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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Manga Review: Cross Game GN 5

Cross Game volume 5
Author: Mitsuru Adachi
Viz Media/Shonen Sunday
376 pages (2-in-1 omnibus edition)

Spoiler warning: Review contains massive spoilers for the series so far. Read with caution!

In the summer of his second year in high school, Ko and the Seishu baseball team must take on mighty Ryuou Gakuin and their genius slugger Keitaro Mishima. With everything on the line, will destiny find Seishu moving on to the next round? Later, new neighbors are setting up shop next to Kitamura Sports, and their daughter bears a striking resemblance to Wakaba...

There are few manga releases I truly look forward to these days more than Adachi's Cross Game. It is straight-up beautiful, the most beautiful sports shonen manga I've yet to read so far. I could go on and on about how awesome it is, but instead I'll just concentrate on this one volume, in which Stuff Happens. So much Stuff Happens, you guys. This latest volume of Cross Game is so important because of that Stuff. And because Senda gets his own subplot! A-ah, okay, that was a joke. Senda who? Poor guy. Still, what an amazing, amazing book. Just when you think this series had run out of places to go, it goes there and it does so perfectly.

So what exactly happens in this volume that makes it so darn great? First of all, the legendary battle between Seishu and Ryuou is legendary. Even readers who aren't the biggest fans of baseball will greatly enjoy the first half of this volume, which is solely dominated by this game. We get to see some of the more stellar personalities of Ryuou really work it on the field, as well as Seishu's star pitcher proving that Wakaba's dream of him pitching at Koshien can't be that far off. Or is it? Because the thing, the singular event that separates this game from all other games is that Seishu loses.

Yes, Seishu loses their game against Ryuou in one hell of a squeaker. They lose; they are out of the running for reaching the Koshien pinnacle for yet another year. And as Ko bows to the third-years, apologizing about the result of the game in a way I'm sure American baseball fans are not used to, you can't help but feel conflicted. It's not fair; Seishu is the good guys in this game!

And yet this is how proper shonen works: before the hero wins, he has to lose - again and again - to make that big victory feel even sweeter, even more worthily earned. And there is no doubt in my mind that come next time, Seishu will come out on top and be on the Koshien field like they own it.

And then we have the second half of the book, in which everyone, still dealing with the loss against Ryuou, comes up against another big shock, another moment of when Stuff Happens. The Kitamuras get new neighbors, a family-run soba noodle shop, and their daughter Akane is turning heads in the most unusual ways - because she looks like Wakaba if the girl had lived to be in high school. Even the Kitamuras are absolutely stunned at this; Akane, of course, has no idea why people look at her like she's a ghost. And here comes the next game changing event in Cross Game: the return of Wakaba. Not actually Wakaba, but the memories of Wakaba now brought out into the open due to Akane's uncanny resemblance.

Through Akane, Ko and Aoba must come face-to-face with a reality that never was and the image of a life cut short. It’s a beautifully poignant storyline and I’m sure Adachi will bring it to proper fruition without cheapening Akane’s presence in the story; I look forward to seeing her character develop beyond Wakaba’s shadow. With all this story development and several new characters to get into, Cross Game is really hitting its stride with style. No wonder it’s so hard to say anything bad about this series; Adachi does everything perfectly, no exaggeration.