In a world of step-families, honorary siblings and friends who become family, the definition of the requisite components for a family unit is breaking down. With more and more families straining, shattering and then recombining, the children of these rotating unions undoubtedly have the worst time. Just when you think life has settled down, someone leaves, someone new arrives, and no one feels like home. In family life love, loyalty, affection, charity, and support all mix together with obligation, guilt, loneliness, and rivalry. It can be difficult to remember why everyone stays in the same boat until an act of solidarity reminds everyone it’s better than being in the ocean, treading water alone.
Crossroad is all about family. When a last guardian grandmother dies, three once-siblings (none blood related and now almost strangers) discover the only way they can escape more foster care is to live together. Their flighty “mother” Rumiko, who is also related to none of them by blood, takes off for Venezuala after the funeral and leaves behind yet another daughter of unknown origin, six year old Satsuki. Loner Kajitsu convinces her estranged “brothers” Natsu and Taro to try to stick together, insisting they need to create their own family to make up for their various parents’ sins.
None of the three are accustomed to “normal” family life and have grown thick-skinned after years of disappointment, slights, and betrayal. Kajitsu, Taro, and Natsu muddle through as idealized memories of their past together collide with their grown-up reality filled with awkward hormones, rent to pay, and the burden of taking care of their young charge. Taro is the eldest, but when he slaps Kajitsu in a moment of anger, it’s clear that he won’t be the one to hold everyone together. Kajitsu, stubborn and prone to angry outbursts, struggles to keep the family functioning. Natsu, academically brilliant and emotionally withdrawn, maintains a calculated distance far from his childhood optimism.
Crossroad, in style and willingness to address teens’ harsher personality traits, is the closest manga I’ve seen to what’s known as “issue” novels in teen fiction. Gone are the iconic bishonen and perky schoolgirls of so many high school melodramas. While Natsu is dishy enough, Kajitsu is a refreshingly prickly heroine with little glamor but the best of intentions. The art is less glossy, making everything feel accessible while focusing attention on the characters’ plight rather than their outfits.
All the honesty in this flawed family portrait makes you wince but also care so that by the time Natsu finally cracks a genuine smile, you want to hug him along with Kajitsu. The minefield of teen hormones (remember, none of them are actually related and haven’t seen each other in seven years) coming into play is a bit surprising. Trying to be a family and romancing housemates at the same time would certainly confuse matters — but the subject is handled with humor and a light touch that makes it less creepy and more simply realistic. Crossroad is full of questions and a search for identity, just like most fifteen year olds. The continuing volumes promise more sharp observations, giggles, and emotional misunderstandings — the heart of every family.
Crossroad, vol. 1
by Shioko Mizuki
Go Comi Manga, 2005