Title: Café Sourire
Release date: 6-24-11
Summer has come at last, and between days of helping out at Café Sourire and going to the beach with his friends, Shinichi spends his days contentedly. However, things begin changing fast when Kyouko, his childhood friend, comes to stay with him. But this is not the same warm, joyful girl from his memories: this Kyouko is a frightened and fainthearted young girl, who treats Shinichi as a distant acquaintance.
Still struggling to understand this change in his dear friend, his family life becomes even more complicated when his neighbors Kasumi and Serika learn some shocking news: their mother is to marry his father, making them step-siblings. With both his friendships and possible romantic pursuits entangled together, the summer season begins with twists and turns, and their time spent together will be anything but another ordinary vacation.
The story is straightforward and simplistic, without any fantastical elements or shocking plot twists, focusing on the theme of love of all types, whether platonic, familial, romantic, or even unrequited. Particularly, familial love is as common a theme as any, but it’s taken even further by covering not just the love between siblings, but also between parents and their children, and whether blood relations truly matter when it comes to being a family.
It is a charming and heartwarming examination of all different types of relationships people can have with each other, yet it also addresses the difficulties of adjusting to new circumstances, and even the rejection that comes with trying to alter the comfortable dynamics of family, friendship, and lovers.
While it is commendable in both developing its characters and the light-hearted atmosphere, it also suffers from significant pacing issues and the inconsistent quality of routes. While some paths are tender yet bittersweet romances, others fail to reach that same level of quality due to a lack of conflict, while others unsuccessfully attempt to include too many dramatic subplots.
Nevertheless, the best of Café Sourire is a genuinely heartwarming tale, and it still succeeds at delivering an enjoyable story, making it a rather sweet treat.
“Being an adult means more than just running away.”
Mild-mannered and gentle, Shinichi is an aspiring baker who helps out at his father’s cafe. However, beneath his calm and kind personality, he carries the burden of loss and guilt due to a childhood incident. He does his best to diffuse conflicts whenever they arise, but this also means that when under stress, he tends to keep his feelings hidden.
“Am I…a burden to you?”
Shy and timid to a fault, Kyouko used to be Shinichi’s close friend, but time and circumstances have made them at odds with each other, experiencing a disconnect and unable to regain that same open affection as before. She clings to others and cannot seem to find the confidence she needs most of all.
“Stupid Shinichi. Why are you looking at another girl, when I’m right in front of you?”
Temperamental and unpredictable, Serika’s bursts of anger and sharp tongue make her a difficult person to reason with. But despite appearances, she adores her friends and older sister wholeheartedly, even if she shows her affection in an indirect manner. Mysteriously enough, she is also prone to insecurity and loneliness, most of all when it concerns Shinichi.
“All I want is to always take care of everyone. It may be selfish, but this is my only wish.”
As the maternal, sweet older sister, Kasumi is both logical and calm, to balance Serika’s fierce emotions. She always places the happiness of others before her own, especially her family’s, and never has any complaints, accepting all the difficulties in life with patient endurance. Yet, there is also a sadness behind her soothing smile.
“I just want everyone to be together. Why is that so wrong?”
Despite being Serika’s self-proclaimed rival, Mayuri is a gentle and teasing young girl, whose only wish is for a peaceful and happy life. She is surprisingly ambitious, excelling in sports and enjoying long hours of waitressing despite the lazy summer atmosphere. But although she appears to be the perfect student and model worker, there are some things she cannot abide.
The art is appealingly soft and girlishly adorable with plush lines and warm, pastel coloring. Each heroine is given several outfits, not just the standard school uniform, but also their own work uniform, pajamas, swimsuits, and various sets of casual clothes. They’re also given multiple hairstyles each as opposed to just one, in a rare and pleasant treat. Even the most minor characters have more than one outfit, and the various poses and expressions for every paper doll is just as varied.
This is not to say that the artwork is perfect. Backgrounds can range from average to very plain, with dull monotone coloring, clearly being second priority in comparison to the character designs. Events illustrations can also be lacking color and detail: for every spectacular piece, there is also one which is just as uninspired. In these circumstances, the lack of depth in the character art is further botched by the lack of vibrancy in the backgrounds.
As with the visual department, the music is also varying in terms of quality. At worst, the synthetic instruments and can be repetitive and plain to listen to, lacking rhythm and orchestral finesse. But at its best, specifically when using the piano and music box, which carry a more genuine sound, it can be an atmospheric delight. Unfortunately, the best of its repertoire is not used nearly enough.
But to compensate for the lacking soundtrack, the voice acting is worthy of lavish praise in every instance. Every character, with the exception of the protagonist, is acted with heart and soul. The performance for Serika is especially heartbreaking, as every forced insult or shaky laugh is meant to hide how vulnerable she is beneath her vitriolic disposition—except, to the audience, her anguish is clear in every note.
There is nothing but the most vanilla scenes of pure consummation to be found here, as is appropriate for the premise. Love scenes do not occur until well after the relationship has been established, and even the heaviest content consists of mild exhibitionism and costume play.
Pleasantly enough, not every erotic scene is the same in tone and mood: some are very bittersweet, others are rushed and uncertain, while others still are the typical sweet love-making one would expect from the genre. Each heroine has three to five scenes each, which is a fairly large amount, considering the ratio of story to sex.