Manga-ka: Mitsuru Adachi
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: October 2010
Synopsis: “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.”
I have always been a huge fan of Mitsuru Adachi. When I was just a budding manga fan I happened to pick up a copy of Short Program, a collection of short stories by him published by Viz. That book not only got me into manga, but comics at large as well. While I got more into his stuff as I got older, I never really thought his work would ever catch on in North America. Adachi specializes in a mix of sports manga and slice-of-live stories, neither of which are exactly heavy hitters in the English comics world. So I was both surprised and ecstatic when I saw that Viz had picked up Cross Game, a baseball series from Adachi.
I was also really happy while reading the book, as it brought back all the reasons I love Adachi’s work in the first place. He’s able to move the story along at a leisurely pace that feels realistic rather than languid. His characters are complicated but still likeable and believable. I’d even say that some things, like his layouts, have gotten even better than when I first read his stuff years ago.
The story starts with the main characters in elementary school. Ko is a young boy whose father owns a sporting goods store. His family is close friends with the Tsukishimas, a family that runs the local batting cage. Even though Ko isn’t all that interested in sports, he still likes going to the batting cage to practice his swing.
The Tsukishima family has four daughters: high schooler Ichiyo, youngest daughter Momiji, Wakaba who is in the same class as Ko, and Aoba, who is a year younger. While Wakaba is clearly crazy about Ko, Aoba is crazy about baseball. She’s not the only one. It seems that everyone from Ko’s friend Nakanishi to the school thug, Akaishi, want to play. They want Ko to play too, as aside from being great at bat he has an amazingly fast pitch.
Over the course of the volume the characters age, going from elementary school to middle school and finally to high school. As they get older the stakes get higher. It’s one thing to play a game of sandlot baseball when you’re a little kid, but things aren’t so simple when they join the high school baseball team. The upper year students lord over the first years, and their couch is a corrupt, ruthless jerk. Ko, Nakanishi and Akaishi decide to team up and change the team for the better, even if it means going up against their own couch and teammates.
The relationships between the characters also get more complex as they go from kids to teenagers. Adachi doesn’t go for crazy, sordid love triangles, but takes a more realistic approach. He’s able to forge these deep connections between the characters through just a few words and interactions. It always feels natural, never forced.
So the slice of life aspect part of the manga works, but what about the sports part? I have to confess that I hate baseball. I don’t play it, watch it, or follow it, but Adachi’s love for the sport makes me forget all that. The baseball segments are staged so well and actually pretty gripping. Like how a good action manga reveals character through how a character fights, Adachi shows us who his characters are by how they play. For example, Aoba loves to pitch and can strike out just about anyone. However, she works best when she has a catcher she can trust and rely on, like Nakanishi. By having these two paired up like this, it fills in a lot of the blanks in their relationship without having to spell things out.
It feels weird to say that Adachi’s art is simple, because there’s still a lot going on: detailed backgrounds, action scenes, lots of panels. But his art is still very clear and clean. His character designs are pretty basic but they’re still very expressive and serve the story well.
I love that Viz put this volume out as an omnibus edition, with all three volumes in one package. What I don’t love is the price discrepancy between the American and Canadian store price. The dollar and the loonie are just about par nowadays, with the loonie regularly beating out the dollar. There’s no reason why a book should cost $19.99 US and $27 Canadian. Thankfully my local comic bookstore sells manga at the US price (go Strange Adventures!) but it still bugs me.
All right, currency rant over. Having a big block of manga is still nice (and honestly, still a deal even at $27), especially when it’s as addicting as Cross Game. Of course, I may not be the best person to review this, as I have literally been waiting years for more Mitsuru Adachi works to be brought to North America. Others may find the art too cartoony or the story too slow, but if you want an engaging drama with some sports managa mixed in, you should give Cross Game a try.