Some of my critics are quick to point out that I don’t give very many high scores on my reviews. I generally don’t have nice things to say about the books I read, and I don’t really give out high marks on my reviews at Manga Village. I don’t know if this is because I have a high standard for the materials I read, or if I just want to be as honest as possible about the content so that people can get an opinion before they go out and buy the manga. I think it is probably a mix of these two personal factors and one key point I constantly fail to remember: the manga I read and review oftentimes are not written with me in mind.
When I received the Cross Game omnibus a few weeks ago, I worked through it with a bit of trepidation. I love baseball, so I was worried that the manga would either be too preachy about the rules or have large errors in gameplay that would make my enjoyment suffer. My misgivings were buffered by the fact that the 3-volume omnibus format was a good deal, and I wasn’t out much if I found I didn’t like it. As I read though, I become confused, and suddenly, delighted. Around page 120, I discovered that I had finally found my manga holy grail. Cross Game is the first manga I have found that has been written especially for me.
Cross Game focuses on a young boy named Ko Kitamura and his interaction with the four Tsukishima girls that live down the street from him. Ko’s father sells sports paraphernalia, and the Tsukishimas operate a batting cage and cafe, so the already close families often intertwine through the sport of baseball. After a tragic event in the first volume, the manga skips forward to Ko’s last year in junior high, and Adachi adeptly tells the story of Ko’s growth as a person and as a baseball player. Along the way we meet people who know Ko through school, through the Tsukishima family, and through baseball.
At first I was confused by the subtlety of the book. Things play out in a very natural manner, and it’s hard to know whether or not you’re reading a book or just looking out the window at the kids next door. I didn’t think I was very impressed with the storytelling. After reaching the tragedy in book one, and the aftermath in pages 170-189, I realized I was crying. What powerful storytelling! This is slice-of-life story writing at its finest.
I am enamored with all of the characters of Cross Game. Adachi has developed a cast of characters that are beautiful, flawed, and compelling. The minor school-yard dramas and flashbacks throughout the first three volumes of Cross Game are not only there to give pieces of the storyline to the reader, but also manage to develop the tension between characters and the characters themselves in an even fashion. Adachi has some of the best pacing I’ve ever seen in a comic book. His scenes flow smoothly from one to another, and the result is a refreshing, heartwarming comic that can eat hours of your time as you flip from page to page.
Adachi also has some of the most remarkable art I’ve seen in a manga. His character designs focus more on round shapes and less on hard lines. They’re subtle and remind me of Rumiko Takahashi, especially her content from the late 1980s and ’90s. I love Rumiko’s art, so it was no surprise that I was also a fan of Adachi. However, Adachi takes it a step further with panels composed without characters, as a sort of cutaway still shot made popular by famous director Yasujiro Ozu. Called a “pillow shot,” they work in the same manner as “pillow words” in Japanese poetry. These scenes are punctuation for the story, and give us a moment to truly comprehend what is happening in the lives of these characters. Adachi has drawn for us images of school yards, baseball fields, and trains. They are beautifully drawn pages and panels, and smooth the tension and make the setting of the manga that much more believable.
Viz did a great job with this omnibus format. If I have any complaints about the manga, it is that it gets off to a bit of a slow start. Giving the reader three volumes of manga for a good price not only helps sell the book, but it helps sell the story. Giving you a 600-page introduction to the series helps you become attached to the characters where publishing the volumes as individual books probably would harm the series’ survivability in the currently tight manga market. The book also is bound very well for its size, and it is freely readable without breaking the spine.
If you haven’t read Cross Game yet, you’re missing out on what I think is probably the best manga of 2010 published in English. It is subtle, heart-breaking, life-affirming, and just a damn good read. Go out and grab yourself a copy now.