After a couple off-season episodes of Cross Game it’s good to get back to the game. And I’m relieved that Aoba decided to try out for the All-Japan girl’s team, even if we knew she would. Aoba has always been the most troubled of the characters, conflicted over old memories of her sister and Kou, bound to the vision of three of them playing in the tournement together, although they wouldn’t have let her on the field, yet wanting to prove herself in front of her peers, or at least, getting Ozaki back for hitting that home run off her.
And from the moment she boards the train you can tell she made the right choice in trying out. She’s surrounded by other players, including her friends from the big game last year, and at the tryouts she is immediately greeted by the dreaded Ozaki.
Now, even in that big game last year, in spite of her hitting ability, Ozaki came off as likeable. She clearly enjoyed that game and how close it was, even if her team was nearly upset. She’s confident enough to bear no grudges. She seems to actually want to play ball with Aoba. Cross Game does this all the time: they present us with a rival team and then single out one or two likable characters which we can’t bear to hate. Azuma joined the show in this fashion. Not that this is unique. Saki did the same thing, but I’m not about to compare that show to Cross Game.
Then there’s Sawaguchi, the opposing pitcher from last year. This story is more interesting. She’s angrier, more competitive, and what’s more, Aoba is a rival for a pitching staff spot. But notice in the pic above that she’s talking to Aoba’s friend Mina, and much of the talk is admiration for Aoba. In this way we find it much harder to just hate her. Besides, Aoba had already made a monkey of her in that last game. She’d be a good teammate, too, because she enjoys a challenge and would make a good friendly rival.
No, the figure in this episode we’re expected to dislike is Shimano, whose arrogant
brother cousin we met in the boy’s tourney last summer. This Shimano is just as disagreeable, challenges the coaches to let them bat against real pitchers and not machines. (This must have really messed up the tryouts schedule).
The tryouts go pretty much as expected. Ozaki wows everyone with her batting, no one can touch Sawaguchi. Some other girls we have met succeed, and others fail. Poor, determined Mina, but we sort of expected that. Everyone who hasn’t seen Aoba pitch already are wowed by her.
But what’s most beautiful is the way Aoba conducts herself. Pitching against Azuma every day means she’s afraid of no one. And worse for her, Shimano underestimates Aoba and says a few unkind things. In their showdown Aoba destroys her, pitch by relentless pitch, receiving the ball, going into her windup, hurling something Shimano can’t hit, while the music builds to a magnificent climax.
Characteristic of this show is that the music usually just putters amiably around, and you don’t even notice when it begins to ramp up the intensity, until all of a sudden it’s full orchestra and brass at triple-forte.
It’s all good, until the end, when after all this buildup, after Aoba’s passed the first round, she’s clobbered by an Azuma liner during batting practice. The previews show her leg in a cast. She won’t make the next round. All that work, all those characters re-introduced, all those good vibes for Aoba, for nothing! Well, Cross Game is a long series; I can’t believe it won’t return to them, but you have to wonder if Aoba’s working under a curse. Disappointed again! Such a great character, she doesn’t deserve it.