March 8, 2010

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Emma Volume 4

Written by Kaoru Mori
Illustrated by Kaoru Mori
CMX

Emma is this month's featured series in the Manga Movable Feast, so I figured I'd get back to reviewing it.

As I had suspected, Mori isn't ready to get rid of the troubled romance between Emma and William just yet. As Emma finds her superior skills leading to added responsibility at her new job, William decides to throw himself into a society he doesn't really like. As she becomes as happy as Emma can get, William offers himself in what will surely be a loveless marriage.

But what happens when William's mother asks Emma to be her guest at the engagement party? Can either survive the inevitable complications?

Once again, Mori gives us a story that would be perfectly suited for a Victorian era novel. Emma is the classic girl that we want to see do well but is fated by her station in life to live in pain. William is bound by the family ties set from his father, and is trying to make the best of them. His mother is the wild card, a woman who refuses to adhere to the status quo, and what she does in relation to knowing her son's situation may be the hinge on which the rest of the plot turns.

Even minor characters fit their roles perfectly. Emma's employers are far more lax with her than a typical family would be, allowing for fate to once more take a hand. They are shown to be very much in favor of romantic love, another factor that may help (or harm) Emma down the road. Eleanor, William's fiance, uses all the tricks of Victorian society to get the man she wants--but will she be happy with her prize?

It seems that almost every person in this drama has an agenda that they do not want to share with anyone but themselves. That level of secrecy goes right down to the servants, who marvel and resent Emma's unusual level of contact with their employer. So many of these plots work at cross purposes that I can only begin to imagine what will happen as they start to resolve in the coming chapters.

As in previous volumes, Mori works hard to make the period feel accurate. The scenes all take place this time within social settings that look rather archaic to us as modern readers. The idea that it would be shocking for a girl to express her love for a man or the need to have formal balls and parties to announce social concerns are a far cry from today, when we might shout about it in a 140 character tweet.

This time, however, I do think we spent more time on the character and plot and less on setting the scene, which was one problem the first three volumes had. Mori does not stop the story to explain things as she did in the past, and I think that makes for a stronger book. We've got the world built very solidly by this time--it's fine to move on with the characters' lives.

Though William and Emma begin this book very far apart, it was clear from last volume that William's mother would be the thing that brought them together. It was only a matter of how. I like the way in which Mori did it. Emma's return to London is natural and makes sense, based on what happened in the previous volume. Further, there is no way for either to know that they will be thrust together again in this way, allowing for genuine emotion to shine through.

The biggest improvement Mori makes over the novels that clearly influenced her is that in Victorian books, this type of meeting would have either been random or contrived. In her hands, it is neither. William and Emma meet because fate decrees that it be so and moves them accordingly.

I really have no idea where the story of Emma is going to go next, and that's part of what makes the series so good. You can get some hints as to the general arc, but Mori works hard to keep the narrative unpredictable without feeling random. That, to me, is the sign of a good storyteller.

I enjoy Emma a lot, though for some reason I never remember to read it regularly. I can recommend this for anyone who wants to read a good love story and those who like British Literature. Mori uses both to great effect, and I continue to look forward to reading Emma over the course of the next few volumes.