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Monday, October 10, 2011

Manga Review: Cross Game GN 4

Cross Game volume 4
Author: Mitsuru Adachi
Viz Media/Shonen Sunday
376 pages (2-in-1 omnibus edition)

With Ko in his second year of high school and Aoba in her first, the regionals for Summer Koshien are about to begin! The third round pits Seishu up against mighty Ryuou Gakuin—one of the teams favored to win the whole shebang. Do Ko and team have what it takes to even advance that far in the tourney? But first, Aoba’s cousin enters the picture, and he might shake things up on a different front.

Spoiler alert: Spoilers for the Cross Game series so far is beyond the jump. Read with caution!

It's getting harder and harder to write up a review of Mitsuru Adachi's awe-inspiring baseball manga Cross Game, but not because it's getter worse, oh no; it's because it's a series that is just constantly quality stuff on a very consistent basis at a level I don't see much shonen manga these days being able to match. So what can I even contemplate on saying about this latest batch of chapters, released in svelte omnibus format by Viz Media, other than what I've been saying for the last three volumes? Well, if there's one thing you can never fault CG for doing, it's for not having anything happen.

And volume four is certainly an eventful one for Ko and friends, especially since the introduction of Mizuki Asami, Aoba's cousin, who makes no short business in restarting his old friendship with her. Oh, and did I mention this is a baseball manga? Cause there is a lot of that as well. So if you're in it for the heartfelt drama, the madcap humor, the constant in-jokes about Mitsuru Adachi's lack of discipline as a manga-ka, or those sweet baseball games, you won't end up disappointed with this one.

With the introduction of Mizuki Asami, Cross Game finally has a full-fledged love triangle – or does it? Don't all three people involved have to care for it to work? Even after Asami moves into the Tsukishima house and essentially becomes Aoba's roommate, Ko does not seem too troubled by these developments. Hell, he even absent-mindedly tells Asami that first cousins can get married in Japan! This could partly be because Ko still doesn't see Aoba as a girl who he would pursue romantic ideas with, and partly because he is still in love with Wakaba; after all, in this book, Ko continues to buy a gift for Wakaba from her list of birthday presents.

Still, if Cross Game was a generic love drama, Ko would have quickly moved into the rank of hideously naive and unassuming main protagonists that population those kinds of series. But luckily for us, this is a baseball shonen series - one written by Mitsuru Adachi of all people –so it doesn't fall into that trap. This isn’t to say that Ko actually steps up to the plate and realizes his feelings for Aoba, but it is obvious that their relationship is deeper than a simple friendship. Now, whether or not this will advance any further and what Wakaba’s continuing presence in their lives will affect the both of them is to be seen. That is, unless Asami does something first. Who knows? (Okay, people who have already read the series – shush, you!)

As deeply interesting as the human drama of Cross Game is, its other strength lies in the game itself. This volume contains a rather handful of important matches, especially the one between Seishu and Sannou that puts Ko’s abilities on the map. Honestly, if your main personal pull in this series has been the baseball, you will love the second half of this omnibus. The most interesting star from the Sannou team so far seems to be Mishima, Sannou’s pinch hitter who seems much more suited to be their lead batter than the media-attracting Shimano – and let’s be honest, Shimano’s face just screams unnecessary arrogance. Mishima may just turn out to be Ko’s greatest rival so far, and the one who has the most potential to put Ko’s streak of success to a close.

What can I say? Cross Game continues to be the kind of emotionally satisfying baseball shonen series that all others should stride to match in quality. And if Adachi just keeps doing what he’s doing – adding layers upon layers of story and genuine character sentiments with every chapter – then there is no doubt in my mind that Cross Game will simply continue to be one of the best currently publishing (in English) shonen manga in the past ten years.

You can read sample pages of the manga and read info about the anime adaptation over at the Cross Game page on Shonen Sunday’s website.