The back cover really says it best:
"Cross Game is a moving drama that is heartfelt and true, yet in the brilliant hands of manga artist Mitsuru Adachi, delightfully flows with a light and amusing touch. The series centers around a boy named Ko, the family of four sisters who live down the street and the game of baseball. This poignant coming-of-age story will change your perception of what shonen manga can be."
Cross Game, Vol. 1By Mitsuru AdachiVIZ, 576 pp.Rating: Teen
Warning: it’s impossible to discuss one of the nicest aspects of this series without revealing a major spoiler. Proceed at your own risk.
The first of the three volumes of Cross Game that VIZ has bundled together in an attractive omnibus serves as a prologue, of sorts. We meet protagonist Ko Kitamura when he’s in fifth grade, a mischievous and lazy kid whose parents run a sporting goods shop. Nearby, Mr. Tsukishima runs a batting center and his four daughters are a part of Ko’s life, though none more so than sunny Wakaba, who was born the same day as Ko and who alone has the power to motivate him. She’s a very special girl, with a knack for befriending other kids despite their appearance or reputation; the influence her acceptance has on her classmate Akaishi, commonly regarded as somewhat of a hoodlum, is destined to be lifelong.
Tragedy strikes at swimming camp when Wakaba attempts to save someone else and ends up drowning herself. Despite her physical absence from the story after this point, Wakaba’s presence remains a palpable one. As the story jumps ahead four years, we find Ko still continuing to perform the daily workout he promised her he would do as a means of improving his baseball skills and Akaishi leading the junior high baseball team (and staying out of trouble). Ko hasn’t joined the team because of some jerks that were on it when he was a first year, but once Akaishi tells him that on the last morning of her life, Wakaba passed by his parents’ store and mentioned that she’d dreamed about Akaishi and Ko going to Koshien together, he begins training without another word necessary. Ko may be a slacker if left to his own devices, but if it’s something Wakaba wanted, he is going to make sure it becomes reality, no matter what. It’s clear Akaishi feels the same.
The boys move into high school, where the interim principal has hired an unprincipled baseball coach with a good record at Koshien. Ko, Akaishi, and their friend Nakanishi don’t want to play for such a fellow and opt to remain on the junior varsity team; as the volume ends they’re preparing to show up the varsity team in an upcoming scrimmage game. Tying in with this is the sad story of Aoba, Wakaba’s younger sister. Aoba is passionate about baseball and is even the captain of the junior high team. Unfortunately, because she’s a girl she can only ever pitch in practice games and can never be deemed more than a devoted fan. Aoba and Ko clash personally, as well, as she still resents him for the closeness he shared with Wakaba, though it’s clear they’re destined to end up together.
Cross Game is a pretty low-key story that’s part slice-of-life and part sports manga. Typically, the protagonists in the latter don’t have such a touching reason for wanting to excel at their sport, and neither do they feature two guys nurturing a bittersweet memory of the same beloved girl in their hearts. The characters really grow on you—Ko seems a little bratty at first, but shows time and again that he’s a good person, particularly in how he treats Momiji, Wakaba and Aoba’s little sister—and I love that Ko’s two best friends are kind of burly and unattractive. You don’t see that a lot in manga.
I have two minor complaints, but I’ve been given to understand that they’re both common attributes of Mitsuru Adachi’s manga. The first is that some of the character designs—particularly of children—are positively dumpy. Too, a lot of the recurring characters have faces that are difficult to remember, though this is not the case at all for the primary players. Secondly, the fourth wall gets broken all the time. Adachi himself appears and the characters are often shown reading his manga. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, so this is not as glaring as similar moments in NANA, for example, but I found it kind of irksome all the same.
The second omnibus of Cross Game, this time containing volumes four and five of the original Japanese releases, is due in January. I am looking forward to that scrimmage game—and Ko finally getting to show off his amazing baseball abilities—so much that it isn’t even funny.
Volume one of Cross Game is available now.