What’s it about? Determined to be loved by everyone she meets and to eventually land herself a comfortable life married to a rich man, Hime puts on a cute, angelic façade. When she stumbles into a job at Liebe Girls Academy, a café where the wait staff roleplay as dainty young ladies from an old-fashioned girls’ private school, Hime should be right at home. But try as she might, no matter how much effort she puts into acting adorable, she can’t charm her co-worker Mitsuki—who claims to despise Hime as soon as she switches off her sweet, elegant work persona.
Oh, there’s some fun to be had with this premise. Firstly, there’s something delectable about Hime’s greedy self-awareness, and how she’s determined to use the traditional expectations of cuteness and femininity to her social and financial advantage. There’s also potential for some great meta commentary and satire in Café Liebe, where the wait staff are quite literally performing an idealized girlhood. Likewise, the staff are play-acting sugar-coated, sanitized tropes of intimacy and affection for an eager audience—riffing on relationship dynamics familiar from a long history of Class S and so-called “pure” yuri.
Tender, flirty interactions are played up until the patrons cheer, but are ultimately played off as “just like sisters!” in the carefully-constructed framing device of the café’s fantasy. Everyone is aware that these intimacies are manufactured; the lily-petal vision of girlhood that Liebe sells is explicitly inspired by a novel. And—in the most fun element of the series, to me—there’s a clear delineation between the waitresses’ work personas and their true selves. They are professionals slipping into consciously over-the-top roles, polished and poised for a paycheck.
We don’t learn too much about anyone this episode, as we’re mostly anchored in Hime’s perspective, but we already get to enjoy the cold shock of meeting Sumika, and the contrast between a bookish, sweet-natured senpai (work mode) and a rowdy gyaru (real life). Hime is shaken to her core by this, as if she hadn’t considered the possibility than anyone other than her went through their life putting on a face that doesn’t accurately reflect their personality. Looks like room for character growth to me!
And of course, we get to enjoy the mysterious sting of Mitsuki hating Hime’s guts and telling her so, as soon as she switches off her Liebe Girls Academy façade. Why does Mitsuki hate Hime, who has worked so hard to be nothing but likeable? Well, I know, as a manga reader, but newbies will need to wait a little before the series’ juiciest hook of melodrama is revealed (though you can probably start taking a guess from the opening theme).
Overall, this is a premiere with potential—which is exciting, given that this is a manga we’ve been talking about for years now. It’s nice to look at, the pacing is pretty solid, and the combination of her devious machinations and fish-out-of-water situation make Hime an interesting protagonist. Perhaps this is a nitpick, but I do kind of wish they’d made her even more of a gremlin.
A more pressing concern going forward is the combination of the genre commentary element and the fact that, well, yuri is Hime’s job in-universe, but in our world this is a yuri series. Leaning in too hard or lingering too long on the parody scenes and not balancing them out with earnest depictions of growing romance between the female characters could send this series looping around to turn into the very thing it’s poking fun at. But given the slow-burn nature of those romances, it’s too soon to tell—just something that’s nibbling at the back of my mind. That, and the weird emphasis on stockinged feet in the preview clips that were going around a while ago. Which is, er, a choice.
I’m excited for this one because I love an ambitious, tricky, not-traditionally-likeable female protagonist and I love some self-aware trope-prodding. There’s room for this to stumble, but I have my fingers crossed that it will step forward with a flourish and build on the solid foundation of its first episode.