Shounen – Romance, sports, comedy, drama, slice-of-life
8 Volumes (17 Volumes original Japanese release) (complete)
Ko’s family owns a sporting goods store, and his best friend/sort-of girlfriend Wakaba’s family runs a batting center. But Ko doesn’t take much interest in any sport, including baseball. But Wakaba’s younger sister Aoba resents Ko for both seeing baseball as just a game and for hogging Wakaba’s attention.
I don’t know if it’s better the first time or second time around, but Cross Game is excellent no matter how many times you read it.
Viz Media decided to release this series in omnibus format. The first volume contains the first three volumes of the original Japanese for MSRP of $19.99, and the rest contains two volumes for MSRP $14.99. This means Cross Game is cheaper than most manga titles, and, considering how good this series is, makes it a bargain. And Adachi’s writing style and art style are not affected by this thicker-volume format. (I do prefer regular sized releases for comfort and portability purposes.)
Probably the greatest strength of Cross Game is the incredible balance it has. Although it is a sports manga that can spend several chapters on one game, the main characters’ lives outside of the field is arguably more important. Their life experiences are very touching and moving. The romance is never hot-‘n’-heavy, but no one would argue the feelings aren’t there. The characters laugh at their bad jokes, but they also cry when they get emotional. Cross Game never stays in one gear for too long, and this is one of those rare series where it can pull off the different shifts.
This doesn’t mean the story is perfect; it has its flaws. The fourth wall is broken many times by both the characters and the author inserting himself with barbs about his editor and deadlines. One love interest is pretty much discarded right away. A chapter about stopping a robbery/hostage situation is out of sync with the story’s realism. There are also a few tropes used that would normally be eye-rolling, but Adachi makes such good use out of these normally clichéd situations that I actually enjoyed them. A master storyteller can make any plot good, and so the few weak aspects do not detract from the overall story. Along that same vein, some people will wish the story went on a little further, but the main plot points are given a proper conclusion. I do admit there was one scene I had in my head that would have been a nice ending, but oh well.
Readers also have to pay close attention to what characters say…and what they don’t say. Rereading the series allows me to catch a few comments that were well-placed hints. The expressions on Ko’s and the others’ faces that were hard to decipher the first time around are more easily understood when readers know where the story is going. Artwork that seemed out-of-place and provided little or no dialogue may have people skipping over the panels. On reflection or a second read-through, readers can understand how those instances represented an event in the plot. So much of the story relies on subtlety, and re-reading the series helps make all the little things click.
While the main plot is good, it is the characters that bring out the heart of the story. Ko is a nice guy, a refreshing change from many of the cocky and selfish leads. He’s the type who would be the male protagonist’s best friend in other series. Wakaba is the heart of Cross Game while her sister Aoba is a likable tsundere. About half of the Seishu baseball players are prominent characters in the story while the other half are essentially background characters. In true shounen style, a few rivals are also given character development, and a couple other characters act as villains. I really like Aoba, a girl who has to struggle with never getting what she wants most, and Akaishi, one of the best bully-turned-best-friend characters I have ever read.
Adachi’s art style has not changed much over the years. Many of his characters are proxies from his other series like in Tezuka’s star system. (In fact, even Adachi has trouble telling his own characters apart.) This really isn’t a major issue for many readers, as Adachi hasn’t had many works released in the US. Anyways, his style was formed way back in the 70s and 80s and hasn’t changed much. It’s a more simplistic style, similar to friend and rival TAKAHASHI Rumiko’s. There’s no wacky hairstyles and limited use of SD characters. Art is generally limited to standard panels, and close-up shots are limited. Not all characters are drawn as bishounen, and even the more attractive characters are not that much better looking than the…less attractive ones. The important scene-setting backgrounds look like photographs. The baseball scenes show the author’s love of the game, and I can feel the power of the throws and hear the “clank” of the bats. Subtlety also plays a key role in this artwork. It’s amazing how two panels can look so similar, yet you can detect the hint of a smile in one of them. Meanwhile, the strained expressions when the characters are holding back their feelings are worth more than 1,000 words. One criticism: all the cloud shots looked the same! How about something other than cumulonimbus? But artistically, the drawings are very effective in both showing action and emotion.
No honorifics are used. I was a little disappointed, as we miss some of the nuances in the characters’ relationships. For instance, Aoba’s “Waka-chan” is adapted as both “Waka” and “Wakaba”. In Japanese, she addresses Akaishi with the senpai honorific. This shows how she is respectful when she wants to be. The few times “senpai” is needed, it is replaced with “sir”. Siblings’ uses of “big brother (or sister)” is typically replaced with the character’s name. This, of course, can be a plus or minus, depending on your opinion. I also didn’t like how the main character’s name is romanized as “Ko”. Firstly, it just looks too short. When written this way, it seems like his name should be written with the kanji for “small” instead of “light”. Secondly, “Kou” is seen written in at least one splash page. I personally would have gone with Kou, but Koh or even Kô look nicer to me.
Most Japanese text for signs and papers is replaced with English, but a few (rather non-important) signs are not even subtitled. All the references (both in dialogue and on signs) that were in kilometers per hour are changed to miles per hour. Volume 7 did have two narration panels switched, and there were a couple of typos throughout the series. All the chapter titles — which are direct quotes from the chapter — matched up. Some of the jokes are adapted more successfully than others. A couple just keep the original Japanese puns. A few translator’s notes are included in the pages. There’s not too much in the manga that requires knowledge of Japanese culture, so this isn’t too surprising. Otherwise, there were a few things I wish had been adapted differently (like the terms jv and varsity in Viz Media’s version), but nothing major.
Buy it. It’s as simple as that. The series well-deserved the Shogakukan Manga Award for best shounen manga in 2009.
Cross Game was made into an anime, which Viz Media made available for streaming. It is quite faithful while eliminating a lot of the fourth-wall breaking and elaborating on a couple of plot points. It covers the entire series. Whether you have read the manga or not, you should check it out.
Despite being a big hit in Japan, the only other Adachi work released here is Short Program, waaaay back when manga was flipped. Even then, two more volumes have been released, so Short Program is incomplete in English. I thought Touch might be picked up by Viz Media after the critical acclaim for Cross Game, but perhaps they feel like the series are too similar, and readers may feel like Touch is a copycat despite it being the older work. The length probably is a factor as well.