Wednesday, January 20, 2021

REVIEW: Emma: A Victorian Romance, Season 1 - English dub version (anime TV series)

Emma: A Victorian Romance is a historical romance anime.


When William Jones, a member of the gentry, finally goes to visit his former governess, he ends up falling head over heels for Emma, her maid. His feelings only grow stronger with time, and even Emma finds herself beginning to forget the distance between them - the difference in their stations in life. However, their relationship doesn't blossom in a vacuum. William's father is trying to cement the Jones family's position by setting up a marriage between William and Eleanor Campbell, the daughter of Viscount Campbell. Eleanor mistakes William's friendliness for romantic interest, which only makes the situation more awkward. What chance does a romance between a maid and a member of the gentry have?

I last watched and reviewed this series about 12 years ago (my reviewing style was very different then - be warned that those posts are detailed and filled with spoilers). A little over two years ago, I was one of the people who backed the Kickstarter for an English dub for this series, and just a few weeks ago my Blu-ray discs and other Kickstarter backer items finally arrived. I figured it was time for an English dub viewing.

I debated whether to reread the manga first. In the end, I decided to just jump into the anime, which I recalled differed from the manga in key areas - that would allow me to rewatch the anime more on its own terms, rather than constantly comparing it to the manga. (I wonder, is the manga out of print now? I checked, and Right Stuf doesn't have all the volumes anymore. That's a shame, but it makes me doubly glad I got myself a full set while I could.)

I had forgotten how slow this series was. William clearly enjoyed spending time with Emma, to the point that bystanders could recognize his interest in her, but it took him ages to actually verbalize his feelings. Instead, he kept trying to buy her gifts. If it hadn't been for the arrival of Hakim, William's over-the-top Indian prince friend who also fell immediately in love with Emma but was much less shy about telling her, Emma and William's romance might never have progressed.

My favorite thing about this first season was the relationship between Emma and her employer, Kelly Stownar. Initially, viewers just saw examples of how devoted Emma was to her - going the extra mile to help her when a favorite necklace of hers broke, taking care of her when she was sick, etc. Eventually, flashbacks revealed how and why Mrs. Stownar came to mean so much to Emma, and it was lovely.

When I first watched this series, Eleanor annoyed me. Maybe it was her Japanese voice actress that did it, because I liked her a bit more while watching the English dub, although I couldn't help but wince every time she blushed over William. Actually, this time around I might have disliked William the most out of the entire cast - after a certain point, he had to have known that Eleanor was interested in him, and yet her continued to behave warmly towards her and essentially encouraged her crush. Hakim, the quiet spectator in this whole mess, seemed to feel the same way I did.

Right Stuf hasn't listed the English dub edition on their site yet, so I don't know if they plan to sell Seasons 1 and 2 together or separately. Together would probably be best - this is not a series where Season 1 stands alone well. In fact, it'd probably anger anyone who hadn't read the manga and went into it expecting a romance, since it ends in a very difficult place. I plan on continuing straight on with Season 2 once I finish this review.

Now, for the thing that makes this set different from the one I originally watched and reviewed: the English dub. One of the big selling points of the English dub was supposed to be the care with which the Nozomi Entertainment folks cast the various parts. The characters' accents needed to be believable and natural.

I have to admit, I was a lukewarm backer for the dub - after the Kickstarter was funded, I didn't pay much attention to most of the emails sent to backers. I downloaded the wallpapers for my cellphone and read the casting post for Hakim, and that was pretty much it. I knew it would be a while before I'd ever see the results, and I didn't want to make myself impatient. I don't know how many, if any, of the voice actors selected were English (or Irish), and I don't know enough about the various accents to really judge how realistic they sounded and whether they properly fit the various social classes represented. 

I do know that some of them sounded really good to my ears - my particular favorites were Erica Schroeder (Kelly Stownar), and whoever voiced Annie (Eleanor's maid) and Emma's aunt. Eileen Montgomery made an excellent Emma. I enjoyed James Rieser as Hakim, but that was such an odd role - he's technically an over-the-top character (he brings elephants with him and rides one through London, and he's constantly accompanied by a group of silent interchangeable servant girls), and he's much bolder than William, but he's also simultaneously very self-controlled. In the anime in particular his expression is unreadable, and he can behave like an impeccable English gentleman when he wants to (and for Emma, he wants to). In the English dub, his level of self-control can also be heard in his voice. 

Out of the main cast, my least favorite voice in the English dub was probably William's. It wasn't that he sounded bad, but something about his way of speaking (combined with his friendly and oblivious behavior?) reminded me of Bertie Wooster. It reminded me that I'd actually shipped Emma with Hans when I first watched this series. We'll see if I feel the same way during my rewatch.

Season 2 is going to be a bigger test of my feelings about the dub. For one thing, Hans is one of my favorite characters in the series. For another, I'm half German and I know German voices, speech, and accents. If something is off about those accents, I'll hear it much more readily than any issues with the series' other accents. Crossing my fingers that it all sounds good.


The Blu-ray includes a clean opening, clean closing, a Japanese promo commerical, Japanese TV spots, Japanese DVD commercials, and English trailers for both seasons of this series. There's also a Kickstarter backer thank you.

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