Manga-ka: Mitsuru Adachi
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: February 2012
Synopsis: “The arrival of a new year brings Ko’s last shot at Koshien closer at hand, but Akane Takigawa and her striking resemblance to Wakaba cause Ko’s heart to stir. Meanwhile, something happens to make Azuma and Aoba grow closer. Young feelings wax and wane in Ko’s third year of high school. To top it off, the Seishu baseball team gets a new coach?!”
This new volume of Cross Game arrives at the perfect time of year (though one could easily argue that any time of year is perfect for another stirring volume of Mitsuru’s Adachi baseball-driven character drama). With events spanning from early January to mid-February, the snow has begun to melt, the summer Koshien tournament is around the corner and love is undeniably in the air.
In volume five I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about the introduction of Akane, Ko’s new neighbour who bears a striking resemblance to the late Wakaba. It’s been cinched for me now that I love the direction she’s taking the story. Wakaba’s memory has always been something that drives everyone forward and simultaneously holds them back. Akane’s appearance invokes all the same memories but acts as a catalyst for moving people forward.
Akaishi’s feelings of love for Wakaba, for example, are stirred when he sees Akane yet his respect and care for Ko leads him to act as a sort of cupid for the two. It’s sweet but sad. Even Aoba comments that he’s throwing away what could be his ‘second chance’. Ko and Akane begin to grow closer (actual dates! …sort of?) and Azuma surprised me by openly expressing he has romantic feelings for Aoba. One of my favourite moments of the book is when Azuma consciously chooses not to correct an assumption Aoba made, one that works in his favour. It’s a move that while not really callous in nature, was an act just dishonest enough to emphasis the changing dynamics of everyone’s relationship. Everyone is so selfless in this series that this tiny detail sticks out and means a lot as a result. Even Aoba herself begins doing little things for Azuma that shows a careful balance of politeness and careful ‘testing-the-water’ responses to his confession.
On top of it all the casual nuance of Ko and Aoba’s reactions to the slow romantic evolution around them leaves me eager to finally see them open up to one another, while still also loving every moment of this slow burn. Their relationship maintains such an endearing combination of care, snarky teasing and silent understanding that I never seem to stop smiling when the two share page-time.
As everyone’s minds continously waver back to Akane, it occurs to me that a twist like this in another creator’s hands would be ripe for assumption – is Akane a long-lost twin to Wakaba? Is Akane ‘actually’ Wakaba? In Cross Game, I don’t entertain these notions past them coming to mind for but a moment. The series does such an amazing job of showing everyday life as a beautiful thing in it’s subtleties and it’s surprises. Akane is simply (but quite brilliantly) another one of those coincidences that makes life so interesting and I have no expectations, or want, of a giant plot-circling revelation. Mitsuru Adachi also casually slips in scenes of characters discussing Akane’s past just enough to quell any looming sense of mystery that might distract from the events happening now.
Adding a bit of kick to the story is a brief run-in with the rival baseball team who continues to garner a reputation for some underhanded recruitment methods. Aoba also takes a blow during practice that puts her in the hospital for some time. It preludes a scene where Ko and Akane discuss Aoba’s feelings towards being unable to participate in official baseball games because of her gender. “She’s extremely frustrated. Because she can’t play baseball… and because her absence doesn’t affect the team.” Everyone on their team knows that Aoba’s absence weighs on them for different reasons all the same, but that her determination, hard work and devotion ends her no where further than the bench is difficult to see. While I’d love to see an upset that allows her to take the pitcher’s mound herself, the skill synchronicity between her and Ko is being so well developed that it might almost be enough to sate us all one day (at least a little).
At two volumes a release in Viz Media’s omnibus editions, we’ve only got two volumes left until the end of Cross Game. I’m already feeling a foreboding sadness at it’s inevitable end but I’ve little doubt that future re-reads will prove nearly just as relaxing and satisfying as it is the first time through. Volume six really set a different tone for the story, not a shocking change, but one as intuitive and poignant as the character interaction itself. I can’t wait to see all these stirring emotions collide with the tension of the baseball season with their gloves on hand and hearts on sleeve.
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Book bought from Strange Adventures