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Cross Game Retrospective

Cross Game, the most recent series by renowned mangaka Mitsuru Adachi (Touch, Rough, H2) has finally come to a close. Beginning in Shonen Sunday in September 2005, it has entertained readers for nearly five years, and with a breathtaking climax that does justice to the quality of the entirety of the work, it belongs in any recommended reading list.

Cross Game follows Kitamura Kou, the son of a sports equipment store owner, a pleasant, somewhat sarcastic boy with only enough of an interest in sports to push sales for his family’s shop. Most of the story and character development is driven by the relationship between Kou and the sisters of the Tsukishima family, primarily the middle two sisters, Wakaba and Aoba. Kou and Wakaba were born the same day in the same hospital, and have shared a close relationship since birth, while Aoba is jealous of the attention her older sister gives to Kou. Aoba is a naturally talented pitcher, and Kou, with an increasing interest in baseball, uses her as the inspiration after which he models his pitching form. These scenarios, coupled with a momentous event early in the series, form the foundation of the fascinating relationship between Kou and Aoba, which itself is the focal point of Cross Game.

That focus on character relationships is complemented by Adachi’s ability to give his characters a familiar humanity. The current shonen landscape is overwhelmed by unrealistic characters defined almost entirely by one trait each. Natsu (Fairy Tail) is indomitable. Sasuke (Naruto) seeks revenge. Some series even feature an entire cast of one-note characters; Mahou Sensei Negima! is an enjoyable series, but the members of Class 3-A are hardly shining examples of character depth or development. By contrast, the cast of Cross Game features realistic complexity, with entirely ordinary traits used tastefully. Senda is showy, awkward, insecure, yet positive. Azuma is independent, determined, and driven (but not ruled) by his past. All are human traits, and all are displayed in balance with each other to further reinforce the series’ realism.

Similarly, the writing is true to life. On the diamond, Cross Game accurately portrays the duality of Japanese youth baseball, combining the professionalism of self-imposed pressure to strive for Koshien with enough mistakes and immaturity to remind the reader that despite any measure of success, the protagonists are still a group of kids. Unlike other sports series such as Prince of Tennis, which announced the dominance of its stars too early and robbed the series of any building anticipation, Cross Game uncovers talent slowly and subtly. Kou’s pitching ability grows throughout the course of the series, and that growth is largely dependent upon those around him, particularly Aoba. Meanwhile, the romantic comedy elements of the series are intentionally faint. Even quality shonen romantic comedies like Suzuka put the characters’ feelings on full display, leaving nothing to the imagination, and depend heavily upon fan-service. By contrast, Cross Game credits the intelligence of its audience with characters authentically secretive about their romantic interests, characters with which the reader can relate.

As a visual piece, the art style is appropriate for the tone of the story. Each character design is clean and suitable to each personality, if perhaps somewhat familiar. After all, when presented with a picture from one of his many series, even an avid Adachi fan would be forgiven for confusing one character with another:

Touch

H2

Cross Game

That said, Adachi deserves as much credit for his art as for his writing. The foreground action is supported by detailed backgrounds evoking a calm suburban Japan. Scenes are also carefully interspersed with views of the landscape or wordless crowd reaction, speaking volumes through art alone. In fact, Cross Game was used in a 2007 academic presentation to the International Research Society for Children’s Literature as an example of silent narrative. Many series have both excellent art and writing, but few series feature art and writing that complement each other so perfectly.

Like respected predecessors Slam Dunk or Hikaru no Go, Cross Game transcends its genre. It is not just an excellent baseball series, but an excellent series, requiring no particular love for or interest in the sport. The characters are diverse, the story is compelling, the art is enriching, but above all, the cohesive work is brilliant. Cross Game has long been well-received, even winning the 54th Shogakukan Manga Award for shonen, and it will continue to receive far more lofty praise than a review on a blog, but nonetheless, I offer my personal recommendation:

I read a huge amount of manga, some out of self-appointed obligation but most out of enjoyment. That enjoyment varies, but even the most amazing chapters of my favorite series rarely elicit more than a smile and a good mood from me.

Chapter 168 of Cross Game froze me in my seat, sent chills down my spine, and left me with an impression I still feel three weeks after reading.

I hope you read it, and I hope you feel the same.

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  1. Jingle Scott
    February 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Excellent review. I gotta agree that the last page of ch168 is a very excellent scene that, while I only read it a few days ago, is still fresh in my mind. Other series need to look to this one as an example of how to properly end a story. There are so many bad endings out there that I jump up and down in joy when I read a series like this where the author just ends the narrative so fantastically.

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