Greetings, manga lovers! This week marks the May Manga Moveable Feast featuring Mitsuru Adachi and Cross Game, the archive for which can be found here, at The Panelists. I’ve been hoarding a couple of Cross Game volumes for a while now, just for this occasion. So please enjoy my review of Cross Game volumes 2 and 3 (featuring original volumes 4-7).
Title: Cross Game
Author: Mitsuru Adachi
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Sunday)
Volume: Volumes 2 and 3 (featuring volumes 4-7, of 17), $14.99 each
Vintage: 2006-2007 by Shogakukan in Japan, January and April 2011 (respectively) by Viz Media
Genre: Sports, baseball, romantic comedy, drama
When we last left off, Ko, Akaishi, Nakanishi, and the rest of the portables were gearing up for a showdown match with the varsity team. They’ve been scouting out the varsity team during practice, taking pointers from Aoba (who has the inside scoop after pitching for them), and working their asses off in preparation for the upcoming scrimmage. When the day arrives, catcher Akaishi sets his plan into motion by structuring the batting line up just so, so the portables can take the varsity team by surprise. But the biggest surprise comes when Ko, who is pitching in his first actual game, steps up to the mound and baffles the varsity batters, along with Coach Daimon. In his arrogance, he didn’t even bother to look up the members of the portable team. Ace batter Azuma, however, quickly realizes what kind of pitcher Ko is, and is rather impressed by the boy’s ability. His sharp eye also realizes that the portables have some very detailed information about the varsity team members. As the boys battle it out on the field, Coach Daimon gets more frustrated by the inning, and quickly removes pitcher Senda completely from the line up. Fortunately, the portables’ Coach Maeno finds a way to put his talents to good use on the field. The difference between their coaching styles is painfully clear, with Coach Daimon treating his players like tools to be used, and Coach Maeno carefully making use of his players’ individual strengths. As Ko and Azuma square off on the field, Aoba watches from the stands, waiting to see if Ko can really pull off the close game he promised to pitch. In the dugout, the third years struggle to show their talents to a totally uninterested Coach Daimon, who has no plans to move any of them up to varsity, no matter the outcome of the game. It’s a miracle of a game, which takes up a large bulk of the volume, but the book winds down with some pleasant character moments, including a bittersweet birthday celebration that nearly brought me to tears. As the varsity team works up the ranks of the National High School Baseball Regional Championships, the portables head out to the country for special intensive training.
Unfortunately, the varsity players don’t make it all the way; they only make it into the top sixteen. We’re quickly introduced to a new character in Junpei Azuma, who happens to be Yuhei Azuma’s older brother. He also happens to have a serious crush on Aoba’s older sister Ichiyo. Aoba is having guy problems of her own, as it seems like every guy in school is trying to ask her out, though of course Ko is more than happy to “help” her deal with them. Meanwhile, the portables have been secretly practicing with other high school teams in the area. Fed up with what they deem a useless nuisance, Coach Daimon and the Interim Principal decide it’s time to get rid of them once and for all, and the Interim Principal decides to fire Coach Maeno and disband the portables. Not wanting to see the boys’ hard work wasted, Coach Maeno asks for one final opportunity for the portables to prove themselves, and arranges a deal that puts both his and Coach Daimon’s jobs on the line (though it’s obvious that Coach Daimon and the Interim Principal have no plans to honor the agreement). Unfortunately, the boys are short a few players now that the third years have graduated, but they’re able to convince Aoba to step in as center fielder. Back on the varsity team, a couple of players are getting fed up with the way Coach Daimon runs things. One of them decides to transfer schools so he can start enjoying baseball again, and even Azuma begins to feel that the Coach’s arrogance is starting to hurt the team. And it definitely does hurt the team, as Coach Daimon’s arrogant nature and over confidence in his handpicked team blows up in his face. Too arrogant to even bother scoping out the portables, he’s caught completely off guard by the incredible increase in their abilities on the field, abilities that Azuma was already beginning to realize on his own (Azuma even tries to warn him, but is ignored). When the Chairman of the school suddenly appears, having quietly been watching the past events from the sidelines, he tells them what’s what, and things get serious. As a result of the game, Coach Daimon’s team falls apart, and Azuma, having lost his place at the school dorms, moves in with Ko. With their greatest stress gone, the team comes together to help (former varsity) team manager Risa Shido learn how to pitch so she can audition for a movie. The volume wraps up with some holiday reminiscing and the arrival of a new face in town.
Aoba continues to be impressed by Ko in these volumes, though she’s reluctant to admit it. She clearly has respect for him, but doesn’t think he uses his brain on the mound like he should. She’s still confident that she is a better pitcher than he is, but to her surprise, he’s far better than she ever thought he would be. Almost enough to make Wakaba proud, in her opinion; it’s hard for her to admit defeat to such a rotten guy, after all, but the shock on her face is cute when she witnesses how much better he’s gotten. Speaking of Wakaba, her presence continues to be felt throughout the series, and it makes for some very bittersweet, tearjerker moments. I don’t want to spoil these moments, so I won’t detail them, no matter how much I would love to talk about them. And I really, really want to. So let’s talk about Azuma instead. He’s becoming quite likeable, surprisingly. I thought he was going to be an egotistical jerk, but he’s really pretty down-to-earth. He knows he’s good at baseball, and he really is very good, and while he doesn’t mind pointing that out, he’s also not one to rub it in someone’s face (unless it’s to prove a point or give them a push). The reason for his dedication is a surprising one, but it makes me like him even more as a character. Remarkably, he and Ko start becoming pretty good friends (although Ko insists otherwise) in volume 3, as Azuma is basically kicked out of the school dorm and has to move into Ko’s house while his brother looks for a new place close to the school. Azuma ends up staying at Ko’s far longer than intended, or maybe I should say that he’s intended to stay there. It is, after all, the perfect excuse for Junpei to visit Ichiyo, and, funnily enough, Ko’s getting some helpful training as a result of Azuma’s blunt manner and no excuses attitude. The effect the arrangement is meant to have on Azuma isn’t entirely clear yet, though I’m sure we’ll see the results soon.
Cross Game is a delightful and highly accessible series. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball (personally, I hate baseball) there’s plenty to enjoy. The narrative easily evokes a wide range of emotions, including sadness over Wakaba’s absence, anger over Coach Daimon’s behavior, delight over the constant and amusing back-and-forth between Ko and Aoba, excitement while watching the portables play their hearts out, and so on across the spectrum. The art is very simple, but it does what it needs to. I said before that the characters mostly have vacant expressions, but I feel that simply seeing more and more of Adachi’s art makes it easier to read expressions and better understand the characters. Exposure creates familiarity. The story remains charming, and my initial passive interest in volume 1 has grown to genuine enjoyment. I really look forward to where Adachi will take us in this coming-of-age tale.
A copy of volume 3 was provided by the publisher for review.