Kaoru Mori's "Shirley" is an evocative glimpse into the daily life of winsome, 13-year-old Shirley, a maid in turn-of-the-century England. It's been compared to Yokahama Kaidashi Kikou, as both mangas feature languid pacing, atmospheric backgrounds, and a female main character who works in a cafe.
There's quite a few people who are fans of the slice-of-life genre, or who are fans of Emma by Mori Kaoru (although the more "manly" amongst us will not openly admit this), There's often a lull whilst your trying to find something else to read. Likewise the more avid manga fan may want to try something... a little different. If you fall into any of these categories then why not spend a bit of time reading Shirley?
Shirley is another Victorian based manga by Mori Kaoru, and whilst it shares some of the same things as Emma, it is a very different story altogether. As I've already spoken about Mori Kaoru's anglophilia in my review of Emma, I don't think I need to go into it again. That said, Shirley, like Emma, is a very British manga.
Shirley tells the story of Cranry Bennett, a 28 year old society lady who owns a cafe. Because of her work commitments she finds very little time to take care of herself or her home, so she advertises for a maid. She arrives home one evening to find a young girl waiting at her door. The girl Shirley Madison, 13 years old, poilite, and seeking employment as a maid. Cranry takes the girl in and the two begin their lives together as mistress and maid.
The story for Shirley is slice-of-life in it's purest form, and is very reminiscent of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (moreso than Emma in fact). The first five chapters of the manga are devoted to the daily lives of Shirley and Cranry, whilst the final two chapters (An Afternoon with Nelly an Me, and Mary Banks) are standalone stories about two other maids, but are equally as good as the main story.
The artwork is not as impressive as that for Emma, however it is still good. Mori's distinctive crosshatched "pen-and-ink" style is prevalent throughout the series, and whilst it does add emphasis to the characters and backgrounds, Shirley sometimes looks like a rushed job, or that less care was taken in it's production compared to Emma.
Characters are designed quite well over all, but as the art is of a lower standard in this series, it can somtimes be a little strange to read, especially for those who are used to the quality of Emma or YKK.
The characters themselves though, are quite adorable on the whole. Shirley is kawaii in extremis (and this statement is from a man who thinks that fluffy kittens are simply eating, scratching, clawing, crapping machines who just get better at hiding their evilness as they get older), however she is no simple waif, as she is quite capable at handling a maids duties. Cranry is also a good character, headstrong, stubborn and independent - a rarity in the Victorian era (although not unheard of).
The maids from the final two chapters, Nelly and Mary Banks, are good enough characters in their own way (although Mary seems to be the more developed of the two), however there is little scope for development as they only get one chapter each.
Since this is a short slice-of-life series, there isn't much room for character development. That said, the relationship between Cranry and Shirley does develop in quite a few ways, especially as they get used to living together.
I found this series to be very enjoyable, and the quality of the artwork didn't really affect my enjoyment overmuch. The characters are engaging, especially Shirley, Cranry and Mary, however the length of the series left me feeling a little unfulfilled (however the release of the sequel, Shirley Madison, has since cured me of that).
This is an enjoyable series though, and will probably become more enjoyable once more chapters of the sequel have been released.
I would recommend this to any fan of Emma or YKK, or to anyone who just wants to read a nice short manga with some good characters and amusing moments. Shirley is a good, lighthearted read, and is a great way to while away a few spare moments.