Saturday, January 4, 2014

Shirley (manga) by Kaoru Mori

Shirley is a historical slice-of-life manga. I assume it's set in England, but I have no idea what time period. It's a collection of short stories that feature maids but that are unrelated to Mori's other maid-focused work, Emma.

I'm going to be lazy and treat this one like I usually treat anthologies: there will be no read-alikes included at the end. If you're interested in read-alikes, you might check out some of the posts I've written about Emma.


I went through some of my unread/unreviewed manga and picked out one-shots and titles for which I know I only own the first volume. This one stood out in the pile. I mean, it's Kaoru Mori. I love her stuff. The only reason this sat unread for so long was because, every time I finish another volume of her works, that's one less volume I'll be able to read for the first time. ::sniffle::

CMX published this after they'd already put out several volumes of Mori's Emma. I had assumed that it was a one-shot Mori wrote after finishing Emma – she seemed so maid-obsessed that it wouldn't have surprised me if she couldn't bring herself to completely leave them behind. As I began reading this volume, however, I became more and more convinced that it was an earlier work. The artwork didn't have the detail and near-perfection (yes, I'm a fangirl) I remembered seeing in Emma.

This volume looks at the lives of three separate maids, whose lives appear unconnected until you notice one recurring character and one cameo appearance, in a later story, by the lady from the first few stories. I'll write up a separate section for each chapter.

“The Beginning” - Miss Bennett Cranley, a cafe owner and single woman, hires 13-year-old Shirley to basically do everything in her home: cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc.

I raised an eyebrow at this one. My historical knowledge is crap, but I would think that Miss Cranley would want references or something before leaving a stranger, even a young girl like Shirley, alone in her home.

Miss Cranley frequently thought about how terrible Shirley's previous life must have been, considering how happy just having a proper maid's uniform made her. I had thought one of the later chapters would deal with Shirley's past, but none of them did.

Also, just wondering, but isn't “Bennett” a man's name?

“Little Marie” - Miss Cranley gives Shirley a doll. At first she thinks Shirley doesn't like it, but then she catches the girl coming up with plans to use fabric scraps to make doll's clothes.

A cute story. Shirley demonstrated a skill for clothing design, which, unlike her past, became more important later on.

“Blonde and a Corset” - Shirley helps Miss Cranley get dressed for the day and is envious of her figure and pretty blonde hair. She is pleasantly surprised when she learns that Miss Cranley wishes she were a brunette.

Another cute story. Although Shirley is quiet, serious, and (so far, at least) apparently a perfect little maid, in this and the previous story you can tell she's still a young girl. She looks up to her new employer, enjoys being praised by her, and even wishes she could be like her a little.

And, heh, you can totally see Mori's love of curvy women in action here.

“Home” - Miss Cranley has been invited to a party and asks Shirley to update one of her dresses for her, which she happily does. Unfortunately, the party is exhausting for Miss Cranley. Everyone keeps asking her if she's still single, and her mood when she finally gets home worries Shirley a little.

The guy who asked to speak to Miss Cranley looked so much like Will, from Emma. I actually started to wonder if the world of Emma and the world of this volume had any sort of overlap. I'd do an Emma reread project, except I don't own any of the volumes. Shocking, I know, but some of the volumes are depressingly expensive. I keep hoping that some company will pick it up and re-release it.

Getting back on track: this was one of those instances where I thought a small moment was going to end up being more important than it actually was. This guy, whatever his name was (I don't think he was given one), never appeared again in the volume.

You could tell that Miss Cranley had fought hard against societal and family pressures to stay single and keep her cafe, but the lack of details in the volume was maddening.

“Rain” - For the first time, Shirley keeps making mistakes: breaking things, accidentally throwing important things away, etc. Meanwhile, Miss Cranley's aunt has come to visit, and all she seems to want to do is criticize Miss Cranley's decision to stay single and own her own business.

Yup, definitely lots of family pressures. It made me wonder how Miss Cranley ever managed to strike out on her own and open her cafe in the first place.

This was the first chapter in which it occurred to me that Shirley literally did everything in Miss Cranley's household, and that this was probably unusual (not to mention hideously exhausting). She not only had to cook, clean an entire house, and dress her employer for the day, she also had to garden and answer the door.

While Shirley was almost magically perfect in the previous chapters, in this one she made mistakes that another employer might not have taken so well. The most serious offense was probably when she yelled at Miss Cranley's aunt. She yelled at her employer's aunt. And she barely got in trouble for it. Whatever her past was like, Shirley's present life was certainly a lucky one.

“Me and Nellie and One Afternoon” - At this point, the volume switched to a new maid, Nellie. Nellie is the favorite maid of the 5-year-old head of the Lester family. She's there as the young master unsuccessfully tries to raise a baby bird.

Meh. This story was okay, I suppose. Nellie and Norma's differing perspectives on their mistress' behavior were interesting. Their mistress stayed out as much as possible, convinced that her son didn't really like being around her and apparently still caught up in her grief at her husband's death five years ago. Nellie was more on the young master's side, worried that his mother's behavior was making him lonely. Norma, who'd been part of the household longer, had more sympathy for their mistress and a more practical outlook (at least the lady of the house wasn't making the maids' lives hell).

I was pleased with myself for recognizing that the gardener was one of Miss Cranley's regular customers.

“Mary Banks” - Mary and Eric are two servants in Viscount James Bolton's household. Their employer likes to play tricks on his staff, which means that few servants besides Mary and Eric have stayed with him for long.

This one was silly and a bit over-the-top, but sweet.

All in all, this volume was okay, but definitely nowhere near Mori's best work. I wonder, was it always CMX's policy to put a volume number on one-shots, or was that "1" on Shirley's spine wishful thinking on the cover designer's part?


There's a 5-page afterword in which Mori tears apart each chapter in the volume and apologizes for how bad they are.

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