Tokyopop Quick Takes – Portrait of M & N 2, Happy Cafe 3, and Maid Sama 5

Portrait of M & N Volume 2 by Higuchi Tachibana

There are few shoujo manga out there that are really weird. Portrat of M & N is about the developing relationship between masochist Mitsuru and narcissist Natsuhiko. The second volume places the somewhat unusual protagonists in stock high school manga situations – mean girls bullying, visiting parents, and going to summer camp and getting lost in the “haunted” woods. Mirrors abound to trigger Natsuhiko going into a reverie about his own reflection and Mitsuru always seems to be on the verge of being horribly injured. Mitsuru has a crush on Natsuhiko and over the course of the second volume it seems like he’s come out of his self-obsession enough to realize that he has feelings for her too.

I think I’d like this series more if it would just commit to being weird. There are hints that the growing relationship between the two main characters will lead them away from their intrinsic quirkiness. Mitsuru’s concern for Natsuhiko during a particularly violent vollyball game causes her to ignore being injured. The art is honestly not the strong point of this series. There’s a certain static gothy aesthetic about the way the characters are drawn that is appealing, but this is offset by some very odd body proportions. Towards the end of the volume it seems like the layouts have gotten a little more expansive, with more variation and close-ups of the characters’ emotional reactions. Even if this series is a little more conventional than I want it to be, it still is odd enough to stand out from the more typical shoujo fare. I think this was Tachibana’s first series, and I am more curious now about reading the longer running and more successful series Gakuen Alice.

Happy Cafe Volume 3 Kou Matsuzuki

Happy Cafe continues to be very light and unoffensive. Being too light and unoffensive, it risks being a little bland and boring. After reading the third volume I was overwhelmed by cuteness and moments of character-based humor. I’ve started liking this series more than I expected to. Everything goes on as usual at Cafe Bonheur, with a few incidents that only serve to deepen the bonds of friendship between the cafe workers. Uru takes her older male co-workers home to meet her parents. Uru’s classmates notice how cute Shindo and Ichiro are and lay siege to the cafe, ordering water and lingering at all hours in order to scope out the guys. Uru spills the most foul smelling juice (a combo of Natto and Durian) on the rival sweets shop worker Abekawa The Younger and goes home with him in order to wash his shirt. Narcoleptic Ichiro gets a bit of back story as Uru learns what his childhood was like.

None of these stories are particularly demanding of the reader, but there’s a general feeling of warmth that I got as I read episode after episode that centered around the cafe workers making each other and their customers happy. Happy Cafe is very undemanding of its readers, and I enjoyed but didn’t feel overly enthusiastic about the first two volumes. Since the third volume has plenty of supporting characters that were previously introduced, I felt like Matsuzuki was able to settle down a bit and focus on funny moments of character interaction, like when Shindo reveals that he’s become an expert in beating people up with his feet because he wanted to save his precious hands for pastry-making. I think the art has gradually become a little more expressive, and it is hard to feel cynical when confronted with Uru’s beaming face as she delights in her co-workers.

Maid Sama Volume 5 by Hiro Fujiwara

I enjoy reading Maid Sama, but with the fifth volume the recycled plotlines are getting to be a little bit annoying. If things don’t get shaken up soon, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to maintain my interest for 5+ more volumes. As always, Sakura gets involved in sticky situations involving her secret job at a maid cafe and her ever helpful not-boyfriend Usui shows up to help her right on time. The major plot line in this volume involves the evil student body president at a rival school engineering a hostile corporate takeover of Maid Latte so a butler cafe can be opened in its place. Sakura decides that she must disguise as a boy and take part in a footman competition to prove that the employees of Maid Latte are just as capable as any wanna-be butlers.
Usui and Sakura grow closer at a glacial pace. He supports her in her butler battle and is injured, and she attempts to nurse him back to health. I was hoping a little bit that by the fifth volume there’s be a little bit more to their relationship, but since Maid Sama is more of a comedy series than a romance it puts character development to the side in favor of battles using tiered tea trays. The art is still attractive and I do like seeing Sakura slowly learn to trust Usui, but I put down this volume with a general feeling of impatience and wishing more had happened.

Review copies provided by the publisher.