Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, January 21, 2010
      ( 1/21/2010 06:46:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“IS THAT DARK-HAIRED CRANK YOUR CRUSH OR SOMETHING?” As frothy as its title suggests, Kou Matsuzuki’s shojo manga series Happy Café (Tokyopop) tells the story of a trio of attractive teens who work at Café Bonheur, a small city eatery best known for its appealing pastries. Our intro to this tasty setting is through 16-year-old Uru, a petite (five foot) girl with “superstrength” who gets a job waitressing at the café after setting off on her own in the big city. Her diminutive stature has everyone around thinking that she’s much younger, but our spunky, if klutzy, heroine is clearly capable of taking care of herself. Happening upon a model-thin damsel harassed by two urban louts, for instance, she wields a mean bag of groceries in the girl's defense.

The two somewhat older, dreamy boys running the café (Bonheur’s manager remains offstage throughout the first volume) are fairly familiar shojo types: “dark-haired crank” Shindo is snappish with a wounded childhood history, while light-haired Ichiro is the more lighthearted half of the duo. The latter’s most distinguishing characteristic is a tendency to inconveniently fall asleep when he’s hungry, a mild running gag that Matzsuki milks for all it’s worth. Ichiro proves just as capable of picking on Uru, though, who notes that whenever either boy is nice, “it’s always out of left field. It’s like . . . stealth sweetness.”

Isn’t a whole lot that happens in Café’s first volume -- the biggest conflict rests in whether Uru’s mother and new stepfather will force her to abandon her big city bid for independence, and we know that won’t happen because the series would be over if it did. Instead, we get tiny bits of character comedy, like a sequence where Uru attempts to uncover a reluctant Shindo’s first name, and slapstick revolving around our gal’s strength and clumsiness, plus Ichíro’s tendency for falling asleep on the job. Matsuzuki’s art is light and simple -- if a bit over reliant on detail free round-headed cartoons -- and her panels showing Uru beaming out at the reader or the half-smile Shindo gets when he’s actually doing his baker thing have an unforced cuteness. Happy Café may be about as weighty as its pint-sized heroine, but it has a likability to it that should snag a decent ‘tweengirl readership: not-so-stealthy sweetness, in other words.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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