Cross Game 8

October 12, 2015

Mitsuru Adachi – Viz – 2012 – 17 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 16-17

Mitsuru Adachi, you are truly an evil man.  The last volume had me in tears, and they were only playing baseball.

The first half of this book (which is technically the second-to-last volume in the series) is just the baseball game with Ryuou.  It’s a pitcher’s duel, which is half exciting stuff (will he hit it?  how about now?  where is that ball going?!), and half nothing really happening.  But seriously, it is a page turner.  We also get the last little bit of drama about Akane’s surgery at the beginning.

That second volume, though.  They were still only playing baseball, the same game with Ryuou.  But the little memories that were interspersed with the action were terrible.  And by terrible, I mean heartbreakingly awesome.  One scene in particular, while Ko was up to bat, was what did me in.

The relationship between Ko and Aoba is also ambiguous straight through to the end of the volume.  I forced myself not to peek, and that had me tearing through the book faster than the game did.  Somehow, all the other characters knew what was on their minds more than I did.  Aoba I did know.  Ko, not so much.

The specter of Wakaba also hung over the afternoon.  There was a short, wordless flashback that lasted several pages that also had me in tears.  I can’t believe the Wakaba effect is still so powerful after 17 volumes, but here I was, crying over my copy of Cross Game.

I also loved where the story left off, re: Koshien.  I can’t say too much, because it would be a spoiler, but it ended exactly how I hoped it would.

I would recommend this to anybody, really.  I hope it sells well.  The first volume has a relatively high Amazon sales ranking, so I hope that means something.  I hope it means that it’s finding its way into everyone’s hands.  Because it is unbelievably good.  Touching, just the right amount of action, not too predictable (although… eh, a little bit), great characters, a real tearjerker, and, bizarrely, a massive page-turner.  Plus, they play some baseball too!  Normally I find omnibus volumes daunting, but I read these almost as fast as I would read a normal volume of something else.


Cross Game 7

October 4, 2015

Mitsuru Adachi – Viz – 2012 – 17 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 14-15

Dammit, Cross Game.  There’s a scene in the last chapter of this volume where Senda (the comic relief character) asks Ko if he likes Aoba.  Ko says he does.  Then he says he also likes Senda.  There’s a few panels of silence, then Ko admits to being a great liar.  After a few more panels of silence, Senda gets up and leaves, telling Ko that it made him happy to hear, even if it was a lie.  It wasn’t a joke.  It was like a gut punch when I least expected it.

To make up for all the not-baseball of the last two volumes, this pair of volumes contains mostly condensed games, 7 or 8 of them.  They comprise the playoffs before Koshien.  I like that we didn’t have to sit and watch all these games.  Adachi knows what the most exciting parts are, and just delivered them.  Most of them were low-scoring games anyway, which are probably agonizing to read in a manga.  Even if it is Mitsuru Adachi.

Even with the shortened coverage, the baseball’s still pretty exciting.  We get to hear about strengths of the other teams, and how they work against the strengths and weaknesses of Seishu.  The team that lets its opponents score ahead of them, then comes from behind at the last second.  The team whose pitcher and cleanup are just as strong as Seishu, but whose catcher isn’t quite the star.  Even Senda gets a home run in one of the games, off the first pitch of the game.  Exciting stuff!

But it wouldn’t be Cross Game if it didn’t make you feel like you’re moments away from weeping.  Senda’s conversation above is the least of your worries in that department.  There are complications with Akane.  Ko and Aoba visit Wakaba’s grave.  Ko and Aoba even discuss their personal relationships, in incredibly oblique ways.  It’s sad stuff.  Part of me knows that a manga like this would never… end badly.  But then I remember that this one began badly, and then I’m not sure.

One more volume!

Cross Game 6

September 20, 2015

Mitsuru Adachi – Viz – 2012 – 17 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 12-13

Where’d my review for volume 5 go?!  I guess I’ll have to re-write it…

Anyway, it’s been a long time since I read this series, which is a shame.  I’m polishing it off during my vacation this week.  Part of me realizes I should have chosen Slam Dunk, as I’m staying south of Cleveland, and there is a lot of buzz about the Cavaliers in the NBA Championship.  But Cross Game is an awesome series, and the only things I know about basketball all came from Slam Dunk, whereas I actually watch baseball.

This series is just so sensitive!  In this omnibus, the team starts gearing up and training for their summer season, but the baseball’s a bit low-key compared to the character stuff.  Ko and Akane begin to grow closer, and it’s nice that everyone embraces Akane (including Wakaba’s family), and don’t just see her as a replacement for Wakaba.

An injury takes Aoba off the field, and her coaching for Ko intensifies as the team keeps training.  But that’s secondary.  Her injury also means Ko continues to be kind to her, but… when it becomes clear that Ko doesn’t really want to date Aoba, Azuma steps in and begins courting her in the subtle way this series has.  Equally subtle is… I’m not sure what this character’s name is, I think it’s Akaishi, who used to have a crush on Wakaba, treats Akane well, but with distance.  He likes to see her smile, as he liked to see Wakaba smile.  He tries to get Ko and Akane together, since he likes Ko, and figures he was always the one that made Wakaba happy.

I’m not entirely sure I like the way everyone in the series just replaced Wakaba with Akane.  Seems like someone would have a problem with that?  It’s not Akane’s fault, of course, but she’s sort-of seeing Ko, hangs around the Tsukishima house, and everyone that liked Wakaba now likes Akane.  It’s a little weird, but this series is so full of good vibes it’s hard to deny something like that.

I’m surprised I don’t have more to say after reading two volumes, but these are fast reads, and the pacing is fairly breezy, with a lot of the content of each chapter sometimes hinging on a moment.  It’s a pleasant experience, and I wish more people enjoyed sports manga.  This one wasn’t even all that sport-y this time around.  But the baseball games are exciting!  Those will probably start in the next omnibus.

Cross Game 5

July 29, 2015

Mitsuru Adachi – Viz – 2011 – 17 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 10-11

Huh.  I wrote up volume 6 and realized I hadn’t covered this one.

The first half contains some bittersweet baseball.  I love the games in this series.  Though, to be fair, the games tend to be exciting in all sports manga.  But I love baseball best, so I have a special fondness for this series.  After all the buildup, all the stress, all the little details… Well, I guess the same thing happens here that usually happens halfway through any sports manga.  But… somehow this series rolls with the punches.  It feels more like a part of life than soul-crushing, as it can in other series.  Everyone played their best, and these things happen.

The second half is the resurrection of Wakaba.  I talk about this more in the next volume, but I’m not the biggest fan of this character.  A new store moves in next door to Kitamura sports, and the daughter is the same age as Ko.  She also looks and acts exactly like Wakaba, to the point where everyone in the neighborhood has to meet her to see.  One of the things I’ve always wondered is if Ko doesn’t date Aoba because it would be a betrayal to Wakaba (or, perhaps because she’s too much like a little sister).  I feel like, after building up Wakaba so long, it’s weird to have her doppelganger show up and everyone’s okay with it.  It’s not Akane’s fault she looks like Wakaba, and I do like that nobody holds it against her.  It still rubbed me the wrong way.

On the Aoba/Ko angle, I also wonder if Aoba’s obvious attraction, and Ko’s arms-length distance, just didn’t have a reason?  It could be a betrayal to Wakaba, and she may just be like his little sister.  He may just not feel that way about her, too.  Cross Game is like that, which is somewhat more life-like than most manga.  It always feels like there should be something more between Aoba and Ko, but maybe there just isn’t, and that’s just how it is.  As much as I would like to see them together, I like Cross Game a lot for not going there, and for not explaining why.

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.