You wouldn't be too far off to describe Emma as the 'Jane Austen' of anime, given its subject matter. As a whole, the series relies very little on gimmicks or catch phrases or even spectacular animation, and the plot is very, very straightforward. It attempts to evoke a sense of quiet empathy instead, meaning it's the kind of series you watch when your soul wants a rest from the mecha explosions and magical transformations.
What makes this anime interesting is its setting, and how not evil forces but widely accepted social conventions strain a love so pure and sweet that it seems impossible. It's definitely not Romeo x Juliet, extravagant and cheesy, or Bokura ga Ita, confused and disturbing, but lies somewhere in the less explored subtle and realistic section of romance. Emma and William's first meeting is a perfectly ordinary social situation, they live normal lives in a world of dutiful routine, so following their random passion as it blossoms, withers, and blossoms again is a lot of fun.
My biggest complaint is that Emma brings little originality to the table and many of the developments turned out to be quite cliché - at least to Western audiences who are used to BBC adaptations of the classics. Of course this means the series lacks rewatchability; I could certainly watch an episode here or there to refresh my memory of key events but I don't actually feel like reliving the series in its entirety. I suppose this flaw is largely forgivable as its formulaic core is wrapped in rich mileu and robust characterisation.
The mellow mood of the anime is accompanied by an understated but detailed presentation. The tools Emma uses to sweep the floor in the first episode, to the names of shops and design of formal attire are the product of extensive research. Even the way the décor in the Jounes' house feels like a hand-drawn adaptation of real places. The people, on the other hand, are designed with simplicity in mind, with not-too-big eyes, realistic coloured hair, but overall a general lack of detail in features. William could look like any other character if you just changed his skin tone and hair style, for example (heck, he could even be Emma!). The grey-tone look of the series is highly suitable and, for those of you who have ever set foot on British soil, it's very reminiscent of our typical overcast weather.
As with many of the other aspects, Emma's score is well matched but not exceptional. This might have to do with the fact that most of the time there isn't any music during the scenes. Occasionally, to heighten the mood or highlight some special moment, there will be piano music, but many scenes are carried out with natural sounds like those of birds or carriages. The opening score is very pleasant to listen to, quite upbeat and relaxing piano music, while the end theme has more haunting flutes, but after the first few episodes there is no reason to sit through either.
Most of the cast is pretty much stock, or at most minimally layered to provide enough conflict. However, the creators actually managed to avoid using stereotypes for the main two protagonists, presenting us with lovers who are both well-defined individually and extremely believable as a compatible couple.
William is a little on the naïve side despite his high social status. He's not charming or engaging in the traditional sense, which I think is a brilliant touch because the series thus avoids creating typical fangirl fodder. We see in him someone who prefers escape through quirky Victorian gadgets and exotic friends rather than fighting for what he wants, which makes his part in the conflict frustrating to watch at times. Emma in slight contrast is the worrying realist, who loves deeply and passionately but tempers it with common sense. Her behaviour is always dignified and her quiet strength, the way she expects nothing in return for her love, is admirable. It's not that she's passive exactly, but that in a strict world where the odds are stacked against her, she picks her moments very carefully.
Perhaps the one other interesting character is Mr Jounes, William's father, a man who wants the best for his family and sees the achievement of this through using the social system. How very inconvenient, then, that his silly son is intent on flouting that same unforgiving system. When Mr Jounes and William share a scene, there exists an acute tension which I find highly intriguing, but this particular series of Emma doesn't expand upon it much. Altogether, though, the characters make for a satisfying drama.
Victorian Romance Emma should appeal to mature tastes, people who like to appreciate the touching subtleties of impossible love rather than the violent struggles involved. As a story, it has reliable albeit predictable foundations whilst delivering on refreshing and believable protagonists.
At the end of the 19th century, in a time when social classes dominate society, a woman named Emma serves as a maid for a retired governess. One fateful day, a man named William from the upper class arrives at the mansion to visit the governess, and leaves having fallen in love with the young maid herself. In a time of such prejudice, love between the classes is frowned upon; but for William and Emma, their hardships are just beginning. Can the two break free of the bonds society has forced on them, or will they succumb to the pressure and banish each other from their hearts?
I'll review anything as long as there are words in the dictionary to describe it. Disagree with me? Want to leave feedback? Please do, but take a look at my personal rating scale first.