By Kaito. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media.
Note: this is only available digitally right now.
As I have mentioned before, sports manga and North American have a very iffy relationship, with none of the contenders really hitting the heights of Naruto or One Piece sales. That said, there’s a lot of sports manga out there, and I’ll give credit to Viz (and let’s be honest, it’s pretty much just Viz, unless I count Sasameke, WHICH I DON’T) for continuing to experiment with them. Especially as such series are HUGE in Japan, and tend to run and run. Slam Dunk was 31 volumes, Eyeshield 21 was 37. Kuroko’s Basketball is 20+, and continues to succeed despite terrorist threats (though it’s sadly not licensed here, possibly as Slam Dunk is still ongoing.) And of course we’ve had Cross Game on the Sunday side of the fence.
And now we have Cross Manage, one of Viz’s ‘we’ll try a new weekly series and see if it dies in 2 volumes’ attempts they’ve had recently, and easily the most successful, given it actually seems to have survived the most recent round of cancellations in Japan. I particularly like the cover, which has Toyoguchi’s beaming face (and oh boy, does it beam – sometimes her face gets so happy it’s almost surreal) right in the foreground and Sakurai’s passive gaze in the background. Because this is about a female lacrosse team, and Sakurai is signed up/blackmailed into being their manager.
There’s a lot to love here. Toyoguchi is just great, being a perky, naive girl who looks like she could burst into a Disney song at any moment, but is also fueled by pure determination and smiles just as widely when threatening to tell everyone our hero accidentally groped her. She’s so relentlessly upbeat and caring that when Hayami shows up and attempts to guilt-trip Toyoguchi into letting Sakurai return to the soccer team (and her arms), not only does Toyoguchi not get it, but the other girl finds herself automatically trying to comfort and reassure her. That needs to be weaponized somehow.
Then there’s the team itself, which is made up of…. drum roll please… girls with all sorts of body types! Yes, the other main girl we get to know is the tall butch tomboy, but we also see pudgy girls, and tiny girls, and girls that sort of look like Sumiyoshi in Excel Saga. And they’re some of the best players. I like the fact that the team is not going to be used simply as an excuse to see a lot of hot girls changing constantly (imagine if the Cage of Eden artist drew this manga… *shudder*) and hope we get to know everyone better. And, of course, we have a classic Bad News Bears team – they’re newbies, with some ra2w skills, but mostly horrible, and they get curbstomped in their first match.
As for Sakurai, our hero, the goal of the first volume is to get him to rediscover the passion he lost to a knee injury, and mission accomplished. He’s a fairly subdued and diligent young man, which contrasts nicely with Toyoguchi’s perkiness and the hotheads and airheads that are also on the team. I think he’ll be an excellent manager, provided the soccer girl doesn’t pry him away. Not that she has any chance… she has ‘unsuccessful rival girl’ written all over her.
I’m pumped to see more of this series – its mood is pretty infectious, and it makes me want to learn more about lacrosse. Roll on Vol. 2!