This post is part of the Cross Game Manga Movable Feast, hosted this week at The Panelists. Visit his intro post to learn more about the series, or read my reviews of volume 1, volume 2, and volume 3. This post contains some spoilers, mostly from the first volume of the series.
If you’ve paid attention to my posts, you’ll have seen I spent a lot of time talking about Cross Game, and how much I love it. One thing I notice, again and again as I read and reread the books, is Wakaba, and how she pushes the story and affects the characters even after she’s gone. It’s been argued that she’s the least developed character in the series, and I can’t defend against it, but I still think she is the number one driving force in both plot and characterization. Here are the reasons why.
They can’t forget her, in any moment.
Ko and Aoba loved Wakaba the most, so it’s no surprise that four years later they can’t get her off their minds. The littlest things, like Momiji calling Ko’s name, sends a flash of memory through Ko’s head, and even sitting in a bathtub can’t stop old memories from surfacing for Aoba. In a particularly poignant chapter, Ko is seen acting the toady to the unpleasant varsity manager, carrying her bags and buying her lunch. Aoba is livid, until she finds out he wanted the last cat teapot that the girl had bought. “He really wanted to buy it,” she says. “No matter what.” Then we get a view of Ko’s room, and see a box of presents labeled “To Wakaba.” We see a shot of Wakaba’s list of presents, and then a zoom in on her 16th birthday: “A cat teapot from Hairachi.” Five birthdays have gone by, and he still buys her every present.
Everything is more serious.
Normal moments take on deeper meanings because of Wakaba’s death. A familiar looking baseball cap floating in the water brings a pause for Ko. And then there’s something Aoba shouts when she’s angry at Momiji: “Do whatever you want! Make your cold worse and die! See if I care!”
It’s not rare for angry siblings to tell each other to go die, but with their past tragedy it carries more weight here. Ko grabs her shirt, and in one panel we see his angry glare, then Aoba’s shocked face as she realizes what she says. It’s only a moment, but it shows how Wakaba’s death still hurts.
The loss of Wakaba colors Aoba’s opinion of Ko.
Aoba already had a low opinion of Ko, thanks to Wakaba, even though her sister adored this boy – actually, probably because of that. She can’t forget about Wakaba, but because Ko was always there he invades every memory, just as she saw him invading on time with her precious sister. She rants to Ichiyo about all the reasons why he’s awful (ignoring that she’s also describing herself) and exclaims to Senda “I love his mom and dad, but I hate him!“
At the same time, Aoba begins to notice some amazing things about Ko, all because of the things that Wakaba spoke about and hoped for in him: “I have no faith in you! Not one bit! … It’s just that… I want to believe what Akaishi and Wakaba said. … If he puts his mind to it, he could become the best.” Her love of Wakaba makes Aoba hate Ko, but it also means she pays attention to the important things her sister said, even if it’s about the guy she can’t stand.
She affects the whole romance.
It seems that every character thinks Ko and Aoba are going out, or at least expect it to happen. Schoolmates question the two about it, and Akaishi, who also loved Wakaba, implies that she’s the only person he’d allow Ko to date. Even Azuma suspects that the two like each other, but when he finds out about Wakaba and how she and Ko were crazy about each other, he says, “That’s tough…on you guys.”
But even if a romance comes about, there’s quite a bit standing in their way. The first reason I’ve already mentioned: because she loves Wakaba so much, Aoba’s the only person who can’t stand Ko. When Ko asks what Wakaba liked about him she doesn’t give herself time to think about it before saying, “That’s what I’d like to know.” As for Ko, remembering Wakaba prevents him from even really noticing other girls. And if they both figure it out, Wakaba will still stand in their way. As children, Aoba had said that her ideal guy would through a 100 mph fast ball. After he lost a sandlot game to Aoba, Wakaba says she thinks Ko has the potential to be the best pitcher in Japan. “He might even through 100 mph someday.” Even as Aoba laughs it off, Wakaba goes on, “But don’t take him from me.” Wakaba’s gone now, but if the potential romance ever comes about, that one line will be the single biggest obstacle.
Everyone lives for Wakaba’s last dream.
Getting to Koshien is the driving plot in this manga, and even that comes from Wakaba. When Akaishi, the former bully who also loved Wakaba, finds out how great of a pitcher Ko has become, he tells Ko about the final dream Wakaba had, and revealed how he’s altered what he does because of it: Wakaba saw them both at Koshien, Akaishi as the catcher and Ko as the pitcher. “I was happy just being in Tsukishima’s dream,” he says. Ko stands shocked, and asks if that’s why he became a catcher. “Something wrong with that?” “No…not at all.”
Ko had never stuck with any of his hobbies, but because Wakaba was so intent on him playing. And even though Aoba, as a girl, would never be able to play at Koshien, she pitches for Varsity until she can’t stand so she can find all their weaknesses. Aoba does what she can so Ko can make Wakaba’s dream come true. They all do, and that is how one little girl who drowned moves an entire plot.