Cross Game Vol. 1-2

By Mitsuru Adachi
576 pages (v1) & 376 pages (v2), black and white
Published by Viz

First, a quick point that I need to bring up: I’m not a fan of baseball. Watching it on the television just does nothing for me, and while I have a good time at the occasional trip to the ballpark with friends, it has to do with the experience (and getting a chili cheese dog and a beer) rather than the game itself. I mention this not because I think it’s any sort of superior viewpoint (I’m actually a little envious of my friends who love it), but because you need to know that before I tell you the next fact. Cross Game, Mitsuru Adachi’s comic about high school students playing baseball, is now probably one of my favorite manga series of all time.

Originally collected as 17 books in Japan, Viz has wisely decided to publish it as a series of omnibuses; Volume 1 collects the original books 1-3, and starting with Volume 2 each collects two original books. This is a great thing for those of us reading Cross Game in North America; not only because we’re getting huge bursts of story that much faster, but because of the very nature of the comic. But before I explain why, you need to understand the basic premise of Cross Game. Ko is a teenaged boy who delivers sporting goods for his father’s business, and his number one customer is the Tsukishima family’s batting center. It’s the second of four daughters in the Tsukishima family, Wakaba, that Ko is closest to. They were born on the same age, they do everything together, and it’s clear that Wakaba plans on Ko eventually being her boyfriend and then marrying him. Conversely, the third daughter Aoba views Ko as the enemy, completely unable to understand what Wakaba sees in Ko.

At first, Cross Game looks to be a romantic comedy where the book switches between Ko fending off bullies interested in Wakaba, getting drawn into baseball games, and dealing with Aoba’s general disdain for him. And everything is going merrily down that path until the end of the original first volume, at which point tragedy strikes and lives are turned upside down. When you get to that point in Cross Game, it’s a sudden, disconcerting moment. You think you’ve pegged how this entire series will run, but suddenly everything is up in the air. And with that in mind, it’s one of the things that makes the Viz edition of Cross Game Vol. 1 work especially well, because the original books 2 and 3 are also included there. You get to see the series jump ahead four years, and it enters "Part II" of the series.

What’s impressive is at that point, it would have been easy for Adachi to lose his readers with this sudden shift in age, and the basic setup of the series as defined up until that point. But if anything, Cross Game gets better. Watching Ko on the high school baseball team is fun, and two of the characters that up until now were just faceless bullies end up as interesting supporting cast characters in their own right. And as for the relationship between Aoba and Ko, it becomes much more three-dimensional as we learn more about Aoba’s intense dislike for Ko. As Cross Game progresses, the intensity also rises. Cross Game Vol. 2 (containing books 4-5) is dominated by a single baseball team between the varsity members, and the trainee (or "portable") team that Ko and his friends are relegated to. If you’d told me that reading 284 pages of a baseball game would be exciting, my response would have been laughter. Instead it’s enthralling, as you get to see Ko and his teammates us strategy against a group of mostly superior players, and at what point their ideas succeed and fail. Aoba, relegated to the stands, continues to excite as well; her commentary alone makes the baseball game interesting, and that’s before you get into the action of the game itself.

It helps that Adachi brings a certain playfulness to his comics. It’s hard not to laugh when a flashback to a scene in an earlier volume is promptly followed up by Ko holding up a sign urging readers to run out and buy the collected edition, or that every character reading manga is always holding a volume of Adachi’s earlier series. Even without the meta-humor, there’s a lot of gentle comedy in Cross Game. A lot of the humor in the high school chapters is focused on Senda, a braggart on the varsity team who constantly hits on Aoba and talks about how great his game is. He’s a character that seems designed for pratfalls as Ko and Aoba take him down, but then a curious thing happens during the big baseball game: you start feeling sorry for him when he’s brutally taken down a notch. That’s part of Adachi’s skill as a creator, to make your feelings for a "villain" suddenly turn on a dime and make them someone to cheer on rather than to hope for defeat.

The art in Cross Game reminds me so much of manga superstar Rumiko Takahashi’s art from her Maison Ikkoku and Ranma 1/2 days that I had to do some research to make sure that Adachi wasn’t a pen name of Takahashi’s. It’s a warm and attractive style, with soft features on the characters and a certain sweetness to the drawings. You can instantly see why everyone loves Wakaba, with her cheerful and beautiful features, and Adachi draws a great glower on Aoba’s face whenever she’s dealing with Ko. The only downside to this art style is the closest we have to villains never seem too menacing; I’m not entirely convinced that Adachi could draw someone that looks truly mean.

I’m absolutely in love with Cross Game and already counting the days until Viz releases the next volume. Trust me when I say: buy this series, buy this series, buy this series. It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s engrossing, and it’s exhilarating. This is the sort of project that the comic medium was made for.

Purchase Links (Vol. 1): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 2): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

5 comments to Cross Game Vol. 1-2

  • Sean G

    In fact, Adachi and Takahashi are contemporaries and friends, and she’s even described him as “her greatest rival”. :) They started regular series in Shonen Sunday right around the same time in 1978.

  • I agree. It’s a great manga, and everyone should go out and buy it, so that we can get more Adachi series in the US.

  • […] (Read About Comics) McElhatton has joined the knot of fervent admirers of Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game (Viz). It’s a title that inspires a bit of evangelical fervor […]

  • Excellent post. I agree with you about Adachi’s inability to create “mean” looking characters, although the Vice Principal is definitely creepy.

  • colonylaser

    Adachi has perfected the use of cinematic technique probably over the last 30 plus years more than anyone else currently working. The way he juxtaposes different scenes and events to drive home the action, comedic, or dramatic moment is a thing of beauty. I imagine his storyboards to be totally wild, shuffling parts of scenes and dialogues like a deck of card, yet amazingly the final product never loses the audience. The fact he makes it look easy (even formulaic, but with warmth!) is a further testament of his complete mastery. I think many western movie directors could learn a thing or two from him, especially with the monotonous linear story-telling method Hollywood seems to be in love with.