Happy Cafe Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Kate O'Neil
Review Date: Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cute, fun, and a bit trite, Happy Café tries to prove that the pursuit of happiness and the workplace can go hand-in-hand. 

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Kou Matsuzuki
Translation: Lori Riser
Adaptation: Lianne Sentar

What They Say
Welcome to the Happy Café, where romance and happiness are the specials of the day! Meet Uru: She's a little short, a bit disorganized, often is mistaken for an elementary school kid, and lives by herself after her mother gets remarried. When she decides to pay the bills by working part-time at the Happy Café, she meets Ichiro and Shindo, two of the most unsociable guys she's ever met! And to make matters worse, it turns out that Uru is not exactly meant for the waitress world, as she's a HUGE klutz. But as this hilarious shojo tale unfolds, happiness – and even true love – might be lurking just around the corner...

The Review!

“Happy Café” has a matt finish cover that features the three leads posing against a pale yellow, green and orange block motif.  Uru waves while wearing a huge smile, while the boys look taciturnly at the reader.  The logo, appropriately, looks like it belongs on a take-out menu, complete with a happy face shaped coffee stain and a stamp with the volume number.  The back features a summary blurb on a receipt.  It’s an attractive design that works well.  
Tokyopop has, thankfully, switched back to a higher quality paper stock after an experiment in cost savings.  The print quality is good, with solid blacks and no guttering issues.  I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation, but it reads smoothly and playfully with no noticeable errors.  The sound effects are translated in various ways.  Some are retouched into English and some are translated next to the original.  Some are left untranslated, usually in situations where you can figure out the meaning from context. (Uru slamming her hand against a wall, for instance.)  A few Japanese food products are left without side notes to explain them, leaving the reader to look up what furikake is, if they don’t already know.  Yen is given a quick conversion to dollars in the panel borders.
It’s by-the-books shoujo manga in art and panel design.  The artwork features lanky characters that resemble much of the modern shoujo manga on the market.  It suffers from some of the usual beginner shakiness and occasional off-looking design.  Characters shift from their normal designs to wildly exaggerated forms to serve the comedy.  The panel layout flows serviceably and is rarely confusing for the reader to follow.  Some of the tone looks muddy, which I believe is a problem with the original art rather than the reproduction.  Backgrounds exist only to set the scene or to be used as props.  
Uru comes knocking at the door of the Café Bonheur, a sixteen-year-old girl looking to make it on her own.  Her mother has just remarried a younger man and Uru felt like a burden in her own home.  At first glance, Uru looks like she’s going to be the overly cheerful girl who annoys everyone around her.  Her clumsiness doesn’t help improve that image. She fears that she comes off as a nuisance and is overly self conscious about what others think.  Offsetting that is her almost naive boldness, and her petit but surprisingly strong frame.  She could probably bench press more than the guys she works with.
Each chapter focuses on Uru getting used to her self-imposed independence and her job at the cafe.  Uru applies for the job while the manager, who remains absent throughout the volume, is away.  She manages to get a job as a waitress, working with the stern twenty-year-old baker, named Shindo, and the narcoleptic, low-blood-sugar Ichiro.  The boys’ people skills are severely lacking though they get along well with each other.  The bulk of what develops focuses on the interpersonal relationships of the three leads and on Uru becoming part of the team.  The miscommunications are typical, although the reactions to them are sometimes not.  Uru is more forthcoming with her thoughts than the typical shoujo lead and isn’t afraid to resort to force, whether it’s judo flipping a thief or smacking Shindo with a bag of rice.  She seems to have a quirky sense of humor.  The dialog is amusingly snappy and caught me by surprise in several instances.  
Volume One doesn’t tackle any huge issues, though Uru is able to come to an understanding with her mother and step-father about her living away from home.  There are no larger conflicts on the horizon, though a romance could bloom between Uru and Shindo.  Ichiro isn’t given much character development and is mostly a running gag at this point.  The slow pace of the story might bore some readers, but those looking for a way to unwind from the usual drama might want to pick up this book and give it a try.  
In Summary
“Happy Café” delivers on its promise of happiness without saccharine.  Uru is a fun lead, and the boys are amusingly quirky.  The art is a bit off-putting sometimes; the characters necks often look too long and awkward.  Story-wise, it’s a solid work that doesn’t break any molds.  There is ample room for equal parts of conflict and romance in future volumes.  Overall, “Happy Café” is manga comfort food that serves up a slice of life – if that’s what you’re craving.

Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translation Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
MSRP: 10.99
Pages: 192
ISBN: 978-1427817303
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Happy Cafe on Block 3