By Mitsuru Adachi. Released in Japan in 2 separate volumes by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.
I have trouble starting out this review of Cross Game. It's hard to know what to write. Like a volume of the manga itself, you just want to drink it all in, or simply wordlessly hand it to someone. Writing it all down seems superfluous somehow.
Things I liked in this volume (which is Vol. 6 & 7 in Japan)? I liked the introduction of Azuma's brother Junpei, which at first seems like it will be another in the vein of goofball sadsacks such as Senda. But Junpei not only has a more serious connection to Azuma than we'd thought, but also turns out to have hidden depths. We don't see as much of that here, but the fact that Ichiyo is warming to him fast says a lot - we know she doesn't normally suffer fools gladly, ergo there is more to him than it would seem. (Crafty Junpei is also likely correct - staying with Ko and his family is probably the best thing that could happen to Azuma at the moment.)
The plotline where the filthy old man watching from the sidelines turns out to secretly be the company president checking up on things is older than I am, but Adachi carries it off with panache, making the board chairman lovable despite the obvious premise that he's the one that left power in the hands of the interim principal and the coach in the first place. Speaking of their coach, he remains stubborn till the end, but I enjoyed seeing his placidity destroyed by Azuma the night before the big game.
There's a few 'filler' chapters near the end of the volume, which help to provide some relief after the tense ballgame that takes up much of the middle. I was surprised to see the team's manager, previously shown to be a bit of a Libby, get some needed character depth... only for it to be undercut on the last page in a hilarious final gag. I also greatly enjoyed Aoba's solution to the guys who are constantly asking her out. The only chapter that didn't work for me was Senda's New Year, mostly because, much as I try to get sympathy for him, he's just such an idiot.
The outcome of the ballgame is not particularly in doubt, so instead you spend a lot of it watching Ko and Aoba. Ko in particular is now totally driven to get to Koshien, though once again it mostly seems to be driven by Wakaba's death. Azuma, perceptive as he is, is quick to note how hard this is on both Ko *and* Aoba once he discovers that there was another sister who passed away. The saddest part of the volume for me was when Ko, somewhat flippantly, notes "You don't have to believe me, but she was crazy about me!", to which Azuma replies, "And you were crazy about her?" Ko's response is more muted. "Yeah..."
Of course, Ko and Aoba are destined for each other, and the more that we see them interact, the more we get Wakaba's quick note to Aoba, "Don't take him from me", in Volume 1. They react exactly the same way to situations, they're both stubborn as mules ("Don't let those two throw to each other"), and once again we see how they like to imagine their interaction as a web of deceit. The high point of the whole volume for me occurs when Aoba runs like hell to get home and score the first run of the game, with Ko in the batter's box. Ko notes he would have brought her home (this is after she holds up her hand for a high-five and then yanks it away - so immature!), and Aoba responds, "You've betrayed me so many times, since way back." Ko notes "That's because you've never relied on me." It's fantastic how well these two know each other (I didn't even mention Ko's dead-on impression of her stubbornness earlier), and how denial and lies have become a comforting blanket.
The volume ends by introducing Aoba's cousin, who seems to be set up to be a romantic rival for Ko. Even remembering that cousins don't have the same taboo in Japan that they do here, I still don't give him much of a chance. Not that he's needed. There's a much bigger romantic rival that's killing any chance of a relationship with others that Ko and Aoba may have. And she's dead.
Really, you should be reading this simply because it is good. Crafted well, great characters, a sports manga that is about the people rather than the sport, and has some great doses of humor (hey, he didn't even break the fourth wall this time!). Highly recommended.