Cross Game, Vol. 8

By Mitsuru Adachi. Released in Japan in 2 separate volumes by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

And so, at last, after two delays (this was supposed to be out in July), we have the final volume of Cross Game. And perhaps the final Adachi in North America or a while, though I hope I’m wrong. If it is the last, though, at least we got this, a terrific story which both encompasses exactly what Adachi does best and also plays with his own cliches. Plus it’s one hell of a final game.

There’s a lot of flashbacks and flashforwards throughout the entire volume, as despite this being the big winner goes to the Koshien game, there’s a lot on everyone’s mind. Wakaba, her dream for Ko and Akaichi, and Akane’s surgery, all of which we are aware of. And Ko and Aoba’s conversation before the game, which we only get half of. Though I think we might be able to guess, especially given that Ko prefaces it by asking if he can lie. The flashbacks are all revelatory even as we reach the final volume. The old man who remembers Ko throwing baseballs against his wall with tears in his eyes is touching and sad, then we get Aoba’s own memories, as she catches him doing it. The manga has made it seem at times as if Ko coasts and doesn’t put in the work – this shows that he’s been doing it all along, but it’s a secret. Or a lie. Take your pick.

Some folks have noted they felt that the Akane plot was superfluous, but as I’ve stated before, I think that Adachi did that deliberately to contrast Aoba, so unlike his usual heroines, with Akane, who’s a carbon copy of the type he normally writes. Akane’s quite never-give-up attitude towards her surgery, her waking up to the satisfaction of seeing Akaishi hit an RBI for the first run of the game, and just generally being sweet. This is probably another reason why Cross Game was the perfect license for North America – we are a land which favors the Aobas of the world.

The game itself is a pitcher’s duel, of course, and Ko gets to show off both his batting and pitching chops. It’s the perfect game for a manga narrative (despite Aoba literally walking over to Adachi to suggest a plot at one point – it’s nice to see the 4th wall being broken right to the end), and the outcome is satisfying on both sides, even if one finds it bittersweet. And all that’s left is the realizations – not just Junpei and his marriage proposal/bet, but also Aoba, who understands as Ko walks towards her that Ko and Aoba were able to satisfy Wakaba’s dream. It’s a very emotional moment, and played as one.

But life goes on, and the final chapter is a scene of everyone getting ready for another trip – even if things have changed between the leads. Ko has always described himself as a liar, but it’s Aoba who gets the last word, with the biggest lie she’s ever told Even after she wonders to herself why she and Ko have to be so alike. A fitting end to a terrific series.

Cross Game, Vol. 7

By Mitsuru Adachi. Released in Japan in 2 separate volumes by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

As we reach Viz’s penultimate volume of Cross Game, the tournament is upon us. Meaning that, after a brief break last volume, baseball finally returns in a big way in this volume. Not that this is a bad thing, of course. Adachi finds new ways to make things interesting. An old, proud villain getting what’s coming to him. An old friend on a rival team trying his best. Akaishi dealing with distractions putting him off his game, just as Azuma did last volume. Ko finding that if he sacrifices control, he can throw even faster. This is still a sports manga, and the baseball chapters are very good.

Speaking of Akaishi, it’s interesting contrasting his relationship with Akane to Ko’s here. Akane spends most of the last half of the volume in hospital, which, as I noted before, is throwing Akaishi off his game due to his being distracted. The way she handles this is great, and shows me that I think she’s pretty much written Ko off. (She gets the 2nd best line of the book. “Boys are nice, aren’t they?” It’s funnier in context.) Later, we see her conversation with Ko, which is almost entirely elliptical and filled with unspoken meaning. She’s pushing Ko towards Aoba, just as she tries to push Aoba towards Ko at the start of this volume.

Ko, honestly, doesn’t need that much pushing. I think he understands where his feelings lie on the matter – at one point he notes Akane looks like Wakaba… too much like her – but he simply isn’t the sort of guy who presses things in a straightforward way. His training to become a great pitcher took Aoba by surprise, and I think his feelings need to do the same. We’re hearing more and more about Ko being a “great liar”, and that’s not just discussing his ability to say the opposite of what he means with a straight face. We have several moments here where Ko is clearly being honest and forthright – with Aoba at Wakaba’s grave, and with Azuma when discussing Ichiyo’s “bet” (Ko clearly knows Ichiyo is going to get married Koshien or no.) However, the constant background chant of “liar, liar, liar” makes us wonder if this is how Aoba sees him – deceptive, shifty, not saying what he means.

As for Aoba, I’d noted several reviews ago that Cross Game features a hero who’s similar to Adachi’s heroines, and Aoba is a heroine that’s quite like Adachi’s heroes. She still has trouble accepting things. Not just the idea that Ko might be interested in her – something Ko denies to her face – but the idea that she has any worth beyond sports. Her attempts at common ‘feminine’ activities – cooking, sewing – are disasters, and the fact that everyone looks to her as an inspiration in baseball must hurt horribly given that she can never truly participate. Akane says point blank that if Aoba learns to like herself, she might learn what Ko really sees in her. And even Ko is, I think, starting to realize that he can’t pull the “I’ll do anything but date you” thing forever. His brushing off of Aoba when he goes to Akane in the hospital, saying “you’d be a third wheel”, is startling, and one of the few times I think Ko means to provoke a deliberate reaction.

The baseball team, in case I forgot to mention it, has made it to the finals by the end of the book. If Seishu wins, they go to Koshien. Of course, while we’d like to see that, the final volume will be about Ko and Aoba, as always. They both took Wakaba’s death in different ways, creating behavioral habits that were designed to avoid having them be hurt again. And as they grow up – Ko, drifting away from any conflict, and Aoba, angrily punching past obstacles – they realize that this can’t go on forever. Something has to give. In the final volume, we’ll see how Adachi handles it. And who wins.

Cross Game, Vol. 6

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.)