Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Cross Game and The Artistic Subtleties of Mitsuru Adachi
Mitsuru Adachi has a simple, if not unique art style. It is soft, round and easy to take in and comprehend. His panelling is quite conventional, but because of this, the story flows expertly. These small things together make it obvious of how much a veteran Mitsuru Adachi is. But there is one aspect in particular that I love about Adachi as an artist. He is all about subtlety and the unspoken. I mentioned that he has a simple style, and he does, but somehow, in that simplicity, he manages to convey so much while saying so little. Mitsuru Adachi has serialized sixteen original works, several adaptations, and many short stories, but today I'm going to look at his 2005 baseball manga, 'Cross Game'. A story about loss, love, and of course, baseball, 'Cross Game' perfectly embodies the art of subtlety in all its aspects.
Here we have main character Ko Kitamura noticing a hat floating in the water. The second panel that is zoomed in on the profile of his face is very powerful in the context of the story. In that eye is a world of emotion. Ko is remembering his dead childhood friend Wakaba. Adachi could get all sappy here and add a thought bubble of Ko revealing his emotions, but Adachi restrains himself and allows the reader to bask in the subtlety of that page. No words need to be spoken. No thoughts need to be revealed. This technique of showing a character wide-eyed, in profile, lost in thought is used several times throughout the manga with much versatility and it never gets old.
In this example, we have Aoba, who never gets along with Ko, cracking a faint smile and Ko barely catching the sight of it. Ko's team had just lost a hard fought game and Aoba's sister, Ichiyo told her to make sure she is smiling when she sees Ko next. But in the context of the story, you can tell that this simple smile is not forced at all. Aoba would never patronize Ko just to make him feel better about a loss. Ko earned that smile through his hard work on the mound and genuinely impressed Aoba. This is one of the subtle turning points in the manga for these two characters' rocky relationship. It's little moments like this that make the long, slow advancement of Aoba and Ko's relationship throughout the entirety of the manga so incredible.
On this page we have everyone reacting to Aoba getting hit with a line drive. Just moments before, Ko had warned her to use a net, but she refuses. At first glance, it would seem that everyone has similar expressions of disbelief. And they do, but the reader knows that Ko's concern is the strongest. Having already lost one Tsukashima sister in his life, another would be too much to bear. This is just one example of Ko's caring for Aoba showing through despite how they appear to not get along.
Though Adachi's character art lacks realism and detail, the character's faces are surprisingly expressive. Again, with just a light touch, a change in eyebrow angle here, a change in mouth shape there, he can do so much with such uncomplicated faces. And these subtle changes in expression aren't arbitrary. They are so dynamic and move so smoothly within the context of the story. It really brings the characters to life. As I said, the way he conveys so much with such an understated art style is almost more impressive than a style that uses realism. He is somehow able to do more with less. All the while, not leaving it up to the reader to wrack their brain with interpretation. His work is obvious and subtle at the same time, which is both perplexing and incredible.
It just goes to show that Mitsuru Adachi is a master of his medium. More than thirty years in the manga industry really shows in these subtle touches that may even go unnoticed. Reading 'Cross Game' has taught me to slow down and appreciate the little things in the manga I read. It's kind of poetic that a manga that I appreciate for its subtle charms has seemingly made very little impact on the American manga industry. As I understand it, 'Cross Game' wasn't exactly a blockbuster. Which is sad, because it is an amazing series in more ways than just the ones I describe here. If you want to experience all things subtle, understated, light-touched, and simply charming that is 'Cross Game', you can get all eight omnibus volumes in digital and print from Viz Media. I couldn't even begin to describe the nuances of 'Cross Game', so I implore you to check it out for yourself.