by Mitsuru Adachi; adapted by Lillian Olsen
published by Viz; $14.99 US
Now that summer’s over, it seemed a good time to get caught up on Cross Game, the baseball manga. Plus, my new library had a couple of the recent volumes — let’s hear it for public services!
Ironically, Book 6 opens not in summer but in winter, as the team’s players are thinking about the coming spring and the competitive season while shoveling snow. The first chapter is an excellent place to begin after an absence away from the story, since it’s almost a poem about what playing baseball means. New neighbor Akane has received an art prize for her blurred image of a pitcher on the mound. Ko and Aoba argue about who was used as her model (without their knowledge), and the result raised a choke in my throat — until author Mitsuru Adachi undercut it, as he does so well, with a smirky punchline.
I often find myself thinking about poetry, especially haiku, while reading this series, because Adachi’s techniques of juxtaposing mood and setting panels with the more direct storytelling moments create an aura much like a haiku or a sonnet, where technical pacing considerations make the content all the more powerful. His wordless images, especially, are quite skillful in forcing the reader to consider the underlying emotions.
I also am discovering new appeal in long-running characters (which is typical of a good, lengthy manga — as time goes on, there’s more space to focus attention on more than the main characters and storyline). For instance, the catcher Akaishi’s quiet confusion when dealing with Akane, who resembles the deceased sister of Aoba, is making me see him as a much richer cast member. Mentions of Wakaba, the sister, have previously been about her relationship with Ko and the way she inspired him to achieve great things, but Akaishi clearly felt deeply about her as well.
Meanwhile, the youngest sister is growing up and developing friends of her own, making her more than just comic relief. (Although thank goodness the cat is left for that.) These are all ways of demonstrating the passing of time and way the games mark the kids growing up, building the history of their lives and a record of their adolescence. I know, I’m getting awfully flowery about a sports manga. But there’s a reason that this was the one selected to bring to the U.S., which is not particularly friendly to the genre. That’s because it has a lot to say, subtly, about how we’re shaped into the people we become.
I’m impressed by how the character interactions are changing at this point in the story. Aoba’s got a new admirer, the taciturn star player Azuma, in addition to her odd mountain-climbing cousin, as the requisite Valentine’s Day chapters point out. (SO convenient that the Japanese tradition of girls giving chocolates to boys they like makes for a handy visual indicator of where feelings lie.) Much is also revealed by Aoba’s injury, another event that foregrounds how different the game is for her, the only girl playing.
It’s fun to note which characters are mentally older than the others. Some know what kind gestures mean and how interactions might be interpreted. Others are clueless about why people choose to spend time with them, or how sending another on an errand might seem.
I haven’t talked much about the baseball, because the first half of Book 6 doesn’t have any. (Each American volume, with the exception of the first, contains two of the Japanese books. The first has three.) It’s not until we reach the second half, what would have been Volume 13 originally, that we get back to the game. It’s the last spring of this team’s career together, and everyone’s a bit sentimental.
This was a great volume with which to catch up on the series, since there was a lot of character focus and forward movement, setting up for the last two books of the series. Cross Game Book 7 is available now, with Volume 8, the conclusion, due in November.