My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Sadly out of print now with the demise of CMX, ‘Emma’ is a beautiful 10 volume manga series which centres around a love story between William, the son of a wealthy businessman, and a maid called Emma.
The author perfectly captures the bittersweet nature of their romance (seeing as it was practically unheard of in Victorian times to form close relationships like that between class boundaries), and this main plot forms a very strong opener and backbone for the series as a whole.
However, Emma does not purely focus on the two main characters: a lot of thought and detail is put into the side characters who help, hinder, or otherwise cross paths with Emma and William, plus the many places they inhabit. The comic is set in an intriguing and believeable version of Victorian England, which is quite a feat considering the creator, Kaoru Mori, had not even visited England until she had finished at least 2 or 3 volumes of the series.
The artwork for Emma is some of the best I have come across in manga: the style of pen and inkwork used (especially in the backgrounds) perfectly suits the Victorian setting. The characters are beautiful and, to me, felt like they are drawn by someone who delights in studying the human form (which is later evidenced by Mori mentioning ‘drawing hands and hair to my heart’s content’ in one of the afterwords).
The main love story plot finishes off at the end of volume 7 (though it is brought back right at the end of volume 10 to cap off the series). Volumes 8-10 focus solely on the ‘private lives’ of some of the side characters, and these volumes are some of the most satisfying reading for a comics fan in my opinion. Mori lets her hair down a bit and produces some very interesting, more experimental, chapters. For example, there’s one chapter that is a series of vignettes centred around the distribution of ‘The Times’ newspaper – who reads it, and its other many uses in Victorian society (like wrapping fish and chips, or of course prviding a comfy seat for a cat). Chapters like this reminded me of Will Eisner’s ‘New York: Life in the Big City’ collection – intriguing observations of people’s daily lives.
So yes, if you can get your hands on it, I would greatly recommend this comic – it is a million miles away from stereotypical exploitative maid-fetish manga, and extremely high quality work.