Manga-ka: Kaoru Mori
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: September 2006
Synopsis: “The saga begins. In Victorian England, a young girl named Emma is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. When she meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, their love seems destined. But in this world, even matters of the heart are ruled by class distinctions.”
As far as we’ve gone here in volume one, Emma is the story of a maid of the title name who works under the charge of a stubborn, yet kind, older woman. A previous student of the older woman comes to call one day and is immediately smitten with Emma, something that is no uncommon occurrence for the timid but attractive young woman. Though she has long since become accustomed to politely declining the advances of men, in this case Emma can’t help but be rather charmed in return.
The overall mood of the book is very calming with emphasis on subtle actions. Emma, though seemingly the lead, shares the book’s page time in near-equal amount with William, the young man whose eye she has inadvertently captured. I found him much more interesting than her in that he expresses a range of emotion far past what Emma has had the opportunity to. While the story’s level tone makes for a relaxing read, it also suffers from being a little on the dull side. The majority of the story moves at a nice smooth pace but other times, in particular those involving Emma on her own, tend to drag on and failed to be as subtly dramatic as intended.
In sharp contrast however was Hakim, an Indian Prince who has come for an extended visit with his good friend, William. More spontaneous and outgoing than your average English gentleman for sure, Hakim brings a lot of fun to the story, from his exploration of erotica in the public library to an elephant ride down populated market streets.
What’s most fascinating about Emma though is the sense of detail and accuracy in the English setting, a portrayal of time and locale to this extent that isn’t common in work originating from Japan. Though I of course have never lived in that era, the story easily makes you feel as though you’re there, seamlessly switching locations from homely market places to decorated balls and simple aristocratic living rooms. Nothing was too overdone or extravagant (well, with the exception of Hakim and his flashy entourage) and the whole book had a very natural feel to it. The manga-ka did a great job allowing the foreign locale to feel natural to readers, including speech, gestures and social aspects of the characters, and it was easily my favorite part of the book.
Overall, this first volume of Emma falls just short of peaking my interest for future books, and yet I’ve heard too many good things about it to pass on her this early. I may find the character Emma to be on the bland side, which puts a damper on hopes for a story revolving around her, but ultimately positive reviews and the potential I see in a series so rich with classic English culture is enough to warrant Emma a second look with volume two.