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3.16.2008

Shiawase Kissa 3-chome 1 by Matsuzuki Kou shoujo manga review: The pursuit (and capture) of happiness

Happy Café 1 front cover (m&c!)

Shiawase Kissa 3-chome © Matsuzuki Kou/Hakusensha
[Serialized in Hana to Yume]
Published in Indonesia as Happy Café by PT Gramedia/m&c!

Shiawase Kissa 3-chome (幸福喫茶3丁目) is an Angst and Drama Queens banned from these pages! comedy/romance, currently in serialization in Hakusensha's HanaYume shoujo magazine. The manga (also romanized as Shiawase Kissa Sanchoume) hinges on its heroine's singularly unambitious (or ambitious, depending on your perspective) pledge of “and happiness for all.” Nine light-hearted tankoubon have been published; the first distributed in July 2005, the ninth in December 2007. The Indonesian Happy Café version I'm reading skipped into stores starting September 2006 (the sixth installment bounded in February 2008; the seventh is scheduled for a March 2008 release).

Shindou, Uru, and Ichirou from Happy Café 1

[Shindou, Uru and Ichirou]

Takamura Uru's pursuit of happiness for anyone within a 50-meter radius starts with her looking to join Café Bonheur on Shiawase Block 3 as a part-timer. Loitering outside the café's entrance, she encounters TDD (Tall, Dark, and Dour). Wearing an apron around the waist, a glower on his bishie visage and loosely holding a nihonto broom, TDD interrogates Uru over why she ripped off the establishment's front door handle. (The sign above instructs PUSH, and guess what Uru did?) She immediately apologizes for her stronger-than-the-average-kuma power, explaining that she has no nefarious intentions.

The café ain't open yet, he informs her loftily, and proceeds to shoo the "grade school kid" away. The very cute Uru (height: 154cm or 5.052493292 feet) indignantly stomps on his misconception, adding that she's there to be interviewed for the part-time job.

Keywords and tags
, , , , , , , comedy, reverse harem, romance

TDD turns outs to be Café Bonheur's acting manager and flatly denies having placed any ad (much less scheduled an interview). Barging into the café, he summons the other wait-staff Ichirou and demands an explanation. But the blond, also bishounen Ichirou is neither confirming nor denying anything. Instead, he's prostrate on the floor—the latest victim (or so Uru agitatedly surmises) of bludgeoning by broom.

Meanwhile, saying there's no help for it, TDD crouches down and violently shoves a piece of cake he retrieves from his breast pocket into the unconscious boy's mouth. Ichirou wakes up, commending Shindou-san on his good job.

Yup, it was Ichirou-kun who placed the ad. With their manager off somewhere and only he and Shindou attending the premises, overwork looms—an eventuality the easygoing Ichirou (who falls asleep whenever he's hungry and doesn't get up until someone feeds him) doesn't relish.

Uru, panicked at the thought of the part-time job's next-attraction disappearance, offers her services for free. I don't need to be paid! Please allow me to work here!! Of course, Shindou asks why she's willing to go that far. She relates that the day before, she overheard several customers coming out of Bonheur, praising the café. That made me so happy! Uru recalls one of them saying, and continues: I just moved into the neighborhood. I also saw this place just yesterday. That made me think... She wonders if it is also possible for her to make someone happy.

Let's pause and muse whether that sneakily honest naiveté is the kind Shindou's gonna refuse.

That didn't even need thinking time, did it? Conceding that they could use an extra pair of hands, Shindou sets Uru to waiting on customers, washing dishes and force-feeding Ichirou with full-on hostility when the latter dozes off. The acting boss threatens that he will @#$%*&#®£¢!!! Uru should she prove unequal to her duties.

Thus, Uru officially joins the Happy Café.

Shindou, Uru and Ichirou from Happy Café 1 chapter 2

[Shindou, Uru and Ichirou (Happy Café 1 chapter 2)]

My impressions
If ever a manga lived up to its heroine's promise to make someone happy, Shiawase Kissa 3-chome would be it. Despite a low-key start, the ongoing shoujo series by Matsuzuki Kou (松月 滉)-sensei quickly becomes an extravagance of Feel Good: the beatific, optimistic theme underlies all the chapters in X-LARGE or—considering the baka ni dekai superhuman strength of its female lead—with high-striker-bell-extirpation intensity.

The compounding is almost scary, seeing as there's a limit to how far you can sustain happy and reader interest. But to Matsuzuki Kou-sensei's credit, s/he can (nine volumes and still going strong, remember?). Additionally, even the introduction of some darkness in our characters is deftly handled and the farthest from forced. (That's not to say the treatment is superficial, nor the resulting optimism easily won.) That Shiawase Kissa 3-chome is apparently Matsuzuki Kou-sensei's first series makes these achievements all the more laudable. Seeming inexperience and surprising sophistication aside, the series makes any cynical redemption lie beyond hope.

The characters are so credibly delineated that were Shiawase Kissa 3-chome a company and its cast, shares publicly listed, Uru would probably be an oversubscribed issue. Not that I'm an underwriter or anything of the sort, you understand; I'm a mere emotional investor. Anyhoo, Uru's determination to spread contagious joy disarms, making you fall for her like Shindou and Ichirou and Mitsuka and—oops, getting ahead of myself. It also helps that she's drawn as your quintessential girl next door. Giving her ludicrous, don't-kill-any-lolicon-who-accosts-you physical strength (given her size) seems slightly misplaced, but doesn't inhibit wanting her as your best friend, or the love of your life. Because of that guileless/mighty resemblance, you might be tempted to compare her with another Hana to Yume heroine (Hikari from Special A), but Uru is a matchless character. (Who else could exist on rice and furikake; reviews for an exam as she's perched on a ladder and changing a fluorescent lamp; and serves customers while (incorrectly) reciting Japanese history facts?)

Shindou and Sakura-chan from Happy Café 1

[Shindou and Sakura-chan
(Happy Café 10]

Shindou, ironically, and to a lesser paradoxical extent, Ichirou, also contribute to the creation of bliss (and not just the fangirl variety). As noted, Shiawase here is a Bonheur-acquired infection, afflicting anyone entering the café. A non-Uru example to prove this premise is quick off the starting line: Post chapter one's stage-setting, a cute little girl comes in—gingerly clasping a coin purse—and asks for five slices of take-out strawberry cake. Shindou rings up her order, stating ¥1250, without Oooh, customer! warmth; the little girl pulls out a gohyaku-en and gravely places the five-hundred yen coin on the counter. Uru, mindful of the welcome she received, dreads that Shindou will now throw out their little customer—who's on tiptoes and peeking all wide-eyed over the counter edge—and demand that she return only when she has the money. Before Uru can shout, RUN!!, Shindou doesn't react with popping veins. Instead, he thanks the little girl and presents her her take-out box—with the shyest of smiles.

If Grumpy-san can do it, so can Sleepy-kun. In keeping with the shiawase theme, smiles are epidemic. But it is Uru's that receives the most raves, starting with her first customers (two young women) who think Uru is too terribly cute, especially when she beams. Permutations of this observation run through most of the chapters and Uru's co-workers are depicted as the least immune.

Translation
I don't usually comment on this because I haven't (can't, more like) read the Japanese original. In any case, Nihongo appears to lend itself well to Indonesian translation. At least, there's no awkwardness and some dialogue automatically translate to the few (fangirl) Japanese phrases I know, so all is good. Sound effects are translated in the Indonesian idiom—footsteps go Tep, heartbeats make a Dheg, dheg sound and Shindou's kaaa blush becomes Sssh—but works.

One convention, though, was carried over from the Japanese original: the honorifics. Leaving Shindou-san and Ichirou-kun intact was an astute call, IMO (even if I only followed the use inconsistently here). One Uru-san (by Ichirou), however, made me grin: without the capital letter U and losing the hypen would make it the Indonesian word urusan, which means "business" or "affairs." (OK, so I find humor in the littlest things. Sue me.)

The Art

Uru with her first customers from Happy Café 1

[Uru greeting her first customers (Happy Café 1)]

Even though Matsuzuki Kou-sensei can be considered a relative newbie, that Hakusensha published this series is a reliable gauge of high standards and more than possible enjoyment. And Shiawase Kissa 3-chome is Hana to Yume shoujo romance # (insert appropriate statistic here); there's the expected elfin pretty, pretty, pretty and clean lines—that Sensei drew left-handed (s/he's ambidextrous when it comes to writing). Of course, mandatory bishie sparkles make an appearance, the tone probably pasted on by Sensei's sibs, but you can't have everything.

Additionally, in spite of the wealth of detail (which I actually wrote about and then excised from this post), Shiawase Kissa 3-chome has just the right proportion of text and illustration for my poor eyes. More importantly, I like how Matsuzuki Kou-sensei draws Uru's smiles. How does s/he do that, have Uru radiate such... exuberant joy? That artistry adds believability to the constant stream of characters drawn to Uru because of her smile. I include myself among the throng. Uru's beams are so deadly-infectious, you don't want to be reading this manga in public, only to have people commenting on the goony grin on your face.

As for Shindou or Ichirou smiling... *dies*

Omake
I'm also pleased to note that Matsuzuki Kou-sensei shared that his/her happiness derives from the fan mail for this series (in quarter-column free talk #2). OK before you go doh, the author's own admission while expected rounds out all the happiness and makes the read synchronicity complete, don't you think?

So reverse harem predictability aside, a genuinely likable heroine and the pursuit (and capture of) happiness make Shiawase Kissa 3-chome a manga blue chip, and we can expect regular customer delight dividends for tankoubon to come.

Rating
Shiawase Kissa 3-chome 1 receives 9.5 of 10 slices of strawberry cheese cake (the additional 0.5 comes from Shindou making up the ¥750 shortfall from his own pocket).

As for shipment (ShinRu? IchiRu? Ichirou x Uru x Shindou!), we're still in the ship tease stage.

~niki DBA 花木蘭03 who had to keep reminding herself that This is a review! to stop her from going on and on and on...

copyright information
Shiawase Kissa 3-chome is © by Matsuzuki Kou. First published in Japan by HAKUSENSHA, INC., Tokyo. Indonesian translation rights in Indonesia arranged with HAKUSENSHA, INC., through ANIMATION INTERNATIONAL LTD. No infringement intended.

10 comments:

Estara said...

I hope the West gets this, too, in any language I can read ^^

huamulan03 said...

@Estara-san,

I hope so, too ^^ It would be a definite Buy!
Thanks for dropping by and commenting ^^

-veg- said...

this is a 'must buy' manga!!
I love ichirou's character and his 'unique habit' [lol]

huamulan03 said...

I know - just too kee-yooot! Just like on the cover of volume 7, when he's styling Uru's hair and his li'l brother is fixing his (Ichirou's) - chou kawaii! ^^

Wonder when volume 8 is going to come out?

ocha said...

ichirou wa sugoku sugoku kawaiiii XD

huamulan03 said...

@ocha-san,
Hai desu ^^

Anonymous said...

私はこのシリーズが大好きです。しかし、なぜ私は他のすべてのものが見つかりませんか?

huamulan03 said...

@Anonymous-san,

First of all, I apologize for not being able to reply to your comment in Japanese; I can neither speak nor write the language. *sweatdrop* So please forgive this answer in English.

If this translation: I love this series. But, why as for me aren't other all ones found? from Babel Fish is correct, then

(1) Yes, I love this series, too, and am waiting for volume 11 in Indonesian to come out on September 9;

(2) If you mean, why haven't I reviewed the other volumes in the series, I just haven't found the time to do so.

Anyway, thank you very much for your comment ^^

~niki

berthaintansagita@yahoo.com said...

Must Buy... Must Collect... Must Read...

This is the best shoujo I've ever read. So Pure and Innocent story (compare with other shoujo lately which telling about adult stories.Yaikss T_T).
I hope the drama cd will be released @Indonesia(sound Impossible...).

Anyway this site quite good too.

huamulan03 said...

@berthaintansagita-san,

So true! Reminds me... still have to get Happy Cafe 12.

Thanks for commenting ^^

Post a Comment

When commenting, kindly leave a name, make one up, whatever. I would like to call you something other than "anonymous-san" ^^

Arigatou gozaimuchness,
Niki

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