The climax of Cross Game: Aoba and her character
Despite its target audience and simple drawings, Cross Game is one of the more complex series of the previous year, and one of the best ones at that. While the baseball parts are done tastefully, it’s with the interrelationships of the characters that this series really shines. Let’s take our two protagonists, for example. (A word of caution: I watched all 47 released episodes in the span of three days, so while everything is quite vivid to me I cannot remember specifics for the most part.)
The viewer can easily see as early as the fifth or the sixth episode that Aoba has a lot of respect for Ko. It is simply easier for her, however, to hide what she truly feels towards Ko because of her sister. When they were young, Aoba and Ko were antagonistic to one another, and this was primarily because of Wakaba’s love towards Ko. Instead of being able to hog her sister all to herself, she had to share it with Ko and eventually the time they spent together was significantly lessened. As a consequence, she directed her frustrations and hatred to a reason that could be her scapegoat: this reason was Ko. Their bickering continued until Wakaba’s death, and even continued afterward, simply because she was such a palpable presence even beyond her death: the flashbacks were important because both of them treasured the words of Wakaba. Aoba took it to heart when her sister told her that Ko was hers even if he was able to obtain 160 km/h with his pitching. With every move they made, the spectre of Wakaba loomed near. The dreams that she had for her sister and lover surrounded them and pervaded their every move because they both wanted to make her happy.
Aoba was already aware of Ko’s presence and his effect on her life when she blushed heavily when he went near her. It was the only time she blushed throughout the whole show, because his words and approach were out of left field and left her totally open. An observant viewer could also notice the subtle changes in her character, from bickering with Ko less to being able to say her thanks, even to Ko himself. It did not help that Ko himself was quite a gentleman despite her character and actions, and easily saw through her like Wakaba did. On the other hand, hints were also dropped as regards Ko’s feelings towards her. Nothing happened, however, because of their looming memories of Wakaba. Their inability to be honest with themselves also didn’t help the progression of their relationship from merely being friends. I personally believe Aoba is the worse culprit of this, because she is unable to say what she really means. Most of her words either only trail off or transmogrify into something other, something innocuous.
From my palimpsest of memories, I believe that the turning-point of their relationship within the show was during Aoba’s hospitalization because of Azuma’s line drive breaking a bone in her leg. She only secretly admired his ability and his growth before that, but she realized that her sister did not choose wrong with him. When frustration overcame her, it was him who brought her back, who gave her hope, and who made her understand that life went on. This was compounded by the arrival of Akane Takigawa, who uncannily resembled Wakaba to such an extent that it seemed as if a ghost appeared to the people who lost her when they first saw her. Aoba, I believe, slowly came to realize that it was no longer mere admiration for his pitching that got her: it was his actual person.
To silently prove this she declined an invitation to participate in the Japan National Team practice simply to be able to help both Ko and Wakaba chase their goals. Despite being unable to play, despite staying in the benches cheering, despite being a wonderful pitcher, she decided to stay as a pitching coach solely because she saw what her sister saw in Ko. This was the spark plug for her epiphany. Next, caught unawares by Kou’s kindness, she no longer complained of the quality of what he gave but sincerely offered her thanks for his different gifts. (I cannot place it exactly when, but she also cooked a Napolitan for Ko the best way she could – it wasn’t burnt when he ate it.) Her utter dishonesty with her emotions, however, kept on hindering her progress with him: when it was Valentine’s day, she decided to give him a chocolate secretly only to cover it up as a gift to Azuma when she saw him and Akane together. Her jeers became lesser and lesser, and later on transformed into fluid praise for Ko. Despite Azuma’s proper confession, she never really thought of him in that way, as evidenced by her answer to his older brother: ‘I like him if I really think about it.’ Even in her insults, an undercurrent a lot of people fail to see is that she wants Ko to be happy, going out of her way more than a couple of times to set them up.
The epiphany from her hiding from herself finally came when Akane and Ko himself told her that she can only see the positive qualities of others if she didn’t just ignore them. It came as a surprise to her, then, when she discovered that Ko was as hardworking as her: she was merely unwilling to admit it because her blind jealousy and anger for Ko detracted from that part of her that was appreciating him more and more. When she took off her rage-tinted glasses, she realized that she liked Ko.
But it seemed too late, didn’t it? Akane was just like Wakaba and looked just like her. Akane was also a wonderful artist, an intelligent student, a beautiful and proper lady. On the other hand, Aoba was tomboyish, bad at household chores, and was only really good at baseball. Nevertheless, she had to know. It is a lot easier to accept failure whenever one understands the impossibility of the undertaking, and this is what I believe the reason for her finally asking Ko.
‘Do you like me? Do you like me compared to Wakaba and Akane?’
She barely flinched and formed a knowing half-frown when he said – ‘is a lie all right?’ Her terse ‘sure’ merely confirmed that she simply wanted to hear his words despite everything. What is most wonderful is that she initiated the confession – she was the one who sought to clear things up between them, even despite their fights and bickering. She had to know, because unlike the dozens of boys who had confessed to her she finally liked Ko even if he wasn’t able to pitch a 160 km/h fastball yet. She liked him because she saw herself in him and a lot more.
The climax of the story may be the final baseball game between Ryuou and Seishu, but the climax of the characters themselves is this subtle maneuver by Aoba, asking: ‘do you like her? [...] do you like me?’ The difference between most series and Cross Game is that melodrama and bathos are avoided by Cross Game. Aoba doesn’t cry much. She doesn’t even blush much. But one knows in the nuance of her actions that she really likes Ko despite her words and imprecations, and that is the reason that that short scene was the climax of its characters because it was her catharsis. She has finally revealed herself.