CROSS GAME and the Merit of Sports Narratives for the Decidedly Un-Sporty
I have never in my life been a very sporty person. I often ponder if I can rightly say I am out of shape when I have never even been in shape to start with. I can barely walk up the entirety of the escalator when getting out of the metro station without resigning myself to the right side in some vague shame. Growing up, I was a something of a dancer, but I have since lost any sense of fitness that I gained in musical rehearsals and dance recitals. I have never enjoyed team sports, in almost any capacity. I spent the entirety of my first baseball game not watching the game itself, but reading and falling asleep. So, when I tell people that I have a lot of feelings about the baseball manga, Cross Game, they wonder as to what possessed me to even pick it up.
The answer is simple, I thought the art was cute and I wanted to broaden my tastes for manga. I am usually a purveyor of the shoujo variety of manga. I like sparkles, transformation sequences, cute magical girl weapons, fluffy romance, and the power of friendship. My days of shonen reading became few and far between after I started high school, and even then I tended to stick to stories of boys with super powers and mystical misadventures like Yu Yu Hakusho or Ranma ½. So, when I picked up Cross Game, I wasn’t sure what I was in for because I never really had any interest in a sports manga before.
I read it on the train home and then in bed on my day off. Without spoiling it, I’ll just say that I found myself emotionally compromised. HOW DARE THIS BOOK MAKE ME CARE ABOUT KIDS PLAYING BASEBALL. Of course, the reality is that it’s about more than just baseball. I realize that almost all sports narratives are about so much more. I have occasionally enjoyed the inspiring sports movie, but obviously it was never the sports I cared about (looking at you, scrawny Ryan Gosling from Remember the Titans). Sports narratives are often about a ragtag bunch of misfits who overcome great obstacles in order to achieve victory on and off the field. They are often about the trials and tribulations of growing up. Cross Game has a lot of elements of that, as it also is a coming of age story spanning many years with a lot of lingering, poignant feelings.
Ko, the protagonist, doesn’t even really care about baseball in the beginning. He cares about his family’s sporting goods business making money so he can get extra allowance, and then blow it on manga. Clearly, this is a kid I could relate to. But, as the story goes in and I became invested in Ko’s relationship with the four sisters (Ichiyo, Wakaba, Aoba, and Momiji) whose father owns the batting cages/cafe in town. I also became invested in why Ko eventually takes baseball more seriously (it’s touching, I can’t tell you exactly why, but, oh boy, all my feelings). Mitsuru Adachi has this quiet way of sweeping you into the warm summer breeze in the panels. In between moments of laughter, I found myself overcome with these touching moments of melancholy in the visual language of the pages. I found myself lost in a panel of clover near a lake while my eyes filled with tears.
I’ll never understand the willingness to root for a team, or wear sports jerseys, or even get the notion of making yourself sweat on purpose; but, I can’t say that I can really write off sports stories, even if I don’t really understand sports themselves. I do understand some things, though, like, bike rides in the summer, gossiping on bleachers, and the sounds of whispered promises so soft you would barely miss them. Thankfully, understanding those things seems to be enough to understand the devotion of one boy to a family and to a sport.