Happy Cafe Volume 1

By Kou Matsuzuki. Released in Japan as “Shiawase Kissa Sanchoume” by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

It’s fairly well known by now what my shoujo buttons are. Strong, optimistic heroine. Lots of goofy comedy. Occasional sweet romance. So it’s probably no surprise to anyone how much I enjoyed this manga.

The plot is incredibly unoriginal, but again, shoujo manga. It’s not what you start with, but where you go with it. Plucky heroine strikes out on her own due to misunderstanding, meets hot guy (with hot guy friend), worms her way into their life, and into their hearts with her shiny cheeriness. Despite this, it’s nothing at all like Fruits Basket.

For one, the heroine’s family issues are resolved almost immediately. If we’re going to get future angst from Uru, it will have to be somewhere else. (As a side note, the Urusei Yatsura fan in me is disappointed that a girl named Uru doesn’t have cute little horns.) And while she’s bright and cheery, and sometimes a little clueless, she’s only a 5 out of ten on the shoujo heroine density index, where 10 would be Hikari from Special A.

Ichiro, the blond guy, is underdeveloped so far, but that’s no surprise in a manga that wants to set up the lead couple. Shindo is very well done, though. He fits the archetype of ‘jerk guy’, but in a good way. He’s mean to the heroine in ways like “why do you keep breaking things?” and “I am uncomfortable with telling you about myself”, which is totally understandable given his background. We don’t get ‘I like to screw with my girl’s head’ that so many other authors seem to think is what shoujo jerks should be.

So far the couple is quite sweet, with blushing going on between both Uru and Shindo. Since the series has three leads, I’m unsure if Ichiro will somehow enter and make this a love triangle, but it wouldn’t surprise me. This was 15 volumes long in Japan, so we’ve clearly got a ways to go before we wrap up. The cafe plot lends itself well to one-shots (such as the one here with the model), so we don’t have to spend every chapter watching these two not get together.

There’s some very funny humor, with a lot of side ‘out of speech bubble’ comments I’ve seen in other Hana to Yume works. Uru’s incredible strength is a good quirk, though I think Ichiro’s sleeping/needs food schtick is somewhat overdone in the first volume. My favorite gag is when Shindo sees Uru up on a high ladder studying, and notes she shouldn’t sit so high wearing a skirt. Having read shoujo manga before, we expect red blushy “you pervert!” comments. So Uru’s blase “It’s OK, I’m wearing underwear!” made me laugh a lot.

There is, of course, one major fault. There is absolutely nothing new or innovative about this manga. It will not shock you, or make you struggle to get through the months until the next volume is released. It is what I call ‘comfort manga’, the title you can turn to after a long day that is not very taxing on the brain and puts a smile on your face (and a song in your heart, naturally). But it’s funny, and sweet, and has likeable leads, and thus as comfort manga I think it does its job quite well.

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  1. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected/remembered from when I'd read it before, and I think that's because of the humour (mostly coming from Uru). As you say, there's nothing new or innovative, and normally that would bother me. But it made me laugh, again and again, and for that I have to love it :D

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