Monday, March 22, 2010

Manga Review: Happy Cafe Volume 2

A little while ago we got the chance to check out the first installment of Kou Matsuzuki's Happy Café thanks to the team over at Tokyopop. The book originally launched in 2005 and found itself with a second volume later that same year. In case you missed the review of the first volume here it is. If you don't want to bother with that link here's a brief description of the manga:

Happy Café follows the exploits of a 16 year old girl named Uru Takamura who comes to find herself working at a place named Café Bonheur. Her only goal in life is to basically make other people happy and when she sees the kind of pleasure the guys at Bonheur churn out she naturally must get a job there. The café is operated by a mysterious manager who leaves it run by two guys named Shindo and Ichiro. Shindo is the baker and all around gloomy gus, but he's happy when he's baking and his treats put a smile on anyone's face. Ichiro is easy going, but prone to falling asleep when he's hungry, which is a crux of the humor in this manga.

To put it bluntly, the set up for Happy Café is simplistic almost to a fault, but there's an endearing charm to it all. The first volume shows as Uru gets acquainted with Shindo and Ichiro, and in general, life in the café. Nothing really happens in the first volume and basically it kicked it into neutral only to introduce the characters and setting. Thankfully some of that changes with this installment.

The opening chapter presents more of the same with Uru, Shindo, and Ichiro operating business as usual. Things change, however, when a pair of troublemakers from a rival pastry shop shows up and causes quite the stir. Their appearance instantly creates tension in Café Bonheur, which is a good thing. Competition is good for business, they say, right? Well, when the guys post a "closed" sign on Bonheur's front door and spread rumors about the cost of their sweets the gloves come off, sort of.

In addition to their appearance this volume also heads down some amusing paths as Shindo hurts his baking arm trying to save Uru from a nasty fall. This sets up an awkward situation during a contest between the two bakeries. Not only does all this happen, but Strawberry Girl makes several appearances, and Uru's mother makes a café house-call. It all comes together to make a volume of the manga that's far more interesting and entertaining than the first. It's clear that Matsuzuki's book no longer relies on Shindo's mysteries and Ichiro's narcolepsy to provide interesting material for the reader and the events in this book actually left me curious about what would happen next.

Once again Matsuzuki's art style is a standout with some attractive designs and solid backgrounds. Again there's a simplistic nature to it all and not every panel is brimming with detail, but it's done for emphasis and it's effective. The translation is good as well and there were only a couple of minor mistakes in the book.

The first volume of Happy Café left me a little underwhelmed, but I'm pleased to report that things are far more interesting in the second installment. The characters are livelier, the world is developed more, and the secondary characters worked perfectly. I'm interested in seeing where it all goes from here, and if this installment is any indication, it can only get better (hopefully).

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by Tokyopop. Happy Café Volume 2 is rated Teen 13+ for Mild Sexuality, Aggression, and Moderate Language.

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