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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Manga Review: Cross Game GN 1

Cross Game volume 1
Author: Mitsuru Adachi
Viz Media/Shonen Sunday
575 pages (3-in-1 omnibus edition)

Cross Game is a moving drama that is heartfelt and true, yet in the brilliant hands of manga artist Mitsuru Adachi, delightfully flows with a light and amusing touch. The series centers around a boy named Ko, the family of four sisters who live down the street and the game of baseball. This poignant coming-of-age story will change your perception of what shonen manga can be.

I started reading this book while sitting in a hot humid Laundromat, back sticking to the plastic chair from the sweat pouring off of me, the lack of a breeze making everything even worse. I've been told that while I was there, a man was waiting for his laundry and just wouldn't shut up. Funny enough, I never heard him - my mind was in another place, specifically in Kitamura Sports and the Tsukishima Batting Center, where it too was a hot lazy summer and a young boy was spending every day at the batting center hitting home runs and winning socks. Never before had I felt so part of the story I was reading, or so emotionally drawn in that at one point I found myself near breaking into tears around the end of the first of three sections (and anyone who has read Cross Game will very well know what major event provoked this reaction).

Read the rest of the review after the jump!

The world of Cross Game is one I never thought I'd be granted access to since Mitsuru Adachi (despite being a manga-ka giant in Japan and one of the main reasons Shonen Sunday is such a successful publication) has rarely if ever been brought over to North American audiences in English format. But thanks to the good graces of Viz and their slowly growing pool of older licenses, Cross Game has crossed my path - and I am ever so grateful that I gave it a chance. As someone who loves shonen manga and baseball (but don't ask how my team is doing - I'm a Cubs fan, after all!), Cross Game was a manga I seemed destined to fall in love with - and so I did, fast and without regrets. In only a chapter’s width, Adachi manages to pull me into the daily life of Ko and the Tsukishima sisters, and with every passing chapter made me more deeply involved in their lives to the point that when tragedy strikes their lives out of the blue, so it strikes me suddenly in the heart as well and all I want to do is hug these precious people and tell them it will be all right in the end.

But Cross Game isn’t a sorrowful manga, not by any account; Adachi has the ability to play the reader’s heartstrings like a maestro at the podium, but he also knows how to get a laugh and he knows how to bring the tension. For one, the baseball games are superbly drawn and flow from panel to panel like a live game on television; sadly, this aspect of the manga won’t appeal to those who don’t like baseball, but if you’re like me, you will love the hard work Adachi puts into making the sports part of Cross Game actually mean something to the overall story – for example, how each game illustrates the character growth in both Ko and Aoba. And there is lots of humor, really! Especially in the scenes involving Mister “Important Character” Senda, whose sole purpose in life seems to be informing everyone on how amazing cool and popular he is. It is the fact that Adachi can seamlessly mix together so much humor and heaviness that is another testament to his skill level as a storyteller and as an artist.

Overall, reading the first omnibus volume of Cross Game has me excited about a new series which hasn’t happened in a long time – bonus points for it being a sports manga, which I rarely read since they usually turn the sports into these overblown macho fests. But Cross Game not only understands the science and heart of baseball, it also understands the nature of young people growing up in the wake of tragedy and discovering their true selves. All I want to do now is spend another hot sticky summer day at the Tsukishima Batting Center with the characters I’ve grown to love.

You can read the first three chapters of Cross Game here at Viz’s official Shonen Sunday page!