My first is for the Victorian period; with its over-embellished gowns, stuffy imperialism, insufferable housing conditions for the poor and its general... snootiness.
My second is for anime-style maids – you know the ones, the klutzy, half-a-brain variety, whose only purpose in life is to either look cute, get chased by the male lead, or trip over and reveal various parts of their underwear in as many ways as possible every episode.
As such, most manga and anime about the period or subjects never really caught my attention…
That is, until the day I was introduced to Emma.
Emma (or to use its Japanese title, VictorianRomanceEmma) is a series by the new and up-and-coming artist Kaoru Mori, with this being her first self-created series to be published by a mainstream manga company. It is currently being serialised by the Japanese comic company Beam Commix, and has also been adapted into a 12–part animated series.
The series, set in late 19th century London, follows the life and times of Emma, who since childhood has served as a maid in the service of a retired governess.
Her seemingly quiet, organised world is turned upside-down by the arrival of William Jones, the son of a rich industrialist, and as time passes the stirrings of love begin to blossom between the two of them.
However, in an era where a still-rigid social order bars their way, can these two lovers, separated by tradition and birth, find true happiness? Or are they doomed to be forever apart, either through circumstance or the scheming of Richard Jones, William's father, whose plans for William lie more in him improving his own standing in society than the feelings of his son?
The first thing that made this series stand out for me was the absolute attention paid by Kaoru Mori to the details of Victorian life in this series – testament to her research, and a standard that many artists and writers should aspire to. From clothing to mundane pieces of furniture - even to Emma’s ways of cleaning carpets - the research is exhaustive and extensive.
The artwork also shows the hallmarks of this diligence, with an attention to detail of the buildings, clothing – even the backgrounds - in ways that make the series seem almost cinematic in its storytelling.
And it’s the scriptwriting, often the deciding factor of many manga, which complements, and like two halves of a circle, completes, the experience; with every character, from the lowliest bit part to the main characters themselves, well thought-out and realised, their personalities and thoughts so realistic that it's as if they are living, breathing real people rather than simple drawn characters on a piece of paper.
The result is a series which, from start to finish, will pull you in, wring emotion from even the hardest of hearts, and leave you gasping for more.
Sadly, this series, which has currently been collected into six volumes to date, is still only available in Japan. However, it is this reviewer’s earnest hope that this series will be licensed and released in the West with all due haste.