Miscellanea and Ephemeron
05/22/2006 Archived Entry: "Manga review: Cafe Kichijouji de, Vols. 1-3"
Review by Tom Good
Based on a radio drama, Cafe Kichijouji de tells the story of five very different guys who work at a cafe. There are no female main characters, but that does not make this a yaoi or shonen-ai story. It is simply a comedy about a group of co-workers. The supervisor Taro Kurihara is a neat-freak who collects cleaning products as a hobby. The chef, Mr. Minagawa, carries voodoo dolls around, harnesses supernatural forces, and has a flair for unlikely dramatic entrances such as emerging from a cupboard. Maki the waiter is the ladies-man of the bunch, and the small, girlish-looking Jun Ichinomiya has an uncanny strength. Finally, the student Tokumi is chronically hungry and broke, and is easily bribed with food.
Though some magical or unexplained powers occur in the story, they are unlike the typical sorcery or superpowers found in most manga. The characters take a casual attitude towards these events, and the powers are not used to do anything especially heroic. In one episode Ichinomiya can lift a full-grown ox, and Tokumi is nearly eaten by a whale-sized catfish. It reminded me of the "magical realism" found in novels such as Like Water For Chocolate.
The art in CKD tends to be rather abstract. Many panels have empty white backgrounds or some generic shading pattern behind the characters. In fact, when I first started reading the first volume, I wondered whether these were the preliminary sketches for the "real" manga. Every other chapter is a "Tiny" chapter where the characters are drawn in the Chibi style and the story is shorter and more childlike. All of this seemed weird at first, but once I adjusted to the look of the pages, I started to like it.
Another interesting aspect of the art is that the shape of the word balloons has a lot of significance. When the characters speak in calm tones, the word balloons are more rounded, but when they get excited the word balloons become more angular. Minagawa's spooky-sounding voice appears in the form of word balloons with curlicues in their borders. Sometimes these shapes help identify which character is speaking.
I also liked the unpredictable plot of CKD. Just when I thought I understood what was coming next, the plot would take some new turn. As I was reading this series I had the feeling that it kept getting better and better. Looking back, I now realize that it was very good all along but it took me a while to get used to it. The characters are the crown jewels of the book, and it takes time to get to know them well enough to appreciate their personalities and all their clever lines. Because they work at a cafe, they wear nearly identical uniforms, and this makes them harder to tell apart from each other at first.
The writing in CKD has little exposition, and leaves it to the reader to connect the dots and figure out what the characters are up to. This may be because the authors expect that readers will have heard the original radio show. I found myself reading at a slower, more thoughtful pace than I read most manga. By the second volume I really liked the characters, and by the third volume I loved the series. When I got to the end of the third volume I felt sad that it was over. I would highly recommend this series.
The Wapshott Press
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