Happy Cafe Volume 1 by Kou Matsuzuki

Happy Cafe (or, Shiawase Kissa Sanchoume in Japanese) is Kou Matsuzuki’s debut series. This is a breezy slice of life story centered around the theme of helping people uncover and then achieve their own measure of happiness. As such, this is the first book in a long series of side stories using the three main characters as the glue that keeps the plot together. Some stories will get more serious and others will stay lighthearted. But through them all (15 volumes and just ended in Japan) is the developing relationship between protagonist Uru and her two corworkers: reticent Shindou and flakey Souchiro. In true romance form, a small triangle does develop as both guys come to fall for her.

The author isn’t going for the realism of popular titles such as Parfait Tic; rather, there is a sweet surreality along the lines of Fruits Basket. And I think that’s really key – if you like the sweet but simple ‘fighting’ spirit of Tohru from Fruits Basket, then you’ll likely enjoy this series a lot. If you are looking for stories with angst, smut, obsessive love, or reality (such as with Hot Gimmick or Peach Girl) then this is probably not the manga for you.

Matsuzuki’s story is very sweet, often funny, and meant to bring a smile. And it is without consummation or lust in the romance – as with Fruits Basket, it’s more about the soft looks and yearning than any kind of physicality. You won’t find the heroine Uru being bullied into romantic situation or even a kiss.

The development of the romantic angles are slow and steady – Uru is, after all, a clumsy and immature girl with a big heart. Romantic overtures are completely lost on her and that will provide the humor of many situations throughout the series. But it is in the second chapter of this book that the continuing storyline is revealed, when Uru says to the gloomy Shindou, “one day, I’ll make you say ‘smiling is my specialty.'” Shindou and Uru will spend most of the series helping each other overcome the unhappiness of their childhoods – and coming to understand why their parents made the choices they did. As such, the focus is on happiness and not romance.

This first volume is slow and doesn’t have the pull that will come later once the characters are fleshed out more and their back stories developed. By volume 15, author Matsuzuki’s artwork really matures – a great reason to stick with this series beyond just the small promise in the first book. As with Fruits Basket, very interesting side characters will come to work or play in the cafe and really give the series much more drama than evidenced in this first volume.

In all, a sweet, chaste, slow burning, humorous slice of life story of a girl working at a cafe with two very handsome guys.

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