Saturday, February 7, 2009

Emma (manga, vol. 6) by Kaoru Mori

Poor Eleanor agonizes over how she will dress for a visit from William, her fiance, not realizing that he is visiting in order to call off their engagement. Eleanor is understandably upset when William breaks the news, but Eleanor's parents freak William out a little with their easy acceptance of the end to the engagement. What William does not realize is that Eleanor's parents in no way accept his decision - they tell Eleanor that it was a misunderstanding and arrange for Emma to be kidnapped and shipped elsewhere. Now that everyone in Emma's employer's household knows that she's in love with a member of the gentry, they're all wildly curious and bug her for any information they can get from her - after Emma disappears, the general consensus is that she eloped with William. Not everyone believes this to be the case, but there's little they can do about it.

When William discovers that Eleanor's parents haven't properly explained the situation to her, he makes it clear that there is no misunderstanding and their engagement is canceled. William's family members are not pleased, and his sisters are pretty vocal about their displeasure. William finally has the argument with his father that's been brewing ever since his father first found out about William's interest in Emma - this fight and its aftermath references the previous volume's revelations about William's parents' past. Although it was uncomfortable seeing William's mother in the middle of the fight, so pained and upset by the anger between two people she loves, I enjoyed seeing her interactions with William's father after the fight. William's parents seem to care for each other, but they have such as complex relationship - it's fascinating to watch it in action.

Since William has spent the past 5 volumes avoiding all the worst confrontations, I was very surprised and impressed at how thoroughly he went about taking care of all the impediments to his and Emma's relationship. While I think it would've been kinder of him to have canceled his engagement to Eleanor sooner - in fact, I think he should never have gotten engaged to her in the first place - I'm glad that he had the courage and decency to take care of that task not once, but twice in this volume. He didn't take the easy way out and just let Eleanor continue to think their engagement hadn't been broken. I did feel bad for poor Eleanor, though. I know, from her behavior in the previous volume, that she probably expected that something was wrong between her and William, but she didn't have the experience to know what to do about it - after all, she's a coddled young Victorian lady.

I found Arthur, William's eldest younger brother, to be really interesting in this volume. He hasn't really gotten much attention before now - about the only thing I knew about him before this volume was that he looks an awful lot like his father. In the beginning of the volume, he insults his sister Vivi's choice of reading (The Prisoner of Zenda), but then, amusingly enough, starts reading the book himself and seems to actually enjoy it. Later on, his biggest concern about William's revelation that he's broken off his engagement to Eleanor is that he might have to take over the family business if William is cast out of the family. Arthur wants to become a barrister, you see. Although his reaction is just as selfish as everyone else's in the family, at least the reader isn't forced to deal with another angry outburst - the same is not true when it comes to Vivi, who is screamingly upset that there won't be a honeymoon or future child for her to play with. Well, I guess that William is actually being selfish as well - his decision to follow his heart could harm his family's reputation in addition to his own.

Emma's fate is worrisome and confusing. Not much is actually made clear in this volume - she gets kidnapped by a scarily unemotional bearded man and wakes up on a ship. She is strongly encouraged by the man to write a letter apologizing for any trouble she might have caused and breaking off her relationship with William. The only clue that William has is that the letter was postmarked "Burnley."

Overall, this was a fascinating and exciting volume that definitely pushed the plot forward - a good thing, since the next volume is the last volume of the series (although there's apparently an eighth volume that will have a short manga stories focusing on various supporting characters). As far as extras go, there's a short afterword manga (Mori's usual obsession with all things British, plus some information about little details in the manga, like Eleanor's dress choices and Hakim's silent little brothers) and six lovely drawings of late nineteenth century urban London and the surrounding English countryside, created by Mori as the frontispieces for the first six volumes of the series. The drawings, with their hatching and cross-hatching, make me think of illustrations in old books and newspapers.

I'm still having problems coming up with read-alikes. Instead of repeating all the ones I've already listed for previous volumes, I added a couple that don't have a ton in common with Emma, but still have a particular aspect in common with it.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (book) by Anthony Hope - When the king is kidnapped, an English gentleman who is somewhat related to him must impersonate him. Those who liked this volume of Emma might want to try reading the book Vivi and Arthur enjoyed.
  • 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.
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - This series is also often referred to as Special A. Ever since she was a little girl and Kei beat her in a wrestling match, Hikari has always been second to Kei and considered him her rival. What she doesn't realize, even though everyone else figured it out ages ago, is that Kei loves her. In her determination to beat Kei at something, anything, Hikari has become a member of the Special A, an elite group at their elite school, right alongside him - will she ever realize his feelings for her, and what will happen if she does? My main exposure to this series has actually been to fansubs of the anime - since I don't think this anime has even been licensed by any company in the US, I'm kind of breaking one of my personal rules by putting it on this list. However, there are portions of the series where Hikari comes smack up against the fact that Kei is rich and moves in a different part of society - those parts are very similar to Emma, although the general feel of the series is not (different time period, different pacing, different tone, etc.). Those who'd like a romantic series with a bit of social class complication might like this title. The manga, at least, is available in the US.
  • The Initiation (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book in Smith's Secret Circle series, although it is no longer available on its own - the link will take you to the page for a volume combining the first book and half the second book (what were they thinking?!). Cassie isn't thrilled to move from sunny California to gloomy New England, but it isn't long before things get interesting for her. Her new school is practically ruled by a group of gorgeous teens who appear to be feared and/or respected by everyone around them. Cassie gradually discovers that, not only do these teens have special powers, so does she. As she gets involved with the group, she begins to fall for the boyfriend of one of the girls. Those who enjoyed reading about a painful love triangle might want to try this book.

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