Emma by Kaoru Mori (amazon)
In many ways, Emma is unlike many of the other manga I’ve been reading recently. It is set in Victorian England during the industrial revolution. The relationships between characters are hampered by the social constraints of the British class system. Emma is a beautiful maid who serves Mrs Stownar, a former governess to a wealthy merchant family. William is a former pupil, and when he comes to pay a long overdue visit, he is struck by Emma’s beauty. Because of the difference in their stations, they can’t openly express their emotions. Much is conveyed through stolen glances as Emma serves tea and goes about her household duties.
William is impetuous, seizing any opportunity to run into Emma so he can spend a little time with her. Emma is more reticent, but she doesn’t immediately reject William as she has done in the past with other suitors. Mrs Stownar is a benign and watchful presence in the background of the budding romance. Prince Hakim of India, an old friend of William’s, appears as a rival for Emma’s affections. While the reader learns a little bit about Mrs Stownar and William, Emma’s past remains mysterious. I look forward to learning more about her in later volumes.
The setting of London serves as an additional character in the story, and it is fun to see Emma negotiating the city she goes on errands for her mistress. Mori uses grey tones to make the art in the book look antique. Mori’s author notes show a genuine enthusiasm for her subject, which is evident in the care and attention to detail that can be seen throughout this manga. It seems like CMX knew they had something special when they were putting out the manga when they decided to package the work- Emma has a matte cover that adds to the historic feel of the book, although I still don’t think the paper quality from CMX measures up to the offerings of other manga publishers. This is one of the best mangas I’ve read this year, and I strongly recommend it.