Cross Game is a romantic comedy baseball manga series by Mitsuru Adachi (author of Touch), which ran from 2005-10. Although it is better described as a Coming of Age Story: All about life. Death. And baseball! Think The Wonder YearsplusThe Natural. (If you are too young to remember The Wonder Years replace it with Boy Meets World). A year-long anime adaptation aired starting in 2009, with the first episode receiving excellent reviews, both in and out of Japan. Viz has licensed both the manga (volumes collecting two Japanese volumes each, with three in the first, started coming out in late 2010) and anime (weekly episodes began streaming from their website in May 2010).Fifth-grader Kō Kitamura has a girlfriend, Wakaba Tsukishima, who in his words is "the cutest girl in 5th grade." He didn't ask for this girlfriend. In fact he'll insist he doesn't have one. Wakaba, however, insists otherwise, casually ordering him around, instructing him to take her to her swimming class on his bike, and giving him a list of what birthday present he is to give her each year for the next ten years. Kō grumbles a bit occasionally, but he doesn't really resist — Wakaba has him wrapped around her little finger, and he is never getting free. They were born on the same day in the same hospital, and everyone agrees they are destined to be together.Everyone except Aoba Tsukishima, that is. One year younger than Wakaba, Aoba adores her older sister, and is quite jealous of Kō, and the attention Wakaba showers on him. She even declares that she hates him. However, because they are so close together in age, the three often end up doing things together, even though Aoba sometimes feels like a third wheel. Unlike Kō, who is pretty directionless without Wakaba telling him what to do, Aoba is dedicated to becoming an excellent baseball pitcher.Then the end of the first volume happens (equivalent to the first episode of the anime), With Wakaba's death, by drowning in a river during summer camp. Fast-forward four years, and Kō and the Tsukishima family are still dealing with the repercussions. As Kō enters high school, he joins the high school baseball team. As he begins to grow up he finds that getting older isn't easy.More realistic than most sports anime, the baseball games are slow and feel like real games. The emotions that the characters deal with are strong, but very real and understandable.
Brains and Brawn: Ironically, Akaishi is the brains and Ko is the brawn in the battery. On more than one occasion, Ko says all he has to do is aim for Akaishi's glove, and Ko and Aoba commit some subterfuge to prevent Akaishi from falling apart over Akane. Mishima and Oikawa agree that catcher is the one department that Seishu has a clear advantage over Ryou.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: Repeatedly in the manga. Characters tell the narrator/Koh to cover off-screen events or introduce their characters. Or characters throw objects at the narrator commentary or count the number of panels they appeared in. The author is also not above sliding in advertisements for previous issues or his other manga, and then having the characters hang a lampshade over it. The author also makes occasional comments about the manga industry (deadlines, filling pages, editors).
Butt Monkey: Senda. Nakanishi is also one whenever his team needs him to lose weight, too.
Senda tends to be the go-to guy whenever someone needs to get comically injured or generally kicked around. The poor guy is so pathetic that on Valentine's Day, he buys chocolates for himself just so people don't think he didn't get any. And gets called on it.
Senda thanks Ko for saying he (Ko) likes him (Senda), even if it may be a lie.
He finally gets his moment of glory when he hits a lead-off homerun during Seishu's penultimate game.
Aoba, several times. The most prominent example may be buying Ko Valentine's Day chocolate but then saying they're for Azuma when Akane shows up. Other examples include making an effort to cook him a Neapolitan spaghetti and asking why he worked so hard to avoid a date with her.note Some boys on the team asked if they could have a date if they did X in the next game. Azuma suggested 2 homeruns but thought better. Ko instead offered double-digit strikeouts to spare him a date.
Ko: when Aoba asks if he likes her, he first asks he can lie, and when told he can, he tells her he does — but in a way that makes it sound like he doesn't.
Can't Catch Up: Ko, Aoba and Azuma are leaps and bounds more talented than most of their Seishu teammates, but Akaishi is hit hardest by feelings of inferiority. However, opposing coaches still note that he's rather important to their team, and hits fifth, behind Azuma and ahead of Ko, for a reason. Daimon also mentions to Azuma that besides him and Ko, the one other member of the team he'd like to see injured is Akaishi.
Catch Phrase: "You're the pitcher, I'm the catcher, at Koshien Stadium, the stands packed full." And all its variants.
Childhood Friend Romance: Played with. Aoba has always resented Ko for monopolizing Wakaba and continues to antagonize him through high school. However, they both care for each other and each other's families. Of all the people on the team, they are the ones that understand the other the best.
Distaff Counterpart: The anime gives Aoba counterparts to people in Ko's circle: Keiichiro Senda ↔ Koganezawa Midori, Shimano Tadashi ↔ Shimano Meguri. Both pairs are cousins and have similar personalities and appearance.
Doppelgänger: Both characters even have the same voice actress.
The four leafed clover represents the four Tsukishima sisters. In every episode/volume except the first, Wakaba's leaf is faded out. It gets colored in again for the final episode of the anime, symbolizing that the characters have finally come to terms with her death.
The last scene before the logo, where the screen is cut into four pieces, changes to reflect the characters' evolving relationships. At first it features just Ko and Aoba, then adds Azuma, who looks at Aoba, and Akane, who looks at Ko. Finally, Azuma is replaced by Akaishi, who looks up at Akane, symbolizing both their growing relationship, and Azuma's selfless decision to put his feelings aside and let Ko be with Aoba.
Fanservice: The manga does this a bit, which could double as Male Gaze. There are several upskirt shots, including when Aoba is pitching in a skirt.
First Name Basis: Kō and Wakaba, and Aoba. A Running Gag is that Aoba's many admirers get upset that Kō and Aoba are on a first name basis, since they assume it means he's her boyfriend. Aoba is not amused.
Lethal Chef: Aoba — cafe regulars know not to order anything from the grill when she's behind the counter.
Love Dodecahedron: Start with Ko, Aoba, and Azuma having lots of fans. Of these, Senda and his attempts in vain to court Aoba gets the most screentime. Ko and Akaishi loved Wakaba, and Wakaba loved Ko back. Most everyone expects Ko to fall for Akane. Ko actually loves Aoba. Azuma says Aoba is the only girl he would consider dating. Aoba actually loves Ko. Akaishi falls for Akane out of displaced feelings from Wakaba. Akane seems open to dating Ko but realizes he's grown very close to Aoba. The epilogue shows Ko-Aoba and implies Akaishi-Akane happen.
Ineffectual Loner / Jerk Jock: Daimon's Seishu team receives special privileges. With the understanding that they are to win the acting principal the notoriety of raising a Koshien-level baseball team, he diverts funds and kicks the table tennis club out into the rain for them. The varsity team is not above breaking non-starting players to pursue their goal and abusing their position over the farm team. While good on paper, many of the varsity players have reached their peak. Daimon collects top talent but doesn't do much with them. After getting fired, Daimon doesn't learn his lesson and tries the same thing at a new school. Daimon losses twice, both times to a team with better teamwork that he underestimated.
Sanno uses a couple scouts to spy on other teams. They find out the team's batting weaknesses and believe Ko's weakness is fielding, so the coach's strategy is to bunt. After Akaishi tells Ko to pitch normally instead practicing his fielding, Sanno's batter can't even bunt his pitches, and the coach tells the scouts they should have just written, "a pitcher only see once in ten years."
The Power of Friendship: Sena is the school Miki transfers to after being sidelined by Daimon, where he has a team rather than a collection of glory-hungry individuals. They beat Daimon's new school and are narrowly beaten by Seishu.
Born Lucky: Nishikura has won all their previous games by exactly one run. Whenever they start losing, their defense becomes solid and their offense finds holes. However, after giving away 6 runs into the top of the 8th, Ko doesn't give them a chance to rally.
Friendly Enemy: Ryuo is Seishu's biggest obstacle to Koshein in their 2nd and 3rd years. However, with the exception of Shimano, the characters on the Ryou team are likeable. Azuma and Mishima are friendly rivals.
Nerves of Steel: Ko is rarely outwardly expresses anxiety. See Ironic Echo Cut. When Aoba gets injured, he acts in the way that will help her recover fastest. Furthermore, with the final and Akane's surgery approaching, he puts on a confident face for others. Only Aoba really suspects how much he worries.
Not So Stoic: Azuma's stoic expression cracks when a ball he hits strikes Aoba, hospitalizing her and keeping her from trying out for the National Women's Team.
Not Worth Killing: Daimon repeatedly refuses to take the farm team and no-name schools seriously, purposely not starting with his best pitcher and refusing to call plays. He gets his comeuppance.
Official Couple: 3 of them at the end. Nakanishi and his girlfriend from the track team, Ichiyo and Junpei and finally Ko and Aoba.
One of the Boys: Aoba, definitely. She plays baseball with the boys (except during tournament games, which she's barred from playing in because of her sex), and even her sisters often ask her when she's going to start acting more like a girl. (Wakaba in particular complains about how dirty Aoba's clothes get.)
Pet the Dog: Shido Risa doesn't get much screen time to determine whether she is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, but she remembers the team that helped her out enough to not disrupt their practice with a photoshoot and watch their games.
Recap Episode: Episode 30 of the anime, titled "Wakaba," recaps Ko/Wakaba/Aoba's relationship and Ko, Aoba, and Akaishi's motivation. Oddly for a Recap Episode, most of the footage comes from Episode 1, though some flashbacks to that time period from other episodes are added. Takes place immediately after climax of the summer tournament of Ko's 2nd year in high school and the appearance of Akane.
Right Behind Me: When Nakanishi learns that Ko and Aoba have gone to Wakaba's grave together, he says to keep it from Azuma, who is of course standing right behind him. Not that Azuma had to be that close, as even Senda overhears 100 meters away.
Sibling Yin-Yang: The Azuma brothers. Yuhei is The Stoic and has made baseball his life, while Junpei is a Handsome Lech and is pretty mellow about life ever since an injury killed his baseball career.
Sleep Cute: Kō and Aoba — and if Aoba had woken up first, Kō would have been a dead man.
Smug Snake: Coach Daimon, whose arrogance keeps his talented teams from reaching their full potential. His mistakes and arrogance end up losing him his job at Seishu when he loses to the Portables.
Spiritual Successor: To Touch and H2, the author's previous baseball series. Cross Game has a somewhat more dramatic feel at first, but all are sweet, slice-of-life stories told through baseball. The three series form a thematic trilogy of sorts, although their stories are unconnected.
Tempting Fate: Oikawa brags that he hasn't given up a homerun all year. Leads to Kou hitting a game-winning home run to earn Seishu their trip to the Koushien.
Aoba insists that she doesn't need a safety net when throwing practice pitches to Azuma. Azuma later hits her with a ball, fracturing her leg and preventing her from participating in All-Japan baseball team tryouts.
Title Drop: Happens once an episode. Each episode's title is taken from a line of dialog, usually one that sums up the thematic issues at play.
Theme Naming: The four Tsukushima sisters all have names involving leaves, which ties in with the 4-leaf clover motif (Clover is also the name of the family cafe).