NOTE: This review was posted on a forum I am active on in a thread about anime. Parts of this review may be affected by that. This review was written on October 2, 2010. It contains ever-so-slight spoilers for the animes Clannad and Toradora!
STORY … 8.5/10
This category is going to depend a lot on the viewer's interpretation of the story. Some could dislike it because it's just about a high school baseball team trying to make their way to Koshien--but I think that's too shallow-minded (lol ucwidt). The story is indeed about a baseball team trying to go to Koshien, but you have to also remember that there are many other sub-plots, much like Clannad, and the show is pushed by the characters in combination with the storyline. Much like I expected, trying to say that Cross Game is about baseball is similar to saying that Clannad is about the drama club... yes, Cross Game has much more baseball in it than Clannad had drama club, but that's only one side of the story. I am trying to both stay out of the area of Character and stay clean of spoilers, but really, what pushes the team (or at least Kou, Aoba, and Akaishi) to keep going and to do their best to make it to Koshien... it's Wakaba! She's the one that is pushing them to go for it in her own special way.
Later in the show, as well, more sub-plots are added with Yuuhei, Junpei (Azuma), Akane, Risa (Team coach/actress), Mizuki (Aoba's cousin), and even Mishima (Ryuou's best batter). All these people bring their own mini stories into the picture, and add that in to the overall connection they all have through baseball, and you've got quite a story going.
One of my favorite parts of the series was in episode 30, when they just replayed the first episode over again. Things were much more emotional after 28 episodes of connecting with these characters and then seeing what happens in the first episode.
A final word about the story is this: Cross Game does a 100% FANTASTIC job at keeping you clueless as to what the next step is. In every single baseball game it's not like you can say, "Oh, this is TV, and they're the good guys, so they're going to win." NO. It's not like that at all. They do an amazing job at keeping you totally clueless as to who's going to end up with who, what's going to happen to so-and-so, and most of all, who's going to win this game of baseball. I found myself cheering for Seishu Academy more than I've ever cheered for any sports teams... even in real life. And that's saying something. It's completely believable that the team might lose this game and the story will still continue on. There really is no way to tell for sure what's going to happen in the future... that's what got me most about Cross Game. You never know what's next and you're not sure what the final outcome is going to be. With Clannad, you knew that the end would be Nagisa on stage... with Toradora! you knew that ______ would end up with ______... It was not that way with Cross Game. You really didn't know how things would end up, at all. And that's probably what I loved about Cross Game the most other than the characters.
ANIMATION … 8.5/10
I loved the way everything in Cross Game was drawn. At first it was kind of strange to me: just the way the faces looked, but after 10 episodes you learn that those faces are much more and you start to love them. There's not much I can say about the animation, but I did pick up on some excellent work every now and then when a batter would swing, especially during the Woman's National Baseball Team try-outs. That animation was excellent. Other than that, more memorable animation was during the first and second episodes, as well as the final game that Seishu plays in the show and the final scene at the train station. Great work on the animation; nothing completely outstanding, but nothing to be (k)nit-picky about.
SOUND … 8/10
I have only a few complaints about the sound, mainly the sound when they pitch kinda sounds a little over-dramatic. Instead of just swush it's SHWSHHHHHHH! Yeah he's throwing crazy fast pitches but it just kinda bugged me. Otherwise, I didn't really like the third ending song, but the opening and the first and fourth endings both make up for that. I absolutely love the opening. LOVE. It's a great song.
I remember making a mental note that the sound effects were really good when it came to background noise. Crowds cheering, cicadas hissing, and in general around-the-house and at the Tsukishima batting center, they had background sounds that just kinda stuck out. I normally don't pay any attention at all to those kind of things so I don't have any idea whether or not it was better than anything else, but it just kinda stood out to me near the end of the series. :p
CHARACTERS … 10/10
Like I said before, the characters are the highlight of this series when combined with the storyline. Even the characters like Azuma and Akaishi who I absolutely hated at the beginning I grew to love over time. Another series with outstanding characters. It feels like I'm repeating myself for the eighth time or something because all the anime I've watched so far has great characters. But it's true.
Kitamura Kou - My favorite character in the series. I don't know what it is specifically that makes me like him so much... but I just love him. xD I like how he's reserved and quiet and keeps his feelings to himself, but not to a giant extent, and so he's still upbeat and light-hearted, and his jokes with Aoba are great. I loved when he grabbed her that one time and he had such a srs bzns face on, and then asks if he can use a pot of her's. Hahaha that was great. If you just look at the picture at the top of this post it basically portray's Kou's personality underneath.
Tsukishima Aoba - Such an awesome girl. I love her snobby personality, and her last line in the series that she actually speaks summarizes her character so well... I'll avoid actually saying that for spoilers' sake. But her attitude toward guys in general is hilarious. They always piss her off so much and she ends up slapping them.
Azuma Yuuhei - As I said before, I didn't like him much at first. I didn't dislike him, but I didn't have anything that made me root for him or anything, especially when he was with that Daimon jerk. For quite a while after that I didn't like him just because he was so bleh and plain, but later on, especially near the end when his character starts to really show through, especially through him giving up his own interests for his friends, I really started liking him a lot. His subtlety and quiet nature on top hide a courteous, loyal, and selfless gentleman who's a great guy to have on your side.
On top of these three characters, there are many, many more supporting roles such as Akaishi, Akane, Junpei, Ichiyo, and the Seishu Baseball Team Coach. All the characters play a great role in the story, and are loveable at every moment.
Overall, Cross Game was a very pleasant anime and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves calm, laid-back shows.