July 6, 2009

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Emma Volume 2

Written by Kaoru Mori
Illustrated by Kaoru Mori
CMX

It took me entirely too long to get to volume two of this excellent series about a young girl who ends up being trained above her station when taken into service by an aging member of the well-to-do class. Far better educated than most of her station, the shojo in this shojo comes from Emma's love for a man her equal intellectually--but far above her in wealth and status.

Here in Volume 2 we see the love betweeen Emma and William Jones (that I admittedly keep wanting to call William James) flourish as they meet in secret until such time as William cannot keep it a secret any longer. Meanwhile, more of William's family enter the picture and Emma's situation changes dramatically.

So dramatically, in fact, that, in a very unexpected move, Emma's whole living situation is changed. Even as William tries to keep them together, Mori strives to keep them apart!

I highly admire Mori's guts to take the premise established in volume 1 and turn it on its ear by the end of volume 2. Without revealing too much, our heroine (and the reader) are taken into territory I'd have never expected after the first trade wrapped up. I also appreciate the little hints that Mori sets up about why Emma is a "better than her class" person, how her worth ethic was established, and why her patron gives her liberties no other master-servant would consider.

I also appreciate that, while growing the cast, Mori does not forget anyone. William's friend is back, with some strong language for Emma, serving as the outsider who cannot understand English conventions. A throwaway character like a friend of Mrs Stownar, Al, ends up with the potential to affect so much of the story, and even gets to be the means of a flashback. Even William's family, odious as they are for being stuffy upper class jerks, as fleshed out enough for the reader to appreciate their presence.

The reason this all works so well, I think, is Mori's meticulous research. She has, by her own admission, spent hours making sure the details of late 19th Century England are correct, and it shows, in scenes about the Crystal Palace, a formal dinner, and details of a train station. (One could argue she tries too hard to be faithful, even going so far as to sometimes have her characters act like walking encyclopedia entries, but I don't have a problem with that. It's preferable to awkward note boxes.) Emma is a period manga that takes pains to make sure it seems like a period piece.

Another strength is Mori's ear for dialog. Barring the occassional info dumps, each person has their own voice: Emma's modesty, William's nieve desire to cross his class, Hakim's blunt remarks, and the various underclass's quiet resignation all ring very true to how they are portrayed.

As this volume ends, it almost feels like we're starting into a new manga series, rather than continuing the old, since so many characters will (presumably) be stripped away, depending on how she proceeds. I can't wait to see what this delightful period piece has in store for me going forward. I definitely don't plan on waiting so long as I did between volumes one and two to find out!