Thursday, May 22, 2008

Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori

Originally posted in A Library Girl's Outlet on May 19, 2008:

I mentioned my desire to see the anime Emma: A Victorian Romance in an earlier post, but now I'm going to write some comments about the manga, or at least the first three volumes of it. As usual, my public library is responsible for me being able to read these three volumes - without the library, I would be unable to afford to read anything I didn't already own. Now, for Emma the manga, which is slightly different from the little I saw of Emma the anime. Emma is a maid who serves a former governess. Her early life was very difficult, and the governess decided to make Emma an experiment in the things that education and training can accomplish - Emma takes to this very well and becomes a good maid. All the men love Emma, although she only has eyes for William, a young and handsome member of the gentry, who, in turn, only has eyes for her. It should all be perfect, except, class distinctions being what they are, Emma and William may never be able to be together. William's father wouldn't support it, and society would ostracize him and his family.

The series takes a while to warm up. For instance, Mori is still introducing new characters by book 3. Although the romance between Emma and William is sweet, it's very, very subtle. They rarely see each other (they don't see each other at all in book 3 and most of book 2), which means readers see very little of the kind of romantic tension (blushing, awkwardly given presents, etc.) that turns up so often in romantic manga. William's Indian friend Hakim is much more straightforward than William when it comes to announcing his feelings for Emma. This kind of thing can be frustrating if you pick up this series just for the romance - I wasn't sure, after the first volume, if I wanted to keep on going. Since I've started this series, I've spent a lot of time poring over the panels in some of the more important-feeling scenes, trying to decipher each character's facial expressions, since they rarely say everything that's going through their heads. It's fun, but maddening as well.

Despite some of the frustrating elements, there are still plenty of reasons to read this series. There's all the little historical details, for instance. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about this time period to know how accurate all the details are, but, from what I've read about this manga, I think the details are probably pretty good. Apparently, Mori even went so far as to hire a historical expert, and she talks a little (in her afterwords) about some of the details in her manga and some of the things she had to leave out for space considerations. One thing I will note, though, is that a few very Japanese things creep in from time to time. I can't remember if I've ever seen anyone read a book in the Japanese way (right to left, instead of left to right), but there is one part where little Erich uses the Japanese "come here" gesture, which, whenever I see it (especially in anime), always makes me think of the American "go away" gesture. It's not exactly the same as "go away", but it can still be a little jarring, at least for me. (For a picture of what the "come here" gesture looks like, see the fourth gesture picture is this blog post - although it's easiest to get the idea if you see it in action. In the Naruto anime, I think the character Itachi uses this gesture most often, during flashbacks of his time with a younger Sasuke.)

Emma is another reason to read this series. I really like her. Even though her romance with William doesn't turn me to mush in the same way that, say, Tohru's potential romance with Kyo in Fruits Basket does, that doesn't mean that I'm not eagerly hoping for things to go well for her. She doesn't decide to sit around and let William make everything turn out okay (at least, she hasn't so far), so her journey as a maid is getting pretty interesting. I also think that the artwork in this series is beautiful. It's clear and clean - my only complaints are that some of the characters look so similar it can sometimes be hard to tell them apart, and some of the facial expressions are so subtle they are possibly nonexistent (it's also possible that I'm too Western to see what's going on).

If you can get used to the slow pace of this series, I'd recommend trying it. If you're not drawn in after the first two volumes, then you can probably move on to other things without any regrets. I, however, am looking forward to seeing how things progress. Once again, on a squealing fangirl note, I really like Hakim. He seems like he's probably stereotypical Indian nobility, rather than anything realistic, but his outlandishness helps shake things up a bit in the Jones household.

I can't think of any really excellent recommendations for people who like this manga. Perhaps historical romance novels set in the Victorian Era - novels with some actual historical accuracy. Unfortunately, I don't really read much historical anything, and most of the "historical" romance novels I can remember reading had a lot of very anachronistic moments. These titles don't match Emma's tone, but they do have a little of the "romance across classes" element: Boys Over Flowers, Ouran High School Host Club (not really all that much romance, but still fun), and The Gentleman's Alliance Cross. There are probably plenty more, but I can't think of any at the moment.

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