Thursday, June 7, 2012
In today's review, I will be taking a look at 'Emma'. No, not Jane Austen's 'Emma. Mori Kaoru's 'Emma'. A manga, completely unrelated to the classic, English novel. Set in Victoria-era England, 'Emma' tells the story of a down and out young girl, picked from the hard London streets by a compassionate governess, and raised to be a capable British maid. Title character, Emma, soon has a fated meeting with wealthy young man named William, and it was love at first sight for the both of them. Unfortunately, the entity that is "true love", didn't get the memo that relationships outside of your social class are forbidden in the strict, English society.
Mori Kaoru is a fantastic artist. The level of detail that goes into her work is staggering. The architecture. The clothing. The furniture. All meticulously penned to recreate the atmosphere of late nineteenth century London. And what a job she did. You almost feel like you are a noble yourself, living in a mansion, going to society balls dressed in the finest clothes, and riding in your horse drawn carriage through the London streets. All of this works in conjunction to bring to us a slice of 1890's London life. And that's not even getting to the character art yet. The characters carry the story with their expressiveness. Their meaningful body language and emotional facial expressions(especially the eyes), pull as much weight in telling the story as the words do. The art is truly "one" with the written narrative.
I think my favorite part of this series were the chapters where Emma moves to the country and gets a job as a maid at a large mansion, so unlike her previous maid job. Learning the ropes of her new, upscale maid job and meeting the colorful cast that make up the servant staff. These chapters were the epitome of "slice-of-life". Daily life stuff with minimal melodrama. A realistic window into the life of a late 19th century English maid. Why these seemingly mundane daily life stories are so interesting to me and other slice-of-life fans, I honestly can't pinpoint. Perhaps it is just getting to know these interesting characters in a realistic and natural way. Sometimes slow paced realism is more appealing than over the top melodrama. That stuff may be good for quick and cheap entertainment, but works like 'Emma', that you take in slowly and savor the details. They're memorable and lasting.
One of the more dramatic aspects to the story, and the strongest theme, is the conflict of social status and it's effect on the relationships. The treatment of Eleanor by her fiance, William, is certainly cruel, but matters of the heart are a complicated beast. Add to that the interference of family, the class system, and the pressures of society life, and you have a recipe for disaster that can't completely be blamed on William. Though William and Emma are in love, their relationship is just not in the stars, and every fiber of proper, English society is out to sabotage their feelings. It's interesting that Richard Jones, William's father, is so dead set against William marrying outside his class. When he first entered society, he was the victim of prejudice from the old aristocracy because he was "new money". You would think he would be sympathetic toward William. At the same time though, it's understandable that he wouldn't want his son to go through the same thing he went through. As well as the fact that he worked very hard to eventually be accepted in society, and William having a relationship with Emma could jeopardize all that. While all this talk of social prejudice can get pretty depressing, there is a glimmer of hope there. Both Emma and William know all too well the forbidding rules of social class that are against them, but no matter how hard they tried, they could not ignore their love for each other. I find that both realistic, and fantastically romantic at the same time.
This is a very balanced story. The romance and drama aren't overbearing. At the same time, there are points in the story that take the drama to the highest, realistic level of entertaining, without turning into a soap opera. The strong, slice-of-life element was the main appeal for me, but there is enough plot progression to keep non fans of the genre interested. I think fans of slice-of-life and romantic drama alike can find great enjoyment in this series. It's certainly one of my all time favorite, and I recommend it highly. That being said; Good luck buying it for a reasonable price. You see, North American publisher of this series, CMX, is now defunct, and 'Emma' is now long out of print. Even used copies are going for exorbitant prices online. If possible, it would be well worth it to check your local library to see if this series is available. I'm personally hoping that Yen Press, who has seemingly taking a liking to Mori Koaru's work since they release 'A Bride's Story' in stunning hardcover, will save 'Emma' from out of print limbo and give it the same hardcover treatment.