Synopsis, with a bit of commentary mixed in:
At the end of the first season, Emma left both William and London behind, saying that she was going back to the village where she was born. The Second Season boxed set includes an Episode 0 - if you need a quick refresher on what happened during the first season, this episode takes care of that (with a bit of weirdness mixed in). Not all of it is repeat footage from the first season, either, so the episode is pretty watchable even if you don't need a refresher.
At the beginning of the second season, Emma is working at the Molders family estate as a maid. She works hard, doesn't talk much about herself, and is Dorotea Molders's favorite maid, so the other servants don't always speak very kindly of her, but Emma still manages to win a few people over. For instance, one of the servants, Hans, believes at first that Emma hates him. However, he and Emma eventually get a chance to talk openly with each other, and they realize they actually have a lot in common. Both of them came from incredibly poor families and had to work extremely hard to get to where they are now, which is why they seem to appreciate their positions a little better than some of the other servants.
While Emma is settling into her new job, William is trying to deal with being without her. He throws himself into the family's business and attends a few parties, but he continues to act a bit standoffish with Eleanor. Eleanor tells him that she'll wait as long as necessary for him to get over Emma. Eventually, after Monica, Eleanor's sister, arrives and berates William for not caring for Eleanor with all his heart, William breaks down and finally proposes to Eleanor.
Meanwhile, Dorotea Molders agrees to loan Emma out as a party companion for a friend of hers. Dorotea and her friend dress Emma up and have her attend the party without glasses because they think she looks nicer that way. Because Emma doesn't know Dorotea's friend's real name, and because she can't see well, she doesn't realize until it's too late that Dorotea's friend is Aurelia Jones, William's mother, and that the party they're attending is William's engagement party. Emma faints when she comes face-to-face with William and Eleanor. She's taken to a guest bedroom to recover, and William goes to see her that evening. In an effort to keep them both from ruining the separate lives they've made for themselves, Emma leaves early in the morning, without telling William where she can be found.
Aurelia guesses the truth behind the relationship between William and Emma. Although she is sympathetic towards Emma, it's not entirely clear whether she supports the relationship between the two of them or not. Aurelia does tell William where to find Emma, contrary to Emma's wishes.
If you're familiar with the manga, it's at this point that the show becomes really different from the manga. William pursues Emma, and Emma resists. Hans decides to give Emma the perfect excuse for resisting William by becoming William's rival - he even goes so far as to propose to Emma. Now, in the manga, there are signs that Hans may have feelings for Emma, but signs are all Mori's readers get. In my opinion, Manga William went from being a rich kid who didn't really understand what his relationship with Emma would mean in practical terms to someone who had actually considered all the pros and cons and was more emotionally mature than he had been. Emma's kidnapping, arranged by Eleanor's parents, was a bit out there, and I'm not sure that William could realistically have rescued her quite as quickly and easily as he did, but at least it was exciting.
Emotionally, I think Anime William matures faster than Manga William. He realizes what he feels for Emma, and rather than waffling between his feelings for Emma and the relationship everyone expects him to have with Eleanor, he sticks firmly with Emma and does his best not to encourage Eleanor without being too rude. Eleanor eventually realizes that William loves someone else, and a maid at that, but she continues to hope that he'll choose her - she realizes (at least until William proposes) that he doesn't really love her and is only with her for her company, so it's not quite as easy to feel sorry for her as it is to feel sorry for Manga Eleanor. When Manga William chooses Emma over Eleanor, William's family is upset with him, and it's indicated that this will hurt the Jones family's social standing. Manga Emma doesn't agree to marry Manga William, but she agrees to stay with him, which gives him the opportunity to eventually talk her into marriage.
The anime takes things further than the manga. It very clearly shows the effect that William's decision to call off his engagement to Eleanor and choose Emma has, not only on his family's social standing, but also on his family's business. Especially on his family's business. By the end of the manga, you can almost forget that William's family even has a business, since I don't think he's ever shown doing much with it. That's definitely not the case in the anime. Anime William spends tons of time working. Rather than arranging for Emma to be kidnapped, Eleanor's father instead sabotages one of the Jones family's important business deals, almost costing William his chance to meet with Emma and see if she chooses to stay with him. I suppose the whole business thing is probably more realistic than Manga Emma's kidnapping, but it was kind of boring.
I rooted for Manga William and Manga Emma, even as a part of me wanted to see Hans display more obvious feelings for Emma. I wasn't always rooting for Anime William and Anime Emma. The anime made it so very clear how much William's decision to pursue Emma hurt him and his family. It made William seem so selfish. I found myself thinking that Emma would be better off with Hans - Hans understands her, and, socially, he would be a more comfortable husband for her. All William seems to do for a good chunk of the second season is make Emma upset and uncomfortable. She repeatedly tells him to go away, but he keeps coming back. Since she doesn't explain why she tells him to go away until nearly the end of the series (she wasn't sure if being with her would really make him happy), William came off as an annoyingly arrogant rich guy.
Hans ends up letting Emma go without a fight - part of me would just love a spin-off anime starring him - and William and Emma end up together. Hans seems to be fine, and there's a snippet showing Eleanor in the country, with a handsome young man watching her. I have yet to read volume 8 of the manga, but I'm assuming that the young man is the person Eleanor meets in that volume. At the very end of the anime, things skip forward a few years. William and Emma are a happy couple, apparently living in the Jones family's home with lots of their own adorable children.
And more commentary:
I think I liked the first season better than this one. The romance between him and Emma was sweet, and he knew without a doubt that he wanted to be with her, even if he was naive enough to think that his father wouldn't try to force him into a more socially acceptable relationship. The romance in the second season wasn't quite as pleasant to watch. I hated seeing Emma so upset, and all William's presence ever seemed to do was upset her. Besides that, there were other things I didn't like about the second season. Eleanor's pursuit of William made her seem emotionally masochistic and pathetic. All those scenes of William working bored me - even at its most exciting, when Eleanor's father was sabotaging things, it wasn't that exciting. Also, as far as the art goes, I didn't always like the way Emma's eyes were drawn.
Although I preferred the first season, that's not to say I hated the second season. There were several things I did like. For instance, I loved that Hans got a bigger role. I liked that William and Emma got a definitely happy ending - marriage, kids, and, I'm guessing, the eventual acceptance of William's family. I enjoyed the dramatic bits, like the part at the beginning of the season, when Emma discovers that one of the maids is stealing things for her secret lover. I loved the scenes with all the servants at the Molders household.
Overall, I'm glad I watched the second season. I would've been just too depressing to stop at season one, with William and Emma apart. I just wish the writers hadn't made William look so unreasonable, stubborn, and selfish in the second season.
There really aren't many. As with season one, the DVDs don't include many extras, only trailers, clean opening and closing animations, and fan thank-yous. Again, the boxed set includes a booklet, but this one is much thinner than the one included with season one. The content is also pretty sparse. There are character designs, pictures of what I'm guessing are the Japanese DVD case artworks (in black and white only, unfortunately), and a 3-page interview with Kaoru Mori. With Emma working in a different and much larger household in this season, additional historical notes taking that into account would've been nice. I would've liked more information about all the different kinds of servants in the Molders household and where each of them stand in the hierarchy, for instance.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series) - Yumi is a first year student at the Lillian School For Girls, an exclusive all girl's catholic school. She admires Sachiko, who will likely become one of the heads of the student council. When Sachiko asks Yumi to be her soeur (older girls take on a younger girl as their little sister, or "soeur," and instruct them and watch out for them), Yumi finds herself having to figure out the relationships between the girls in the student council and her own feelings for Sachiko. As this is apparently a shoujo-ai series (romance between girls), it's not for everyone. However, those who'd like a slow-paced drama/romance involving a strict social environment might enjoy this series. I have yet to see it, but the many (two or three) ads that RightStuf has sent me have worked their way into my brain, and I'd like to.
- Shirley (manga) by Kaoru Mori - Ms. Bennett lives alone and needs help with her house, so she places an ad for a maid. The person who answers the ad is Shirley Madison, only 13 years old. Despite her misgivings, Ms. Bennett hires her. Those who'd like another maid manga by Mori may want to try this. I believe this manga takes place during a slightly more recent time period than Emma, so I'm not sure if there will be any cameo appearances made by Emma characters, but you never know.
- Land of the Blindfolded (manga) by Sakura Tsukuba - High school student Kanade has a secret: when she touches someone, she can sometimes see a glimpse of their future. For years she's believed she's the only person with a secret like this, until she meets Arou, a boy who can see people's pasts when he touches them. Despite differences in their outlooks on life, the two of them grow close and eventually start dating. Like Emma, this is another series that's a bit slow-paced and sometimes bittersweet. Those who'd like another gentle romance with some drama in the mix might like this manga.
- Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another story with a slowly developing (and seemingly doomed) romantic storyline might enjoy this title.
- Antique Bakery (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga - (There is an anime TV series - and even a live action show? - but I don't think any of that has been legally released in the US.) This series focuses on the owner and employees of a small gourmet bakery. Although the series is often light-hearted and funny, each of the characters has personal issues, painful memories, and more to deal with. Those who'd like another slow-paced character-focused series might enjoy this. Yoshinaga often draws the cakes and pastries and the way these things are made in lovely detail that those who enjoyed the historical details in Emma's artwork may appreciate.
- Romeo x Juliet (anime TV series) - Fourteen years earlier, the Montague family seized control of the floating continent of Neo Verona and murdered nearly every member of the Capulet family. Juliet Fiammata Asto Capulet, the sole survivor and Capulet's daughter, has long forgotten the murder of her family and her identity. The now cross-dresses as Odin and the town's hero of justice. During a daring escape, she happens to meet Romeo Candorebanto Montague, the kind son of the tyrannical Montague, and the two eventually become star-crossed lovers. As you might have been able to tell, this is only loosely based on the play. Those who'd like another story about an apparently doomed romance, but would like something with more action, might enjoy this anime.