Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Cafe Volume 4

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.

I was reminded as I read this otherwise unremarkable volume of Happy Cafe at how often shoujo series, especially Hakusensha series, self-reference other works by the author. In Chapter 18 in this volume, we meet various servants and retainers to Mitsuki's family, including her personal bodyguard, who clearly has a giant crush on her. As part of the rest of the staff mocking him for this, it is brought up that the personal assistant to her father has a brother who is dating a girl 8 years younger than himself. This seems completely irrelevant and out of left field, till you get to the end of the volume, which features a one-shot the artist drew for the quarterly magazine The Hana 3 years prior to these chapters. It stars the girl mentioned in this flashback.

Now, you'd think I'd be used to this by now, since I'm a big fan of the queen of this type of thing, Banri Hidaka. Not only has she made a career out of short stories and series featuring the Akiyoshi family, but those characters also show up in the midst of other series of hers as well. Nor is it just confined to Hakusensha; Seiho Boys' High School just featured a short one-shot using characters from the author's previous series. The fact is, fans in Japan follow authors just as much as they follow magazines, and they love callbacks, especially if it's to an older series from before the writer was famous, as in this story. It's a reward to fans who follow the magazines closely, a bit of 'fanservice' that's different from the traditional definition.

Of course, I don't think it works as well here, mostly as this volume of Happy Cafe is particularly scattered and unfocused. This is *also* something I've noticed before with Banri Hidaka, particularly in the early IHYMTA volumes, and I wonder if it's simply a fault of the fast schedule of Hana to Yume and a lack of editors. As this is a shoujo romance, and 15 volumes long at that, we know we aren't going to see any romantic resolution soon. Moreover, as it involves the daily running of a dessert cafe, there's not much in a way of through plot. It's a slice-of-life watch cute things happen manga.

This means that character development and plot implications happen very slowly and sometimes awkwardly, usually with character introductions. We meet Ichiro's family in the first chapter, but it's not really set up by anything except 'it's time to show the readers Ichiro's family'. The chapter with Mitsuka is very similar, and also helps reassure people that despite her adoration of the heroine, Mitsuka is not gay after all. Probably the best chapter involves Uru and Shindo trapped in his apartment, mostly as the setup simply feels more realistic and not coming from out of left field.

I may be picking on this manga too much. It's certainly pleasant and cheery, and I do like the heroine a lot, as she's a type that just appeals to me. (Hikari from Special A, another Hana to Yume title, is very similar to Uru.) But honestly, the feeling that I came away with in reading this volume of Happy Cafe was 'someone's having too much trouble meeting deadlines with a snappy finished product'. It's decent shoujo, but could be better.

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