Monday, February 9, 2009

Emma (manga, vol. 7) by Kaoru Mori

Monica, Eleanor's older sister, has come with Hakim to William's household in order to verbally flay him for breaking off his engagement to Eleanor. William doesn't have time for that, though - he convinces Hakim to let him borrow a boat in order to go find Emma. Although Emma's not doing too badly, she has no job, no one knows her, and she's filled with doubts about her relationship with William - she's convinced that she should just give him up and try to make things work out at her new location. However, William is determined and manages to find her. Emma is so upset and filled with doubt that she runs from him. William is hurt chasing after her, but he doesn't care about that as long as she returns with him. Meanwhile, life goes on at the household Emma worked in, but her friend Tasha still waits worriedly for her to return. When Emma returns, she asks her lady employer's advice on how to act like a lady - her employer (now former employer, since Emma will be leaving with William) and William's mother agree to help, but it's a difficult, confusing, and time-consuming experience for poor Emma.

Eleanor is still pining over William and her broken engagement, but Hakim's girls help bring her out of her funk, and soon Eleanor is, if not happy, at least eating again and speaking to her maid and Monica. William speaks to Eleanor's father, who is less than happy to see him, and discovers that he was the one responsible for Emma's kidnapping. William is understandably angry and takes the drastic step of breaking off relations with the Campbell family - unfortunately, the repercussions of this affect William's entire family, who now have to worry about who they can interact with in society and what they can do. Eleanor's father is as horrible to his own family as he is to William, kicking Monica and her husband out of the house and promising that Eleanor will be sent to a "health resort."

Fortunately for William, he still has a few friends who don't care about how the Campbells will react if they continue positive relations with William and the rest of his family. He's also got Emma, who loves him but hasn't yet agreed to marry him.

At over 250 pages, this is, I think, the longest volume in the series, and I feel that it could've easily been longer. After the leisurely pace of nearly all of the earlier volumes, Mori had a lot she had to get through and wrap up in this volume, and even then she doesn't completely wrap everything up - by the end of the volume, William's family is in a shaky position, socially, Eleanor has agreed to be sent to the health resort, and William and Emma haven't yet married. Although I'd say this was a mostly happy ending, I wasn't entirely satisfied with it, because I wanted to find out more of the story.

I was glad that Hakim came back for this story. Although, as I've mentioned before, he isn't really well-developed enough to seem like a real person, I still love him. He often injects a little humor into scenes. I particularly liked his scene with Emma near the end of the volume, when he's staring at her in much the same way that he did earlier in the series and tells her that she can come to him when she tires of William. It's hilarious, as is his instantaneous clothing change (from Indian style clothing to English gentleman clothing, in order to better impress Emma) when he realizes that Emma is there and goes to see her - it's not realistic, but it's funny.

Emma is... weak in this volume. She doesn't really know what she wants or should do. I suppose it's realistic, since most maids during this time wouldn't normally have to deal with this kind of situation, and they wouldn't have had the option of actually doing something about it and maybe marrying a member of the gentry. Still, Emma and William are suddenly on very unequal footing. Emma is meek and uncertain, mixed up in a situation she isn't really equipped to handle, and William is determined and decisive. It's a bit odd to see. As a maid, Emma is very sure of herself and her skills, so readers have never really gotten to see her so completely out of her element and lacking in confidence. William is also strange to see in this volume, since he has spent most of this series unsure of what his actions should be concerning his feelings for Emma and doing what other people and society tell him to do.

I think nearly every minor character that every appeared in this series appears again in this final volume. Hakim's silent girls are there - I think they're cute, but I imagine that some readers might find them a bit offensive. Mrs. Stownar even turns up in a flashback. I enjoyed finally getting to see what kind of man would marry Monica (Eleanor's sister) - Mori apparently enjoyed writing humorous scenes were Monica manipulates him with her theatrics and gets him to let her do whatever she wants. It's really the perfect relationship, at least for Monica, and her husband doesn't seem to mind so much, as long as Monica occasionally lavishes him with her attention.

Overall, even though I would've liked it if this series had continued for at least one more volume, I enjoyed it and I'm okay with the way this series ended. There's probably enough packed into this volume that any fan of this series could find something enjoyable, no matter what aspect of the series they like the most. I wonder how well Emma will fare in her new life with William, after all the comparisons Mori has encouraged readers to draw between William's mother and Emma - maybe that explains why Mori has ended the series where she has, so that readers can get the "happily ever after" feel without getting to see all the realities of Emma's situation in action. It's encouraging that William doesn't seem to mind if Emma makes the occasional mistake (there's a sweet bit at the end where he corrects the placement of her hand on his arm) - they're a great couple, but that doesn't mean that society won't do its best to ruin things for them. I guess it's a sign of how much I like these characters that I worry about how things will go for them, even after the story's over.

As far as the extras go, there's just the usual short afterword manga, in which Mori reflects upon the series and mentions that there will be an eighth volume with a few side stories.

Read-alikes and Watch-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.

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