It's the turn of the 20th century, and Victorian era England plays host to a poignant and emotional saga of love between two individuals of thoroughly different societal standing. Working class maid Emma and wealthy aristocrat William Jones find themselves falling for one another despite their allotted positions in life, and it is their persistent efforts to traverse the dangerous minefields of wealth, power, and staunch tradition, that provides the gripping emotional drama of Kaoru Mori's Emma. The rigid social structures of the time and the disapproving elite, including but not limited to William's own family, seek to keep the lovestruck pair apart due to their heavy condemnation of this breach of proper conduct. But despite their best attempts to resist one another, William and Emma's relationship deepens, and their feelings for one another prove to be stronger than the harshest of judgments.
From the author of the acclaimed series Otoyomegatari, comes this impassioned tour de force of two individuals who strive to never give up on their love. But will William and Emma's relationship fall prey to the slew of unforeseen ordeals that rise up to challenge it, or will they get their happy ending after all?
Emma won the Excellence Prize at the 2005 Japan Media Arts Festival for the Manga Division. In 2007, the English release was listed by Library Journal as one of the best graphic novels and was named by the Young Adult Library Services Association as one of the 10 best graphic novels for teens for 2008.
The series was first published in English by DC Comics under the CMX imprint from September 20, 2006 to December 8, 2009. Yen Press has republished the series 2-in-1 hardcover omnibus editions since May 19, 2015. It is also published in Polish by Studio JG from November 22, 2013 to October 9,2015.
As one who was born and raised in England, and a closet bibliophile, it's no surprise that I'm familiar with many classic works of english literature from the victorian period, especially those by Dickens, Austen and the Bronte sisters. Many other works that have tried to mimic those worthies have often turned out to be trashy romantic fiction of the first order (e.g. Mills & Boon novels and the like).
Imagine my surprise then, to find a manga that was not only based on that period, but was also excellent in almost every aspect. That manga is Emma by Mori Kaoru (not to be confused with Emma by Jane Austen as that has very little to do with this manga).
Mori, a self confessed anglopihile, has attempted something rarely seen in any medium - the meticulous reconstruction of a historical setting, in this case, London and Yorkshire in 1895. The most remarkable achievement of her work though is that, barring a few minor discrepancies, she was almost dead on the mark with her efforts.
The story is a very simple, and sometimes very touching, romance between a maid (Emma), and the eldest son of a wealthy middle class family (William Jones). The manga begins with Emma working as a live-in maid (as was the custom at the time), for retired governess Kellie Stowner, who took the homeless Emma under her wing, trained her to be a maid, and taught her how to read and write (a rarity in victorian England where much of the populace was illiterate).
One morning Mrs Stowner is visited by a young man named William Jones, a former pupil of hers and heir to the House of Jones. William and Emma meet for the first time, and whilst William is quite taken by this strange maid who seems oddly composed in his company, whilst Emma is also quite taken with William because of his mannerisms and somewhat impulsive behaviour.
What is impressive about the story is not only the setting, but also the various class conflicts that occur. Emma is a maid, whilst William is middle class. To many outside of England this distinction is often viewed with some ambiguity, but in the interests of making what I will say more understnadable I will explain the class distinction in simple terms. Upper class represents the nobility - earls, counts, viscounts, dukes, knights, etc, whilst middle class represents those who are well-to-do but have no title (usually wealthy merchant families). Lower or working class represents the farmers, maids, clerks, smiths, etc.
Here's the key thing to understand about class distinctions - Upper class hate the middle class, and consider the working class to be on the same level as animals. Middle class strive to become upper class, all the while treating the working class with disdain. The working class just want to get on with their lives without too many worries. The sad part is that this hasn't really changed that much in this day and age, but that's another story.
These class conflicts add an element to the story that is so often missing from romantic manga, and stories in general. It may be a cliched idea by now, that of the knight sweeping the peasant girl off her feet and them living happily ever after, yes Mori manages to re-invigorate this theme with her characters and settings. The various class distinctions cause frictions for all of the characters, and the somewhat brutal mentality of the upper and middle classes forms an integral part of the story.
The art in Emma is, for want of a better word, exquisite. Mori, in her quest to make this manga as accurate as possible to the time period, has spared no effort in reproducing many "signs of the times", be they steam trains, horse-drawn carriages and wagons, newspapers, clothing, money, etc, etc. Everything, every object in the manga is as true to life as it could be, and the crosshatched "pen and ink" style used throughout the series adds a certain element of authenticity to the story.
Characters are also well designed. The faces are often simple yet highly expressive in their own way, and Mori's ability to bring forth the stereotypical "british reserve" of her characters is something wonderful to see. The contrast between the simple features of the characters, and the highly detailed backgrounds, clothing, objects and sundries, serves to draw one's attention to the characters rather than their surroundings.
The one aspect of the series that I found drew my attention the most was the characters. Both Emma and William extremely well developed, however Mori has not simply stopped there as she has also made a concerted effort to develop almost every character in the series. Many of the side characters in this series are also well developed, and sometimes have entire chapters devoted to them alone. This is another rarity in manga, as it is often the case that the side characters are shunted to one side in order to continue developing the story or the main characters. Mori's remarkable attention to detail, especially with her side characters, serves to draw the reader further into the victorian era, and gives each character a sense of realism that can often be lacking.
I found this to be one of the most rewarding manga I have ever read, and I would go even further and say that this is one of the most enjoyable works of fiction I have read in a long time. Only one other manga has made me consider it a work of literature rahter than popular culture, and that was Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. Emma is a rarity in manga as it brings together a classic storyline, excellent imagery and believable characters, all within the setting of one of the most remarkable periods of world history - the industrial revolution. The sense of realism in the manga is astonishing, as is the depth of the characters.
This is definitely a series I would consider required reading for any fan of classical literature, as well as fans of romance or shoujo manga.
Emma is hands down one of the best, if not the best, romance manga out to date.
The following review was originally added to MAL on January 25th 2009. At that time Emma was classed as completed, and a secondary series called Emma Bangaihen had been released. The next section covers the latter series only.
The one problem with Emma by Mori Kaoru is that many people have wondered what happened to the characters after the series finished, as there were some definite loose ends for several characters.
Fans of Emma should therefore rejoice, as Mori has since released Emma Bangaihen (or Emma: Further Tales).
The story for Emma Bangaihen is very much a slice of life take on the series, and is far more episodic in nature - a marked difference to the generally continuous tale told in Emma, and more in keeping with Mori's other completed maid-related manga, Shirley. The series is completely devoted to tying up certain loose ends left in Emma, something which I applaud Mori for doing, and which fans of Emma will greatly appreciate.
Emma Bangaihen begins with a welcome glimpse into the history of one of Emma's more enigmatic characters - Kellie Stowner. The following stories in the manga deal with with subjects like what happened to Eleanor Campbell after Emma, and how William first met Hakim, as well as offering glimpses into the lives of the Molders family and several of the maids who work there. The stories also cover other aspects of Emma such as a day in the life of The Times, a glimpse backstage at the opera, Arthur Jones at Eton College, and most importantly, what happened to Emma and William.
There is one chapter in particular that stands out from the rest of the series though, as it is completely done using 4 koma and is far more comedic (in a deadpan way), than the rest of the series.
Artwork and character design are very much in keeping with the time period, and are easily on par with the artwork in Emma (so I won't go into this as much as you can read my review of Emma for more information).
The characters in Emma are actually rather good. Because of the episodic style of the series, there isn't much scope to develop each character, however the view should be taken that this series can only really be appreciated after reading Emma. As characters go, they are generally very good in their individual tales, however new readers will find them lacking a certain amount of depth unless they have already read Emma.
That said, anyone who has read and enjoyed Emma will not be disappointed by the characters in Emma Bangaihen.
I have enjoyed this series immensely (so far), as it gives some closure to a number of questions I had at the end of Emma, and actually serves to enhance the depth of the characters in the series. I also enjoyed it because a number of the stories are quirky little jaunts (Polly and Alma's shopping trip, and William meeting Hakim for example), which have a certain realism about them.
This is something that I would consider essential reading for any fan of Emma, although the episodic style may also appeal to fans of slice of life stories.
I just wish more authors would try and close off a series this well.read more
Emma is something you don't see every day. It's a shoujo manga, but it's based in early 19th century England, where social standing is considered irrefutable. So it’s a little problematic when maid Emma falls in love with gentry William, and vice versa. You can probably see the arising conflicts in this story already. What is so beautiful about this story is the way Kaoru Mori displays Victorian England so accurately. You can certainly tell she did her research, just by the way the characters act, especially towards William and Emma’s relationship. At any rate, the main plot of the story is the divergences towards a maid and a gentry together, which in that time, was absolutely not acceptable.
At times the romantic emotions are portrayed across to the reader as so strong and violent, and passionate. And yet other times it’s really just a sweet beating love between the protagonists, without becoming saccharine. Their struggle to be together makes their love all the more stronger as the series progresses, even though doubt and sorrows is felt.
The art is gorgeous. Just breathtaking. It is done with a crosshatch pen and ink style. The detail put into the large European buildings and landscapes are wonderful. I really love the expressions she put on the characters, and the flow of the panel placements, which is often quite slow as the characters’ countenance would vary. It really brings more to the story.
Character development is splendid. Emma, as the protagonist of the story most of the time, was a good female lead, she was very likeable. She comes off as shy and introverted, and obedient as well, but as the story progresses she becomes a bit more strong-willed, and wants to face her conflicts instead of running away in fear as to hurting the one she loves. William is pretty likeable too, and he’s obviously very spirited in his love towards Emma in the beginning, and later does he realize the sacrifices he must make to make the love survive. However, I also liked Eleanor’s unrequited love to William, despite her being his fiancée for a part of the story. She was always giving more and more love to him, and got none in return, for he was only ever for Emma. The other, smaller characters had their quirks as well, such as Eleanor’s sister, Monica, who obviously adored her little sister to an extent where it could be considered a sister complex, and hated anyone who made her unhappy (namely William, but mostly for taking her away from him). There was also Hakim, William’s womanizing friend from India, who acts as a foil for William. In other words, he contrasts towards William’s character, causing the reader to plainly see William’s certain faces of his personality. Hakim was an interesting character, and added some sort of odd comedy to the story, with his elephants and harem of young Indian woman following him everywhere (who, if I recall don’t say anything at all throughout the entire story). Hakim also had feelings for Emma, but proceeded to encourage Emma and William when he found out their feelings for one another.
Of course, I enjoyed this series to a very high extent (though I suppose I wouldn’t buy them specifically, as I read them from the library and that’s enough for me). This is certainly recommended for the people who want a more realistic drama and romance, with believable characters and their prejudices. Emma, really, is one of the best romance manga I’ve ever come across, and I hope you’ll try reading it. read more
It is not every day that one comes across a manga that pulls them into the narrative and keeps them gripped from the get go, not necessarily because the manga in question is an on-the-edge-of-seat thriller or is groundbreaking in its premise, but because its exploration and execution of what it brings to the table, no matter how unremarkable it is at face value, are thoroughly refreshing and therefore appealing, especially taking into consideration the host of titles with dull plots and bland, hackneyed characters that populate the anime and manga verse, particularly when it comes to the genre of romance.
Mori Kaoru’s ‘Emma’ is one such manga for me.
Set in the backdrop of Victorian England of late 19th century, ‘Emma’ tells the story of a young woman–the titular character, a maid-of-all-work in the household of a retired governess– who falls in love with William Jones, a wealthy young man of the upper middle class. Despite the reciprocated feelings, however, stringent class distinctions and societal norms forbid the two lovebirds to maintain and openly acknowledge their relationship in public.
On the surface, the story is fairly generic. A rich guy sweeping a poor girl off her feet is nothing short of a rehashed scenario that has been done to death for the umpteenth time now and is a trope that is glaringly visible in the shoujo demographic. However, ‘Emma’ possesses a freshness and unique charm of its own, partly due to the lavish details pertaining to its historical backdrop that are so well blended into the story and partly due to an array of engaging supporting characters that are rarely encountered in romance stories wherein it is usually the lead couple that gets to be in the limelight. The storyline has two intertwined threads running through it– one that focuses on the trials and tribulations that Emma and William face, and the other that explores the supporting characters, many of whom turn out to be quite likeable. One thing that is admirable about these characters is that they feel considerably human. They could have had been anyone walking down the Victorian London street. Likewise, it is not difficult to imagine that a predicament similar to that of Emma and William arising from differences in social status could have had been shared by someone from the era as the portrayal of class differences which the primary conflict of the story stems from has been convincingly nailed down, contributing to Emma and William’s love story that factor which makes the reader relate to the couple’s plight.
The artwork in ‘Emma’ is in one word, elegant. Though character designs are plain, a hefty amount of detailing is put into the backgrounds and the characters’ attires. Mori is a self-proclaimed anglophile and that she chose the Victorian Era as a setting for her story therefore comes across as no surprise. Everything from actual locations such The Crystal Palace of London down to little nuances of British life of the time has been incorporated. That a Japanese manga artist has been able to recreate a foreign milieu as accurately as possible with the available research material is commendable indeed.
Reading ‘Emma’ was a pleasant experience for me and I would gladly recommend it to anyone who is looking for historical romance or romance manga in general. It is an invigorative take on an otherwise typical story, clothed in the garment of an enticing time period and charming characters and laced with an ambience that stirs up a feeling akin to that of nostalgia.read more
Having grown up in the United Kingdom, with the works of Austen read to me by my mother from an early age, I'm familiar with the historical romance classics, and the archetypes (Austen, Bronte sisters, Lorna Doone, the list goes on) that many books, and consequently manga and manwha, have tried to copy throughout the ages since. Unfortunately for me, someone who thoroughly enjoyed these classics, not one of the recent attempts at blatant fan fiction have managed to curry favour with me. Instead seeming to be pure 'romantic' drivel that, as a teen with the launch of these doomed mystery romances on the upsurge, is all one and the same.
Emma was a manga I actually started, having not read the plot, thinking it was another story based on the famous 'Emma' by Jane Austen herself. To any of you who are thinking along the same lines and have read the 'original' Emma, I warn you now. This manga is not associated at all with Austen's work aside from having the same name and being in around the same time period (though the manga, Emma, is set a little further on in time)
I feel I've got to start with what sucked me in to the story, the art. It is without a doubt one of the best styles I've seen. For someone having been brought up on a history of life in her country, I am not ashamed to say that Mori seems to know more about Victorian England than I do. As a drama student, I have been taught that you aren't just 'selling' a story, you are selling the culture, the atmosphere and the life you are trying to portray from the beginning to end. Not for one minute can you let that facade fall and let the reader or audience think that any of it isn't real. For a Japanese mangaka to take on Victorian England and write ten volumes in that time, I can only applaud the valiant and amazing effort and assure you that she doesn't let up throughout the whole story. I was wrapped up in this beautiful, seemingly foreign world from start to finish and this manga held me as well as any Austen.
Another huge strength (though weaknesses are few and far between anyway) of this story is the characters and the development of them. Emma and William - the protagonists - are again true to Victorian England. Mori captures the restraint and general overwhelming impact of society of the time, not only in her surroundings but her characters. Emma, a shy and contained maid of an ex-governess, is a character you can't help but warm to. While William delves into both sides, to begin with he is impulsive and reckless, but society's constraints pull him back.
I think the other thing Mori does so well is the love in this story. The problem with most historical romances is the love can often be stilted or rushed, especially when you have a love at first sight story such as this. Mori balanced the two sides very well, the love that was near consuming them both, but the reins of society and how hard they were yanked in order to keep these two contained. It's also incredible to watch the development of the two characters as love changes them.
The other thing to be said about Mori's characters is that everyone has a purpose. Often with a love story as powerful as this, side characters can be pushed to the sides or just merely there for comic value, to push the story along, or simply to give the mangaka an extra arc of a story providing a love triangle or jealous sister etc. etc.
This wasn't the case with Mori's work, I felt every character was necessary and played a purpose. While some weren't developed or used much, it's not to say the story would have been fine without them.
Mori deals with 19th century Victorian England in the deft style of an old pro, a historian who has dealt with such an era all their life. Historical romance stories, especially those with a forbidden love such as this, can often use the historical background merely as a prop, and forget about it all too easily when it becomes a trouble to deal with, sweeping aside the chains of society so that the main characters can have their happy ending. I can safely assure you that this is not the case. Even those of you who don't have much of an idea of how important society and class was then, will have a firm grasp of it once you finish this read.
To conclude, I guess all I have to say is Mori has achieved what I previously thought was unattainable. An excellently paced story, with well thought and drawn out characters, set in a believable time period, all with the most beautiful art. I would definitely say that Emma has gone down as a romance manga classic, alongside Mars, for me. I cannot recommend it more.read more