Creator Mitsuru Adachi pitches a perfect game as he wraps up this heartwarming tale of loss, love, laughter, and baseball.
If you haven’t read the first five omnibus volumes in this excellent shonen romantic sports dramedy, treat yourself and do so. Just make sure you pick up these final three volumes too, since you won’t want to stop until you reach the last page (not that you’ll want to stop there, either). [If you don't get a chance to catch up first, though, please be warned that this review contains a major spoiler for the first volume.]
While Cross Game presents a few satisfyingly-thwarted antagonists who get into baseball for reasons having nothing to do with love of the game, most of the real drama here takes place between respected rivals and in the hearts of the tightly-knit friends and family who comprise the main cast.
What would Wakaba want? Four years after her accidental death, the deeply-missed fifth-grader’s loved ones still look to her memory for guidance. Her dream of her boyfriend Ko and his friends taking the field at Koshien (Japan’s national high school baseball championship) unites those she leaves behind and helps them move forward. But what about the wish-list of future birthday presents she tapes to Ko’s wall? Or her chiding hope that her prickly, tomboyish, baseball-breathing sister Aoba someday appreciates and gets along with him—but not so well as to steal him away?
As a girl, Aoba can’t play in any of the school team’s official games, but she grumpily agrees to lend her considerable pitching talents to teaching Ko, a natural ace, so that he and the boys can make Wakaba’s Koshien dream a reality. Along the way, bickering Ko and Aoba prove so alike and understand each other so well that everyone assumes they are, or will soon be, a couple. But the two stubbornly maintain their distance and sidestep any talk that threatens their limbo-like status quo. When the introduction of a new neighbor with a startlingly familiar face throws everyone into confusion, however, the pair’s constant denials are suddenly taken seriously and the pressure of facing a changing reality finally forces them, and others, to examine their hearts and act on what they find there.
Adachi continues to effortlessly blend the serious and the silly here in the homestretch. His characters struggle with what it means to love, to lose, and whether it’s ok to be happy. They also foolishly drink spoiled milk from the carton, pose shirtless on the balcony for the pretty artist across the way, and punish erstwhile stalkers by making the latter swing at baseballs until they get blisters.
Beautiful, kinetic images of players diving for a line drive, following through with a mighty swing, or releasing a killer fastball show an impressive understanding of the physics and anatomy of the sport. Cartoonishly simple though Adachi’s faces may at first appear, a mere glimpse of chin and mouth beneath a batting helmet is enough to tell you who it is. Those simple lines convey a great deal of emotional depth and even a character’s deliberately turned back can speak volumes. Some of the most powerful panel sequences in the series rely on little or no dialogue, and the understated yet profound unfolding of the conclusion is priceless, sweet, and perfect.
Cross Game deserves a spot on any home or library shelf. Teens and adults don’t need to like baseball, or even sports, to enjoy this series, laugh at its jokes, or root enthusiastically for its strong but awkward protagonists. Patience with the occasional panty shot, acceptance of a permeable fourth wall, and the sense to know a good story when you read one are all that’s required.