Mangaka: Mori Kaoru
Years running: 2002 – 2006
Cheapest to Buy (Volume 1 New Copy): amazon.com
Cheapest to Buy (Volumes 1-10 Used Copy): ebay.com
This Emma is not the one by Jane Austen of the same name (although that work has its own manga adaptation under the Manga Classics Project which I highly suggest reading(“⌒∇⌒”) ) but if you are a fan of Jane Austen, I think you will really enjoy this title since the setting is pretty similar.
Related post: Manga Classics
Emma is set in the Victorian Era, specifically around the 1890s when the Industrial Revolution is at full swing. Emma, our titular character, is a maid (specifically a maid of all works) working for a retired governess, Kelly Stowner. One fateful day, one of Kelly’s former students, William Jones, a member of the gentry stops by for a visit. He meets Emma and is immediately taken with her (awww love at first sight (｡♥‿♥｡) ). The rest of the story follows Emma and William as they try to make their romance work in an age of social status and propriety.
Part I: Volume 1-7
I like to split Emma into basically two parts: The main story (Volumes 1 to 7) and the extra volumes (called Emma: Further Tales).
Emma story-wise is a pretty simple tale — a young woman breaking social norms to ensure her happiness. In this case, the young woman in question is the titular character Emma, a maid-of-all-works in a retired governess’s house.
Life is pretty simple until one of her employer’s old students comes to visit and things start getting interesting as the two young characters go against everything that Victorian society has expected them to be in order to be together. This entire part (the whole series) basically consists of Emma and William falling in love, trying to hide their feelings and utterly failing, and trying to convince William’s family to accept Emma as she is.
Part II: Emma: Further Tales (Volume 8-10)
Part II consists of the extra volumes that take place after the end of the main story, where William’s family finally accepting Emma as she is.
While these volumes focus on Emma and William, some of the side characters have their own little side stories that Mori has kindly put in as a sort of little send off to the series as she starts another project.
Although I say extras, I recommend you read them too because the story would feel a little incomplete if you haven’t looked at it. Mori has also closed some plot holes left in the main story through these extras so all the more reason to read (*^▽^*)
Most manga about the Victorian era are NOT historically accurate. At most, I would say those manga are inspired by the Victorian era but I will be lying if I mentioned to someone I know that Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist is so historically accurate lol.
One thing I love about Emma is that the series tries to maintain historical accuracy as best as it can. Mori actually hired a historical consultant to proofread her work and ensure it is within the time period she is writing for. Impressive, I must say!
From volume 3 onwards, you will notice some historical tidbits here and there while reading the chapters. They mentioned some pretty interesting things about Victorian England like Emma being a maid of all works and that William’s family is part of the English gentry despite being from the merchant class (the tidbit goes on to explain that merchants were looked down upon in the gentry since their estates and wealth were earned from trading and not given by the royal family hence William had to marry advatageously so people would shut up lol).
As a bit of a historical nerd, I really love reading such things because it shows how dedicated the mangaka is to portray a less exoticised version of something we have sort of heard about but not studied intensively.
If you love historical accurate stuff, then read Emma to get your learn on!
I’ve seen Emma receive a bit of flak for being too mousy and quiet. She should tell William how she feels and blah blah blah stuff will miraculously be solved because love solves all problems.
Now, you have to realise that Mori was really dedicated to her source material and research. If she wanted to write a manga based on the Victorian era, she would have fully committed to it.
Women in the Victorian era are not supposed to be vivacious and headstrong. In fact, they were expected to just follow her mother (when she was young) and husband (once married) without question. Obedience was a really prized virtue in a woman at the time because you were less likely to have health issues if your countenance was pleasant (woman’s hormonal issues were not understood at the time so yeah…).
As such, Emma being demure in the manga is pretty representative of the women of the era. Also, she is but a maid in a strict society so it would be pretty daunting to declare your love for the member of the gentry and risk gossiping for the rest of your life (women had nothing to do back then so all they did was talk about other people （；¬＿¬) ).
Despite my distaste for heroines who are too afraid to speak up at critical parts of the plot, I actually like Emma as she is because given the context of her society, the way she acted is totally acceptable.
So if you feel that Emma is being too timid, just brush up on your ‘Rules When Interacting in Victorian society’ and you’re good to go (ノ^∇^)
Slow Burn Romance
My take on slow burn romances lies in just one thing: Well-written and it’s good; not well written and it’s boring.
“Well-written” is really subjective so it’s hard to state what is in a well-written slow burn romance. You just have to know what you like in one to determine if it’s good in your eyes. I don’t think people want to write trashy romances if they intend it to be a slow burn one. It’s really hard to write one though so give the writers a break haha.
For Emma, a slow burn romance is a right call because it allows the story to navigate the difficult Victorian society and truly illustrate how difficult it will be to cross that barrier between classes. The common folk already knows that class matters so they kinda expect some struggles along the way to happiness (at least I expected it).
This is slow burn romance done right because context allowed it to work so it is “well-written” in a sense. If you are tired of boring slow burn romances or trashy romances, you can check out Emma at its well-written romance.
I did mention that Emma strives to be as historical accurate as possible without putting people to sleep with a boring history lesson.
However, being historically accurate doesn’t mean including some events that actually happened in that period. For instance, throughout the entire Victorian Era, there was essentially no mention of a marriage or relationship across classess. It simply didn’t happen. So in a sense, the plot of Emma would never happen in real life.
So even though the mannerisms, clothes, and gadgets used are historically accurate, don’t think that there was ever a time where a maid married into the gentry. It’s not very realistic.
Mori Kaoru As A Creator
Mori Kaoru is one of my favourite mangakas because she has a way of telling her stories that allowed for significant character growth. Rather than making me have the feels, she makes me think about the choices the characters make and what consequence that would have on themselves and others.
The way she wrote Emma not only appreciate our equality to love but also our human history. The past may not be ideal to us now but learning about it was so exciting. The historical tidbits on the side really helped in realising that.
I personally love her writing style and I’m sure that others who come across her work will also find joy in reading it as much as I have.
Seinen or Shoujo
So being the dummy I am, I categorised Emma as a shoujo manga. It’s actually seinen because the magazine it was serialised in Comic Beam which is a seinen magazine so I’m so so sorry for those who read my shoujo manga recommendations (o_ _)o
4.6 out of 5 mangabooks
First, the general review:
Emma is a really heartwarming read that is not only historically accurate but also very romantic. A simple story about a maid trying to get the world to accept her relationship with a member of the gentry class, I thoroughly enjoyed the dynamics between the characters and the character development of not only the main characters. Mori Kaoru has presented a lovely work that will be beloved by all despite being in the seinen genre.
Next, my personal review:
When I first read Emma, I was a bit miffed there wasn’t enough emotion put into it because I was so used to the shoujo-esque interactions and dynamics. However, that opinion soon changed as I continued to understand the hard work Emma and William had to put into getting the gentry to accept them as they are.
Like I mentioned before, Mori Kaoru is one of my favourite mangakas because she has a way of telling a story that will keep you engaged. She is well-known for her nuances in words and her art. I don’t know how to explain it but it is soft I guess? I really can’t describe it but it makes you want to read more.
She has only serialised two works so far and the series she’s currently working on has been running for ten years and it’s based on Turkic Central Asia which is pretty cool. It’s called Otoyomegatari (or The Bride’s Story) which tells about a girl in an arranged marriage to a boy way younger than her.
In any case, Emma is a really good example of a historical series that sticks close to its source material. I would rate it higher if it weren’t for my 21st-century mindset seeing Emma as being a little too timid but I have to accept that women were like that then and even so, Emma is still a great heroine despite that meekness.
So pick up your copy of Emma today on amazon.com!
As always, if you have any opinions of this review, feel free to comment down below, I’d love to hear it 🙂