In the late 19th Century, England was effectively split into two ‘countries' - that of the aristocratic and rich, and all those below them. One day William Jones, the young son of a rich merchant, pays a visit to his former governess Mrs Stowmar. When he arrives, there is an instant connection between him and Emma, the hard-working and beautiful young maid who works there. After several chance encounters their attraction deepens, but their difference in social status is something which cannot be ignored. With William's father refusing to give his consent to their relationship and intent on arranging a marriage for him with Eleanor, the daughter of a Viscount, there are an increasing number of obstacles standing in their way. In a society where the relationship between a humble maid and a gentleman is forbidden and one is expected to marry within their social rank, can Emma and William's love survive?
Story: 8.5/10 I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy; as a child I would be in the garden playing with frogs instead of hosting a tea party for my dollies. Now in my mid-twenties, while I no longer try to pet any unwilling amphibian in my path, I am still more likely to be diving headfirst into a sea of shounen goodness rather than weeping my way through romantic dramas. However, one lusciously ladylike love story manages to break through my many boyish layers and tug at my very heartstrings. It’s clear that Emma is something special. The plot revolves around the straightforward premise of a forbidden and unobtainable love between a Victorian gentleman and a lowly housemaid. Naturally, the pair faces various obstacles in the form of disapproving parents, rivals for their affections, and physical separation. It doesn’t sound particularly innovative or enthralling at this point; in fact it seems like a breeding ground for clichés – and in a way it is – but Emma’s execution makes any formulaic elements wholly forgivable. The mangaka, Kaoru Mori, maintains a sense of realism throughout the narrative – even when a young Indian prince rides through the centre of London on the back of an elephant. Emma is entirely sensible about her situation; while she would love nothing more than to be with William, she knows that their difference in status means it cannot happen. Their road to romance isn’t simple and mostly seems entirely hopeless – every time they take a step towards their dream the repercussions are waiting in the shadows to send them two paces back. Mori also utilises periods of solitude and silence to great effect, proving that sometimes less is more. Through private interludes such as Emma getting ready for bed, the mangaka develops the central relationship in a much deeper manner than simply focusing on sections of dialogue or action. Ultimately these scenes are far more touching and beautiful than any of the bigger or more obvious plot points, yet they are just as important. Art: 10/10 Kaoru Mori’s artwork in Emma is truly something to behold and one of the few occasions where the manga’s art heightens the emotional attachment its reader has to the narrative. Its visual style fits perfectly with the story’s tone, with gentle character designs mirroring the softer plot. Mori doesn’t use hard or thick lines, but instead applies a more delicate approach, which not only ideally depicts the genteel nature of the Victorian era, but also conveys the complete adoration she has for what she’s drawing. Emma boasts an impressive variety of images, which greatly enhance the narrative. Vast panels depicting a moonlit Crystal Palace or the servants dancing at a party reflect Emma’s world widening, whereas close up frames of dirty plates in the kitchens portraying the everyday drudgery of a maid’s life. Especially worthy of praise is Mori’s ability to handle the plot’s most emotional moments with such gentle elegance. She uses a variety of shots from a full page image to give maximum impact to smaller more voyeuristic frames, such as those only showing the lower half of characters’ faces. Mori knows exactly how to convey the intimacy of the situation, for instance in one particular image depicting a kissing scene she chooses to focus not on the lips, but on the hands, which adds an extra sensory reaction so it’s like the reader can actually feel the kiss as well as see it. The attention to detail throughout is impeccable and encapsulates the era down to the last gas lamp. Mori never cuts corners so the readers get to immerse themselves in Emma’s world and experience every flower on the wallpaper, every frill on a corset, every bead of a necklace. With screentone adding a subtle, tonal depth to the beautiful imagery every panel of Emma’s ten volumes carries the same exquisite level of quality throughout. Characters: 9/10 Emma’s characters make this manga so compelling. Emma herself displays such genuine kindness, sincerity and modesty, that she is likable without becoming one of those flat and irritating ‘nice’ characters that so often waste the ink they’re drawn with. She is also the epitome of a true English woman; though utterly in love with William, she sucks it up and gets on with her life quietly pining in private instead of indulging in girlish fantasies and crying an ocean of tears deep enough to sink the Titanic. As a reader you can’t help but feel for Emma and cheer her on in her plight. By comparison, William is quite the opposite of his love; naïve, bumbling and somewhat spineless, the poor sod doesn’t really have all that much going for him. However, while this should be a major deficit, William’s flaky personality actually works in regards to the story. He is everything that an heir of the gentry should not be; he’s fanciful and much to his father’s dismay prioritises love and happiness over social standing. Caught between a rock and an even bigger, snootier rock, William has to try and do what’s best for the family, but his inept methods of doing so coupled with his inability to put on a stiff upper lip and bury his feelings makes William a lovable oaf well worthy of our heroine’s affections. Aside from the protagonists, Emma has a reasonable sized secondary cast. Though the main story places primary focus on just a handful of people, those who play a smaller part in the central narrative receive more development and ‘page time’ in the final three volumes, which are actually a collection of side stories. These extra tales give more of an insight into the minor characters and what happens to them after the ‘end’ of the story, which just makes the whole Emma universe that much more real and engaging. Overall: 9.2/10 Though there are maids a-plenty, there isn’t a single frilly garter or ‘Goshujinsama’ in sight. If searching for romance with beautiful artwork then look no further. Granted, the tale of William and Emma’s love isn’t as epic as Romeo and Juliet, but the narrative’s quiet grace makes Emma burrow its way into your heart.
STORY Meh, That's basically what I said after finishing it. Just the way the romance between William and Emma dragged out until the end of the 7th volume, just didn't go with me. ART When I read this I dind't feel like it was in Japan, that's what the character designs normally do for me. No I properlly felt like it was england in 18-whatever. CHARACTERS The characters felt like your average cahracters, except they were put in 19th century england. They fit their roles perfectly, but didn't go beyond expectations. OVERALL I came into this with highish expectations, but was more or less a let-down. But hey in the end I loved it, just the dragging out of the romance, maybe it's historical romances, who knows.
My 1,400th Review! The story proper ends at chapter 52 (the last chapter of volume seven). Meaning that there are three whole volumes worth of extra material and side stories. I'll be honest and say that I was disappointed once I learned that the last 20 chapters weren't going to be showing Emma attending balls and integrating into high society and whatnot. When I first started this story, I had it mentally rated as an 8/10. But as I kept reading, my mental rating kept steadily increasing. The story doesn't stagnate. The characters are great. It seems to lack all the cliches and tropes I see far too often in manga, and instead delivers an immersive historical slice of life. I appreciated that it didn't just pooh-pooh away the issues with the social gap--specifically in regards to hosting and proper etiquette in social gatherings--and instead showed them having to put in extra effort. The love triangle was also handled pretty well. And there was a dramatic twist in chapter 40 which I was not at all expecting and which was very entertaining (and the side story with the girl and the top hat is remarkably engaging and cute as well). The artwork in the beginning was also a bit lesser than what it ended up becoming. I'd say that it's still solid enough in the first few volumes, but there's also more simplicity and the characters' eyes are too far up on the heads. And while the eye issue never really went away, I do think the faces became more detailed and expressive. But more importantly, the backgrounds because absolutely gorgeous toward the end. There is some nudity, but I think it's handled with a decent level of class. At the very least, it feels like less exploitative fan service than what some other manga engage in. The artwork is good enough that it can keep your interest even during panels without dialogue. The episodic chapters in the last three volumes are a mixed bag. Some are good, some are bad. Some focus on relationship drama, some focus on the beauty of nature or whatever. I didn't care for the Crystal Exhibition chapters and I found Eleanor's story at the resort to be dull. I did enjoy the story about the squirrel, the story about the opera group, the story about Arthur's school life, and some of the other ones to varying degrees.
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