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Monday, July 15, 2013

Manga Review: Cross Game GN 7 & 8

Cross Game volume 7 & 8
Author: Mitsuru Adachi
Viz Media/Shonen Sunday
376 pages (omnibus 7) & 376 pages (omnibus 8)

Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the entire Cross Game manga series.

With his final summer in high school approaching, Ko and the rest of the team are right in the thick of the regionals to qualify for Koshien. They manage a win in their first game, but the next round pits them against Kurokoma, led by none other than Seishu’s infamous former coach, Daimon. Seishu is cautious because they know Daimon would really hate to lose to the “Portables” twice. And as the team battles its way toward Koshien, Akane Takigawa is dealt a blow to her health and is hospitalized. (Source: Goodreads)
On the anime website MyAnimeList, the highest rating you can give a manga is a 10 - a masterpiece, quite a weighty label to give any piece of fiction. A masterpiece carries the airs of some perfect art, untouchable by flaws and utterly undefinable by any modern standards. When I rate something a 10, I don't do it lightly. The work being rated has to evoke in me an undeniable emotional reaction, a need to be in this fictional world as long as possible, and a mixture of melancholy and satisfaction when I finally reach the end of the story. Naturally, I've given Cross Game a rating of 10. To me, it is a masterpiece.

Having said that, Cross Game is no untouchable, undefinable work of art that needs to be examined with kid gloves lest we upset his holiness Mitsuru Adachi in our review of his work. It does not have any grand goal or plans. Cross Game is, at its dusty country born heart, a story about baseball. It is a story about winning and losing, love and loss, and keeping a promise to a young girl who once upon a time had a dream that she was sure would come true.
In the final two omnibuses of Cross Game, as released by Viz Media, the Seishu baseball team is on its way to Koshien. This is Ko's last chance at realizing Wakaba's dream of him standing on the Koshien mound, with Akaishi as catcher. The one team that is standing in their way most of all is their old rivals, Ryuou Gakuen, who are still going as strong as ever since their victory in Spring Koshien.
Meanwhile, on the other side of things, everyone is thrown for a loop when Akane Takigawa is suddenly hospitalized and facing serious surgery. Now Akane may be looking more and more like Wakaba all the while - and Ko and Aoba and friends are worrying that Akane may follow Wakaba into the beyond. Even though Aoba tells Ko that Wakaba "wouldn't make him cry twice", those in the know about Akane's condition are on pins and needles during the most important time in Seishu's recent history.
The thing about Cross Game is that after spending all this time with Ko and his team and the Tsukishima family, every little thing affects the heart. With his storytelling and his characters, Mitsuru Adachi draws the reader into his world and creates connections between us and his cast that is genuine and sincere. Seeing Aoba in distress puts us into distress. Watching Seishu work for their victories that draw them closer and closer to Koshien makes us cheer for them that much harder. And always, we remember that Wakaba is watching over everyone, giving them - and us - strength.
Because oh wow, do we need strength to get through these books. It's a sports manga that has real suspense in each game. Ever since Seishu failed its first attempt to reach Koshien, much to the dismay of Kitamura, its second attempt has been much more vehement. Seishu is giving literally everything its got, whether it is in practice or on the field, from everyone - from Ko, from Akaishi, from Yuuhei, from Senda, from Aoba. The dream of Koshien, which had seemed so far, is incredibly close - all they have to do is reach for it.

Volume eight is the final volume of Cross Game, and it ends perfectly. It is the best possible conclusion Adachi could ever give this series. Everything comes together: Koshien, Seishu versus Ryuou, Akane's surgery, Aoba and Ko, Wakaba's dream, and so on. This wonderful series has come to a close, and I am sure both sports fans and romance fans will not find issue with its ending. It has heart, it has humor, it has action and drama. It's one of those "something for everyone" series that somehow never feels like a hodge-podge of various elements. 
Mitsuru Adachi, I fell in love with your work from volume one; even though it is now over and resolved for good, I will continue to love Ko and Aoba and the rest of the Cross Game folks. I can only hope other people will give this great series a chance as I did several years ago.