Hello my wanderers! Good day to you ladies, gentleman, and all of those who have yet to decide. Welcome to my second thematic anime review. This time I will be covering the lesser known slice of life baseball series, Cross Game. I do want to make a very clear preface before digging into the nitty gritty of it all. I can not cover this topic properly without spoiling a major plot point or two, especially the first big one of the series. If you have not read or watched Cross Game in any capacity, I recommend holding off reading this until you have done so. I won’t be spoiling the ending or anything, but I will be talking about major plot points that would otherwise be ruined if you hadn’t experienced them yourself. I’ve tried several times to write this up in a non-spoiler condition and I failed time and time again. So, I decided to make the best I could out of this and just give a fair warning. Now, I think that is enough cautionary tales, and time we talk about some good old-fashioned anime.
Cross Game is an anime that won’t pop out at most people. It doesn’t bolster an exquisite production value or some crazy story that is going to melt your brain with originality. No, Cross Game is one of those simple anime about life and showing the heart of the little parts that comprise it. I told you about spoilers with a nice waving flag, so if you are still here then get ready. The story follows two people primarily. These two lovely individuals that we spend the next 50 episodes of our lives with are Kou Kitamura and Aoba Tsukishima. As stated prior this isn’t some flourishing fantasy story, what we have here is something many of us can relate to. Kou and Aoba’s journey is one of great internal strife as they attempt to get over the death of Aoba’s sister and Kou’s childhood friend Wakaba. They both want to honor her dreams and live life to the fullest, yet this is easier said than done. How do you move on from something like that? You really don’t, I have experience with that firsthand. However, I’m not here to focus on the sad reality of death, no, something more inspiring has spurred my fingers on this day. Aoba’s character arc and how Cross Game shows the idea of gender roles in modern society.
Gender Roles: Which Side do you bat for?
I suppose I should explain what gender roles are for the uninformed and why it would be so striking to a viewer to see them used in a refreshing manner. Gender roles are cultural norms set within a society that dictate acceptable behavior in many ways for either sex. For example, in many Middle Eastern cultures women aren’t allowed to be much outside of the home caretakers. It is assumed they will do this no ifs, ands, or buts. This sort of thing is fairly normal in almost every society in the world. Cultures create gender conformities and rules that they should abide by. Men are told they are to do one thing and women the same. It is all mostly assumed, but it is something that is very thought-provoking to me. Why do we as a collective accept these terms so readily? It isn’t some random culturally implemented social experiment or an oddity to see. No, this is by the by a perfectly average thing throughout the world. Many would rather not touch on old-fashioned rules and keep them as is. Then, on the other hand, you have others who want the ability to choose the freedom they truly believe is deserved. It is a curious question why things are this way and have been for so long. Just as peculiar are the recent trends of people wanting to ask more about it. As humans evolve together, so does our culture.
Japan is a traditional culture in many of its everyday values, and their society is no different. Men are expected to be the prominent breadwinner and women to be the nurturing housewife. While there is nothing outright wrong with these ideologies, as very often the sexes fit these roles incredibly well, to put them all in the same blanket is unfair and far too snug for some people’s liking. You can’t decide for everyone, it isn’t okay to take the choice away, so then the question emanates forth. What if I don’t want to do what they say I’m supposed to do because that isn’t who I am?
Now we are finally back to the world of Cross Game. Aoba is one of those people who this question is heavily implied towards and showed to fit like a glove. You see, in most countries, and Japan is no exception to this rule, sports teams are done a certain way. There are teams for boys, and there are teams for girls. A separation of the sexes is quite evident and then you must beg the question as to why. Most times the answer boils down to a “scientific” one that isn’t always as accurate as it may first seem. Men are more biologically predispositioned to be able to play sports at a higher level, and women can’t match that after a certain point. This is why the split occurs most often as we progress through our school years. The co-gender teams of elementary past are no more. Heck, if you pay attention you will see all boy’s/girl’s schools as well. I know when I was in junior high they split some of the Math courses into genders to experiment on grades and if the divide would yield higher results(It didn’t by the way). As we return to how this directly applies to Aoba it starts to make more sense.
Aoba Tsukishima is, for better or worse, a tomboy; a female who acts in what would be considered a masculine manner. She is often filthy from baseball, doesn’t dress in cutesy attire, and much prefers talking about a fastball than the latest gossip. While all these things seem arbitrary to define men or women they nonetheless are used frequently and accurately for a large mass of them. The people who act in a way similar to the opposite sex are outliers in the general public’s eyes. Whether this is looked upon in a positive or negative light can have a greater impact than most could ever anticipate. Aoba is a baseball player at heart. Not a softball player, not a girl who likes baseball, and not a cheerleader. A baseball player. The idea of gender being equated to a sport or anything of the like is nonexistent to her. This is what she loves and that is that. However, Aoba stands out in her fight against gender conformity.
The Curveballs of Living
Many people such as hardcore feminists or chauvinists would enter a debate of some sort that she is deserving to be an equal or should just given up on this absurd dream of hers. The sad reality of it all is, despite Aoba loving baseball more than anyone in the world of Cross Game, she will never be allowed to participate in an official ball game. She can be on the team all she wants, but playing is not permitted and that will not change. This would cause an assumption that the character arc of Aoba Tsukishima is about creating an equal playing field for men and women then, right? Incorrect, my friends! What sets Aoba apart is how she handles the world’s societal rules set firmly in place and still manages to make an instrumental difference for her life and team.
How does Aoba manage this feat? She does something very simple but hard to do in her circumstances. She respects those standards and plays for no other reason than her adoration for the game. She trains longer than the rest of her teammates do, she knows more about the sport as a whole than most people, and she is the inspiration for the star players of Seishu. Her hard work and perseverance is put forth towards a goal and she intends to make it happen. Aoba, Kou, and Akaishi all share a common vision and work at making it come true in their own ways. Ironically, the person who drives the team forward is not Kou despite him being the ace pitcher (and main character of the entire series) who wins their games.The person he sees as his hero is Aoba. She makes him become the player he is by nothing else but putting in consistent effort, which he aspires to match. Aoba can’t play in a game but she can still play baseball no matter what cultural norms say. And she does just that.
Despite Aoba not caring about the prejudice of her beliefs she is challenged often throughout Cross Game for her way of living. Two notable moments are the time the former manager of Seishu (later let go for losing a bet, AKA being an asshat) tried to break her just because he could if he wanted to, and the all girls team trying to place in the Nationals. The coach orders Aoba to pitch over and over and over again trying to wear her body down. Obviously, using her as a simple effective tool that is replaceable to meet his desired result. He can use up this girl with a decent amount of value to train up his team. Aoba could of course deny this order due to being a human with free will, but instead plays her hardest to prove she is a ball player at heart, and will pitch regardless. On a more positive note, we have the National Baseball team for girls. They are lacking pitching support and Aoba is well-known for her skill set. She can compete toe to toe with any player no matter the sex, and with her assistance on the team victory is much more assured for a championship. Aoba at first is uninterested because this isn’t her team and why would she play for strangers when her team is where her loyalty lies deepest. After some haggling Aoba attends their practice because they want to show their worth and impress her into joining. While their performance is admirable and earns respect from Aoba, it makes her realize her love for her team even more and she politely declines to help her one true team earn their spot in the Koshien.
This is where I love the depiction of gender roles in Cross Game. So often we would find the girl treated helpless, objectified, or subservient to the abusive manager. Possibly needing a male character to step in and prove his heroic worth to change the tide. And with the all girls team, often you would see the character decide this is where they truly fit in because these people are just like me, misunderstood but still fighting their own respectable fight to win. While these types of storytelling are often more popular and frequent, they hold less to be desired than what I got from Cross Game and Aoba. Her steadfast nature to do what she loves no matter the circumstances are so moving to behold. Aoba will play baseball for the team she loves. She will never play in an official game, but if you really look at it, she is playing harder than anyone. She trains harder and inspires the team to improve to new levels. Her pitching style and discipline to training are mimicked by Kou because he finds her to be his personal idol to try and best. Aoba is not just some helpless girl who can’t play the game of baseball. She is the driving force behind the scenes of the entire series, that pushes Seishu into being a better team. Kou would never become the all-star ace on the mound without her assistance. This is what makes Aoba so provocative and why Cross Game makes gender roles irrelevant in the modern age in favor of realistic inspiring storytelling. Cross Game is not largely about gender roles either. This is just one of the small thematic facets that embody the whole of what makes Cross Game what it is.
A Homer Run for my Soul
It stood out to me for personal reasons though. Clearly in the past decade or so women in fiction are finally becoming more predominant with roles that lead the story. However, I still am seeing a severe lack of realistic depictions of their lives. In anime culture, films like The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Wolf Children have done an excellent job of showing women in conventional but unique ways. They in turn showcase their desire for individuality trying to remove the constraints of gender. While in Hollywood, most leading ladies are put into empowering action roles that while not demeaning in any way, don’t really describe the full extent of women’s minds. The need for equal depiction is starting to become a reality, and for me works like Cross Game are at the front of the pack. Women are often stopped from doing what they may love due to cultural folkways that are increasingly outdated each year. While there is nothing wrong at all with narratives showing the more feminine/masculine sides of us, sometimes it is the most rewarding to see the stories that weren’t allowed to be told before and that are just as true to us.
With stories like Cross Game we can get a taste of what it is like to let a lady be who she wants to be, not who we tell her to be. When Aoba is who she is meant to be, a happier world is born from it. Seishu was given a baseball team invigorated with passion, and a dream that was obtainable. Not just because of its star players on the field, but the girl who created a tsunami of possibility by simply loving baseball.
Well that’s all folks! This hereby concludes my thematic review of Cross Game. I certainly hope you enjoyed it at least a little bit. Any thoughts, comments, or concerns you have? Feel free to leave them in the comments below or at one of my other social media locations. Until next time….Safe travels my little wandering readers.
What would you like to see reviewed next!?