Considering the monumental success of the anime adaptation of Naoshi Arakawa’s previous manga, Your Lie in April, it’s surprising to not see more excitement surrounding the adaptation of their most recent work, Farewell, My Dear Cramer. Admittedly, sports series, with the exception of properties like Haikyuu and Yuri on Ice, rarely reach the popularity of other mainstream properties, and that’s before discussing the difficulties of adapting sport, and soccer in particular, into an interesting story.
To capture soccer on the page or the screen, what’s important isn’t an adherence to the rules of the beautiful game, but a necessity to capture the high-stakes emotions of following a team to glory or defeat. For that, you need strong interpersonal and inter-team rivalries that incentivize the audience to care about the result, while putting people we can root for at the heart of a story on personal growth.
Not only does the Farewell, My Dear Cramer manga achieve this, but its focus on friendships and not glory turns this soccer story into a series accessible to all, regardless of your interest in the sport. The anime has a lot to live up to.
Soccer, But Glory Is Just a Byproduct
Before publishing Your Lie in April, Naoshi Arakawa published a two-volume manga called Sayonara Football that centered on the character of Nozomi Onda, who develops her soccer skills with her junior high school boys team. Farewell, My Dear Cramer acts as a sequel to this short series and features Onda in a prominent role, although only as a supporting character.
Instead, the series centers on Sumire Suo, a talented player who is unable to achieve anything on her junior high school team, who receives an offer from her ‘rival’ Midori Soshizaki. ‘Let’s join the same team. I won’t let you play alone.’ The offer comes as Midori passes up an opportunity at one of the best girls’ soccer teams in the country to play with her at Warabi Seinen High School. The new team is barely functioning, after having fallen a long way since it produced pioneer women’s soccer plater Naoko Nomi.
The series follows the pair grow as friends, teammates, and as part of the Warabi Seinen High School girls’ soccer team.
Admittedly, such a premise can sound a little cliche within the genre of sports stories. Farewell, My Dear Cramer surpasses these tropes to become a high point of the genre by focusing on the joy of playing the sport with others over the (still desirable) goal of absolute victory. Not only does that focus stand the series apart from other sports manga that are typically about being the best there is, but it also shifts the perspective onto the human characters in a way that makes the series appealing to even those with less of an interest in soccer.
Take Warabi Seinen’s first match against Kunogi Gakuen in volume 2. The team is in a bad state, with Sumire and Midori the shining lights in a team that features Onda in a background role and players like Sawa Echizen, someone who is such a beginner that she celebrates her ability to pass a ball in a straight line. Facing Kunogi Gakuen, the undisputed best team in Japan, in their first match thanks to Naoko’s relationship with the coach, is a baptism of fire that goes about as well as you could expect.
What makes this drubbing at the hands of the champions interesting is how Naoshi Arakawa weaves character development into the ups and downs of play. This is the first proper match where the duo have had the chance to play together, and it’s in these moments the pair experiences the joy of playing sport alongside one another. Other players on the team are drawn to their exciting play and the other-worldly ability of their opponents to want to improve, coming out of the match with renewed desire and a single-minded goal: beat Kunogi.
Such a goal makes it likely that the team would need to be competing at the highest levels and in tournament finals anyhow. Not strictly tying the team’s motivations to victory in competitions ensures that the center of attention remains purely on our two main characters and this ensemble cast, and the joy that the match between sport and friendship can bring. It also ensures that even low-stakes events, like competing for new jerseys in a 5-a-side futsal tournament, feel engaging and important for how they deepen the growing bonds between teammates.
Midori’s statement that she doesn’t want Suo to play alone in chapter 1 becomes key to selling this idea about their priorities in sport while serving as the core thesis of the Farewell, My Dear Cramer as a whole. Suo became a solitary figure, unable to connect with the team at her old school, yet the attempts by Midori to reach out and the growing bonds between the members of the team break down the walls she and the others have put up.
While Midori and Suo are undoubtedly the core, what’s arguably more impressive is how the series can successfully juggle its ever-growing cast of characters while giving even rival players their own story arcs and growth.
Sawa Echizen is one of my favorite secondary characters because of her boundless energy and her love for seeing players on both sides pull off impressive trickery and moves that belay her love of the sport. She comes off as a bit of an air-headed goof, for sure, but over the course of multiple volumes, she grows from someone who can’t pass a ball to an invaluable asset. She never loses this excitable personality along the way.
Matches are intense and exciting, not just because we see Warabi Seinen grow as a team, but because our opponents are given just as much depth, to the point we feel the pain of defeat just as much as we experience the joys of victory.
The match between Warabi Seinen and Urawa Hosei is a highlight of the series thanks to the depth and character given to Alice Adatara, a player who looks like an outcast but finds a place to belong and people who care for her by becoming a soccer star. We experience her story through flashbacks, and in just a few chapters we know her past and we see her grow beyond it, all thanks to her time playing against Warabi. You end up rooting for both teams during this match thanks to the care given, making the result one to savor regardless of the victor.
You’ll have to read the series yourself to work out which team won, however.
It’s the care and attention given to characters that make this feel more like a character drama than a sports series. Still, fans of soccer won’t be disappointed in the series either, with incredible artwork and paneling that captures the end-to-end fluidity of the match, enhanced by plentiful stunning double-page spreads at key moments. Whether the characters are goofing around off the pitch or athletically reaching for the ball on it, the artwork is detailed and expressive in equal measure.
It’s easy to overlook sports manga, but to pass up on Farewell, My Dear Cramer, either in its now-concluded serialized form or in the upcoming anime adaptation, would be a crying shame. This review was initially planned as impressions on just the opening volumes of the series, but the superb character-driven story led to me reading the entire series in a matter of days. Where the series shines is the human drama that drives these characters to succeed, growing as players by playing for the journey, not the result. This is the storytelling we love from Arakawa (albeit with a little less tragedy), and is more than worth seeking out.
Farewell, My Dear Cramer is available in English from Kodansha.