Cross Game Vol. 6

By Mitsuru Adachi
376 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

With the wealth of manga being published in North America right now, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite. Were I forced to narrow it down to a top ten or even top five current series, though, there’s no doubt in my mind that Cross Game would be on the list. Mitsuru Adachi’s series has done the seemingly impossible right from the beginning—create a series about baseball interesting—and with this new volume, he’s taken it a step further. He’s taken one of the most time-honored manga romantic clichés, the new rival introduced around the two-thirds mark, and made the situation engrossing.

In the previous volume, Adachi introduced Akane, a newcomer to town who looks to be the spitting image of deceased Wakaba (Aoba’s older sister and Ko’s first love). It wasn’t hard to see where this was going; Akane would serve as a spoiler between Ko and Aoba, whom over the course of thousands of pages had finally come to a begrudging understanding, even if they weren’t at the point of admitting attraction between each other. So seeing another character coming in to keep any further progress from happening was initially disappointing, to say the least.

But over the course of Cross Game Vol. 6, a funny thing happened. I found myself really liking Akane… and perhaps more importantly, Akane and Ko together. Adachi makes her a character who’s more than just the spitting image of a dearly departed, but rather someone with a sharp and sweet personality of her own. She’s not too saccharine, and at the same time she’s most certainly not caustic like Aoba. She’s a genuinely nice person who appears to care for Ko, and to be a good (if not 100% perfect) match for him. This is, quite frankly, rather unheard of. I’ve always figured that Ko and Aoba would get together at the conclusion of Cross Game, but for the first time there’s a (very small) kernel of doubt in my heart in regards to that. And while Yuhei is the least interesting of the four in the relationship drama (in many ways getting his opening only with the presence of Akane), we end up with an acceptable match between him and Aoba. It’s a strangely pleasant realization; it probably won’t come true, but if Adachi pulled out the rug from under us, I’d probably still find it a good ending.

Special kudos also have to go towards Adachi’s handling of a secondary character, Akaishi. A character who also had a crush on Wakaba back in the first volume, his heart is on his sleeve when Akane enters the picture. At the same time, though, Adachi has Akaishi valiantly step aside to give his friend Ko a first shot at a relationship with Wakaba, due to Ko and Wakaba’s relationship from back in the day. It’s an almost heartbreaking moment, and watching Akaishi and Akane’s interactions in Cross Game Vol. 6 manages to stir up emotions towards Akaishi that you didn’t know existed until just then. He may still be a secondary character, but he suddenly feels much more important now.

There’s still baseball in Cross Game, of course. It’s mostly training (with our heroes’ school knocked out of the Koshien tournament), but Adachi focuses less on the technical aspects and more with a general "striving to get better" message. It’s a great approach; Adachi’s not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty during games, but for now it’s shifted into a backdrop for everything else to happen. As entertaining as the tournament games are, I must admit that I enjoy it being less front-and-center here.

Adachi’s art is remarkably consistent. Nice open faces and expressions, realistic bodies, and a distinct lack of over-exaggeration. The largely silent hulk of Akaishi is portrayed well here, and the romantic attractions that blossom in this volume are carried in part because of Adachi’s way of drawing them in a way that shows their growing fondness. There’s a lot to be said for body language, and Adachi’s one of those artists who can pull it off.

With two more volumes of Cross Game left in North America, it’s getting harder to wait for another installment. (The fact that both it and another favorite series, Twin Spica, are ending in 2012 does not escape me.) Cross Game is just marvelous, and barring disaster in the final chapters, I’m already hoping that more of Adachi’s comics are translated and brought into North America. Don’t think that if you don’t like baseball, you won’t like Cross Game. This is one of those series that I think would appeal to just about everyone, no matter what their like and dislikes are. Check it out.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

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