Why Cross Game Will Restore your Faith in Humanity

How about a little trip back in time?

Author’s Note: Recently VVV tweeted me about Cross Game, which got me thinking about this show for the first time in a while.  He made reference to the soundtrack, which got me thinking about “Koi Kogarete Mita Yume” (the first ED), which got me listening to it.  That brought all the feels flooding back in, and all of a sudden the feeling came over me that I should really watch this show again.  Well – I went to Youtube and plugged in “Cross Game” and the first hit to come up was Episode 47.  If you know Cross Game, I don’t need to say anything else – it’s fate.

It’s a new year, and just for fun I thought I would top this post – the first I ever did on LiA (June 14, 2010, 7:43 AM PDST), not counting the introduction post.  If there are any of you out there who still haven’t seen this masterpiece, there’s no time like the present.  I watched the first couple of episode (and #47) and it hits me just as hard now as it did then.  Enjoy…

As I understand it, these blog things are basically a chance to spout off about whatever interests you. As such, I suppose in my case that might be anime, Japanese things in general, politics, wine, complaining about my job. By my reckoning it’s unlikely anyone will care too much, so it doesn’t really matter.

So, I may as well start off by telling you why you should watch an anime (which if you’re not already a fan of anime, you probably won’t do anyway) that doesn’t get much attention, even among the hard-core geek set.

Basically, it’s about these two:

Namely, Kitamura Kou and Tsukishima Aoba. If you’re not a fan of anime you’re just about to dismiss this as a post about cartoon characters and stop reading. Thanks for stopping by. For the rest of you who’ve already figured out that animation doesn’t mean the same thing in Japan that it does here, I’ll tell you why these two people are worth 20 hours of your life.

Really, this is a post about a guy named Mitsuru Adachi. He’s a manga-ka (that’s a manga writer, if someone from the first group decided to stick around) who burst onto the scene in Japan 30 years ago with a manga called “Touch”. While not his first published work, it was the one that introduced him to the Japanese consciousness. It wouldn’t be wrong to say “Touch” became an integral part of Japanese life – during the 80’s, the two most popular boys’ and most popular girls’ name in Japan were the three main characters. It spawned a TV series, several animated and live-action films, and a career.

Adachi is a living legend, if not the commercial dynamo he was. He’s written several series since (how’s that for alliteration) “Touch”, most of them sports themed in some way and always about teenagers. But here’s the trick with Adachi – sports is just the hook, the easel on which he paints. The real art here is the people, and the way they interact with each other. And what is it about Adachi that makes him special – that elevates his work above weekly magazine reading for the trip to work on the Yamanote line and raises it to the level of art? He knows the secret that eludes writers everywhere – the more emotion is inherent in a situation, the less you have to spell it out.

The premise of Cross Game is really impossible to describe without entirely spoiling the wonderful first episode (or volume, if you choose to read the manga first). Like all Adachi plots, it’s deceptively simple but packed with hidden emotional trauma – childhood playmates growing into young adults, tragedy, struggle against injustice. But all this is played out against a backdrop of everyday life. it unfolds at a leisurely pace, because it has to – Adachi isn’t going to tell you what the characters are feeling. Not in words, anyway – but in the their actions, and in what they don’t say as much as what they do. In the way they slowly change in their perception of each other and themselves. In this way, the observer subtly becomes aware of the changes before the participants themselves seem to – much as often happens in real life. Adachi is all about an economy of emotion – a look, a word, a laugh can carry more meaning than an entire episode of dialogue from a typical show.

Without spoiling too much, the other thing that makes Cross Game so spectacular is the two people above. Complex, flawed, not entirely honest with themselves or each other. They become incredibly real as the story slowly progresses. Kou, especially, is Adachi’s greatest creation – a seemingly normal kid dealing with unusually harsh circumstances, his intelligence, courage and competitive spirit is slowly revealed over the course of the story. And Aoba is his match, his perfect foil. They play off each other in myriad and amusing ways, only over time exposing the raw and powerful nature of their relationship.

I could go on and on about the other reasons why this story is so special – the incredible supporting characters, the music, the ending… But this is already a very long post. Quite simply, go watch it (or read it) with all possible haste. Even if you’re not an anime person, or not a “sports manga” person, allow yourself to be surprised. You won’t regret it.



  1. i

    Cross Game is one of the best manga I've ever read. I had never read a sports manga before Cross Game, but I was blown away by how sophisticated this one was. It seems silly that of all things, a sports manga, could become one of my favorites, but it just goes to show that this story is about so much more. Adachi is a master of dialogue and his drawings, while simplistic, convey more than words. Subtext is Adachi's forte, and it's amazing how he manages to tie together a string of metaphors into a message that will literally take your breath away, all with only few lines. The pain and joy these characters simultaneously express feels real when you read it. Aoba and Koh have such an irresistible dynamic that I found myself counting down the days until each chapter was released. They are both so similar, both unable to move past their tragedy, and while they pretend to be straightforward people, by the end of the series, they both know they aren't.

    I could go on and on about this manga, but let's just say I agree with you. 🙂

    Have you read Rough by Adachi? It's absolutely fantastic. (Its ending might be my favorite of all time… maybe… well, it's up there…) Cross Game beats it only slightly for me 🙂

  2. No, still have not read Rough. It's on my short list for sure. Have you read Touch?

  3. e

    Rough is good. It's my favourite among all the Adachi's works I've read actually, because on top of the characters I could appreciate the sport parts themselves much more (yay swimming!).

  4. i

    I did read it, though I accidentally read some crucial spoilers beforehand, so it didn't hit me as hard unfortunately. I've read Katsu! which was pretty good. Still need to read Miyuki and H2 though…
    I've also been keeping up with Q&A and Over Fence. They're so new though that it's hard to make any judgements at the moment. 🙂

  5. G

    I never could get into Q & A – just didn't feel like Adachi to me. I liked the first chapter of Over Fence, though.

  6. i

    Same! I'm still holding out for Q&A to do something cool, but it hasn't impressed me much at all. Over Fence's first chapter was really good though. I wish I could find more translations of it!

  7. A

    Great post on my favorite manga/anime series. I still enjoy the flashy visuals, cute girls, and violent action of more conventional anime (although as I get older, I find some types of series less appealing), but Cross Game always existed on another level for me–and Kou truly is an amazing character. He goes through most of the series with a profound sadness shadowing him, made all the more poignant since Kou doesn't even allow himself the relief of self-pity, and there are scenes in the manga where Kou seems so terribly alone, surrounded by well meaning friends he appreciates, but only one other person can truly understand the scale of his loss, and that person tries to deny it for much of the story. All the while, he has a sense of mischief that makes him a believable teenager, and a competitiveness that lets him find greatness on the field.

  8. Wow – very well-put. I wish I'd said it!

  9. A

    I didn't regret it in the least. Thank you.

  10. S

    Heh, I went and watched the anime, and I certainly don't regret it. Such a good story.

  11. That it is – one of the best, in my opinion.

  12. A

    Thank you. 🙂

  13. A

    Thanks for the recommendation. I watched the series and I think it will remain my favorite for some time.

  14. e

    I remember this post – archive digging reading funtimes – . The Rough rec is still valid btw.
    While I've read the CG manga I never tried the anime. I think I'll check it out after I finish Major… currently watching the finel three episodes of s2.
    What about dusting up those wine reviews while we are at it? You might even branch out to sake, Denki Bran and best places in Tokyo for coffee :p.

  15. E

    What a coincidence! I just finished re-watching the entire series over the holidays. Cross Game is definitely my favorite sports anime of all time. Truly a magnificent masterpiece!

  16. i

    jinrui wa suitai shimashita was what restored my faith in humanity

  17. And carrot-juice bread.

  18. i

    Or live headless, skinned chickens falling into a church while someone sang Ave Maria. I had an epiphany in that moment – it is the funniest scene in the history of anime.

  19. Z

    "No negative picture books allowed".

  20. m

    Kitamura Kou really is one of the best male leads in any anime (possibly any show of any kind) that I've seen. The content was above and beyond any other of Adachi's work IMO. Which is saying something considering how good his other work is overall, but this one just feels like it was written perfectly. Enough so to make me not remotely bothered by the ridiculousness of his drawings.

  21. K

    Although I'm not wholly enthused by sports in general, remarkable character dynamics entices me most of the time. I'm expecting this to restore my humanity before the classes resume. Thanks. 😀

  22. N

    I was just going over your Anime Recommendations two days ago, and decided I had to watch Cross Game someday, and now comes this post and it made me realize that 'someday' is, in fact today. I am now two episodes in and very grateful. So thank you, Enzo, for Cross Game, for Ginga e Kickoff, for Seirei no moribito and for other past and future gems that I would most likely had missed it weren't you. I'll continue relying on you this year as well. kotoshimo, yoroshiku!

  23. s

    "the more emotion is inherent in a situation, the less you have to spell it out"

    I would say "the less you have to spell it out, the more inherent the emotion in a situation becomes" (Flipping the order of the sentence drastically changes its meaning). The world is filled with inherently emotional situations, circumstances, expressions, and ques that affect the human heart in powerful ways; and yet when writers try to pull from these situations to create powerful, moving scenes, many of them tend to screw it up or not deliver it to a tee. It's when the writer starts forcing their voice within these inherently emotional situations, shouting on the top of their lungs and trying to spell things out for you, that the honest emotion gets muffled out to oblivion and the viewer/reader cannot hear it any longer. When the writer drinks some soothing tea, calms down a bit, and shuts the hell up, then the emotion is no longer drowned out and we can hear it more clearly.

    Just yesterday i was watching the 5th Kara no Kyokai movie (dont know how many people have seen these series of movies but their great so check em out) and there's a scene right at the end (wont spoil it) where no words are exchanged. Its just a well directed, abstract, and emotional gripping scene done with spectacular music and subtle actions; Superb scene. Now that is how you handle emotion (in the context of that scene that is)

  24. Sonic, I think both can be true, and are in this case.

    Nadavu, you're very welcome.

  25. J

    Agreed! Cross game is an incredible mix of slice of life, comedy, drama and sports that's well worth a watch <3
    Character development is definitely one of this series' stronger suits, so much so that coming to the end of the series felt like a bittersweet farewell with Aoba and Kou.
    Would be lovely if they could have given us an OVA or a short clip so we'll know how they're faring in the future (:

  26. K

    I can't remember exactly, but a post about Cross Game was posted sometime in the summer, and it finally convinced me to watch this series. It was most certainly NOT a way to procrastinate during exam period. I typically avoid marathoning long (26+) series, since I usually find it quite draining, but Cross Game was truly a joy to watch. The dynamics between Kou and Aoba were so fun and endearing to watch, while the supporting cast remained extremely relevant throughout. I can not think of another series where a character who is not physically present can have such a prominent presence in the story that impacts the entire main cast.
    The great characters, the romantic undertones, and the shounen sports setting all meshed together extremely well to deliver an outstanding series.

    Enzo recommendations deliver, as always. As an aside, I spent the better part of today marathoning WA 2, and my only regret was not watching it while it aired.

  27. S

    Cross Game is also for me one of my all-time favourites anime. I can still remember watching the first 20 episodes or so during semester holidays and then convincing my sister to watch the series together with me from the beginning again because it was so good.

    Cross Game also introduced me to the band Kobukuro through their OP song "Summer Rain". Several of their songs and the ED song from Ayaka are still on my MP3 player.

    I think its about time to finally start reading one of Adachi's manga. Thanks for mentioning "Rough" in the above comments!

  28. S

    Ah, Cross Game, I still occasionally play Natsuko Kondo's Rehearsal (ED3) and Koi Suru Otome (ED4) on my playlist.

  29. S

    Great shout out! I love Cross Game, especially Miyu Miyu's performance as Kou :3

  30. The best so far of a brilliant career, IMO.

  31. J

    Seeing othrs discuss cross game always gives me a warm feeling in my heart. Btw did over the fence manga end at one chapter or is it only the scanlations that ended.

  32. Over Fence, sadly, is one of many Adachi manga that he bailed on midway through. I rather liked it, too.

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