“A Game Of Love” – Cross Game (manga) – 8/10 Belleflowers

Don’t tell me about the world.  Not today.  It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball.  ~Pete Hamill

Mangaka: Mitsuru Adachi

Genre: Romance/Slice-of-Life/Sports/Comedy/School/Shounen

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/8 volumes) *Note- in Japan it was originally released as 17 volumes. It’s being released in omnibus format in the US.

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by Viz Media in the US.

Art: This definitely has a softer, gentler take on the characters than most manga today look, making it visually distinctive but not unattractive. It works very well for the story that’s being told.

Summary: 5th grader Koh Kitamura lives next door to the Tsukishima family, owners of a batting cage and the Clover cafe. His girlfriend, Wakaba, is the 2nd Tsukishima daughter; the 3rd daughter, the baseball prodigy Aoba, can’t stand him. Wakaba dreams of Koh pitching at legendary Koshien Stadium, site of the national high school championship finals. However, tragedy strikes, and it is up to Koh, with the help of Aoba and his other teammates, to make Wakaba’s dream come true. (ANN.com)

Review: I’m not used to gentle, slow, and sweet romances in my shounen. I’m not used to shounen being slow and steady, either, so that probably does a whole lot for my perception. This really turned me on my head when I first heard about it. Could a shounen really develop it’s characters in a realistic setting, where the characters are dealing with life sintead of giant monsters, and baseball instead of magic powers?

The answer is that yes, it can. The characters are charming, each with their own quirks and personalities. This seems like a simple slice-of-life until an event in the first volume sets up the plot for the rest of the chapter – the death of Ko’s girlfriend and one of the Tsuishima girls, Wakaba. A good deal of the manga is either overtly or unconciously these characters dealing with her death. For Ko, it provides a drive to play baseball in the most prestigious tournament in the nation, something that Wakaba had dreamed about. As the years pass, there are little things that show that he never forgets her, that she lives on his memory as strongly as if she was there.

The romance that starts growing between him and Aoba isn’t immediate or obvious. They have to deal with Wakaba’s death, since she adored Ko, and Ko still loves her. Aoba doesn’t even really like Ko all that much, but as he pursues his dreams of becoming a baseball player, she starts supporting him in surprising ways. She practices with his team, gives him the pitching form that makes him so good at it, and shows up for games. She sees him as a player who could be really good, but it’s only as his pitching speed grows faster and faster that she starts paying attention, since she said the man who could win her heart had a pitch of 100 MPH. Seeing her come to realize that one day he might hit that speed is adorable and heart-warming, but at the same time bittersweet, since she recalls her sister’s warning to not steal Ko away from her. Since I’m only halfway, I’m wondering how she’ll deal with this.

Cross Game is as much about baseball as it is about relationships, though. The path to becoming a great baseball player is littered with hard practice, a dismissive coach, and unsupportve teammates. Somehow, a team forms from Ko’s childhood friends that played baseball together once upon a time, and are bonded through love of the game and the ties that have to each other (Aoba, in many cases – many of the boys are in love with her at some point or another, and all know how much she loves baseball). Through the usual small-town connections, it’s impressive to watch them undermine and overthrow the coach that dismisses them as dirt. This has some great moments when they do it, that had me cheering. But for all that, I wasn’t really drawn into the baseball parts. I’m not a huge baseball fan, and unfortunately, the way the game was presented was dynamic and did a good job of making it tolerable, but it still wasn’t my cup of tea.

Even so, this really managed to bring together the baseball and relationship elements perfectly. I was impressed by how much heart went into the story, and how well it was told. This really changed my perception of shounen manga, and for that I take my baseball cap off to it.

Overall, this is a really well-told relationship manga with some sports thrown in to keep the target audience interested.

Recommended: 13+. This does touch on how the characters are affected by death at a young age, of someone very young. There are occasional pantyshots, as well as scenes of girls in bikinis that are obviously meant to titilate, but it never is obscene or really prevalent.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Touch (manga)

H2 (manga)

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. TWWK
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 09:45:25

    Very possibly my favorite manga – you really hit on the fact that the series gently approaches its topic. You know how in anime, there are sometimes those landscape scenes where you hear crickets chirping while the “camera” pans over fields or to the sky? No one does that as well as Adachi, and he does it in manga! These types of scenes really add to the thoughtful, gentle, and warm feel to the series.

    Reply

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