Cross Game, Vols. 1 and 2
Created by: Mitsuru Adachi
Published by: VIZ Media
ISBN: 1421537583 (Amazon)
I don’t even like baseball.
I mean, sure, I played a fair amount growing up and enjoyed it just fine. I was a good fielder and good enough at bat that my coach called me Secret Weapon (I guess because I was reserved enough so that you wouldn’t expect me to have a swing?). I loved playing the game. It was spectating that I hated. I’ve always been that way. Some people are born without the sports gene, I was born without the spectator gene.
Because of this, I never paid attention to stats or scores. The existence of an ESPN baffled me and that my brother would religiously listen to sports radio appalled me as much as my unflagging interest in comics probably scandalized him. And more to the point, I would never indulge in sports fictions. Whether the movie was about baseball or football or basketball, I would avoid it. If friends were gathering to watch Field of Dreams or Basketball Diaries or Friday Night Lights, I would politely absent myself and play some videogames or read some books. Books that weren’t about sports.
So when I say I adore Cross Game, a series which is rather unapologetically and blatantly about baseball, you should read in your tea leaves that this is a comic worth reading. Tasseomancy being infallible and all.
Also, when I say that Cross Game is about baseball, you should also probably (and rightly) assume that it’s also about much more. Certainly there is a lot of baseball. And there’s some nice family dynamic going on. And there’s some stuff about friendship. And some romance (yay!). But more than that, Cross Game seems to be about the power the deceased can hold over those who remain.
So vaguely spoilery but very early in the series, there is the tragic departure of a primary character. I know, you’ll now be completely on the lookout for which charming figure will buy it, sending the rest of the Cross Game world into the deepest despair. Trust me when I say that I didn’t ruin anything and the death is well telegraphed in advance and that in the end it doesn’t even matter because the important thing is not that this character dies. Instead the book is about what those left behind will do with their loss.
And it has baseball.
One of the things that is somehow necessary to post-funeral catharsis and the fulfillment of promises and the honouring of last wishes revolves around baseball. So these characters who might have only had marginal interest in the sport beforehand are now drawn tightly together, bound up in a memory. And consarnit if I don’t find the whole baseball endeavor fascinating.
In these first two volumes (which contain five regular volumes’ worth of story), the team forms, finds its first feet, and experiences its first major challenge. The team is founded on three kids who have gradually become friends over the four years since The Death and two of them especially find their drive torn between living for a memory and living for the future. Adachi, the creator, essays these scenes wonderfully, balancing heartfelt drama and a sort of madcap humour. And despite the fact that I shouldn’t find them interesting, the baseball scenes have been absolutely riveting. Adachi, by playing the drama of the game against the more relatable human drama, conjours a story that’s engaging and exciting. I cared about the outcome of not just the game but of each inning and the plays that comprised those innings—not because I cared for the sport, but because of what each moment meant for and would say about the characters involved.
I believe there are six more volumes to be released (the series is complete in Japan and is only now being released here) and, lifespan permitting, I will absolutely be here for each one of them. And I don’t even like baseball.
An Extra Note of Discussion:
I was happy to see that the book generally stays away from the cheap and vaguely misogynistic gratification of the book’s demographically pubescent-male readership. There is very little of what might be considered fan service. Apart from a couple scenes in which a character, Aoba, dresses down to underwear (which may be contextually justified and are far from titillating) and lead character Ko’s observation of the hint of a girl’s underwear while riding an escalator (again, contextually justified), there is only a lone upskirt shot that seemed out of place.
But, that’s within the narrative itself. The chapter breaks feature art capitalizing on one character or another in pose or action, showing off their character traits. For instance, Ko might be pitching or batting or concentrating hard or maybe just standing there with a glove in his hand and looking pleasant. Maybe it’ll feature the unstoppable clean-up batter from the varsity team looking suitably menacing. Or maybe it will feature Wakaba or Aoba (two sisters) in some way.
The curiosity is that Aoba, when she appears, will frequently be drawn in a way that markets her as attractive. She might be wearing a school swim uniform or those very short gym shorts that appear in all the anime. Maybe she’ll be sporting a bare midriff and wearing denim shorts with the top button undone. And maybe she’ll be posed in a very lightly seductive manner. None of it is very extreme, but I did find it a curiosity.
Beyond the typical marketing concerns, which would propose that young men generally enjoy seeing good-looking women in their entertainments, I wonder if there isn’t a meta-narrative purpose to the choice as well. Aoba’s character is early on established as something of a tomboy. She changes clothes down to bra-and-panties right in front of Ko, a fourteen-year-old male who has already been established to have a lightly lecherous streak, and he doesn’t bat an eye. From these clues, the average reader might be excused from thinking that Aoba is unattractive. However, later reactions from others say this isn’t so, introducing a measure of cognitive dissonance in the reader. The plain, textual reading is that Aoba is an attractive girl but that Ko has rendered himself unable to see her in that way (at least up to the end of volume two). So, if there is to be romantic tension later throughout the book, Adachi needs to sell Aoba as someone who is desirable.
Thus the seemingly out of place flirtations with fan service.
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