Cross Game vol. 1 – October 2010 (Shonen Sunday)

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TITLE: Cross Game vol. 01

YEAR: October 2010 (USA release)

COMPANY: Shonen Sunday

Story and Art by Mitsuru Adachi

Mitsuru Adachi is one of the most highly respected mangaka in Japan.

He is also known for his manga that revolves around baseball and high school/grade school crushes.  But Adachi’s most famous work is “Touch”, a baseball/romantic comedy and a winner of the 1983 Shogakukan Manga Award (his second consecutive award a year after his highly successful high school romantic comedy manga “Miyuki”).

The manga series for “Touch” was award-winning, the anime series is one of the highest-rated television anime series of all time and it was a story that literally made audiences cry as it featured a story of friendship, tragedy, loss, inspiration and hope.

Adachi would go on to feature other stories that revolved around other sports but one wondered if he would return to baseball (which is a very popular sport in Japan) and in 1992, Adachi would write a baseball-related manga series titled “H2”.

Over 13 years later, fans continued to clamor for another baseball-themed anime series and Adachi would return with the manga series “Cross Game”, similar to “Touch” would feature a romantic comedy that would feature friendship, tragedy, loss, inspiration and hope.

And with Adachi’s first baseball manga series “Nine” along with “Touch”, “H3” and “Cross Game”, the goal of the baseball players and characters are to make it to “Koshien” which translates to “tournament” and in Japan there are the “National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament” held in the Spring and “National High School Baseball Championship” in the Summer.

In Japan, the final 17th volume of the manga series was released in Japan and now, “Cross Game” will be released in the US in graphic novel format (compiling several of volumes into one release).  “Cross Game Graphic Novel Vol. 1” compiles the first three manga volumes into one collection.

“Cross Game” is a manga series that showcases the development of a Ko Kitamura, the son of a family that owns Kitamura Sports, during the time he is a 5th grader, a junior high school student preparing for high school and then later on in high school.

The first half establishes  the relationship between best friends Ko Kitamura and neighbor Wakaba Tsukishima.  Both were born on the same day, at the same hospital and share a unique bond with each other.

For Ko, he’s not so ambitious and for now, he takes turns delivering sporting goods to the Wakaba’s father who owns Cafe Clover and the Tsukishima Batting Center.  With each delivery, Mr. Tsukishima gives Ko a chance to go batting at the batting center, something he has done since a very young age.

Living with Wakaba and her father is Wakaba’s older sister Ichiyo, her very young sister Momiji and her sister Aoba (who is one year younger than her).  Aoba is a tomboy who loves baseball, she has been practicing her pitching as a young girl and actually is quite talented as a pitcher.  She also has a disdain towards Ko because he doesn’t respect the game as much as she does.

One day, after taking Wakaba to swimming school, he knows that the #1 bully in school, Akaishi doesn’t like him (Akaishi has a crush on Wakaba).  So, as Ko was trying to get back home, Akaishi and his friends were trying to block the path, so thinking quickly, Ko takes a shortcut through the baseball field and pretends he is coming to join.

Of course, Ko talks like he knows the game but in truth, he can’t catch, nor does he know baseball.  What he does know is how to bat and it’s something he has done since he started hitting the ball at the Tsukishima batting center.

And despite his bad playing, the bully Akaishi and his friends join the other team and shows off his stellar pitching skills (Akaishi was a great player in Little League but was kicked out for punching another pitcher) and is able to strike everyone from Ko’s team off.  When Ko comes up to bat, one of the bullies (who is playing catcher) asks Ko a question to find out more of his relationship with Wakaba, Ko dismisses them as just neighbors, but when Wakaba comes, she talks really loudly about how she kissed him and he never picked her up which angers Akaishi.

So, when Akaishi tries to strike him out, Ko knocks the ball out of the park and gets a grand slam to win the game.

The team’s leader Daiki Nakanishi is convinced that with practice and if Ko learned the fundamentals of baseball, he has the potential of becoming a great player.

While Wakaba praises and supports Ko, her younger sister Aoba can’t stand him because he’s not doing it for the love of baseball, it’s because he usually does what people tell him to do.  Wakaba tells her younger sister that if Ko puts his mind into it, he could be the best pitcher in Japan and may be able to throw 100 mph one day (note: Aoba once told Wakaba that her dream guy is a guy who can pitch 100 mph) and Aoba her to not take him away from her.  Which frustrates Aoba since she can’t stand him.

As Wakaba finds her love growing stronger with Ko and feels that they will grow up to love each other, one day she comes to watch Ko’s team take on another team which Aoba pitches for.  As Ko watched Aoba’s dedication as a pitcher, he starts to see how much of an influence her pitching is and her dedication for baseball training and eventually inspires Ko to start training, becoming stronger and being a better player.

One day during the summer, Wakaba visits Ko and she tells him that she has created a birthday gift list, so he knows what to buy her all the way up to her 20h birthday (which she wrote down that when she turns 20-years-old, she wants an engagement ring from Ko).  Also, she hopes to go to a festival with him after she arrives back from swim camp.

The night before Wakaba is to go to swim camp, she spends her time with Ko and reminds him about how she wants to go to the festival when she comes back and kisses him.

A few days later, as Ko goes to visit the Tsukishima’s restaurant and batting center, he notices that its closed.  Which was unusual.

When he goes home, he turns on a baseball game and a news update comes up.  He hears that an 11-year-old died at the swimming camp at Minagawa Valley and her name was Wakaba Tsukishima.  She died while trying to rescue a third grader who ventured out in the deep water.

Ko doesn’t know how to react, he doesn’t know what to do…his best friend, the person who he was most close with, has died.

This sets up the second volume of the series of how Ko had stopped playing baseball but has never stopped training.  Aoba has become a baseball player, including the bully Akaishi but Ko and Daiki haven’t played in awhile and consider of getting back into it.

Aoba still can’t stand Ko but she continues to observe him as he tries to join the baseball team.  But everything about Ko frustrates her and when she describes him, her older sister Ichiyo is convinced that both she and Ko are more alike.

“Cross Game” vol. 1’s second half focuses on Ko, Akaishi and Nakanishi knowing that they have talent but among the older students in their school, they will need to prove themselves.  Especially to a new coach who treats his players badly and is more concerned of winning for prestige.

Will Ko be able to convince everyone that he can play baseball?  Will Ko be capable of successfully making Wakaba’s last dream come true?

One of my favorite storylines of all time is Mitsuru Adachi’s “Touch”.  I have followed “Touch” and also followed “H2” but over the years, I have lost touch of reading or watching anything related to Adachi since the anime TV debut back in 1995.

So, it’s been nearly 15 years since I have read any manga from Adachi and when I found out that “Cross Game” was being released in the US as a graphic novel, like a fanboy, I was giddy.  Because Adachi has shown his talent of writing storylines that revolve around sports but managing to have that complex storyline that is born from tragedy and literally inspires a romantic theme, often a romantic comedy.

There is no doubt that Adachi learned that people loved the tragedy that came from “Touch” and he does return to it in “Cross Game” and both are equally painful when it showcases the story of how one’s pursuit of baseball was born from tragedy.

While the protagonist of “Cross Game”, Ko Kitamura, is nothing like Tatsuya Uesugi of “Touch” and the storyline begins with Ko and Wakaba in the fifth grade, one can easily sympathize with the characters because they are young and innocent but at the same time, knowing that they are literally best friends who are together by fate.  In fact, throughout the beginning of “Cross Game”, you never expect anything will come between Ko and Wakaba but like “Touch”, tragedy hits home and that innocence that the manga series has built up for several chapters is literally broken.

But born from tragedy is hope and this begins the second arc of the storyline which features everyone 4-5 years later after Wakaba’s death and focuses on Ko returning to baseball but also the continued disdain that Aoba has towards Ko.  And it’s quite interesting because Ko and Aoba are very alike in terms of interest, constantly training but the main difference is that Ko is not as driven as Aoba, but he wants to be.  Aoba loves baseball, Ko wants to try to love baseball and that training regiment was born because of Aoba.  She inspired him and no matter how badly she treats him, he still approaches her happy, knowing that she doesn’t feel the same about him.

But the graphic novel is quite interesting as it begins to focus on Ko and friends trying to become better baseball players in high school and when it comes to storylines that revolve around sports, one must understand that in Japan, baseball is enormously popular and because American readers, especially the otaku are not as friendly towards athletic-based manga or anime series, this storyline’s focus towards baseball may put off some readers.

Yes, the storyline with Ko and Wakaba being best friends and having this innocent, puppy love is intriguing but after that storyline and arc is established, it all comes down to how one loves or enjoys baseball.

As for those who have watched the anime series on, it’s important to note that the storyline of Ko and Wakaba is longer and there is considerable storyline between the two that are not i the anime series but the main elements of the manga series especially those chapters are featured in the anime series.  Both manga and anime series (covering the storyline of the first volume) are well-done but for those who watched the anime first, the manga series will provide a little bit more on the baseball side of things, especially on Aoba’s worth ethic, Wakaba and Aoba as sisters and most importantly, the bond that Ko and Wakaba have together.

Overall, I am so happy that “Cross Game” has been released in the US and one can hope that with the success of the manga series, perhaps Viz Media will continue to release more of Adachi’s works outside of Japan.  But “Cross Game” is an enjoyable, touching, inspirational manga series that I hope many give it a chance, even if it does touch upon sports, specifically baseball.  It’s an awesome manga series and the first volume is magnificent.


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