Cross Game, vols. 1-5

Cross Game 1Fifth-grader Ko Kitamura’s family runs a sporting goods store down the street from the Tsukishima’s batting center and coffee shop. The two families and businesses have long been linked by Ko and the Tsukishima’s forthright second daughter (of four), Wakaba, since the two were born in the same hospital on the same day. It seems inevitable that the joined-at-the-hip childhood friends will transition into a de facto couple, and dazzled Ko puts up little resistance when Wakaba hands him a list of birthday presents she’d like every year up through an engagement ring on her twentieth. This last makes her baseball-fanatic third sister, Aoba, who already resents Ko for monopolizing her beloved Wakaba, even more exasperated at his projected continued intrusion on her family. But wise, confident Wakaba is unfazed and predicts Aoba will come around eventually. To illustrate her faith in him, on the morning Wakaba leaves for swimming camp, she has a dream of Ko pitching in the high-school championship game at Koshien. When tragedy suddenly cuts her family’s numbers by one, it is that proud, hopeful dream that sustains and encourages those left behind.

Cross Game is a shonen baseball comedy, but to leave the description at that would be selling it far short of its worth. This is a heartfelt look into what it means to grow up, to experience and come to terms with loss and love and change, and to come into your own with everything you’ve got.

Adachi’s art reads a little old-school, with its minimalist facial details and high foreheads; but the realistic figures, smooth lines, rounded edges, and detailed backgrounds bring it to life, and those simple faces with their one-line mouths nevertheless manage to express a wide range of recognizable personalities and emotions. Adachi’s storytelling is just as deceptively understated. The characters talk and play ball and watch one another as they go about their daily lives, but the reader understands the depths of meaning behind these basic interactions and the intermittent wordless panels. Sometimes the result is a sniffle, sometimes a guffaw. In fact, with such a heavy conclusion to the first segment, you’d think the series as a whole would be pretty somber, but the endearing characters know that life must go on and they push forward as best they can, laughing at and rooting for each other as they glance over their shoulders to maintain their connection with the past. To further lighten the mood, the fourth wall gets broken now and again, either by the characters or by the author, himself, with comments such as a clowning character’s complaints about his own lack of appearances or authorial pouting about the persistence of deadline-focused editors. Adachi shamelessly plugs his other series, too, for which the characters feel compelled to upbraid him.

Viz has chosen to publish this 3-part, 17 tankobon series (part I: vol. 1, part II: vols. 2-14, part III: vols. 15-17) in omnibus form, with 3 original collected volumes in the first installment and then 2 each thereafter. This makes for a slightly physically unwieldy initial volume at 572 pages, but thematically I think it was a wise decision, as new readers will appreciate being able to immediately jump into the four-years-later Part II after the tissue-necessitating Part I.

An outwardly shonen series with shojo appeal, Cross Game‘s combination of sports action, high school humor, kinship, heart-healing, and awkward, budding romance will snag readers from many different backgrounds. Viz’s teen rating seems appropriate given the mild fanservice consisting mostly of gawky teenage boys’ eyes unconsciously lingering over short skirts and low necklines. Female readers won’t take much offense, given the respect those same boys show for the lasting strength of Wakaba’s ever-present personality and tomboyish Aoba’s impressive pitching skills. As they all face heartless coaches, sore joints, worthy rivals, romantic interlopers, and their own confused emotions, the reader joins them in supporting one another and watching the future unfold, waiting for that perfect moment on the field at Koshien to become reality, too.

Cross Game has been adapted into a 50-episode anime, currently streaming on Anime News Network, Hulu, and Viz’s website. Sadly, it doesn’t yet have a DVD release.

Cross Game, vols. 1-5
by Mitsuru Adachi
Vol. 1 ISBN: 1421537583
Vol. 2 ISBN: 1421537664
Vol. 3 ISBN: 1421537672
Vol. 4 ISBN: 1421537680
Vol. 5 ISBN: 1421537699
Viz Media, 2010-2011
Publisher Age Rating: T for Teen (13+)