Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Emma (manga, vol. 5) by Kaoru Mori

This volume begins by showing how William's mother and father first met, fell in love, and got married. It also reveals how difficult that marriage was on William's mother - her health was affected, and William's father eventually told her that she should "convalesce in a quiet place." After that, the volume skips forward in time, continuing where the previous volume left off. Emma goes back to her employer's household and continues to do her work, but her surprise meeting with William has left its mark. Her newly talkative and cheerful behavior is noticed by everyone, despite the uproar caused by an accidental fire in the household. Even Hans takes the opportunity to comment on the change in her behavior and ask her about it.

The letters William is sending Emma are earning comments and gossip. Even as the two exchange letters and locks of hair, William's fiancee pines for him - she has also noticed a change in his behavior, but she's not brave enough to ask him about it. Continuing to ignore the situation with his fiancee, William takes his relationship with Emma a step further by visiting the household she works in - their enthusiastic greeting makes their relationship shockingly obvious to everyone in the household, but William still takes the time to admit to her employers that he loves her. Even as William is doing this, William's parents and his fiancee's parents are discussing pleasantries and the upcoming marriage.

Anytime anything about William and Emma's relationship came up during this volume, I found myself wanting to shout at William to either break things off with Emma or break things off with Eleanor, his fiancee. Although it's nice that Emma has something to be happy about, however socially unacceptable her situation is turning out to be, the way things are progressing is not fair to Eleanor. Her delicacy often annoys me, but it's a part of her character, and William knows that - she can't ask him about the change in his behavior because that's not something she would do, so William needs to be a gentleman and tell her.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though - I should talk about the beginning of this volume first. I didn't realize right away that the beginning of this volume was set before William's birth. Instead, I thought William's father was actually William, and I wondered about the change in his hairstyle and the way others were treating him. Once I finally realized what was going on, I really enjoyed the beginning of this volume - it was a wonderfully interesting and informative peek into William's parents' past. I had originally thought that William's father objected to William's relationship with Emma purely because of the difference in their social classes, but this glimpse into the past indicates that his objections may partially be due to somewhat similar personal experience. His future wife, Aurelia Hartwick, was not suited to life in society, and he probably thought that Emma's class meant that she would have that same lack of ability to happily survive in society. Although I hadn't much liked William's father in previous volumes, I began to like him more in this volume - it's obvious that he loves his wife and that it pains him that their marriage was so hard on her.

The comments of the other servants in Emma's employer's household about Hans made me wonder a little about the conversation between Hans and Emma. Hans isn't the sort to talk about his feelings, so I'm left trying to pick apart his words and expressions throughout the volume (especially during his conversation with Emma and after William visits the household) in an attempt to figure out how he feels about Emma. Personally, I think he just likes her and worries about her as a friend, but a couple images I've seen advertising the anime indicate that his feelings for Emma in the anime are more romantic in nature. I'm looking forward to finding out if that's the case.

I was surprised at how well Emma's employers took the revelation of her relationship with a member of the gentry. Maybe it's because the Molders (Emma's employers) are newly wealthy and because class distinctions apparently aren't as great in their country, Germany (not sure if this is true or not, but it's something one of the characters in the manga said). Still, it's kind of amazing that their biggest concern is whether or not Emma will be continuing her employment at their household.

Overall, this isn't my favorite volume in the series, but I like the series in general. As far as the extras go, there's just a short afterword manga - if Kaoru Mori is anything like the way she presents herself in her afterwords, she's apparently easily excitable and a huge fan of all things British (and, for some reason, Bunny Girls). I did like one of the last bits in the afterword manga, when Mori writes, "We're at the point where nothing's gonna happen until the rich boy does something!" - it's true, and the phrasing, applied to William, is perfect and makes me giggle.

I continue to have problems thinking up read-alikes (or even watch-alikes) for this series. When I try searching for something in Google, the top result is... this very blog. Nice, I guess, but not very helpful. None of the other places I usually go to for read-alike/watch-alike help are really panning out either. Please, if someone out there has better read-alike/watch-alike suggestions, put me out of my misery and list them in a comment or something.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Romeo x Juliet (anime TV series) - I don't think this is even quite ready to be released in the US yet, but I'm desperate for titles to add to this read-alike/watch-alike list, so I'm adding it anyway. 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.
  • Mushi-Shi (anime TV series); Mushi-Shi (manga) by Yuki Urushibara - Ginko travels from place to place in order to investigate "Mushi," beings that, from what I can tell, are sort of primeval life. They're neither good nor evil - they can be beautiful, but their presence can also cause problems for humans. As Ginko studies them, he also occasionally helps out those whose lives have been affected by them. Those who'd like another slow-paced, quiet, character-focused story and don't mind something that's paranormal rather than historical might enjoy this story.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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