Cross Game Volumes 1-3

Cross Game Volumes 1-3 by Mitsuru Adachi

I will start off by saying that I really dislike baseball in real life. If I have to watch sports, I’m more interested in basketball, hockey, or tennis. So I am not necessarily the best person to review a baseball manga. On the other hand I remember so many people being excited when this license was announced, since evidently Adachi is a behemoth of shonen manga. The only series of his previously published in the US was Short Program, which now appears to be out of print. I’m glad I gave Cross Game a chance, because it is so well-written, the fact that it is nominally about baseball didn’t matter to me. I was won over by the characters and Adachi’s masterful story pacing.

Ko Kitamura is the protagonist of Cross Game. He’s a typical boy who has a bit of a hustler’s personality. He helps his family out in their sports equipment business, and doesn’t hesitate to recommend taking up sports requiring extravagant equipment to his classmates. Ko isn’t very interested in sports himself, but he does practice hitting at a local batting center. The batting center’s proprietors are the Tsukushimas, and they have four girls. Ko and the second daughter Wakaba have grown up together. They share a birthday, and Wakaba treats Ko like a steadfast friend, hitching rides to school on his bike. Ko’s friendship with Wakaba causes problems since plenty of other boys have crushes on her. On the run from bullies, Ko decides to hide by joining a group of classmates who are playing baseball after getting the hard sell from Ko. He is utterly inept in every area at baseball except for being able to hit home runs.

Cross Game has a great slice-of-life quality, but the plot does advance fairly slowly. I think it was a good decision to release the first three books in an omnibus edition. One of the things I liked about this manga was the feeling of time and place. The characters wake up and run errands on a hazy summer day. Ko deals with kids at school who now insist that he work on his baseball gloves. Wakaba’s younger sister Aoba is developing her own pitching arm. After a disappointing birthday Wakaba hands Ko a detailed list of the presents he should get for her every year, ending with an engagement ring on her 20th birthday. Wakaba’s faith in Ko is boundless. She comments to Aoba, “If you think of Ko as just another boy, you’ll get burned. If he puts his mind to it, he could be the best pitcher in Japan….But don’t take him from me.” Aoba thinks Wakaba is being ridiculous.

For the first half of Cross Game, I thought that it was on track to be an enjoyable slice of life comedy about baseball. But tragedy strikes, giving even more emotional resonance to the daily lives of the characters as they continue on with school and their family businesses. Ko grows more serious about baseball and he continues to be protective of the Tsukushima sisters even though Aoba acts as though she hates him. Ko develops his abilities secretly, without any sense of how strong he might be compared to his classmates. He still acts goofy at times, taking extra time to flail around his pitching arm when instructed to pitch “for real.”

The high school baseball team is terrible. The new coach is the type to push for a win at the expense of his players’ development. There’s a team of elites and a “portable team,” which consists of players who washed out or didn’t try out for the main team. Only a few of Ko’s classmates recognize his potential. They know the score with the new coach, and are content to stay with the portable team for the present. They don’t want to be ruined by selfish coaching. The dynamic between Ko and Aoba is interesting. She’d be an ace pitcher herself if she was a guy, but she’s only able to play in practice games. She’s set up as the final judge of Ko’s talent, and when she sees that he’s improved she states that he’s a good pitcher but he doesn’t excite her.

Adachi has a simple, cartoony style that adapts to showing showing the freeze frame action of baseball very well. Many of the characters have slightly protuberant ears, making them look a little vulnerable. The backgrounds in Cross Game are very detailed, grounding the characters in specific settings like the batting cage, school hallways, or neighborhood sandlots. Adachi peppers the manga with mini episodes where he talks to the reader, like when he sets up a gag about Ko imitating a classmate’s voice then follows it with an all too convenient scene of Ko’s father talking about his son’s amazing impression skills.

Cross Game sets up an intriguing blend of sports-based wholesomeness and corruption. There’s something very innocent about Ko not being aware of the athlete he could become and his growing enthusiasm for the game. Seeing the baseball team at his high school being put together by ringers under the leadership of an abusive coach made me very anxious to see what was going to happen next to Ko and his fellow students on the portable team. I appreciated the way Adachi handled the passing of time in Cross Game. Often manga sometimes feels fairly static, but Cross Game follows Ko across different seasons and years, making it a true coming of age story. Cross Game is by far one of my favorite shonen releases this year.

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  1. […] first volume of Cross Game was my favorite new shonen manga of 2010, so when I got a new box of Viz goodies, this was the first manga I grabbed. I was happy to see […]

  2. […] anything that is so well executed that it immediately wins me over, but that was my reaction to the first and second omnibus volumes. In broad strokes, a battle for the soul of baseball has been set up […]

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