After a nice, long 50 episode run, we’ve come to the end of Cross Game, the anime adaptation of a manga by a relatively well known author – Mitsuru Adachi. If you’ve read other articles on this site, this name might also be familiar as he is the author of one of my favourite anime series – Touch. Back in the 80s when Touch first aired, it garnered relatively massive ratings (still undefeated by any anime series, if I recall correctly). After watching Cross Game, it seems that while the times have changed, Adachi certainly hasn’t. I’ve often heard people jokingly say that Adachi merely keeps retelling essentially the same story over and over again. While I’ve only experienced two of his works, it isn’t really all too difficult to notice the immense similarities between Cross Game and Touch. Yet while Touch was basking in popularity in its heyday (in Japan and parts of Europe, that is), Cross Game passed by relatively quietly, with fairly small ratings and not a great deal of attention. Perhaps what I consider to be one of Cross Game’s strength’s resulted in its weakness in the ratings – and by that I mean Adachi’s old-fashioned approach to his story, characters, and setting.
Yes, if you’re like me – a huge fan of classic shows in this genre like Maison Ikkoku which took a slow and steady approach to character development and plot, Cross Game is really an exceptional treat. They just don’t make a lot of anime anime of this sort anymore – it seems most longer shows are reserved for popular shonen franchises like Naruto and not for character-oriented “slice of life” shows like this one. Cross Game itself isn’t nearly as long as the two shows I have mentioned above – both of which ran for over 100 episodes. Yet I feel that I have a sense now of what it must have been like to follow the cast of Touch week after week for years, as their original audience did. We (fans of the show) followed Cross Game week by week, eating up all of the gradual developments in each episode, for nearly an year until its end, and that process builds an attachment to characters that rarely occurs when you consume bite-sized anime season by season, moving from one to the next without much impact.
As with Touch, Cross Game combines elements of sports drama, comedy, romance, and school life into one youthful, down-to-earth package that’s easy to love. Adachi repeats a lot of ideas that defined that earlier story, the most noticeable being dedication to the memory of a loved one and the devotion to fulfilling a promise made to them. In Cross Game, the two main characters are Kou and Aoba, two high school students who love baseball but have slightly more ambiguous feelings for one another. Cross Game is a lot lighter on the baseball and heavier on the friendship/romance drama. Whereas Touch often transformed into a straight baseball drama for long stretches of episodes, matches rarely go very long in Cross Game and are very clearly a secondary element to the story. After watching inventive baseball series like Ookiku Furikabutte! , Adachi’s sportswriting doesn’t feel quite as compelling, so it isn’t exactly an unwelcome change. Filling in the holes caused by the minimal sports sequences is an abundance of heartfelt and charming character moments, which is really where Adachi’s strength lies. Furthermore, the series also exudes a greater sense of polish in its pacing and storytelling – a clear improvement over the sometimes rough (though charming) execution of Touch.
Where Cross Game also has an advantage over Touch (sorry, I just can’t help making the comparisons) is in a more well-defined extended cast. Touch had many supporting characters who would often disappear and reappear after long stretches – or merely pop up in the sidelines for an occasional insight (I’m looking at you, Harada). In Cross Game, however, you get the feeling that Adachi has a firmer idea of where every additional character fits into the grander scheme of things, and their appearances are more consistent, excluding one – a cousin of Aoba’s who seems to be a misguided idea by Adachi to introduce a love triangle into the series. Having said that, I will make note that the second half of the series introduces a character named Akane whose presence and impact on the story originates around a coincidental quirk, and I was left feeling a little bit uncomfortable at the role that the character quickly assumed based at least partly on what was essentially a meaningless coincidence. That’s not to say she is a bad or purposeless character – I just have to wonder if that one particular aspect of her needed to be emphasized as much as it was. (This is of course purely subjective – as well as difficult to communicate at all without revealing spoilers).
One aspect of the series that deserves a mention is the excellent background music by Kotaro Nakagawa. Generally quiet with various thematic ideas drifting along, it does a great job of accentuating the emotional content of several scenes and left me with a fairly distinct impression, regardless of its technical simplicity. Unfortunately, there appears to be no OST release – perhaps due to lack of mass interest, or perhaps due to the short length of many of the tracks. And then there’s the excellent OP, “Summer Rain” which anchored the show throughout its run. As far as other technical qualities like art go, Cross Game isn’t going to win awards, as it essentially updates Adachi’s classic Touch style to a crisper but generally simplistic presentation. Nonetheless, there are no overt flaws and does its job adequately.
Back when the show was still in the middle of its run, I would complain at the lack of activity online (including blogs) pertaining to Cross Game – and then realized that I myself was guilty of the same thing. This is because Cross Game, in my opinion, isn’t really a show that lends itself to continuous analysis or discussion – most posts I attempted to write about it generally devolved into a laundry list of “favourite” scenes. That’s what you should expect from the show – not exactly unpredictable, but wholly enjoyable and charming through and through. If you’ve seen Touch, or perhaps another Adachi series, Cross Game is probably the most refined version of Adachi’s general style, and it is certainly one of the best series in its genre in the past few years. So why hasn’t Cross Game replaced Touch in my favourites list? In this case, its simply a case of the first exposure having greater impact. The Adachi style was fresh to me during Touch, while I was familiar with it already in Cross Game. I have no doubt that those who watch CG without having seen earlier Adachi works will feel about it the same way I do about Touch.
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