Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Happy Cafe, Volume 1 by Kou Matsuzuki

Uru is a happy-go-lucky girl living on her own after her mother's remarriage. It's not that she hates her stepfather or anything, she just wants to give her mom and new Stepfather time to get used to living with each other. Uru is rather small for her age and keeps getting mistaken for a grade schooler by everyone, even the two guys who own the Happy Cafe (Cafe Bonheur), where she decides to work to help pay her bills. The reason why she is so taken with the place is because everyone who comes out of there seems to live up to the name of the place.

But when she goes in to apply for a job, she's rather taken aback by the two employees, Ichiro and Shindo. Ichiro is usually okay, but he literally passes out when he gets hungry, and you have to stuff his face with food to get him awake and moving again. And Shindo, who is the baker, is so gloomy that he comes off as a downright sourpuss. How can any business run by two so stoic and sour-faced dare call itself the Happy Cafe?

Uru is always happy, but they agree to try her out for a day. And she's definitely a draw for the clientele. But she has her own problems. One is that despite her size, she is very strong. So much so that Ichiro jokes about her "super-strength". The other thing that makes her less than suited for a life as a waitress is her incredible clumsiness. She drops things and breaks them accidentally so often that you'd wonder if she had any paycheck left after paying off the stuff she destroys. But they do decide to hire her to give them some slack in looking after customers in the bakery.

Soon after starting her job, she discovers that Shindo is actually her next-door neighbor, and worries about how to react to this and how to approach Shindo. Uru kind of likes him, but when she meets him after work and she is carrying home groceries, she finds out she isn't the only one who doesn't know how to react to their unexpected closeness in living quarters.

Then, Uru is worried about passing a test in her high school, because her mother has told her that unless she passes with High marks, her mother will make her move back home and quit her job. Uru neither wants to move or quit, and she implores both Ichiro and Shindo for help without telling them what is at stake for her. Will her co-workers come to her aid, or make her go it alone?

When Uru meets a girl named Mitsuka rescuing her from a lecherous pervert, Mitsuka thinks that Uru is a grade-schooler. But when they meet later at the café, Mitsuka eats and confesses she has run away from home, so she has no money to pay her bill. Instead, she asks if she can work at Café Bonheur, and pulls in plenty of other girls to eat there, so Shindo allows her to work off her bill that afternoon. But Uru knows she has seen Mitsuka somewhere before- a fashon model. Mitsuka is a fashion model. But her parents and handlers are on the way to track her down. Can Uru convince her to fight for what she wants, no matter what her parents have asked of her?

And in the last story, Uru's stepfather comes to visit her at the café, and Uru finds out Shindo's first name, which he is embarrassed about. As she continues to talk to him, divining the reason his mother gave him the name, will she be able to convince him that his name isn't a bad one and make him smile?

This was a cute manga. While there's nothing really standout about it, it has all the usual comedy tropes (girl constantly taken for younger than she is, boy with a girl's name, girl always cheerful and can-do, as well as a klutz) and some of the romance tropes as well, it's still an enjoyable and entertaining read.

These characters are co-workers, not friends, but they joke and act friendly with each other, making the story charming and fun to read. We already have indications that Uru likes Shindo, and her embarrassment when people ask her if he is her boyfriend or her crush makes it likely that she'll probably end up with him at some point. But for now, things are light and easy, and reading the book is cute without being trite.

I'd definitely read more of this series, and I'd recommend it to those of my friends and teens who enjoyed Fruits Basket. This character has a different vibe than Tohru Honda, and Shindo definitely isn't Kyo, but this book has the same sort of enjoyable romance potential. Recommended.

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