Sunday, December 20, 2009

Manga Review: Happy Cafe Volume 1

Originally released in Japan in 2005, Happy Café finds itself nestled firmly in the shoujo genre. The manga has apparently gone on to receive other volumes overseas, though here in the States Tokyopop has just released the first one. It should be said that the first volume of a manga is much like the first episode of an anime series, or anything else for that matter. One typically gets a general idea of what it's going to be about, but it's rare when something grabs and hooks you right out of the gate. Kou Matsuzuki's Happy Café is such a release that is kind of hard to gauge from its opening volume.

Happy Café doesn't offer many surprises. You see a happy looking girl on the cover with a couple of metro boys, and that's pretty much what this manga presents. The story centers around a bakery named Café Bonheur, where its patrons seem to leave happy. This entices 16 year old Uru Takamura to the point she enters the café and offers to work there for free after frequently seeing customers leaving with a smile on their face. She's a spirited little girl with a somewhat troubled past and wants nothing more than to bring happiness to other people. Once she enters the café, however, she notices that some things aren't quite what they seem to be.

For starters the baker in the café, Shindo, doesn't appear to be the kind of guy who would instill good feelings in others. He's kind of sullen and violent, frequently hitting people and saying what's on his mind regardless of other's feelings. Be that as it may though, Shindo-san is a remarkable baker and Uru notices that he's quite a different person when he's in the kitchen. He smiles and looks pleasant, which is a far cry from his outward appearance the rest of the time. Joining Shindo at Bonheur is Ichiro, who is well-mannered, but something of a narcoleptic who falls asleep constantly. The only way to revive him is by shoving food in his mouth. Odd, I know, but it's pretty funny and stands as one of the manga's running gags.

Once the three main characters are introduced; which happens during the first couple of pages, Matsuzuki begins building on their relationships and personalities. Uru, Shindo, and Ichiro are interesting enough by themselves, but I must say that they do play off each other quite well in this volume. Uru seems to be smitten with Shindo, Shindo sees a little of himself in Uru, and Ichiro is almost too nonchalant for his own good. There are many amusing bits that stem from their interactions, but anything resembling an interesting, cohesive story is not really part of the equation.

Happy Café seems almost too content to just keep things in neutral for this volume. Some stuff happens, but it's nothing that will really hook readers. There is plenty of potential for sure and the characters are fun enough so there may be some nice developments in the next volume. Now that the introductions are out of the way one would hope that Matsuzuki would take the plot to the next level.

As far as the artwork is concerned, Matsuzuki's style is pretty attractive and detailed at times. There are many points in this volume where there are no backgrounds and at times characters are merely represented by outlines and simple shapes. Despite some of these shortcuts the manga looks quite nice and the art style is very enjoyable.

If you're looking for a new manga to sink your teeth into Happy Café may be right up your alley. Then again, you really have to be looking for a shoujo comedy in order to appreciate anything that happens here, because there's not much else. The unfortunate part about this first installment is the fact that nothing really happens here. The story doesn't become interesting and the character development only goes so far. Hopefully the next volume will change that, but until then this one looks to have some promise.

Maki Rating:

1 comment:

rules of roz said...

thanks for the review! I wanted to read it and i didn't know what it was about!

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