Friday, February 10, 2012

Manga Review: Cross Game (Omnibus volume 1)

I never saw the anime version of Cross Game, it simply never caught my interest, but I have heard all of the heaps and heaps of praise that people gave it. I've also seen several people, who I don't believe have seen the anime, praise the manga quite a bit so when I came across the first volume at the local library there wasn't any reason not to check it out. Viz has made the (wise IMO) choice to publish this series in a set of omnibus editions that each combine three volumes from the original Japanese release so it's a hefty book but I feel like it gave me a really good feeling for the series.

Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi
Summary: Fifth-grader Ko Kitamura is more of a salesman than a baseball player but he enjoys hitting a few balls at the batting range owned by Tsukihima family. Of course he could be going over there to see his classmate and sorta-kinda girlfriend Wakaba, it's certainly what her sister Aoba suspects, but for the moment he's just taking life easy. Fast-forward four years and Ko still isn't really a baseball player but he finds himself playing the game more and more, and getting better and better than his peers, and finds the game becoming a bigger and bigger part of his life. 

The Good: For fans of the slice of life or sports genres Cross Game is something you should really check out, either the manga or the anime, since it works really well for both of those. While it's more than a tad unbelievable how good at baseball some of the characters are, given that they're all under 18, it's done well enough that it's not going to really bother anyone. The story is already spending a lot of time developing it's characters so it's clear that it's setting up for a long haul so again, most slice of life or sports fans are going to see a lot of things they really like about the genres in here done well and will enjoy it.

The Bad: This is a slow series and, as someone who generally enjoys a slow series, this was almost too slow for me. A lot of anime viewers will say "AND THEN THE END OF THE FIRST EPISODE HAPPENS!" but here the manga readers have to say "AND THEN THERE'S THE END OF THE FIRST VOLUME," there is actually little enough plot-wise going on that nine or 10 short chapters were able to be adapted into one anime episode. Other than that, after the time-skip the characters are starting to enter high school and the characters suddenly start having deep discussions about baseball and how unfair it is that the secondary team are treated more as staff than players. They think and speak more like old men than 15/16 year olds and I found that really jarring, enough that it kept taking me out of the story and the characters ceased to feel real.

The Art: The story takes care to introduce every character which is a good thing, while the characters look kinda distinctive from each other they looked close enough that I had trouble telling a lot of the side characters apart. Also, there's a four year time skip yet the characters don't seem to age at all, I was surprised to find out that the characters are supposed to be in the ninth/tenth grades, they still look like they're 11. The designs are consistent however and the backgrounds are well drawn so there's no problems with the art, I just normally don't have much trouble telling minor characters apart from each other and had some trouble here.

In the end, I was disappointed by this. It was too slow, the characters felt like fiction characters instead of people and I just couldn't empathize with their problems at all. I'll admit that the "twist" is one I'm exceptionally snarky about so it made me roll my eyes instead of having the normal emotional response and I just don't see myself checking out the next volume. My library does have it if I get the urge but for the moment I think I'll leave it for someone else to check out.