By Mitsuru Adachi. Released in Japan in 2 separate volumes by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.
I had noted in my Manga The Week Of column that this new Cross Game might simply be 2 more volumes of nothing but baseball, but for once that’s not the case. Oh, there’s lots of practicing, and baseball does feature prominently in one of the subplots. But this is the offseason, and despite much practice and training, Ko and Aoba’s thoughts are also turning to other things. And then there’s the problem of Akane…
I find Akane fascinating, honestly. Adachi is certainly not flinching from showing us the sheer discomfort that everyone from Wakaba’s past has in her presence. At the same time, especially as the volume goes on, that same presence also gives them a sense of calm and peace. It’s also additionally unsettling for the reader who has followed Adachi’s works since the late 70s. Here is a story he created that finally has the heroine not being ‘nice, supportive, calm girl’, and what does he do? He has the spitting image of his old heroines show up and insinuate herself into Ko’s life! To be fair to Akane, she’s not being the ‘other woman’ here. She seems to know very well the feelings Ko and Aoba have for each other. But they’re both in denial, and not actually going anywhere. And Akane is starting to fall for Ko. So why not take a chance?
It’s not as if Ko is the only one being hit by this, of course. We get the best look at Akaishi we’ve had since the first volume, as he presses Akane and Ko into going on a date. Given that he loved Wakaba, and is clearly attracted to Akane, this seems highly unusual, but we shouldn’t be surprised, given that this is a manga where everyone is always so supportive of the other person without thinking of their own feelings. I noted on Twitter that if the cast of Cross Game were remotely selfish, the manga would only be about 100 pages long. I think Adachi knows readers are rooting for Akaishi… if only as they’re all rooting for Ko and Aoba, and someone needs to get the other cute girl.
It’s not going to be Azuma, who also gets a nice look in here. This is where the baseball I mentioned earlier comes in, as one subplot has Azuma smashing a line drive into Aoba, fracturing her leg. This upsets him far more than usual… not that we can see it in his face, of course, but you can see it through his actions, as his swing is not really what it should be until Aoba gets out of the hospital. Like Akane, he’s fallen in love with someone while knowing that she’s already taken, she just needs to realize this. The frustration can sometimes be palpable, which is likely why he decides to pretend the maintenance kit came from him. Ko already has a lead so large that no one can really pass it. Azuma’s brother gets the line of the volume when he asks Aoba “Have you ever thought you liked my brother without someone asking you first?”.
There’s a definite theme of growing up here, with the other two Tsukishima heroines both shown to be going out with (and toying with) other guys, and Ko telling Aoba’s father that he should think about remarrying as well. But the past still clings to us, be it a lookalike of Wakaba who has innocently taken her place in their lives, or a birthday present list that you just can’t stop buying for, even if you can’t admit it. The characters aren’t selfish. And that’s why Cross Game is 17 volumes long. This was Vol. 12 and 13, for those keeping up with the NA releases. Next up, I suspect: more baseball games.
(Also, love that reference to Major, which is not only Adachi self-deprecation, but a namecheck of a 78-volume baseball series, a friendly rival to Cross Game in Sunday, that will be licensed by Viz about the same time as the heat death of the universe.)