Happy Cafe Volume 1 by Kou Matsuzuki
I was curious about this title when I saw the cover. A short perky girl is waving hello while a cranky guy holds up a plate of cake and another boy stuffs his face. The cover is also decorated with coffee stains as befits the setting of the manga at a patisserie called Cafe Bonheur. Uru is a girl who is so short people think she’s an elementary school student despite being in high school. She makes up for her lack of height with freakish super-strength. She applies for a job at the Cafe Bonheur. Her new co-workers are the misanthropic Shindo who despite his awkward exterior is a sweet guy who excels at baking and Ichiro, a cute boy who is always falling asleep in random places when he forgets to eat.
Uru settles in to her new work environment despite her unfortunate habit of breaking dishes. Happy Cafe isn’t the type of manga to read if you’re looking for new or innovative shoujo. The characters and plot elements are all fairly predictable. Uru decides to move out and live on her own and work when her mother remarries, but it turns out that her mother and stepfather really want her to live at home. Uru decides to maintain her independence and in an amazing coincidence it turns out that she and Shindo are neighbors. Uru isn’t sure what to do about her growing attraction for Shindo since he seems constantly annoyed, with only a few breaks in his expression when he hands a child some sweets or works in the kitchen.
There are a few jokes in the manga that are amusing, but the biggest problem is the lack of dramatic tension or narrative urgency. Happy Cafe feels a little inert, even though the interplay between the characters is cute. The art is clean, with plenty of close-ups of the characters’ facial expressions at pivotal moments when they interact with each other. I’m still interested in reading the next volume of this series for a few reasons. I tend to like grouchy exterior/gooey interior male manga characters. I also usually like manga that uses food service as a setting. From the author notes it looks like this is her first volume of manga, and it seems like the series ran for at least 13 volumes in Japan. So I’m hoping that the plot elements of Happy Cafe will get a little more interesting in the upcoming volumes. There’s potential here, but I feel like this series hasn’t quite come together yet.
Review copy provided by the publisher.