The second volume of Tokyopop’s shojo bakery comedy, Happy Café, finds our core trio settling into their established sitcom roles: spunky heroine/narrator Uru remains her irrepressibly cheerful, slapstick-prone self; surly baker Shindo continues to display occasional flashes of nice-guy-ness (making a low-sugar Mont Blanc for a diabetic regular, for instance, and not charging him extra); blond Ichiro’s propensity for falling asleep at inopportune times remains unchanged. To spice things up, creator Kou Matsuzuki introduces a pair of sibling baking rivals from a neighboring mall café, one of whom has an apparently unrequited crush on narcoleptic Ichiro. Uru’s stepmom makes an appearance in the book’s last chapter, officially to check up on the girl but storywise to throw a romantic entanglement into the next volume. It’s Happy Café moves to Cougar Town? Maybe.
The bulk of volume two, however, is devoted to a competition between the two bakeshops. Our accident-prone girl winds up spraining Shindo’s mixing wrist three days before the contest, adding a minuscule dose of suspense to the proceedings, but since we know our threesome will have to close down Café Bonheur if they lost, the outcome is never really in doubt. Unlike more hard-core foodie manga like Yakitate! Japan, the focus isn’t on the actual contest – no loving close-ups of food and food prep here, unfortunately – but on the character interactions. And since none of our core trio really offers anything new in this teen-rated volume, its success rests on the predominately teen girl readership’s attachment to its affable storytelling. Though it may at times seem overly sweet to a churlish geezer like yours truly, Matsuzuki – like her baker Shindo – knows when to replace the sugar with something slightly healthier.