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.

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