daughters are a part of Ko’s life, though none more so than sunny Wakaba, who was born the same day as Ko and who alone has the power to motivate him. She’s a very special girl, with a knack for befriending other kids despite their appearance or reputation; the influence her acceptance has on her classmate Akaishi, commonly regarded as somewhat of a hoodlum, is destined to be lifelong.

Tragedy strikes at swimming camp when Wakaba attempts to save someone else and ends up drowning herself. Despite her physical absence from the story after this point, Wakaba’s presence remains a palpable one. As the story jumps ahead four years, we find Ko still continuing to perform the daily workout he promised her he would do as a means of improving his baseball skills and Akaishi leading the junior high baseball team (and staying out of trouble). Ko hasn’t joined the team because of some jerks that were on it when he was a first year, but once Akaishi tells him that on the last morning of her life, Wakaba passed by his parents’ store and mentioned that she’d dreamed about Akaishi and Ko going to Koshien together, he begins training without another word necessary. Ko may be a slacker if left to his own devices, but if it’s something Wakaba wanted, he is going to make sure it becomes reality, no matter what. It’s clear Akaishi feels the same.

The boys move into high school, where the interim principal has hired an unprincipled baseball coach with a good record at Koshien. Ko, Akaishi, and their friend Nakanishi don’t want to play for such a fellow and opt to remain on the junior varsity team; as the volume ends they’re preparing to show up the varsity team in an upcoming scrimmage game. Tying in with this is the sad story of Aoba, Wakaba’s younger sister. Aoba is passionate about baseball and is even the captain of the junior high team. Unfortunately, because she’s a girl she can only ever pitch in practice games and can never be deemed more than a devoted fan. Aoba and Ko clash personally, as well, as she still resents him for the closeness he shared with Wakaba, though it’s clear they’re destined to end up together.

Cross Game is a pretty low-key story that’s part slice-of-life and part sports manga. Typically, the protagonists in the latter don’t have such a touching reason for wanting to excel at their sport, and neither do they feature two guys nurturing a bittersweet memory of the same beloved girl in their hearts. The characters really grow on you—Ko seems a little bratty at first, but shows time and again that he’s a good person, particularly in how he treats Momiji, Wakaba and Aoba’s little sister—and I love that Ko’s two best friends are kind of burly and unattractive. You don’t see that a lot in manga.

I have two minor complaints, but I’ve been given to understand that they’re both common attributes of Mitsuru Adachi’s manga. The first is that some of the character designs—particularly of children—are positively dumpy. Too, a lot of the recurring characters have faces that are difficult to remember, though this is not the case at all for the primary players. Secondly, the fourth wall gets broken all the time. Adachi himself appears and the characters are often shown reading his manga. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, so this is not as glaring as similar moments in NANA, for example, but I found it kind of irksome all the same.

The second omnibus of Cross Game, this time containing volumes four and five of the original Japanese releases, is due in January. I am looking forward to that scrimmage game—and Ko finally getting to show off his amazing baseball abilities—so much that it isn’t even funny.

Volume one of Cross Game is available now.

14 Comments

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Why do I love fourth-wall breaking? I blame Arrested Development and 30 Rock for instilling that love in me….second thing is when I first started with the series I couldn’t tell Ko (a boy) and Aoba (a tomboy) a part. That seems kind of lazy to me…

So glad to see you enjoyed Cross Game…I watch the anime streaming via Viz, so, of course, I feel no need to pick up the book itself (I also think it really pales in comparison to Big Windup!, which is a big problem since this is supposed to be one of the greatest baseball manga “EVA” or whatever. The difference is one story is really about a *guy* and those close to him, while the other is really about a guy and his *team.* In the world of Cross Game, Ko is the star and everyone else is a supporting player.).

Aw, I bet the manga has something to offer that the anime lacks. If given a choice, I always go for the original material. Well, except in the case of Gravitation. :D

I wouldn’t say Cross Game is the greatest baseball manga ever – that has to belong to one of his other baseball manga, “Touch”, or “H2″.

Cross Game, though, is pretty darned good; and it’s less about, IMO, Ko and more about the impact that one girl can have on people’s lives; everything that’s driving Ko, Aoba, and so on in this book is much more about Wakaba and the motivation she gave to everyone involved in this.

Looking back at the run of Cross Game, I think almost every action you can see has Wakaba’s touch/influence behind it; Ko’s drive to be the best, Aoba’s feelings about Ko, Momiji’s apologies for not being able to live up to her sister, and so on.

And to be honest, I think the -point- of making Ko and Aoba look so similar was that they were, as will be repeated often in upcoming volumes, two of a kind.

I don’t know much about H2, but I’ve read the first couple of volumes of Touch and liked it. I really really hope that Cross Game does well enough here to help pave the way for its older siblings.

And you’re absolutely right about the real message being the impact knowing Wakaba has made on people’s lives. I especially love how Akaishi is affected, and how he later becomes protective of Aoba and is awestruck at the sight of Momiji. I don’t know how I came to love him so much but I hope he ends up happy.

The first seven volumes of Touch may be the best work Adachi’s ever done, though I think H2 is superior as an overall work (it remains my favorite manga ever). I really, REALLY suggest reading H2 – it’s an astonishingly brilliant piece of work. I completely share your hope that Cross Game does well enough to bring over his older stuff – I actually own a volume of H2 in Japanese despite not being able to read the language at all!

Digit’s right that Wakaba really infuses the earlier volumes of the manga. However, like basically everything Adachi has done, as the series progresses it becomes about the people who are alive today and not the ghosts of the past. Touch did it with Tatsuya overcoming Katsuya’s shadow, Katsu! did it with Satoyama finding a motivation beyond ‘the girl’ and ‘the ghost of my father’ for boxing, and Cross Game does it with Koh (and Aoba, and a number of others) finding a way to do more than just fulfill Waka’s dreams. One of the most touching (and awesome) moments in the series comes from a promise Koh makes to Aoba, not Wakaba.

I’m quite curious to see how you’ll react to Akane. :)

Oh, and Akaishi is indeed awesome (and a really good guy). Things turn out just fine for him in the end. :)

Fantastic review, and I hope you keep enjoying the series. It’s so nice to see my favorite mangaka finally hitting the States in a meaningful way.

Danielle: The thing with Adachi is that his stuff is fundamentally more about the relationships than the baseball. That said, I’d check out H2 if I were you – at 34 volumes, there’s a lot more depth to the baseball, even though the focus is definitely on Hiro more than the others. You get more team moments and there’s even a whole big character arc and shining baseball moment for a character you think of as nothing more than a cocky, annoying pervert in the beginning of the series.

Personally, the Adachi work I’d most like to see is the swimming manga, “Rough”. It’s my personal favorite – a Romeo and Juliet-style story that focuses more on how people relate to each other, both romantically, competitvely, and just being friends. Not that the swimming / diving isn’t too bad either.

Two Adachi manga already came to the US from Viz: Short Program and Short Program 2.

They rely a bit more on the ‘subtle’ touch of storytelling where you see little things at the beginning set up for the denoument at the end (and these sort of touches show up all over the long-form manga too. Like, say, Wakaba’s “What are you doing, Ko?” to Ko’s studying his store inventory list later leading to Wakaba’s “Birthday Gift list”.)

Here’s hoping you review the end of the manga; it was, as typical for Adachi, quite understated but perfect.

@ Xel: Thanks for the praise and the reassurance about Akaishi’s happiness! I admit I have goosebumps envisioning Ko making a promise to Aoba.

@ Digit: I actually managed to find both Short Program and Short Program 2. The latter often goes for a good bit, and I was lucky enough to be able to get it via inter-library loan. Having read it already meant that I was able to be patient in terms of buying my own copy, and I finally lucked out a few months later.

Here are my reviews of those if anyone’s interested:
Short Program
Short Program 2

Yay, Adachi love!!! If they release Cross Game on DVD I happily buy that, I thought it was a lovely adaptation, but until then I’m happy to get any Adachi licensed in a language I can read. He’s the perfect “people, slice of life with a bit of sports” mangaka for me.
Not being any kind of sports fan, this is the sort of sports manga I can read ^^.

Adachi is definitely a master of sports manga. I honestly can’t say there’s been another manga that I’ve been so invested in as much as I was in for H2.

@ Estara: I said just about those exact words to Melinda Beasi in an attempt to convince her that it’s not just a typical sports manga. I love sports manga in general, but I’m definitely enjoying the infusion of more slice-of-life elements.

[…] Comic Book Resources: Michelle Smith on volume 1 […]

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