By Kaoru Mori. Released in Japan in two separate volumes by Enterbrain, serialized in the magazine Comic Beam. Released in North America by Yen Press.
I wasn’t reviewing manga online when Emma first came out via CMX back in the day, and I’ll be honest: I never did finish the series. I think at the time I found it a bit too slow-moving and tedious. Which, to be fair, it is at times. But as the years have gone by, I’ve come to appreciate what Kaoru Mori does a bit more, and I now see the mood she was trying to evoke with this story of romance and class drama. Indeed, the heroine, Emma, reminds me very much of the heroine of A Bride’s Story, in that I find it very difficult to get a handle on what she’s thinking at all. Her love for William is so subtle that it creeps up on you.
William’s love does not creep up on anyone, being very much a love at first sight sort of thing. William is perhaps the most difficult thing to like about this series so far; he’s reserved when compared to the rest of Emma’s suitors, but still has a tendency to seem like a lovesick puppy compared to the rest of the Victorian era cast. This makes it a bit easier to understand his strict father, who is 100% against his son marrying a common maid, despite the fact that the Joneses are fairly new money themselves – they’re merchants, and have to keep up appearances far more than inherited money would. Indeed, the rest of William’s siblings look like they’ll make things more chaotic as the series goes on, particularly tomboy Vivian, who is quite happy to climb up roofs and run down halls to make her opinions knows.
For the most part, though, the best moments of Emma are the quiet, slow ones, sometimes not even needing dialogue. Emma cleaning the house after her mistress has passed away is one of the more heartbreaking things I’ve seen in some time, as if the cliffhanger ending for this omnibus, showing Emma leaving London to move North, with William just missing her. There’s also a sad and bittersweet element to Eleanor, a young woman who is arranged to be married to William and is clearly smitten with him, but I suspect she’s going to be very unhappy down the road. Even the past is tinged with menancholy – Kelly Stowner’s marriage to her husband being tragically cut short, leaving her a widow at twenty. You can see why romance is so hard to pin down, and why it would take getting locked in the Crystal Palace overnight to even kiss.
It’s not all stiffness and decorum, though – Mori still loves the East, and that’s apparent with the introduction of Hakim, a childhood friend of William’s who comes visiting with his harem of dancing girls/servants and his elephants in the garden. Hakim is briefly shown as a rival to Emma’s affections, but in reality he’s here partly to add an air of lightness and exoticism to this series, and partly as the author really likes this sort of thing – which is also why she’s drawing Victorian England, for that matter. This sort of creative freedom on a debut series is something that surprised me, but then Comic Beam is sort of a ‘5th genre’ magazine, known for experimentation and freedom. It allows for well-crafted storytelling, which is the main reason why everyone should be happy to see this back in print, and want to see where it goes next.