Cross Game 4

April 12, 2012

Mitsuru Adachi – Viz – 2011 – 17 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 8-9

As I’ve said before, it’s really hard to talk about this series. It’s excellent, but a quiet kind. The writing is very solid, and both the characters and the plot are relevant and interesting. Adachi is also a master of subtlety, so he leaves a lot unsaid and communicates much through implication, which is an interesting technique indeed. He’s not afraid to pause and linger over-long on particularly relevant conversations, or even just a nice day on the baseball field. Both make this an absolute pleasure to read.

And there’s not that much to say about story progress here. It’s about the characters training to go to the high school baseball championships and struggling with their personal lives. This volume covers the first 2-3 games in the tournament, with varying degrees of emphasis on each. I do like that Adachi doesn’t do a play-by-play with nail-biting cliffhangers, as any other sports manga would. The games are very character driven in a way that I didn’t realize other sports manga were not, since they tend to be all about player ability. In Cross Game, it’s not really about winning the game. It’s about how well Ko is playing, and how well the team is working together. There’s nothing terribly exciting about it, honestly, but it’s still a blast to read. I care a lot more about Ko than I would any other protagonist in a sports manga, and I’ve read some very good ones over the years.

There’s also some details about the personal lives of the characters, but this doesn’t go anywhere major in this volume. The stage is set for future conflict, though. The Tsukishima sisters now have a houseguest, Mizuki, their cousin. Mizuki is the same age as Aoba, and he has a huge crush on her. Aoba doesn’t ever look his way, really. The bigger problem, romantically, is what appears to be a budding relationship between Ko and Aoba. The two are very much alike, and their frequent fights seem more a sign of friendship and animosity. Other characters hint more than either Ko or Aoba do, and that puts the two in the interesting position of… well, maybe they don’t really have feelings for each other. I could see Cross Game doing something like that. The bigger problem with their relationship, however, might be that both of them would see it as a betrayal to the dead Wakaba.

If you’ve been following along with the series, this is more of what you’ve come to expect. A quiet affair, but still a page-turner in its way. Again, I can see this not being to the taste of a lot of people who prefer more action-oriented series, or even those who enjoy relationship-based stories. But it’s a fantastic character-driven story, and it takes its time to make sure everything is right. I may not find myself reaching for the next volume when I finish, but I am extremely satisfied in a way that few manga are able to manage.

Cross Game 3

February 20, 2012

Mitsuru Adachi – Viz – 2011 – 17 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols 6-7

I liked the second omnibus so much that I made myself hold off on reading the next one, lest I run out of available volumes and have to wait for more. I do this with novel series more than I do manga, but for whatever reason, I take some comfort in knowing there’s another volume of something to read, should the need arise. Also, somehow, as good a read as it is, one volume of this is very fulfilling, so I don’t feel like I need to tear through six others.

I also read this immediately after a volume of Slam Dunk. As much as I love Slam Dunk, it’s hard to believe the difference between the two. Slam Dunk is more of a ride, with the momentum coming from the rather exciting basketball games. I’m not a big fan of basketball, and the volume I read wasn’t even a game with the main characters in it, but I still tore through it. That contrasts sharply to Cross Game, where the appeal lies in the characters, their slow development, and the way they quietly interact with each other.

This volume/omnibus, surprisingly, brings us the confrontation between the portable and regular teams. I thought the animosity between the two would simmer for awhile, with the confrontation coming after we’d had several volumes of fighting between the two. It’s what any other shounen manga would do, right? But Cross Game is taking a different path, and I’m almost excited to see that the story is readily moving in a different direction now. Plus, the lead-up and game itself was fantastic, and I was happy that it came so early in the series.

After a few chapters where it’s hinted that the portable team has been playing some unofficial games with other schools, the regular team’s Coach becomes annoyed with the portable team, and decides to put pressure on them to disband once and for all. The portable team’s coach lays his job on the line, saying that they will have one more game between the two teams, and the coach that loses will bow out of his job gracefully. With the regular team’s coach full of confidence with the junior high students he’s been grooming, he accepts gratefully.

And… we all know where this goes. There’s some interesting new angles here, such as a surprise connection to the chairman of the school, and the fact the actual strengths of the team aren’t revealed until later in the game. Not even Ko looks all that cool for several chapters, and I was delighted when I learned why.

I have a difficult time talking about why these volumes are so good, too. This game isn’t exciting in a way a game would be in any other sports manga. It is, because I couldn’t stop reading it, but it isn’t because I was hanging off every pitch. A game like this might also last 3 volumes in a normal series, but it’s condensed here to several chapters. Mainly, this is because it’s not really about the game. It’s about what the characters do before and after the game, and how it affects them. One of the themes here is that the regular team’s coach, and the regular team itself, fails because there’s no spirit of camaraderie, they are simply playing to win and be the best. The portable team, and Cross Game in general, is more about teamwork, and how all the players interact and live their lives and whatnot.

As for living life… I’m still not sure whether Ko and Aoba are supposed to be together or not, and I’m delighted by that as well. They seem to go together well as a couple, and yet the specter of Wakaba still hangs between them, and I think that will prevent them from ever really being together. But maybe it won’t? I also like that this is only a small part of what’s going on. Even better, the chapters that dwell on this are winter chapters, meaning that time passes in this series, and at a reasonable rate. I couldn’t be happier with that.

The later chapters appear to be working hard to introduce a new character. There has been three or so lead-up chapters to this, so I’m excited to see what he can add to the story.

It’s just… great. A very solid read. A good series because it does absolutely everything right story- and character-wise. I think it might disappoint a lot of readers because it moves so slowly and isn’t overtly action-packed, but I find that to be one of its strengths. It’s sweet, sentimental, and uses baseball to tell a story about its characters rather than being a baseball manga outright. I love it to pieces, and I’m so happy that it’s being published in English.

Cross Game 2

December 27, 2011

Mitsuru Adachi – Viz – 2011 – 17 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 4-5

This series is so good! As much as I liked the first volume of this, I completely forgot just how well the characters worked and let the next two omnibus volumes languish on my to-read pile. It’s difficult to convince myself (and others, probably) that this is worth reading, since the story is a pretty simple one. It’s high school baseball. But it’s a lot more than that, too, and it’s hard to explain why that makes it good. Ko’s still getting over the death of a loved one. So is his sister. They’re trying to compete with the varsity baseball team at their high school, whose coach says they aren’t good enough simply because he didn’t hand-pick them. The two volumes in this omnibus mostly cover the game between the varsity and “portable” baseball teams, and it’s just a pleasure to read.

I like Slam Dunk, but somehow, Cross Game is ten times better. Part of that is that I prefer baseball as a sport, but it’s hard to explain the fact that… these characters aren’t as ‘tude-filled as the ones in Cross Game, but as a result, they feel a lot more human. And slightly more clever than they should, to be fair. But man. I can’t get over how much fun this is to read.

The first chapter is the prep leading up to the varsity game, and the last… mmm, maybe two chapters are about Aoba going to visit the training camp that the “portable” team is participating in. One other chapter throws suspicion on Ko, who appears to be brown-nosing the varsity team’s manager in order to get a spot. Both of these stories at the end of the book summon the ghost of Wakaba, Aoba’s sister who passed away. Then again, the whole series does in some ways, since it was Wakaba who had faith in Ko’s pitching abilities when Ko had shown no interest in baseball outside her family’s batting cages.

Aoba, who apparently hates Ko, is the one who narrates the game with the varsity team, and the one that provides all the stats she collected while playing the gifted members of the team. Ko’s catcher also did his share of spying, and coaches Ko through his pitching. There’s a lot of stats slipped in here… but somehow, it’s not boring. Every pitch that Ko throws is likely to make or break the game, and it’s exciting to learn how the batters may or may not hit the particular pitches that Ko is throwing. It doesn’t sound exciting, but I promise it is.

And the other thing I like about this game is that it really isn’t clear who is going to win. Ko and the serious players on the “portable” team are all first years, so they have all the time in the world to reach varsity and go to the big National Baseball Tournament. This game really isn’t important, and given the fact that several members of the “portable” team really aren’t good, there’s not a huge chance that they will win. But Ko’s a good pitcher, and some of the players are good, so they keep the game interesting. There are several points where you think that, yeah, maybe the portable team might win, and several others where you are simply waiting for the trouncing that is due to them. It’s balanced very well, and neither a win nor loss is guaranteed at the outset. It makes reading it genuinely interesting.

Basically, I can go over all the nitpicky details of what makes this a good story in theory, but for this one, you just have to trust me. It’s about baseball, and high school students, and it is very, very good. There’s no substitute for reading it yourself and finding out what makes it great, and if it sounds like your kinda thing, odds are you won’t be disappointed.

Cross Game 1

January 15, 2011

Mitsuru Adachi – Viz – 2010 – 17 volumes
This volume is an omnibus collecting volumes 1-3.

Yay! I’m so happy we finally get another Mitsuru Adachi manga in English! I read Short Program years ago, but I’ve always wanted to try one of his baseball series. There were a lot of sports stories in Short Program, but I wanted to see how his balance of emotions and sports worked for a long-running series. It must be good stuff, because he’s got several under his belt.

And this is. This really is. I was a little surprised that we got this series instead of Touch, but Touch is about a hundred years old at this point, and also 26 volumes long. This is still fairly current, having ended its run last year, and not too long for a shounen manga. Adachi’s art style isn’t particularly modern (much like Rumiko Takahashi, with a lot of curves and simple character designs), and I have a suspicion that Touch looks about as current as this does, but I couldn’t be happier with Cross Game.

The plot is about a kid that plays baseball and a couple girls he may or may not have a crush on. If you strip it down. Adachi puts so much more than that into his series, though. The main character, Ko, in fifth grade at the beginning, has a best friend named Wakaba who was born on the same day as him, and lives in the same neighborhood. All the boys in Ko’s class have a crush on Wakaba. Wakaba’s the picture of a nice girl, and seems to prefer Ko to the company of anybody else. There’s nothing overtly romantic between the two, they just simply hang out together.

Wakaba’s younger sister, Aoba, doesn’t seem too fond of Ko, but Wakaba tells her that Ko is wonderful, and can do anything he puts his mind to. Baseball comes up, after Ko is coerced by bullies and a group of people he cheated. Ko is terrible at fielding and throwing, but is an ace batter since he goes every day to Wakaba’s family batting cages.

Anyway, the first “volume” in this collection takes place when Ko and Wakaba are in fifth grade. The story moves ahead five years after this. Ko has given up baseball, but still practices batting, and has become quite a pitcher after being inspired by Aoba and practicing with Momiji, Wakaba’s youngest sister, for five years. Things happen, and he joins the high school baseball team with a former bully and a kid he knew in grade school. The baseball team is full of jerks, and the new coach also needs to be taken down a few notches.

It’s better than any sports manga I’ve ever read, including Eyeshield 21 and… maybe even Hikaru no Go, if one wants to call that a sports manga. I think the characters in Eyeshield 21 are a lot more fun, but they’re a lot more real in this series, and handled with such subtlety. Same for Hikaru no Go, which stands on its great characters, but… even they aren’t quite Ko-quality. Adachi uses an interesting technique. Silence. Just silence. Events happen, people do things, and we are merely shown what happens, not told what the characters are thinking. We know what they’re thinking, and it works so well. Ko’s kindness, everyone’s thoughts of Wakaba, and even Aoba’s bullying don’t need to be elaborated on. They simply are, and it’s up to the reader to gauge how important everything is.

I love shounen manga that respects the reader like that. They are few and far between. And the characters here are so much more real because of it. Things are a lot more tranquil without all the talking, too, which helps the mood out quite a bit, be it happy, sad, tense, et cetera. Even entirely wordless, there’s a scene near the end of volume one where Ko is stretching to look at a photo of Wakana that is probably one of the most powerful that I’ve ever read in a manga.

I also like that baseball is such a secondary part of the plot at this point. Baseball isn’t explained (presumably because we learned what baseball was in 1980, back when Touch began), it’s just something the characters do right now. I think it will become more important as the series goes on, since now they play on the official high school team and have to get good in order to wipe the smirks off the faces of the varsity team members. And, of course, eventually make it to Koshien and the high school baseball championship.

I can’t really do it justice. It’s funny and sad, and does a good job of telling the story of the unremarkable life of a few neighborhood kids at their non-famous school. There are definitely highs and lows in their lives, so it’s not as if nothing happens, but it’s fun to read because Adachi does such a good job nailing all the personalities perfectly. Ko is likable, as are Ko’s friends and Wakaba and all her sisters. It’s fun to read because it’s fun to spy on their lives in this way.

It’s a fairly simple story with uncomplicated characters, but I laughed, cried, et cetera all the way through this first volume and can’t wait for more. This was probably one of the best manga to debut last year, and it’s a shame I got to it this late. Pick it up if you are so inclined, you will not regret it.


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