From the stack: Cross Game vol. 3

Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of “David Gushes over Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game!” Listen, I know I’ve crossed over from any kind of clear-eyed critical examination into full-on, sweaty, tent-in-a-parking-lot evangelism with this title, but I also know that I’m beyond caring. This series delivers joy on a regular basis.

The third omnibus, which collects the sixth and seventh volumes of the series, can be reduced to the simplest of sports manga narratives. The team of plucky upstarts prepares for a big game, then plays the big game, then reacts to the outcome of the big game. It doesn’t get much purer than that, and the arc here is certainly exciting in terms of that basic outline.

But it’s so much more than that. Ultimately, the events portrayed here are about justice, about heart and determination winning out against elitism and presumption. Of course, that’s also one of the least novel conflicts ever to grace the pages of manga as a category, but still…

The thing is, while Adachi is working with one of the oldest road maps in the form, he doesn’t take a straight line anywhere. Our scruffy heroes don’t gaze off into the middle distance and make vows about their future. They’re too realistic for that. They don’t lapse into paragraphs of internal monologue about what’s happening, because Adachi draws too well and frames sequences too clearly for that to be necessary. Characters can behave entirely believably and still surprise you, because Adachi doesn’t feel the need to underline their every thought or feeling. He trusts your ability to comprehend subtext, to remember past moments, and to connect what you already know or suspect with what you see unfolding on the page in front of you.

As goofy as Adachi’s sense of humor can sometimes be, he can also tug at your heartstrings or thrill you with moments big and small. You can be both elated and tickled when justice is visited upon the smug. You can snicker at and feel sympathy for the team dork during his mishaps, and you can feel touched but not manipulated as characters inch towards a better understanding of each other.

It’s just an awesome comic, you guys. It does everything you expect a comic of this sort to do, but it does them with such distinctive style and heartfelt sincerity that you’ll never notice you’ve visited this territory before. Awesome.