Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Cafe, Volume 2 by Kou Matsuzuki

Uru Takamura is still working at the Cafe Bonheur with Ichiro Nishikawa, a boy who falls asleep when he gets hungry and wakes up when you feed him, and her boss, Shindo, a man terminally embarrassed about his first name: Satsuki, but one who loves to cook and bake.

Uru has a crush on Shindo, but wonders if her feelings for him could be truer- love. But she doesn't feel comfortable getting too close to her boss, who tries to present a cold and forbidding front to the world, but she suspects he's actually kindhearted beneath.

And she gets her confirmation of that when she sees he's made just one Mont Blanc- a sinful dessert. But he hasn't made it for Uru, but for an older man who comes in very infrequently. He used to love sweets, but his doctor has forbidden them to him except for once a month. Not only does Shindo make it for the man, but secretly, he makes it with low sugar, too.

Then, Uru's favorite customer, the 500 Yen girl, comes back to the shop, accompanied by her mother, who apologizes for the trouble her daughter caused. The girl wants a strawberry sweet, but all the strawberry deserts have been sold. Uru frantically rummages in the back for something and finds some strawberry chocolate candies, which Shindo places atop a slice of cheesecake, along with strawberry sauce.

The little girl is impressed, and she leaves wit her mother and the sweet, at a discounted price. Uru is open-mouthed in awe- it's like magic! Shindo covers his mouth and blushes, saying that he felt that way too, at first. That's what made him want to become a baker- he saw cooking as magic and wanted to do magic as well.

But then, two young men come in and look around the place dismissively, say that what is for sale is horrible. One tries to pick up Uru, but she turns him down flat and they leave. Soon, Uru wonders why no one has come in to the shop, and finds a sign on the door, saying, "Closed". Uru is sure that the two from earlier did it, and gets angry all over again. She removes the sign, and is confronted by a customer asking if it is true that you have to pay 5000 yen just to enter.

Uru denies it, and knows she has another thing to lay at the feet of the two young men. It irritates her, and she tracks down the two, who soon reveal their true motives. They are the heirs and proprietors to the AbeKawaya confectionery, and they are angry that Cafe Bonheur has stolen all their female customers, and they propose a contest at the Bakery and Confectionery fair at the mall- They will make a Japanese Sweet, and Shindo will make a Western-style sweet, and they will see who sells more, or sells all their cakes first.

Uru agrees on behalf of the Cafe, and the other two, satisfied, leave. But later, when Shindo saves Uru from falling, he sprains his wrist, and Uru and Ichiro must act as Shindo's hands- and not very successfully. Can they win the contest and find out the real reason the two boys challenged them?

Then, Uru's mother visits the Cafe, and tells Uru that she wants to see if Uru is being taken care of, or if she is taking care of herself. Because if Uru is just being dependent on others, her mother will revoke her right to live on her own and bring her back home to live, even though Uru left so that her mother and new Stepfather would feel comfortable.

But Uru doesn't seem to really like her mother. She's been doing chores for her mother ever since she was old enough- because her mother didn't want to do them. Uru wants to be free and independent, and resents her mother trying to drag her back to the leading strings. Can she convince her mother that she's vital to the operation of the Cafe, and win her freedom and independence?

The book ends with a story called "Estimated Young Man and Girl", about a teenager who looks more like a 20-something, and is constantly mistaken for a young wife by everyone who comes to the house to sell something. But when a newspaper deliveryman realizes that she is also a teenager like himself, she wonders if she can change herself so that everyone sees her as who she is- a young woman, still in school. As for the boy, he finds himself liking her, and she him, but can they find a future together?

Another cute novel. I liked this Shoujo story about young love and independence. Uru is small and seems young, but is stronger than she looks, probably because of all the chores she has been doing all her life. Shindo is four years older than her, and at first he seemed cold and forbidding, but as we get to know him better, we see that he's just reserved, and wants to be seen as more aloof to protect himself.

I liked Uru's innocent wonder in Shindo's baking, and how he wants to smile at her, and can't help himself, so he covers up his mouth. Later we do see a small smile, and this story doesn't feel as bad to me as some "older man, younger girl" stories, perhaps because the difference in their ages is only four years- not very big at all. And mostly, the feelings are all on her end, as far as we know. He could just be being kind to her- he does that, after all.

I find myself comparing this manga most often to Fruits Basket- not because of the plot, but because of the feel of the story. It has that same gentle, almost sentimental feel, although this story is played a bit more for laughs. But I want to see more, and I have been really enjoying myself so far. This is a great series, and fans of Fruits Basket will probably like it, too. Recommended.

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