For a second Cross Game MMF post I wanted to talk about Hiroko Okubo, the chubby female manager of the portable team. If you didn’t remember her name, don’t feel bad (I had to look up her first name on Wikipedia myself). She supports the baseball team, but she doesn’t do much to stand out: she’s not so fully developed as Aoba, and she’s certainly not as integral to the overall plot as Wakaba. Heck, she doesn’t even show as much depth as Risa Shido, her grumpy counterpart on the varsity team.
But I think she’s great.
Okubo’s an interesting character. She does whatever she’s told, but not in a sniveling, subservient way; she’s actually happy to take care of the team and help out the coach. The third years call her “tubby”, but it doesn’t make her wince or lower her self esteem; it’s just another word that rolls off her back. Later on you find out she’s the granddaughter of the school chairman. She could have used his position to draw herself a better lot, like the interim principal’s daughter does, but instead she takes things as they come. Of course, she says about her grandfather, “My granpa’s very strict about things like that [the deal with Coach Daimon]. Even if it’s a promise with a bad person, he will honor it.” So we can see how much of her good personality came from him.
Okubo also has a calming effect on the other players. When the varsity team gets runs off him in their first match Ko pitches a fit in the dugout. Okubo grabs his hand before he can hit something. “Not your right hand,” his pitching hand. Ko calms down. The third years are angry that they’ll never be on the varsity team, but Okubo tells them the (made up) story of the portable coach fighting Daimon and getting hurt for their sakes. They stop showboating and trying so hard, and play some real baseball.
And it’s the same for the reader, I think. Cross Game is full of interesting, well-written characters, and has plenty of funny moments, but there’s a bittersweet and often somber tone the manga takes on due to loss, guilt and frustration the characters feel. Not Okubo – there’s a smile on her face as she gives a bright “Okay!” and cheers the team on, and she makes me smile without being a joke or a mockery. She lightens the mood in a subtle way, and that’s why I’m so pleased that she’s a character.