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Cross Game Review

Cross Game is 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.

6 responses so far

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6 Responses to “Cross Game Review”

  1. Kimon Apr 1st 2010

    A very nicely written review. Cross Game was by far my favorite anime of the past season and in fact my favorite anime in a long time. However even as a huge fan of this series I also found it was hard to talk about. I felt Cross Game wasn’t really so much about the plot twists and major events but more about spending time with these wonderful characters from week to week & watching them grow up. That’s just something that is hard to talk about on message boards & blogs week to week but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t enjoying every episode of the show.

    I am also in the middle of reading the Touch manga now. I like it a lot as well but that being said I do think I prefer Cross Game. I just like the characters a bit more.

  2. mit7059on Jun 8th 2010

    You should go back and read the last 30 or so chapters of the manga, I was actually very disappointed in the ending of the anime, while it was the same as the manga it felt very rushed and compressed to me, the drama just wasn’t the same. Maybe it just felt so drawn out though because it took Adachi forever to do those last 30 chapters, especially the last 15. You should really look at some of Adachi’s lesser known mangas as well, I really enjoyed Katsu! and Rough, especially Katsu!, I think I liked them both more than H2 which is also certainly worth reading.

  3. gdpettion Mar 10th 2014

    I was going through a list of ‘favorites’ that others have posted and after seeing Moshidora, I really wasn’t in the mood to watch sports another… so to the end of the list it went.

    It ended up being the best of them all, perhaps because I could fill in those missing years that aren’t mentioned in either the manga or anime. Adachi hints at it later with the throwing to the wall in the street, a good scene that leaves out the home’s older inhabitants in the anime… I think… I’d have to watch it again, but that scene and others could have been used more in flashbacks in the anime version, as in the manga, you can stop and put things on pause, something you can’t do in the anime… unless you get it on disk, but again, I filled in the blank of the older guy’s feelings when he talked with his wife about why he didn’t go yell at the kid throwing the ball days on end after school… there were a few scenes like that that really would have helped out.

    I agree with the cousin comments here and elsewhere, that it was a waste of time, seemed like a Senda2 comic intrusion like many serial tv family shows that after a couple of seasons, will add a new kid to freshen or liven things up, and maybe it’s a Japanese thing, but the whole kin relationship thing is a little weird to my Western mind, and Adachi seems to use this a lot, and in his current ‘Mix’ storyline as well… not sure what’s up with that, if not kin, then a close neighbor like in Touch… but that’s understandable, like here in Cross Game.

    I sort of like the easy going opening song, but the lyrics really don’t tell anything about the story like the ending theme does in a very dramatic way. I know when released, it went higher on the charts, but happy songs usually do. It was used throughout the series, but the ending theme changed a few times and until the last episode, I really didn’t like them much, they were ok, but after that first ending theme song, the others just seemed like the usual stuff. I understand why they changed it, as the characters grew up, the dramatic sense of emotional loss starts to fade away, even if the underlaying reason remains, especially for Aoba, as she has a harder time dealing with the loss of her sister than Koh, who seems a few steps ahead of her in this aspect, even if way behind initially in terms of baseball… the inner vs outer aspects of self development and self awareness.

    Another aspect I like, is I can see a future for them and not necessary just in baseball, which is something Touch and others lack… you really don’t see most of Adachi’s characters growing up, or not in a way that keeps them as leads of interest. After watching Cross Game, I was intrigued enough to check out all the other stuff by Adachi, and was surprised to learn that he used the same setup in so many of his stories, this isn’t done much, reminds me of (pause as I try to remember…) Orson Welles who brought his Mercury theatre players to radio and then film. Other directors have done this to some extent, and even Adachi’s main characters have changed their appearance some since the Touch days to reflect the look and feel of the times, but it is rather cool to see the little differences, same today with his new ‘Mix’ series… but in my opinion, Cross Game is better, especially with that first volume of the manga/anime, which won awards for a reason, and I didn’t know his history of using the same characters, so it must have been extremely shocking to his fans! But still, to do that to what appeared to be THE main character of interest was a real attention grabber… rather shocking and that’s why it held interest throughout the series… as the stronger the emotional connection, the harder it is to ‘let go’, which creates ‘holes’ in your awareness and can really mess up your life until you deal with that attachment, and these issues seem like a strong undercurrent throughout the series, especially with Aoba and her relationship with Koh.

    The simplicity of the usual high school life with sports as the focus of the action is a very useful tool for the dramatic storyline which is the focus here. The only Adachi story I found perhaps a touch better was a one-shot of his… the one with the guy in the coffee/tea shop years later… the left behind art book of his… trip through time and past emotional attachments… very condensced and effective, which this could have been if some of the usual excess was excised and the plot thickened with the emotional issues and action more. The look a like Wakaba was a bit too much and the episode 30? that introduces her and rehashes all the old Wakaba scenes was a bit much, and that would have been better if other memories of her were used to give us more of her, which I really wanted throughout the series, same as the main characters that knew her… perhaps if something about her was different, just enough. The cousin was rather trying like I said and unnecessary, or rather got in the way most of the time, similar to how the separate episodes of the blond girl who gets the film part and Senda running around on New Years should have been better integrated into the storyline, as they are background characters and didn’t deserve their own episodes IMO. It just got in the way, seemed like placeholder episodes in both the manga and anime

    But it remains my favorite anime an IMO one of the most effective storytellings I’ve read in any genre, but then I can relate to the emotions, especially those left out of the story, such as those flowers on the desk that are expressed much better in the manga (in color) than in the anime, which makes it seem an afterthought… another lost possibility. Oh well… nothing is perfect, is it?

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  6. Cross Game | Anime Gaugeon Dec 13th 2016

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