Cross Game and Touch, and feminism in Japan

Kou restraining Aoba, from Cross Game

I wasn’t aware Mitsuru Adachi (mangaka) even existed until the spring season of this very year, but all that changed after I’d seen the first two episodes of Cross Game. I realised I’d missed out on a lot of great anime of his and, to fill the gap in-between episodes of Cross Game, I started watching Touch too.

It’s a bit weird following both these series at the same time. At first, I was having trouble telling them apart. Despite the near 25 years separating their broadcasts, they are so similar. Both revolve around high school baseball, both place a stronger emphasis on emotion than action and both are noted for the tragedies that change the lives of their main characters.

Also, both are great.

I’ve wanted to get that off my chest for a while, but I’ve also been wondering about how I might compare the two. It’s not easy because Adachi‘s loyalty to realism means that many of his male characters share similar traits, but then I thought about his use of female characters too.

In Touch, we have Minami. She’s your ‘typical’ perfect girl. Pretty, well-mannered and conscientious. She’s good at gymnastics, cooks for her father and studies hard at school, yet her friends and family talk openly about who she might marry in the future as if she’s incapable of living her own life, as if all she need do is follow their orders and everything will work out for the best. What’s worse is that she’s content with all of this, it’s just a part of the normal life of a girl growing up in Japan in the 1980s.

Aoba of Cross Game is like the antithesis of Minami; she’s rude, hard-headed and competitive. She’s also an excellent baseball pitcher, but destined never to play in an official game because of her gender. She isn’t living a girly life at all; in fact, and much to her annoyance, Aoba’s so bad at cooking that Kou has to take over!

The boy is cooking for the girl!

If one can take Adachi‘s writing as a realistic reflection of Japanese society, then, obviously, Aoba’s way of doing things can be taken as evidence of the progression of gender roles in Japan over the last 20 years. It’s not that I think Touch is intentionally sexist or anything that heavy, but rather, I think it’s just a product of its time, as is Adachi‘s reflective style. Both series are exciting, compulsive and heart-warming, with or without gender politics, but it’s interesting to note how the ideas of one man, and by extension, the institution that shelters him, have gradually shifted over the years.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

11 thoughts on “Cross Game and Touch, and feminism in Japan”

  1. it’s interesting to note how the ideas of one man, and by extension, the institution that shelters him, have gradually shifted over the years.

    I think comparing changing roles of female characters in anime/manga over time is interesting but I am wondering if just looking at two Adachi series is enough of a sample. For example what about a character like Oscar in Rose of Versailles from the late 70’s? I would say she certainly is not your typical female characters.Of course that was shoujo not shounen like Touch.

    But anyways I really want to read or watch Touch. I think in the end it might be easier for me to just read the manga (since it’s easier than downloading 100+ episodes) I just have to find the time.

  2. What an interesting comparison! I think the idea is close to the money, but I don’t think Aoba is a “new” character, per se. She has a lot of the characteristics of the type of tsundere that was more popular in the early part of this decade, before it was watered down into a depthless moe trope. You could probably trace a lot of her traits right back to the romantic classics of the 80s, like Maison Ikkoku and Kimagure Orange Road. But I do agree that a lot of her traits have become more prolific in modern anime, while the more feminine “perfect” girl is probably seen as a little more passe these days. Whether this is a consequence of a gradual attitude shift towards feminism or just that the more hard-edged traits typically associated with tsundere-ism have become more popular among anime fans… well, that’s an interesting question in itself.

  3. I can understand your craving for more Cross Game and resorting to Touch to fill that gap. Although like Kim, I think watching that much episodes of Touch can be saved for other titles in my ever-growing-backlog (i.e.soon to complete Mouryou no Hako with korean sub oo/), so I am currently saving Cross Game for marathon.

    And I agree with your observation, these characters of Adachi are so strongly grounded in realism, and like you say, much of that can be attributed to the author’s detailing of his experiences, including how a typical Japanese woman might behave in 1980s (in Touch for example). Asian countries overall have been pretty conservative when it came to gender roles, but it is true that lot of it is changing (especially since we guys have to know how to cook to be popular now…it’s one of those ‘ticks’ for the girl’s ideal man list x_X).

  4. Hmm. something to remember is that, even now, Aoba is the antithesis of the average Japanese girl. The impression I get is that Cross Game is set in the countryside (which would make Koushien such a big goal for a highschooler in the boonies, as it would no doubt come with a trip to Kyoto or Tokyo) and girls in the countryside – even, if not moreso in the west, as in japan – are more and less subject to gender roles. Due to the lack of “girly” things to do when not in a city (shopping, going to movies and doing your nails are all in limited supply away from major metropolitan centers) girls often end up playing along “with the guys”. As Aoba is on the cusp of experiencing, however, there comes a time when it’s deemed inappropriate for a girl to be doing things like playing baseball.

    The interesting thing I see in Aoba is that its not that she rejects her gender role, it’s that she just can’t do anything “feminine” nearly as well as her sister could, and so she rebels against it. We see her trying to cook for her little sister at one point in the series, and upon failing, is absolutely deject. A part of what makes her interesting is that, even though she’s an exceptional pitcher for a girl, she’s never satisfied because she can’t be girly – and she takes it out on Kou, who’s good at something considered “manly” and therefore has no problems.
    [/end ramble]

  5. @Baka-Raptor

    I’ve only seen the first two OPs, but I prefer the second one because it has that hint of darkness/drama to it; the lyrics are interesting too. Anyway, I think you need to start writing about things like Touch, your blog is filled with too much NEW anime. OLD anime is the new NEW anime.

    @Kim\Sorrow-kun

    The thing about this comparison is that both Touch and Cross Game are intended for broad, mainstream audiences, hence the overriding morality/message of the series is intended to be taken to heart by Japan’s impressionable youth.

    That’s why I think this is an interesting comparison; I’m not necessarily saying that it’s a problem with Adachi’s writing (which is great in both series, by the way), just that Touch was something that millions of kids tuned into in the 1980s, while these days, it’s something like Cross Game instead. So I would argue that characters like Minami and Aoba are supposed to be taken as role models, and given what they both seem to represent, that is a huge shift.

    @gaguri

    (If I could watch Mouryou no Hako raw, I would; the english fansubs have stalled (though there are signs that that might be changing soon, I’m quite dubious of the translation quality.))

    I know Touch is long, but good anime is good. I guess I don’t really think about anime in terms of length, I just look at the ratings and reviews, and then take the leap! (I guess it helps that I’m a total sucker for sports series!)

    @Celeste

    …Which just adds another layer of subtext to Aoba’s already complex personality. So, despite being the antithesis of the ‘girly’ girl, she almost hates herself for it? She wants to be like Wakaba, but can’t seem to manage it? Adachi’s obviously trying to say ‘it’s okay just to be yourself’.

    Do you think Aoba’s intended to be a role model?

    I think she’s interesting because, while she fails at doing ‘girly’ things, she loves the opposite, playing baseball, etc. She isn’t superficial at all; she’s just a girl, without any of the gender nonsense that’s usually associated with.

    It’s also interesting to note how the other characters treat the Principal’s ‘pretty’ daughter, right down to the way she’s portrayed; she wears flash clothes, has her nails done, etc, but no one likes her. Cross Game really seems to be rallying against that superficial image of femininity.

  6. @batezi: I do tend to think of Aoba is being just a little bit annoyed with herself for being unable to fufill those stereotypes: who wouldn’t want to do what everyone expects of them? I suppose I speak from personal experience here too, however; having never been the girly-girl. Either way, I love her character.

    Good point on the principal’s daughter, though. I didn’t even think of it. I think alot of the way the other characters treat her might (again) have to do with the fact that they’re in a suburb or a small town: there’s a sense of simplicity throughout the story that Adachi portrays well both visually and in terms of dialogue, and the principal’s daughter decorating herself as she does comes across as nothing but artifice in that setting. It also makes her the natural foil to Aoba’s character, which I suppose answers your question.

    I don’t think Adachi is painting Aoba as a heroine so much as she’s setting Aoba up to be a sort of moral-of-the-story for girls: “being a girl doesn’t mean being girly”, I suppose. I don’t think Adachi is really setting up anyone to be a hero, actually – she never seems to pass judgement on her characters via narration or the comments of other characters, they simply take the paths they take, and the plot ambles along at its own pace. In contrast to Naruto, which has Tsunade (and more recently, the rest of the village) singing his praises and putting his actions on a pedastool, Kou simply does what he does, and often receives no praise.

  7. (sorry bit late to proceedings)

    I must admit I’ve only watched up till that part of ep5 shown in the picture. Up until that point at least, it feels like, regardless of the creators intentions, Aoba is always wrong because she is trying to reject some kind of vision set about by her sister. Meanwhile the main character feels like a Mary Sue (Martin Sue?). It didn’t seem to be asserting women’s right to not be feminine.

  8. I disagree. I didnt see Minami as a ‘typical’ girl from the 80s.

    The talking about who Minami would marry… It wasnt serius. It was something that parents discusses like jokes children’s joes. Something like, “hey, you (boy) are always with her; in the future you will marry with her, huh?”. Something like that. A joke.

    I think that you did not watch the series enough. There are also two movies, and in the last movie you can see Minami’s profession. I won’t spoil anything, but I can say that it is not a profession with many famales wokers.

  9. Somewhat agree with the above poster. When they were talking about Minami’s marriage, they also frequently talked about Kazuya as her ideal couple, so they were deciding his future in a way…. I don’t know that you can read so much into that kind of talk. However, there is definitely gender roles coming into play with Minami in Touch and her general attitude. In one scene she says that she will strive to be a good enough woman for the male characters to strive for. Which if you just take it without intending to be offended, isn’t so bad, but it’s the kind of thing that might earn some stares if you said it these days. But despite that, I think she is a wonderful character. And Touch is a wonderful series. Right now I like it more than Cross Game, but this may change because I feel that Cross Game is a lot more polished. If the story moves me the same way, it could jump back up.

  10. well, i must say touch is superb. yesterday i finished to watching series.its really wonderful animation, manga too. but i must admit, tacchan’s hesitation of about minami, sometimes make me frustrated… Touch-H2-Cross game theyr so similar baseball and love polygon oriented. U should read Katsu Miyuki and Rough too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *