Cross Game Color Commentary

As part of this month’s Manga Moveable Feast on Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game, Kate Butler and I engaged in a bit of conversation about our love of sports manga in general and this series in particular. As we reference the plot and characters, this page from VIZ’s Shonen Sunday website might come in handy.

MICHELLE: I’m fighting the compulsion to start this thing off by going, “So. Cross Game, huh?” But perhaps I had better begin by introducing my fellow interlocutor, Kate Butler. Kate and I have been friends for about a decade now, and share a markedly similar taste in books, which extends to a love (somehow this word doesn’t seem quite strong enough) for sports manga. In fact, I am pretty sure that it was from Kate that I first heard about The Prince of Tennis and Hikaru no Go, both of which have been long-time favorites of mine.

What was your first exposure to sports manga, Kate?

KATE: The very first sports manga I read was the first couple of volumes of Harlem Beat. Was TOKYOPOP still calling itself Mixx back then? In any case, it was a long time ago, and I remember being surprised that this story about basketball, something which I find incredibly boring in real life, was holding my attention. But the real truth is that my love of sports manga comes about because of my strange attraction to shounen battle manga (and their insanely lengthy anime counterparts)—you really can’t describe The Prince of Tennis as anything else, even though they battle using tennis and not swords or super saiyan techniques.

But even though Cross Game shares a number of elements with that particular genre, I doubt anyone would peg it as a pure battle-sport manga.

MICHELLE: The closest I’ve come to a shounen battle manga that actually involves literal battles is probably Rurouni Kenshin, which I adore. I have yet to read any of the Dragonball series, but I suspect that I’d probably like it, too, since I enjoyed the pair of Toriyama one-shots I read.

You’ve touched upon one of the central mysteries of sports manga for me: how come I never want to watch live sports, but I gobble up the manga like candy? If forced to name a favorite sport, I would probably say basketball or tennis, which some might take as evidence for why I love Slam Dunk and The Prince of Tennis, but I can honestly say that I have never, at any point in my life, ever found baseball interesting. And yet I love Cross Game.

KATE: I wonder at my interest in sports-related manga as well. My adoration for The Prince of Tennis knows no bounds, and sometimes it even makes me think I must have been wrong—of course I must enjoy watching actual tennis! But then I try and am disappointed to discover once again that it’s as boring to me as it ever was.

Baseball is probably my most favorite of all the major league/professional sports popular in the U.S. But that’s not saying a whole lot—I always enjoyed my outings to Fenway Park with my dad, but much of my attention was focused on when I got to buy my next hot dog or ice cream.

I guess my next question would be, is Cross Game really about baseball? At least in the earliest volumes, while there’s plenty of baseball-related content, it’s not -about- baseball, at least not in the way The Prince of Tennis is about tennis.

MICHELLE: I think that’s an excellent question, and the key to its appeal. I’ve spoken on this theme several times in recent months, but I adore stories about lazy or disinterested characters who find something to be truly passionate about and/or a place where they belong. That’s why, of all the sports manga I’ve read, Cross Game reminds me the most of Slam Dunk. But even that is not really any comparison, since we learn much more about Ko and his motivations than we do about Sakuragi, and he certainly seems to be coming from a much deeper place than “get the girl” or “be the best.” The story becomes more about Ko and his personal journey rather than the actual specifics of his goal.

That isn’t to say, though, that the baseball games aren’t riveting and masterfully drawn, especially those between “the portables,” the lower-tier members of the baseball team, and the hand-picked varsity squad. Here again, I think Adachi’s stressing the importance of really loving something, no matter what it is, because simply doing that can bring one joy.

KATE: Yes, if I were going to try to identify Ko’s motivations, “be the best” and “get the girl” wouldn’t be among the first to spring to mind. Though it’s interesting that they wouldn’t, because we’re told early on in the manga that he’s actually far more competitive than he appears.

Your description of his journey from indifference to passion sounds a lot like Godai from Maison Ikkoku, though I personally am finding Ko much more difficult to get a handle on than Godai, whose faults and temptations and misunderstandings were all very much on display. Ko, on the other hand, feels slippery to me. Not to say he doesn’t have motivations and desires, but he’s very hard to read. It may have something to do with the way he’s drawn—I find his expression to be inscrutable most of the time, giving me little information about what’s passing in his mind.

Here are some examples of Ko’s expressions, captioned with the emotion he is experiencing at that moment:


About to Get Beat Up



Just Saw a Ghost



Aaaand sly again

MICHELLE: That’s a good point, and especially true during the portions of the story where others are observing Ko and how much he’s grown. With the lack of facial cues, I pretty much just rely on his commitment to baseball as indication that he’s still doggedly on the path of making Wakaba’s dream come true.

Adachi’s art in general sends me mixed messages. In matters of pacing and paneling he excels, but his depiction of anatomy is more inconsistent. He seems to draw some bodies quite well. Ko’s when pitching, for example, and Aoba’s, especially on the chapter title pages on which she’s wearing revealing attire. I love how her body looks positively normal for a healthy, athletic teen, and don’t even mind that her clothes are a bit skimpy because they’re still practical and plausible. But then I look at her face, and it just seems incongruously cartoony compared to the rest of her. And then you’ve got the supporting characters like Nakanishi who—and I really appreciate that there are several awesome yet stocky characters in the cast—frequently looks too dumpy to even be able to run.

KATE: Well, maybe he can’t run very fast. Or more accurately, he’s not a distance runner. Baseball isn’t really a distance game, though: similar to American football, it’s mostly short bursts of high exertion followed by a bunch of standing around. Which is why your top soccer, basketball and marathoners tend to have a different body shape from football players and baseball sluggers. So I don’t particularly find the body shapes completely incongruous with high school baseball players.

The faces and the rest of the art—well, I’ll admit it, it took me quite a while before I was able to tell Aoba and Ko apart with any consistency. At first I found it annoying, but then I started to think it was probably on purpose that their character designs were so similar. They are meant to be two peas.

MICHELLE: I’m sure that’s intentional. She definitely looks different from Adachi’s other lead heroines, who tend to resemble the Wakaba type. And really, everything else—from the inscrutable hero, to the mild fanservice, to the dumpy bodies—is simply part of Adachi’s style. He’s remained quite consistent, as Joe McCulloch notes in his excellent post at the Panelists. It’s definitely an effective style for conveying this type of story.

KATE: Is that a Seishu uniform I see depicted on one of the panels from Nine? Interesting. I suppose given that so little of Adachi’s work has been translated into English, it’s not exactly unsurprising that I’m not intimately familiar with most of his series, but I do feel it’s a lack. The other series of his to which I’ve had the most exposure is Touch, and that just the anime. So while I can agree that the art is remarkably consistent, I can’t speak toward greater thematic consistency through his work.

On the other hand, Cross Game itself employs many plot elements to which I’m very partial. You said earlier that you enjoy stories where a less-than-inspired protagonist evolves into a passionate pursuer of something. I happen to adore stories where the arrogant and insufferable are brought up short by a plucky underdog. (That is, after all, one of the prime plot components of Pride and Prejudice, my favorite book of all time.) And in this first half of Cross Game we’ve already had a payoff on that particular plot thread.

MICHELLE: It is a Seishu uniform! I didn’t even notice that. And yes, I was only referring to artistic consistency because, sadly, like you, I haven’t enough experience with his long-form stories to know how the they compare. I’m hopeful that Cross Game will do well enough that VIZ will license more by Adachi. Alex Hoffman of Manga Widget recently speculated that Katsu! might be a contender, and I concur.

I’m with you regarding the payoff! Perhaps I should have expected that something like that would happen, but I still thought it was handled rather elegantly. In fact, one could probably predict several things about where the Cross Game story is going to go, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable.

KATE: Well, after that random Seishu uniform, I must say my interest in seeing Nine has shot up about tenfold. I do hope Cross Game is selling well enough to spur more Adachi licenses.

The way the payoff of that particular plot was handled was excellent—but the buildup to it was also interesting, especially since neither of our protaganists was actually the original instigator of the portable team’s secret plan. I do love it when characters presented initially as thuggish turn out instead to be quite clever and nice. (At least to those who deserve it.)

MICHELLE: Me, too. And I think I’d read an entire manga about Okubo, the cheerful yet underestimated manager of the portables. I think that in it, she should solve crime. Also, I think I now ship her with Nakanishi.

KATE: I would so read Okubo: Girl Detective. Someone needs to write this manga!

Ahem. Getting back to the actual discussion again: Cross Game is very enjoyable thus far, we both agree. But there are few stories I find so perfect there’s not at least one or two things I might change. Is there anything in particular you haven’t liked so far?

MICHELLE: Hmm. Well, I’m not crazy about all the fourth-wall breaking that’s going on. I expected it more in volumes two and three, and so it bothered me less, but Adachi complaining about his schedule or depicting the characters reading his earlier series is just never going to amuse me. There was a bit in volume three that I laughed at, though, where someone threw something at a box of omniscient narration.

I also think Aoba’s dad is really creepy. For Ko, a teenage boy, to be curious about girls and to go into a daze while looking up the skirt of the girl ahead of him on the escalator doesn’t bother me, but for a grown man to hang around a batting cage so that he might catch a glimpse of a young woman’s underpants is, like, a criminal offense or something. And that his daughters know about and freely discuss his proclivities is also pretty gross.

How about you?

KATE: I’m completely with you on both points. It may be possible to break the fourth-wall in a way that blends almost seamlessly into the story, and there are a couple of instances even within Cross Game where it works out all right, but most of the time it just serves to jar you right out of the story.

And I don’t even know where to begin with Mr. Tsukishima. The existence of numerous other lecherous father figures (Shigure from Fruits Basket springs to mind, along with Nanjiro Echizen from The Prince of Tennis) suggests he’s part of some grand tradition I just do not understand. We may have to wait for someone to make this a topic of their dissertation before all the cultural dots are connected.

MICHELLE: Maybe so. I mean, it must be funny to someone, right? Probably Japan is just more relaxed about that sort of thing than Americans—it is the land of used-undies vending machines, after all—but I’d think actually ogling a customer would cross some sort of line even there.

Now that I think about, there are loads of fellows in Cross Game who are unabashed about their girlie mags. Azuma’s brother, Junpei, has a pile in his delivery van when we first meet him. Ko’s got his own stash. His dad left one lying about at one point, too.

KATE: I can’t claim to be an expert, but anecdotally, that kind of soft-core porn seems much more out in the open. Salarymen reading it on trains, etc. So is it really meant to be funny? I guess the idea that it’s a joke is less depressing than the idea that it’s meant to be serious and no one cares.

MICHELLE: I don’t think the act of reading the magazines is really supposed to be funny, just a casual thing, but I bet that Mr. Tsukishima’s antics were intended to be. For the most part, I bet Adachi uses those magazines to show that these are just regular guys and, though they may be talented, or be able to summon great dedication for something that they love, in the end they all still get goofy for teh boobies.

KATE: That’s probably true. And in that sense, the T and A quotient of this series is really not any more than you’d find on your average American sitcom. Or maybe even in Archie comics, considering how that’s been going lately.

I think as long as these things remain in the background as the series progresses they’ll continue to be ignorable offenses for the most part. My larger concern going forward is, of course, the bane of authors everywhere: the conclusion. So many authors are so incredibly talented at the beginning parts of a story. Quite a few authors can sustain a story admirably through the middle portion. But then the endings! Oh, the weak, underwritten, cop-out finales. I’m both eager and afraid to see which side Cross Game falls out on.

MICHELLE: Oh, indeed. Like I mentioned before, certain aspects of the tale can be predicted, and that’s simply because of the kind of story it is. I mean, I suppose Adachi might never allow the Seishu team to make it to Koshien, but I’d consider it highly unlikely for a sports manga to go that route. I must admit, though, that I have heard that some of his endings are rather open-ended.

KATE: I think the baseball-related developments are probably set in stone—it would be unthinkable not to see them get to Koshien eventually, though whether or not he’ll take us through the entire tournament is less determined. But the character side of the equation is where the possibility of letdown really exists. So far things there have been developing at a nice pace, so hopefully the ending won’t disappoint.

MICHELLE: I guess we will just have to wait and see!

Thanks for joining me to talk about Cross Game!

KATE: Thanks! This was a lot of fun!

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  1. And this was a lot of fun to read, too. I don’t have anything to add, though, because you actually picked up on more subtleties than I did – but I totally agree with your conclusions.

    I’m so used to the Adachi wanna-be/real lecher somewhere in his books that I simply don’t register them anymore, for example. Heh.

    • Michelle says

      Heh. I’ve got plans (oh yes, I have plans!) to import a ton of French Adachi manga, so maybe one day I’ll be able to say the same. 🙂

      And thank you!

  2. Danielle Leigh says

    great commentary! The things that bother you two are things I’ve gotten so used in the world of manga I kind of dismiss it (i.e. “It’s manga-town, Jake.”)

    I have to admit feeling much more frustration with the character of Aoba but that is because her characterization is amazingly consistent. However, she also is *unique* among Adachi heroines / lead female character and considering how much the man likes his *formula* any innovation there is a good thing. I suppose if I were Aoba’s age I’d probably find Ko annoying too, although as a reader I’m fond of him.

    • Michelle says

      I actually don’t find Aoba frustrating at all. I think we’ve seen signs that she’s growing out of her childish jealousy of him, like the lovely scene in volume three when they’re all on vacation in the country and she protects his privacy as he goes to a special spot he used to go to with Wakaba.

      • I agree that Aoba is definitely changing. Of course, she’s just as inscrutable as Ko in her own way, but all of the shots of her neutral expression say to me she’s thinking. Ko has definitely managed to surprise her quite a bit, and that’s shaking her views of him.

  3. I’ve never really considered the case of Mr. Tsukishima – as Estara says, I’m so used to seeing it that it just doesn’t register anymore (although I thought a part of why his daughters don’t make a bigger issue of it has to do with that he’s still so clearly stuck on losing both his wife and his daughter that they just put up with it because they love him anyway.)

    Personally I think he just likes doing these one-dimensional definitions of characters so that he can then add little bits of characterization to expand on them.

    I’ve already written on Aoba Tsukishima for Sean Gaffney’s Suitable Treatment blog, but I want to add, as spoiler-free as possible: future volumes is going to likely make you reread the preceding volumes and re-examine the whole ‘jealousy/annoyance’ thing. Adachi’s stuff generally holds up to re-reading for that sort of reason – little bits of elements in future stories suddenly make you re-examine previous bits. And I will be looking forward to your reaction. 🙂

    • Michelle says

      Ooh, what a tantalizing hint! 🙂 I love it when creators plant seeds in advance, because it gives me confidence that they’re absolutely sure where the story is going.

      Also, that’s a good point about Mr. Tsukishima—even while he’s acting kind of creepy, it’s still clear that he’s mourning his wife, though I’m not exactly sure how Adachi conveys this—a single wistful glance at a portrait, methinks?—so well without actually addressing it in dialogue.

      • Well, right after the first time in chapter 3 that we see Ichiyo yelling at her father for eyeing her in a school dress, the next page shows him with a melancholy air (as shown in his face expression) with a comment about another day ahead of him… while there’s a picture of his dead wife in the background. Then it draws up close on that portrait and we see “Yoko Tsukishima (41 at Death)”. And I think that’s the moment, exactly, when we realize that his wife’s still there for him.

        So yeah, I think that’s pretty much the moment. No need to actually address it. Just the flow of panels as he sees his daughters off, then Wakaba and Ko walking off together (I think this is symbolic of how life goes on), before he then settles in to open the cafe with the portrait of his wife. It’s small, it’s subtle, and you don’t even realize you’ve been handed a piece of characterization on this old man.

        • Michelle says

          I remember thinking when I first read that scene that maybe Ichiyo reminded Mr. Tsukishima of how his wife looked at that age, or even that he was sad she hadn’t lived to see Ichiyo become a high school student. I’d even be tempted to say the perviness is just a front, but later events show that’s not the case. At least he’s not actively perving on his own children!

          • You know, now that you mention it, Adachi -does- have a thing about perverse old men and young girls. Off the top of my head, I recall Rough and Miyuki. And then there’s Jinbe, which was basically about the relationship between a stepfather and his stepdaughter.

            I tend to brush it off because, well, they get added dimensions later on, and because it’s a fairly common trope in manga/anime, but looking back at Adachi’s other works, this -does- recur a fair bit too. I just ignore it because he usually adds more characterization to them and makes them more interesting than just that dimension, but you’ve given me something to chew on. It usually helps that it’s Adachi’s heroic young protagonists who yell and beat on the perverse old men, too, so it’s never shown as something acceptable, just that it is.

            Oh, and while Adachi does have a thing for open endings in his series, he’s generally writing high school characters, and dealing with ‘chapters’ of their lives. The problem is, some of those endings can cause some debate and others… just feels -right- even though they’re open-ended.

            Although in the case of Cross Game, unlike most Adachi manga, I think this really switches gears from Ko’s story to Aoba’s story at some point in Viz’s volume 3, and rather smoothly so.

            • Michelle says

              I have yet to read Rough, but plan to order the first half of it in French within a couple of weeks. So watch this space! 🙂

              And that’s an interesting point in the switch in story. Maybe it happens when, wonder of wonders, Ko actually leads the portables to a win against the varsity team. He came through.

              • You won’t regret Rough! Although you might recognize some moments in it as being homaged in Cross Game. (Personally, I love Rough more than Cross Game, though I don’t think either quite get past Touch.)

                Also, I think you may as well order the second half, because if I recall correctly, vol 6 of Rough ends on a cliffhanger.

                • Michelle says

                  Oooh. Well, it’s mostly a matter of “how much money can I afford to give to at a time?” 🙂

                  I do plan on getting Touch eventually, as well, but Rough was especially intriguing since it’s not about baseball.

                  • Quick suggestion, if that’s the case: stop at Rough vol 5- at least it’s not a cliffhanger. 🙂

                    • Michelle says

                      But… but… but then I won’t be able to review them in symmetrical chunks!

                    • Life’s rough. 🙂

                      Was just looking at Rough’s ending again, and now I’m wondering how Kate defines ‘underwritten’ – I think Adachi is more ‘understated’ than ‘underwritten’. All I know is, I thought Cross Game was unambiguous ending-wise for Adachi. 🙂

                    • Michelle says

                      You actually achieved the rare feat of making me laugh out loud. 🙂

                      And understated sounds lovely to me; unambiguous is just icing on the cake!

                    • For me, underwritten means the author builds and builds and then has no clue how to come up with a satisfying conclusion, so it kind of just ends on a big ol’ meh. They come up with something that feels rushed, poorly supported by previous plot, or just use some lame cop-out like, they’re all actually dead! This phenomenon isn’t confined just to serial fiction; in fact it’s most common in television. (Still bitter about Lost? Hmmm….)

                      For manga, the one that springs immediately to mind as a prime example is Ranma, where the ending was just supremely unsatisfying and annoying after such a lengthy series.

          • I definitely read that particular scene as him being interrupted in some other train of thought and coming up with the reply to Ichiyo deflect deeper inquiry.

            But yeah, nothing can excuse the peeping at girls in the batting cage bit from later. (Though that’s presented rather jokily too.)

            • (apparently there’s a limit to how many boxes within a box I can reply!)

              The closest you’re ever going to get with ‘underwritten’ with Adachi is essentially ‘heavily implied’, but not -definitive-.

              If you’re at all familiar with O. Henry, then you probably know the style – understated conclusions that lets you work out exactly what happened.

              Actually… I’d swear I recall Michelle reviewing Short Program, in which case, she’s more likely to understand what I’m getting at about Adachi’s endings. Those are usually the kind of endings he gives to his serials.

              (Although I must say, if you -really- want to find an Adachi ending that’s -really- understated, Hiatari Ryouko takes the cake!)

              • Maybe you misread my comment. I was speaking of endings in -general- as being underwritten, not making accusations about Adachi in particular.

                In general, my experience with all authors has been that the promise and build up of a series has not correlated with a strong conclusion — a strong conclusion not necessarily requiring a definitive and detailed end, but to leave one with a sense of satisfaction rather than let down.

                I merely expressed my hope that Adachi would fall among the much smaller group who -does- manage a decent ending rather than the very large group that experiences varying degrees of failure.

      • And I confess – I didn’t even realize -where- I had that impression about Mr. Tsukishima till I went looking for it!

  4. Fantastic discussion – thanks for this! I’m a long-time Adachi fanatic (Digit and I are friends, and worked on finishing up the Touch scanlations), so it’s been really great to see the enthusiastic and positive reaction to the manga during this MMF. I desperately hope that CG does well enough for other Adachi manga to be brought to America, especially H2. I actually own a few volumes in Japanese even though I can’t read it at all.

    Like Digit and Estara, I simply don’t register the perverted dads anymore – Mr. Tsukishima is nothing compared to Keisuke’s dad from Rough, for example (also mostly played for laughs – though, like CG, he does have some redeeming qualities).

    One thing to watch with Aoba is the way she lies to everyone, herself included, about her feelings involving Ko. In a way, I think she took Waka’s death worse than anyone, and the war between her desire to believe in the Ko who can achieve Waka’s dream (and who impresses her, like it or not) and her feeling that admitting an interest in Ko would be the ultimate betrayal of Wakaba is a long one. The way this plays out – and Ko’s reaction to it – makes for a really fascinating dynamic, and I think you’ll enjoy the ultimate resolution. Adachi really does go for understated endings, but Cross Game’s is one of his more definitive ones and it’s a far cry from the disaster that is Ranma (oh, Takahashi, why couldn’t you write anything as awesome as Maison Ikkoku ever again?)

    Do read more Adachi – Rough is fantastic, and actually has my favorite Adachi couple. The first seven volumes of Touch are some of the best manga ever written. And H2 is my favorite, with the most interesting overall character dynamic (and the only genuine romantic uncertainty). It also has two ‘perfect’ chapters – chapter 37, which should be shown to every aspiring manga artist in order to illustrate how to tell a story with subtlety (he illustrates the main conflict of the manga beautifully, with almost no dialogue, in about seven pages), and chapter 213, which I can’t really say much about because of spoilers but which is just beautiful.

    • Thanks for the comment! I would love to see H2 in English, though it is quite long. But that’s another one that’s available in French, so it’s on my wishlist, as are Rough, KATSU!, and Touch. They’ve actually got Short Program volumes three and four over there, too (btw, Digit, here are my reviews of volumes one and two) so I will be sending them many, many euros. 🙂

      You bring up a good point about Aoba, and how feeling something for Ko would be a betrayal of Wakaba. I know there’s been at least one instance so far when she remembered her sister saying “Don’t take him from me” (maybe not an exact quote). Since everyone else seems to be trying so hard to preserve Wakaba’s dreams, maybe Aoba feels like she’d be shattering the most important one if she were to let herself feel something for him.

      • I just have to say I find it amusing, that this German has imported from the US since she had her own money (and even before, on the allowance I got from my parents as a student) to fulfill her craving for certain English genre authors, manga and comics – and you now import from Europe to the US for basically a similar reason – get it in some format you understand even if it’s not your native language.

        • Heh. Exactly. And it’s not that I can read German at all (and my French is awful) but that Google Translate can handle these languages far more easily than it can Japanese. Also, Book Depository’s existence makes this easier. I wish they carried French stuff, but their German manga selection is awesome.


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