Happy Cafe Volume 2 by Kou Matsuzuki
I wasn’t super-fond of the first volume of this series because it just seemed inert. I liked the second volume more than the first because some outside characters visit Cafe Bonheur, bringing with them some narrative tension and actual plot developments. Perhaps too, I knew what to expect from this manga and adjusted my expectations accordingly. Two brothers from a rival Japanese traditional pastry shop show up and engage in acts of sabotage which ends up in a pastry battle at a local restaurant showcase festival. Uru trips and when Shindo goes to save her he injures his main hand for cooking. The staff pull together and rise to the challenge nonetheless. Something about this manga still seems a bit thin. I guess the characters seem more like character types than individuals. On the other hand the simplistic feel good message about bringing people happiness through cake makes it difficult for me to hate on this manga. It would be like challenging a not very intelligent puppy to a New York Times crossword puzzle battle and then yelling at it when it loses. This might be the type of series to sneak up on the reader and grow much better over time. I hope this slight upward trajectory continues with the third volume.
Maid Sama Volume 4 by Hiro Fujiwara
Now Maid Sama is one of those series that does get better as it goes along. Even though Misaki keeps running into situations where she’s forced to don a maid outfit outside her secret job at a maid cafe the wacky antics in Maid Sama are still amusing. The fourth volume shows Misaki and her protector Usui run into difficulties when a rogue student with super-hypnosis abilities tries to come between them. Fortunately the couple battle through the difficulties, only to face the stress of preparing the school for prospective student tours. The rest of the volume focuses on the maid gang’s summer vacation, complete with ghost stories and beach volleyball.
One of the things I appreciate about the art is Fujiwara’s ability to portray malicious glee. When Misaki and Usui band together to fight the freshman hypnotist, there’s a scene of them standing together on the stairs backlit by the sun where they look so evil it is hilarious. Another thing I liked about this volume was the slow development of Misaki and Usui’s relationship. He’s always around to help her out of a jam, but her general attitude towards him is dismissive. She finally acknowledges all the help he’s given her and she’s starting to take his crush on her seriously instead of just ignoring it. The manga is beginning to feature more moments of genuine emotion mixed in with all the slapstick comedy and over the top characters. There’s a cute back-up story that retells the story of Momotaro with the Maid Sama cast, and the characters answer reader questions in their own unique way throughout the manga. This manga isn’t profound and it doesn’t approach the comedy levels of something like Your and My Secret or Yotsuba&, but it is a good pick if you are looking for something light and entertaining to read.
Review copies provided by the publisher