Happy Cafe 1 by Kou Matsuzuki: B

happycafe1From the back cover:
Meet Uru: she’s a little short, a bit disorganized, often is mistaken for an elementary school kid, and lives by herself after her mother gets remarried. When she decides to pay the bills by working part-time at the Happy Cafe, she meets Ichiro and Shindo, two of the most unsociable guys she’s ever had to contend with! And to make matters worse, it turns out that Uru is not exactly meant for the waitress world, as she’s a HUGE klutz. But as this hilarious shojo tale unfolds, true happiness—and even true love—might be lurking just around the corner…

I must admit that the back cover synopsis of this series had me worried. “Oh God,” I groaned, “Not another klutz.” Antic shenanigans were what I expected, but Happy Cafe surprised me by delivering instead a laid-back slice-of-life comedy with a dash of romantic potential.

The story begins when sixteen-year-old Uru Takamura answers a want ad for Cafe Bonheur, a coffee shop that also serves tasty desserts. There, she meets surly manager Shindo and his coworker Ichiro, whose hunger-triggered narcolepsy is a running gag. Originally willing to work only on a temporary basis, Uru breaks more than her fair share of dishes but has a way with customers that prompts Shindo to offer her a permanent job. Gradually, we learn that Uru is living on her own because she fears she’s intruding on the happiness of her newly remarried mother. With encouragement from an unexpectedly sympathetic Shindo, who detects her loneliness, she achieves a more honest and open relationship with her parents (neither of whom are villainous, hooray!), even though she ultimately decides to continue living apart from them.

All of that, along with Ichiro awesomely feigning a sleep-talking episode in order to inform Uru of Shindo’s angsty past, happens in the first chapter. It’s good, but it does feel rushed, with certain confidences happening just a little too quickly. Subsequent chapters focus on Uru and the guys getting to know each other better while dealing with things like rude customers and runaway models who spontaneously acquire the guts to refuse an arranged marriage after talking to Uru for, like, three minutes. Most of the action is confined to the café, but the discovery that Uru and Shindo are actually next-door neighbors helps move some of their interactions out into the world.

The relationship between Uru and Shindo is the main draw here. Outwardly unfriendly, Shindo is actually more awkward than unkind, and Uru eventually realizes that when he seems most annoyed with her it’s because he’s flustered rather than angry. He clearly appreciates her sunny qualities, and also gives her advice from time to time, his own past giving him an idea of the things she’s going through. Ichiro’s also an important part of the mix, keeping tabs on the progress between his coworkers and offering up amusing observations. We never get too deep into anyone’s head, but I still like all three characters, enough to be annoyed at the prospect that the café owner might soon be introduced and mess up the balance.

On first glance, I dismissed the art style as “generic shoujo,” but the more I read, the more it grew on me. Uru is your typical flat-chested tomboyish heroine while the guys are standard bishounen types, but Matsuzuki’s style works well for this kind of story; the arsenal of expressions she imparts unto Shindo is particularly impressive. In some ways, the visual impression strikes me as similar to Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket. That may be because both series ran in Hana to Yume.

If you’re looking for a simple, feel-good tale, Happy Cafe would definitely suffice. It may not be extremely profound or original, but like the best comfort food, I can see myself going back for multiple helpings.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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  1. I also love that her klutziness doesn’t come from being clumsy, but being enormously strong ^^.

  2. Danielle Leigh says

    oohhhh, yay! I got depressed reading all these negative reviews of the book, I didn’t remember that you had written one as well! 🙂

    (It could be because I bought this after the holiday and then sat on the book until Valentine’s Day weekend when I had a little shojo marathon).

    We never get too deep into anyone’s head, but I still like all three characters, enough to be annoyed at the prospect that the café owner might soon be introduced and mess up the balance.

    Hee! They are happy, dysfunctional family! They don’t need a new “Dad” coming in and messing things up!


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