Cross Game: ambivalence isn’t a good thing in my book

It’s amazing what knowledge of how a story ends can do to one’s enjoyment of a work. Even though I was completely hooked to the manga for about a year, once Adachi-sensei had brought the story to an end, I completely fell off the bandwagon. I didn’t even bother to finish the anime until May, about a month after it’d ended. Discontent with the main pairing? I suppose such feelings were mixed in. However, whether you believe me or not, my ambivalence about Cross Game goes deeper than that.

Let me start by noting that my favoured couple for the series was Koh x Wakaba. Seen mostly through the rose-coloured glasses of reminiscence, Wakaba may have seemed to perfect to be true (and Akane’s appearance later in the story only seemed to back that up), but I really enjoyed how straight she was. Wakaba knew what she wanted, both from herself and from Koh, and knew exactly how to get that, but this forthright side of her was impeccably balanced by the care and consideration she showed to everyone else around her. That Adachi-sensei was able to create such a character, one whose loss stung readers along with the other characters, is a testament to his skill as a writer.

Let me also say that Azuma Youhei was my favourite character, and not just for the seiyuu. Again, it was the straightness of his character, coupled with the decency to back down and even create opportunities for his friends, that appealed to me. I won’t deny that the ending disappointed me in part because he was left alone (though content with the decisions that he’d made).

Moving on, then, to the threads that hold Cross Game together: Koh and Aoba. For some reason, the relationship between Koh and Aoba was never very convincing for me. I can believe that Aoba always had a crush on Koh, but turned it into ‘hate’ because he belonged to Wakaba. There is but a thin line between love and hate, after all. However, the focus on the 160km pitch made Aoba seem really superficial, and her continuous denial of her true feelings for Koh, even at the end (“I hate him more than anyone else in the world”) continues to bemuse me. It’s something I simply can’t understand.

But the issue that really gets to me is that I never really saw a reason for Koh to start liking Aoba. Adachi-sensei masterfully painted Koh’s feelings so very subtly through his reactions and thoughts, but in all honesty, where did it all begin? How does one start liking someone who treats you like dirt? Was it because she looked so cool pitching quickly in their first and only game as opposing pitchers? Or because she’s really similar to Wakaba is many ways? Did he sense that her ‘hate’ was hiding something? Or is it simply that Aoba is the only one who will remember and commemorate Wakaba with him? None of these sit particularly well with me.

Of course, Koh could have always preferred Aoba…but I really don’t think he lied to Azuma about Wakaba being his first love. That would have made Cross Game way too similar to its illustrious predecessor, Touch.

A number of fans on Animesuki have already expressed their disagreement with the idea that Cross Game is a rewrite of Touch with a better cast and worse baseball games. Of course it isn’t, in most parts. But if you think of Touch as a story that started with sibling rivalry that was thrown into disarray by the death of one of the brothers, then Cross Game is indeed its counterpart for girls. That was my very first impression of Cross Game, and it was only strengthened each time Aoba voiced her fears about never being able to live up to Wakaba. Furthermore, just as the memory of Kazuya bring Tatsuya and Minami together, so too does the memory of Wakaba for Koh and Aoba. The main difference is that Koh really did love Wakaba (if we are to believe him), whereas Minami apparently always preferred Tatsuya.

In terms of the process, Cross Game does come across to me as the more refined work. Aoba’s journey to come to terms with her feelings of inferiority and what this meant for her feelings for Koh was fantastic (rather than the impression I had that much of the first half of Cross Game illustrates how Aoba comes to terms with the idea that Koh really was worthy of Wakaba’s love). Azuma and Akane were believable rivals who kept me guessing at what Adachi was actually trying to do, as they both shifted to and from supporting the canon couple. And Koh and Aoba’s complicated relationship was clearly shown to be grounded in the heartbreak of losing someone they both loved, and all the wonderful memories they shared. The message that “a person truly passes on only when there is no one left who remembers him or her” was exquisitely developed.

However, Adachi-sensei hasn’t convinced me that their love for each other is romantic. In some ways, it almost feels as if they’re together because they want to remember Wakaba, which leaves me uneasy about just how healthy their relationship is. Unless, come to think of it, I’m annoyed at how Adachi-sensei broke the “show, don’t tell” maxim so many times, with characters like Akane, Ichiyo and even a nurse chirping in with their observations nudging them towards each other. When contrasted with how enjoyment is simply depicted in many later interactions between Aoba and Azuma, it now doesn’t surprise me that I was unhappy with how Adachi chose to end it. In some ways, I think it would have been more challenging to have finished with Koh and Aoba as friends helping each other move on through the shared memories of a loved one lost. Koh might have been alone for a while (I can’t see him with Akane either) but starting a romantic relationship based around such memories is just somewhat…disquieting.

In summary, my initial reaction to Cross Game’s ending hasn’t changed: I think that this is one of those series that you’ll love completely only if you completely love the main couple…and that’s not something I can ever do. But of course, that’s just me.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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