It’s time to throw a baseball review into the mix. Cross Game is really the only manga about baseball that I’ve read and it’s pretty fun. You don’t need to worry because the actual sport gets a lot of screen time and that’s how it should be in a sports manga. It doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as many of the other sports manga that I’ve read. Prince of Tennis, Slam Dunk, Whistle, etc. They were all pretty serious and Eyeshield 21 still managed to keep the stakes a little higher than Cross Game. Does Cross Game’s attempt at mixing Baseball and humor work? It’s time to find out!
The plot for the first part of the series is mainly about Ko as he learns what it means to be a great pitcher. He becomes pretty close to Wakaba and things are going pretty well. She wants him to win the big tournament so Ko’s going to make sure that he does this. After all, who doesn’t want to become the world champ for that age division? (Actually, this part is only 1 volume. I thought that it was around half of the series for some reason, but it’s a lot shorter than I thought. Well, I guess Wakaba and the early adventures with Ko were very memorable then!)
The plot for the rest of the series is more or less the same. Ko still needs to become the best pitcher that he can be, but the pressure’s really on now. It’s less fun and games and Ko can’t let down his guard for a second! His team has gotten a lot more talented and Azuma has helped to make their offense a contender as well. If Ko’s ever going to make it to Koshien, it’s going to be in this tournament. It’s do or die and there is no going back now!
Ko is an intriguing main character. He’s definitely pretty unique compared to most other leads like Naruto, Allen Walker, Goku, etc. He doesn’t want to be the very best Baseball player because he loves the game so much. (Although he really does love Baseball) He needs to throw an extremely fast pitch to impress Aoba and he needs to make it to win the final tournament to fulfill a promise that he made to Wakaba. So, unlike most other leads, the stakes are very high from the beginning. After all, he can’t make it to the big tournament once he graduates from the school so he only has 2-3 tries to make it all the way. Because of this, Ko continues to train hard day in and day out. He tries to keep the atmosphere light, but he can never be quite as chipper as his teammates on the inside.
He ends up being a pretty likable main character. He can joke around a lot, but it’s mostly to keep team morale up and to put up a solid front. He does also get into the romance subplot for the majority of the series and that can be a distraction from his pitching. Luckily, he’s still pretty good. Ultimately, he’s a nice guy and Ko is serious about winning at Koshien. He exercises vigorously every day and he never loses sight of his goals.
Aoba is arguably the main heroine. I would say she is since she’s around for both parts of the series and she’s especially important in the second half. She has a rivalry with Ko in the sense that they are both pitchers. Aoba gave up her dream eventually since girl teams became harder to find, but she still took the time to practice and trade techniques with Ko. Aoba definitely played a big part in how Ko became such a great player since he learned from her stance and technique. Aoba mostly resides in the role of game manager as she finds out a player’s strengths and weaknesses. She’s typically pretty gruff with Ko and the two of them keep up their rivalry for the whole series. Both of them were pretty close to Wakaba, which likely helps in this regard. Aoba challenged Ko to pitch a 100 mph fastball back when they were kids and that helped to jump start the whole series. She’s a pretty good character and probably one of the best members of the cast. (Who else could knock out a criminal by throwing a baseball from a moving train?)
Akaishi is one of the main characters and he’s a good person. He becomes a catcher to help Ko fulfill Wakaba’s final wish and he does a pretty good job of it. He does fall into the whole romance angle a lot easier than the other characters, but he manages to resist it for the most part. He hasn’t totally gotten away from it, but he tries. He’s one of the few characters who knows how personal the Baseball games are for Ko and he’s always someone that he can count on. His role never becomes as large as it could be though.
Azuma is probably the best batter in the series. He starts out as Ko’s biggest rival since one hit can make or break the game for Ko depending on the situation. Azuma always has a chance to hit a home run so he shouldn’t be underestimated. He ends up joining Ko’s group for the second part of the series, which makes their team almost unbeatable. He likes Aoba, which can cause tension between him and Ko. It’s a professional rivalry though so they don’t spend their time trading insults or trying to back stab each other like you may expect from a movie or something. They both do their best to reach their goals without trying to sabotage the other. They’ll let the playing do the talking! Ko badly needed a rival in this series so it was good to have Azuma on board. He’s a decent character. I don’t care for the romance part too much of course, but at least he’s a good player and he definitely doesn’t mess around. (Unlike Senda)
Senda is the main source of comic relief in this series. He flirts a lot and he seems to think that he’s actually a great baseball player. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The heroes don’t even try to humor him most of the time. Things never end well for Senda, but he stays pretty chipper about the whole situation. I definitely wouldn’t mind if he wasn’t in the series though since we don’t need more flirts. At least he never does anything really drastic though so I can let him slide for the most part. His comic relief stays classy and that’s always a good thing.
Wakaba is one of the big players in this manga. Her story is definitely one of the more emotional ones, but she was pretty optimistic through it all. She was a nice person and she definitely helped Ko to excel. She doesn’t really play Baseball, but she’s still pretty influential to the series in other ways. Her name probably pops up more than all of the other characters. As with most of the other characters, Wakaba was a good addition to the series.
An intriguing plot point develops when a girl named Akane moves into town. She looks exactly like Wakaba and the same goes for her mannerisms. The similarities are uncanny and this can definitely be dicey for the main characters. It also helps to provide the Wakaba plot with some closure, but it’s safe to say that she wasn’t quite as good as Wakaba. They were a little too similar so you end up thinking of Akane as a poor substitute for the real deal. That being said, Akane doesn’t do anything wrong and she’s still a pretty good character. I definitely prefer Wakaba though.
As you can see, Cross Game has a pretty good cast of characters. Senda can be a little annoying and the same goes for a certain truck driver, but nearly all of the other characters are pretty good. If there was a character who could have been a lot better, it would be the coach. He’s very old and wise, but he’s just not as enthusiastic as the other coaches from your average sports manga. I would take the coach from Whistle any day. Being able to play is also a key factor and that’s something that this coach really can’t do. He has an assistant as well, but she never really gets a role in the story. There are definitely other members of the team that I could mention as well, but they’re mostly just here to fill in the ranks. I will say that the coach of the main rival team was a lot better than our coach. He was pretty sinister and he’s an antagonist, but he has personality. He really took the games seriously and he always got upset when his team loss. It’s what you would expect from a real coach and the (not so) subtle insults from him are a nice change of pace from the polite cast of characters. His shades also add an extra dimension of coolness for his character.
The art is very clear and easy to read. An argument can be made that it is a little too basic, but for a Baseball manga maybe that’s okay. It doesn’t look bad and you can always tell what’s happening. I won’t deny that a more intense looking art style like Prince of Tennis or Eyeshield 21 may have helped the series a little more, but the artwork here fits the tone. One problem that I have with it is actually the number of reused facial expressions and panels in the series. It seems like the author can only draw a handful of different facial expressions so every member of the cast gets to try them out. There are whole panels that look exactly the same and the dialogue is only subtly changed. I’m sure that it saves the author time, but maybe it’s intentional. Some of the gags rely on the fact that the panels are the time so maybe it’s a mix of saving time and allowing the panels there for joke reasons. The series has a lot of comedy undertones so it’s always possible.
Cross Game is certainly more emotional than the other series based off of a sport. It also manages to balance other genres like comedy and romance while giving the Baseball games a lot of screentime. It’s a little tricky to do all of that and I wouldn’t have minded if they cut down on the romance and comedy a little more. Keeping it as a Baseball themed story with some drama would have been interesting. The romance was just a ltitle too much of a focus. The rival likes the main heroine and the main character is conflicted since he sort of likes the heroine, but he also likes someone else. He can try to move on, but is it the right choice? There’s also tension because the catcher liked one of the main characters and we can’t forget about Senda. Essentially, all of the main players liked someone so there was always some kind of romance plot in the air. It’s handled in seriousness sometimes or just played for laughs. The series jumps from both genres a whole lot so it can be hard to tell at times. It is what it is though and Cross Game did a decently good job considering. If you’re going to have romance then at least do it in a professional manner and that’s what the series did. They didn’t waste time with random fanservice scenes and the series should be proud of itself. It managed to jump past a hole that most other series fall into quite a few times. The series got close to 20 volumes, which is pretty impressive. As with Bakuman, the series goes by in a flash and it’s hard to imagine that it went on for so long.
So, how does it stack up against the other sport manga? Well, I may have already hinted that it’s not quite as intense as some of the others, but let’s be direct about it. Cross Game isn’t quite as good as Whistle, Prince of Tennis, Eyeshield 21 or Slam Dunk yet. (Granted that I’ve only read one volume of Slam Dunk, but I thought that the start wasn’t bad) I prefer those series because they are a lot more fast paced and the sport action is really intense. They feel like Shonen Jump titles and they can even hold their own against battle manga like Naruto and Bleach. Cross Game just isn’t that kind of title and it doesn’t try to be. It’s still a pretty fun read though and it’s more about the overall experience than the excitement. You won’t get a rush from reading it, but you’ll still enjoy the experience. It’s a manga that leaves you feeling happy and that is definitely a good thing for any title.
Overall, Cross Game is definitely a fun read. From start to finish, it’s an enjoyable experience and it’s something that you could recommend to anyone. The story is very accessible so it’s something that the mainstream crowd could enjoy as well. (Provided that you like Baseball) The characters were all fleshed out and it’s a fairly deep experience for a Baseball manga. The story never drags out either and I definitely wouldn’t have minded if the author had continued for another 5-15 volumes. I do think that the artist could be lazy with the dozens of reused facial expressions and panels, but it may have just been an artistic choice that didn’t go over very well with me. There aren’t a whole bunch of characters in the story since you don’t get to really meet a lot of the opponents, but that’s all right. As long as the main characters are solid, then that’s really all that we need. I definitely recommend checking this series out!