By Mitsuru Adachi
First Published by Shogakukan in 2005 - First Published in English by Viz in 2010
Cross Game Volume 1 by Mitsuru Adachi is an odd beast in today’s shonen manga world in English. It is not an action packed series nor a slap stick romantic comedy. Instead it is a slow paced sports drama about Baseball and 2 young kids that play it. It’s also a slice of life story on growing up, dealing with pain and at times a comedy that pokes fun at itself and the genre. It is all of that and so much more making it one of the better manga titles out there.
Perhaps it’s shown best in the series excellent opening chapters, taken at a slow pace to show the mood and tone of the series. Here we are introduced to Ko, Wakaba and Aoba; childhood friends working with each other. Adachi sets the tone here greatly of how Ko and Wakaba are friends and have a bit of unrealized crush on each other. Over the course of these early chapters baseball is introduced and Ko reluctantly plays in his first game (besides the time he spent in a batting cage). Also shown is how into the game Aoba is, and how much she practices at it.
These set up chapters do a good job of setting up the typical tropes of the shonen sports genre, how the main character first gets into the sport of baseball. It shows the potential he has at it and it also sets up the future relationships he will have outside of baseball. And while this may seem familiar if you’ve read a lot of sports manga (which there is not a lot of English) the pacing and story telling that make Cross Game so good. Everything feels so natural in the opening chapters that you can’t just help enjoy these characters and their lives.
And it’s because of that that the end of the first arc packs such a huge punch. Not to spoil events but I’ve not seen a better handling of the events in manga. Everything feels like it’s something a fifth grader like Ko would do when faced with the situation. It’s heart breaking and really hits home the drama in the title.
After that we get a time skip to High School and the baseball aspect really picks up, with a bit more comedy put in. So more drama between Aoba, Ko, and the rest of his future team. And the baseball which is done both at times as focus of the action and to compliment the rest of the story. It’s all done in a top notch way that keeps you turning the pages and feels natural.
Viz wisely decided to publish this in omnibus form, and it reads the better for it. The longer length shows just how good Adachi is at his work. He deftly switches from sports drama, to human drama, to comedy, and to coming of age during the course of this volume. And he does it all with a gentle touch rarely seen in manga of any genre; shonen or other wise. This is a unique work that will engross you from the start to the finish and make you want to read more. And wish their was more manga like this out in English right now. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to like this, you just have to be a fan of good manga.