I've never quite gotten the appeal of bishonen titles. I suspect that it's because I got into manga much later than most people; instead of getting into it as a hormone-crazed teenager, I got into them well into my 20s, and as such it took a bit more than just a gaggle of pretty boys to catch my eye and keep my interest. It certainly doesn't help that most of what qualifies for this genre tends to be a lot of middling bits of pointlessness based on things like visual novels or audio dramas, just like today's selection.
CAFE KICHIJOUJI DE, written by Kyoko Negishi & drawn by Yuki Miyamoto. First published in 2000, and first published in North America in 2005.
Café Kichijouji is a perfectly ordinary café on a perfectly ordinary street, but the employees of the café are anything but ordinary. There's Taro, the boss who's obsessed with cleanliness and smacking down waiter Maki, who is a dumb lout with no mind-to-mouth filter. Alongside him is Shuta, who lives in poverty and lives to eat. There's also Jun, a part-timer whose delicate, feminine looks conceal his enormous strength and potent temper, as well as chef Higumi whose skill for baking is just as strong as his belief in the dark arts. Finally there's Yuichi, the owner whose task it is to keep all these weirdos on task, no matter what sort of wackiness might come their way.
As I hinted above, Café Kichijouji de is far from the first manga to exploit the idea of cute boys doing cute things in a cute way. It's not as common as its female counterpart, but it's long past the point where it could be considered a clever subversion of moe tropes. Still, few can be said to be going through the motions quite as badly as this manga does, and equally few can be said to be just as painfully unfunny as this manga.
Every cast member is nothing but a one-note joke. I summed up everything you learn about then in the plot description above, and each single quirk is hammered so thoroughly into the ground that I'm sure they're starting to touch the mantle by volume's end. Every joke is telegraphed from miles away and all of them involve slapstick, shouting, and sometimes a dose of pure (and often supernatural) wackiness. Honestly, I'm surprised that the writer left just enough restraint to avoid playing up the obvious homoeroticism in the premise for a joke or for fanservice. It would have been all too easy to make these goofballs all a little bit gay for one another to appeal to the fujoshi, but all the goings-on here are as innocent as they come.
In some ways, this feels like it should have been a 4-koma manga. It would force the story to find some focus and get to the punchlines a lot faster. It's not like Negishi isn't capable of doing just that, as each chapter is capped off with a bit of superdeformed nonsense that's not quite a 4-koma, but pretty damn close. It's no better than the proper chapters, but it's snappier and have a running gag
with a black cat that keeps interfering with them. It's truly sad that I'm a total sucker for cute kitties, but not even this gag falls completely flat. If you can't manage to pull off a cat joke, something that literally everyone on the internet has done at some point in time, then you truly have no talent for humor.
Café Kichijouji de is a manga that's simultaneously trying too hard and yet not trying hard enough to be funny and cute. It's hoping that the prospect of cute bishies with easy-to-digest personality types will be enough to ensnare an audience and that random or belabored jokes will be enough to get them to stay. If manga could be summed up as colors, then this would be a bland, weathered beige.
Miyomoto is a competent artist, but her art is just as lacking in personality as the story.
Her character designs are handsome and distinct, but her brand of bishonen isn't anything that you couldn't get from dozens of other manga. The same goes for the cafe - the backgrounds are neatly drawn, but the cafe itself doesn't feel particularly special and she mostly uses it for establishing shots. She is at least trying her hardest to make the most of the comedy, as she draws the slapstick and reactions are all drawn in a lively manner. She also draws very cute chibis for the SD comics, although again they're nothing that you couldn't find elsewhere. Miyamoto tries her best, but her best simply isn't enough to compensate for the story's failings.
I almost felt generous enough to give Café Kichijouji de a yellow light, but I can't give a passing rating to a comedy that can't even produce a single laugh. Café Kichijouji de is too boring to be bothered with, even by the most dedicated bishie lover.
This series was published by Digital Manga Publishing. This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available. All 3 were published and all are currently out of print.