Random Reviews: Cross Game
Title: Cross Game (TV)
Animation Company: SynergySP
Genres: Romance, Slice Of Life, Sports, Drama
Aired: Spring 2009 – Winter 2010
Number of episodes: 50
Summary: The Tsukishimas and Kitamuras have always been close neighbours, so naturally their children, Kitamura Kou, Tsukishima Wakaba and Tsukishima Aoba were acquainted since young. However, one fateful day, the worst happens to this group of children. A burning desire awakens in Kou to make the last dreams of his special person come true – the dream of participating as a finalist in the National High School Baseball Tournament.
Before you exit this page thinking you’re never going to get into sports anime because /YOU HATE SPORTS/, I urge you to stay with me for a bit as I talk about Cross Game. Cross Game is not like your Weekly Shonen Jump Sports anime. In Cross Game, the sport of baseball is only a backdrop for the portrayal of the lives of two extremely talented teenage baseball players as they come of age and deal with grieving over loved ones, their own love lives, friends and everything in between. It’s not so much a sports anime as it is a slice of life anime.
If you’re continuing to read this I hope I’ve done this wonderful series some justice and have brought in some potential watchers. Cross Game starts off in a very warm, happy fashion reminiscent of the happy childhood of any normal kid. Going to school, playing baseball with your elementary school classmates, and for Kitamura Kou, being able to spend every day with his special someone. But as a big plot development happens right at the end of episode 1, the story shifts gear into that of a tragedy of sorts. (Of course, the tragedy is never overbearing) That first episode alone should sell you on why you should watch Cross Game, because once you’ve started it’s almost physically impossible to stop. The first episode is a masterpiece, it completely sets the pieces needed for the story to truly begin, grabbing your attention and never letting it go.
The series always keeps the ball rolling, maintaining a perfect balance between a lighthearted slice-of-life and portraying the characters’ different methods of dealing with the loss of their loved ones, telling this story through the game of baseball. For this to work, the characters need to be well-written.
I must say that Cross Game’s cast is pretty huge (it’s 50 episodes after all), but almost all the characters are realistic, incredibly likeable or are at least memorable. The main 5 characters in particular are great – Kou, Aoba, Wakaba, Azuma and a special someone introduced much later in the series are all complicated, flawed teenagers. Kou and Aoba in particular are great characters – they’re admirable, both for their mental fortitude and their talent in baseball, but are also never really honest with their feelings. Azuma starts out in the antagonist’s seat but will easily weasel his way into your list of favourite characters in this series (and that’s really saying something). Azuma is seemingly cold and indifferent towards anything but baseball, but we see just how sensitive and understanding he can be as the series progresses. The only complaints I have with the characters are the rival schools. The series’ weakest point is probably in the sports element (I’ll talk about it later) – leaving some of the rival school’s members having less than memorable personalities when compared with the rest of the cast. The other side characters are all fantastic though. Standouts for me include Junpei (Azuma’s brother), Akaishi and the Ouka women’s baseball team members. They are just a joy to watch, seeing them live their lives and interacting with each other is just great.
This is because the series is able to excel in the comedy aspect as well. The series is never laugh out loud funny (and it never really tries to be) but consistently retains its good sense of humor that still feels natural and weightless, never forced. I wouldn’t mind watching a spin-off series with the side characters in Cross Game really, in fact I would love for something like that. The comedy aspect works incredibly well, seamlessly tying in with the romance which is pretty damn perfect as well. I loved the relationships between all the characters. The 50 episode runtime was used to develop relationships at a perfectly believable pace, and witnessing the relationships between the characters blossom is just wonderful. This is what slice-of-life should be: daily interactions between characters are entertaining, believable and hold weight and consequences. There are never any huge developments per se, but the plot is always rolling and in Cross Game it does lead up to a wonderful, satisfying ending.
This brings me to the games themselves. They’re not actually /that/ important in the big picture when you consider the story Cross Game is really trying to tell, but while they are definitely entertaining, they are also predictable. As someone familiar with baseball I can say the game structures are all predictable (eg. extra innings in big games is almost a given, strikeouts are commonplace when you know which team has the stronger pitcher/batter), and because of how skilled our main characters are you can almost always expect them to win. Almost always.
Despite this, Cross Game is still immensely addictive. The series is great at immersing the viewer into the story right from episode 1 (which I believe to be one of the best premiere episodes in anime) and has a very uniquely nostalgic atmosphere to it. The feeling of a romantic summer in your childhood, happier times in life. Not many series can just make me awash with feels like this series can. I zipped through the entire series in less than a week with ease despite coming back incredibly exhausted from work, even putting many of my winter anime on-hold just to finish this. It’s such an easy, immersive watch.
The music definitely contributes to this. I absolutely love the soundtrack. The music is refreshing, clear and sentimental. Every track is wonderful and complements the series almost perfectly. It’s a real shame they never released the OST for this one because I would seriously have considered purchasing it. It’s that freaking good. The series has got 5 ED themes and 1 OP theme. All of them are at least pleasant listens, but I particularly love the OP (listen to it, I absolutely love this OP), the 1st, 2nd and 5th ED. It perfectly captures the nostalgia you experience watching the series, and are all catchy and sentimental songs that won’t disappoint even after repeated listens.
The animation is consistent, but the art style is not going to be everyone’s thing. Let’s face it, I don’t think you’re watching this for the animation, although I do think Mitsuru Adachi’s character designs do complement the 90s feel you’d get from the series itself. But the only flaw is that because this series is all about subtleties and very minor but present changes in character and relationship dynamics, some of these changes don’t translate well with such an over-simplified art style. You can’t distinguish the expressions the characters are feeling sometimes. (eg. Azuma almost always has the exact same unflinching expression)
Overall, Cross Game is a real gem in anime given the kind of stuff we get nowadays. It’s a vastly entertaining romantic slice-of-life series with some of the most likeable, realistic characters you’ll see in anime. It exudes this inescapable wave of nostalgia right from episode 1 that really got me hooked. I recommend y’all try this out for yourself, for me it was 20 hours very well-spent.
I’m not going to give a numerical score for Cross Game because I don’t think it’ll be fair to compare a series that’ll probably make it to a top anime list if I ever made one to other series that have commendable accomplishments as well, but failed to /really/ connect with me on an emotional level like Cross Game has. It’s really all about personal preferences for this one, and Cross Game is totally my kind of thing.
Alternate Anime Recommendations: Touch (Mangaka Mitsuru Adachi’s other work that’s also a baseball anime that’s much more), Chihayafuru (has a similar blend of sports/romance/drama) and Ace of Diamond (AoD is without a doubt a true blue sports anime, but if you enjoy baseball anime in general this one has been really great so far.
Also, I’ve got quite a few more series on my backlog that I’m about to attempt to watch – Book of Bantorra, Rose of Versailles, Giant Killing (yes I know it’s yet another sports anime) and Kaiji so you might see a review for any of these series coming out soon.