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.
Reading this volume of Happy Cafe reminded me in many ways of my experiences reading The Magic Touch. They're both manga that are, at best, merely 'okay'. However, no one is decrying Happy Cafe as one of the worst titles ever released in North America the way they did with The Magic Touch. So I feel far less of a need to defend it and point out its strengths. Which is a bit of a problem for perfectly adequate volumes like this, where my favorite part was the one-shot at the end written 3 years before the chapters we find here. Yes, once again I latch onto a minor supporting couple at the expense of the leads.
The chapter is quite good, and I like how she tied it into the main narrative. We aren't quite at Banri Hidaka levels of 'all my stories are connected', but it shows a certain amount of thought going into her plots that she can use the characters in 'Number One Deluxe' here and possibly develop their relationship beyond what we got in the one-shot. Also, the comic stars a tall grumpy girl. Another favorite type of mine in manga. Unfortunately, the other minor couple that we met in Volume 6 gets resolved perfunctorily in barely a page or two, showing the pacing problems that have dogged this series since it began.
Meanwhile, we have our leads. Natsuki Takaya, in discussing Fruits Basket, once said she had written outlines for a 2-volume, 6-volume, and more than 13-volume series, depending on how popular it was and when it would get cancelled by Hakusensha. Happy Cafe has reached Volume 7, and I think we've hit that point for Matsuzuki as well, as the relationship between Uru and Shindo, which seemed to be near actual resolution in the previous volume, gets scaled back quite a bit here. We have love rivals who confess, unaware our girl is asleep. We have love rivals who are simply doing their best to mess things up and get Uru and Shindo thinking in the wrong direction. And we have people trying to get them together, and being far less of a help than they think they are.
In the middle of this, it's a shame that Uru and Shindo aren't as interesting as they got last volume. Shindo is having difficulty dealing with abandonment issues and his mother, so I can at least see why he's at a low ebb. Uru, though, for some reason isn't as fun as she's been in the past. Matsuzuki works best when she's trying to be funny, not being quite as good as drama, and seeing Uru without her amusing quirks and gags makes me think something is missing. (I will admit there was one great bit, where she and Sou are locked in a room at the school and she admits she can't force open the door - not because it's too much for her, but because the school said she would be punished if she smashed any more school property with her insane strength.)
There's nothing really wrong with this volume, despite all my complaining above. If a shoujo fan reads it, they will enjoy it. But it's not going to make them check Amazon desperately to see when the next volume is out the way, say, Kimi ni Todoke does. And honestly, there's another similarity between this series and The Magic Touch: both artists have gone on to do a new series that is proving better and more popular than the first in Japan; Tsubaki with Oresama Teacher, and Matsuzuki with The Prince, the Witch, and the Princesses. Manga series in Japan are not only for popularity, but also as a breeding ground for greater things. And we're seeing an earlier example of an artist honing their craft and learning as they go.