The mysterious fantasy world is, again, the most interesting aspect of Cross Break, but the authors still can’t decide if it should consist of beautiful cities made of birdcages hanging in the trees, or farms that grow shoes.
Writer/Artist: Duo Brand
Translation: Christine Schilling
Adaptation: Brynne Chandler
What They Say
Things get more dangerous and more confusing for Akito as he and the mysterious Neon search for a way to cure Yaya. Their travels lead them to Neon's hometown, but he doesn't exactly receive a warm welcome...
Rowed by Haran, their recently-befriended “skipper,” Akito and the gang end up on the level which contains Neon’s former home: the city of Song Wall. Their quest to obtain medicine for Yaya hits a stumbling block when even an old friend of Neon refuses to give him, now an outsider, medicine. To gain readmission to the city and forgiveness for his crimes, he will have to perform at the Singing Rostrum. Although he is at first unable to sing, accompaniment from Akito’s piano helps him practice and, later, succeed in singing a song that only Akito and Shinkai are supposed to know. Yaya receives her medicine and recovers, and Neon receives a mysterious phone call from Shinkai, who orders him to escort Akito to a certain place. Having been granted minstrel status from Shinkai, Neon is allowed to go anywhere without fear of punishment. The group continues on their way, helping two brothers who have a shoe farm meet their poll taxes and teaching them the value of communication, as well as rescuing a discarded cat that grows at an alarming rate. When they are later attacked by a warlock, Haran demands that Akito fulfill his promise and play the piano right then and there.
If that plot outline sounded random and disjointed then, well, you’ve gotten a good picture of the second volume. The first half, focusing on Neon’s troubles in Song Wall is fine, but it’s after that things begin to fall apart. There is still some charming creativity in play here; Song Wall’s city design is lovely, if on the same level of outlandish RPG-ness that I’ve come to expect from this series. Unfortunately, as was the case with the previous volume, there are lots of interesting ideas and settings that are never fully explained. The birds that are found in Song Wall are elaborated on in the appendix, and although this may help avoid large amounts of explanation via dialogue, it can be frustrating to have something as obvious as a bird riding around on Yaya’s head not explained until the end of the novel. That doesn’t even count the “shoe plants.” The creators acknowledge in the end that the setting has become more goofy than it was supposed to, but that’s not the real problem. Instead, it’s the lack of cohesion and balance between the more unnecessary, stranger aspects of the book and the serious moments. Even the moments of supposedly beautiful brotherly love aren’t much to talk about; even worse, they‘re, an utterly unsubtle commentary on Akito’s relationship with his own brother.
Cross Break is one of those series that has good points and bad points, none of which can stand out to drag the series definitively into “good“ or “bad“ territory. I’m still not entirely sure who it is supposed to be aimed at; the possible BL aspects are quite mild and tend to be corny rather than touching, the romance between Akito and Yaya is neither sweet nor original, and the fantasy cities, although lovingly rendered, are not given enough panel space to merit an art-based purchase. It is, I suppose, an amateurish exercise in fantasy adventure by two doujin artists. If that sounds compelling to you, then by all means, go out and buy a copy, and you shouldn‘t be disappointed. Otherwise, your money would be better spent on a book with a clearer plot and deeper character relationships.