Jul 20, 2014
Emma (Manga) add (All reviews)
_Rika (All reviews)
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.