When Koh was eleven years old, he lived a quiet and peaceful life, delivering sporting goods for his family's store and batting frequently at the Tsukishima Batting Center. Though Koh had no interest in baseball, he started the play the sport anyways after a series of events, much to the delight of his best friend, the beautiful Wakaba Tsukishima. However, soon life dealt Koh a tragic turn, changing him forever. Now, years later, Koh attends Seishuu Academy and is soon pulled back into the world of baseball. Alongside Wakaba's talented sister, Aoba; old friend and fighter Nakanishi; and plenty of new teammates and companions, Koh will once more pick up the pitcher's mitt and see if he has what it takes to be a champion.
StoryBefore embarking on Cross Game I kept wondering how it might be any different to Major, that other baseball show I adore. And the answer is, in every single way. Major’s Goro Honda is a dull-brained baseball maniac while Cross Game’s Kou Kitamura has wit and no especial love for the game. Goro wouldn’t recognise a woman if one happened to burst from his rib, but Kou has a best friend who is cute, intelligent, perfect for him, and he knows it. In Major, baseball comes first and drama second; in Cross Game, the drama circumscribes the baseball. Having reached that conclusion roughly nine minutes into the first episode, I decided to stop comparing the two. This would be a completely different experience. This would be smart and witty and subtle - and hell yes maybe even a little arty with all those contemplative gazes everyone keeps throwing each other. The show starts slowly, deliberately holding back on Kou’s incredible talent while dropping definite hints that viewers should not take their eyes off him. Kou himself may feel apathetic about baseball but his team mates look to him as the secret weapon, even going to extraordinary lengths to hide his training from opponents. And that’s generally the kind of steady confidence viewers can expect for the remainder; most of the time, Cross Game stews with a tension that builds and builds and peaks victoriously during rip-roaring baseball games. Original creator Mitsuru Adachi’s (Touch, H2) preference for subtle, extended characterisation in the context of fragile romance is very much in evidence here. The characters live in a stable suburban environment and their core beliefs are never challenged, giving Adachi much room to languidly reveal their facets through delicate reactions and quirky humour. Kou’s will-they-won’t-they romance with resident heroine Aoba Tsukishima benefits greatly from this as their complex personalities clash and meld in all the right places. The result is an emotional double-pronged plot comprising cute romance and visceral baseball tournaments. Unfortunately, no matter how ingenious a series, there is always room for things to go tits up. If any show struck home this truism, it’s the beautifully crafted yet bafflingly clumsy Cross Game. There are omens of its decline beforehand, namely the frequent references to Kou’s friend, Wakaba. Despite her loose relevance to the immediate events at hand, Adachi is never quite able to get rid of her. At least every other episode, she will pop up in flashbacks or photographs or someone will mention her in a conversation; she ends up haunting the narrative with the subtlety of a poltergeist, rattling our patience and marring an otherwise graceful record. What strikes the decisive blow, though, is An Almighty Twist around the thirtieth episode that manages to be both tactless and wholly unbelievable. At that point, Adachi’s refined sensibility and intuition seemingly evaporate into nothing and the narrative, theretofore flying on wings of homely drama, swiftly sinks like a slider. It doesn’t all fall apart, exactly, but the narrative’s store of unconditional trust gets exhausted and the developments thereafter never feel as convincing.AnimationAdachi’s concept design of monkey-eared, baby-faced pretty kids is endearing and expressive but also highly limited. From Touch to Short Program, his protagonists look identical, and Kou seems to be yet another clone. Apart from that, the realistic, muted colour tones and simple environments create an attractive understated effect.SoundNo one will remember Cross Game for its soundtrack because most of the scenes prefer to go au naturale. Mostly, the music stays away until called upon to add zest to the action, and then it does so while on repeat. The various opening and closing themes, on the other hand, work well as catchy and emotive bookends to the drama in between. I wouldn’t buy any of the songs, but rarely did I skip them either.CharactersJust before a big game that will decide their dreams for Koushien, Aoba asks a friend Yuuhei Azuma whether they can rely on Kou to deliver. Azuma: He does seem usually unreliable. But… Aoba: But? Azuma: He’s too much of a mystery. Kou’s mystery, his lackadaisical stoicism, is precisely what generates much of the show’s subtler intrigue. Miyu Irino plays Kou with a level-headed and highly likeable irony: he delivers dead-pan asides and faces both friends and foes with a neutral friendliness that gives nothing away. More so because his rare unguarded moments actually reveal that, behind his slacker persona, the cogs are sturdily turning. Even if he appears to be indifferent to baseball itself, he still has a powerful reason for playing. He makes for an intriguing mix of the traditional shounen hero who glides over adversity with trained aloofness and the modern man who is nonetheless intelligent and self-aware. Aoba’s heroic, hot-tempered passion thus makes for an instantly engaging contrast. She plays second fiddle to no one, becoming Kou’s mentor and a key trainer of the Seishuu team. She represents not just Kou’s love interest but the other half of Cross Game, bringing an intelligent, strategic passion that Kou struggles to express. Adachi creates in her that rare shounen female character who is as capable and dedicated as her male counterparts. Kou’s understated charisma and her trained expertise play off each other wonderfully and form the pillar propping the show’s overhanging charm. A few of the secondary characters, notably straight-talking Azuma and comic relief Senda, make their own unique impression. But there is also deadweight. Cousin Mizuki arrives at Aoba’s household one fine day with the intention of winning her heart… and then mills around uselessly in the background like a tired gag for the rest of the time. Mizuki and his pointless ilk frustrate only because Adachi shows great talent when creating other engaging walk-ons like Aoba’s sister Momiji, Azuma’s brother Junpei, and the highly feared baseball opponent Mishima.OverallCross Game delivers gently rolling romantic drama spiced with baseball games that will send viewers flying from their seats - and all this driven by quaint and lovable characters. Although Adachi seems to forget what to do with it all two thirds of the way, Cross Game nevertheless turns out to be a rare, multifaceted experience that shounen fans should grab at the next opportunity.
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.
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.
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