Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy Cafe Volume 6

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.

Looking back on previous reviews of this series, I see that I accidentally forgot to review Vols. 3 and 5. But hey, that's sort of the way it goes. Happy Cafe isn't bad at all, but it is painfully average. The romance, such as it is, is crawling along at a snail's pace, and our heroine, Uru, hasn't really had too many life-changing experiences yet. As a result, we're left with cute slice-of-life baking comedy, which is cute, but that's about it.

There are a few things about this volume that stood out for me. First off, the second half takes place in Uru's school. Given this is a rare high school manga where the heroine is mostly seen outside of it, this manages to come across as refreshing. It's especially interesting seeing Uru bouncing off a different set of friends - she's a bit more savvy and less clueless when dealing with the difficulties of classmates and culture festivals. And yes, we get another culture festival here, of course - it'll be a good excuse to get the lead guys to the school in Volume 6.

Secondly, Uru and Shindo's relationship proceeds at a crawl despite everyone's best efforts. Both the boss and Mitsuka seem to regard it as inevitable (though with different feelings about such a thing), and work to make Uru's 'cake research' with Shindo into a date. Which it would be, were Shindo not still in denial, and Uru still not completely clueless. To make up for this, two of Uru's classmates are clearly in love but avoiding each other, mostly due to class separation and the girl's mother. Naturally, Uru will be doing everything she can to fix this - it's the right of every clueless shoujo heroine to fix all romances but their own.

The last reason to enjoy Happy Cafe is the random humor thrown in. Not necessarily the written gags - most of the best bits in this volume are the ones that are pure art. I loved where Shindo was briefly imagining Uru dressed in the nice outfit she wore on their 'research date', then punching the image in half when the real Uru actually arrives. Likewise, the artist has a way of drawing comedically dense expressions and mining them for humor. Oh yes, and even though it probably wasn't a dig at otaku culture, I loved the bit in the imaginary wedding between Uru and Ichiro where the caption notes 'we promise she isn't pregnant!'.

Really, though, a lot of this volume is simply adequate. Even the flashback to Ichiro's school life, meant to give him a backstory and some depth, feels perfunctory - we never really get the sudden change in personality he exhibits, the way that we get Mitsuya's lack of purpose and sudden discovery of it in V.B. Rose 11. Happy Cafe isn't a bad series, but it doesn't reach out and grab you like a lot of Hana to Yume stuff. Still, the volume made me interested in what will happen at the festival, so I'll pick up 7 to see what happens. It's 15 volumes total, so there's a lot still to go.

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