December 13, 2010

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Emma Volume 8

Written by Kaoru Mori
Illustrated by Keoru Mori
CMX

I have to admit I was nervous about continuing to read Emma after the ending in Volume 7. Things had wrapped up so well, if a bit too storybook for my usual taste. I knew that the remaining volumes were set in what's now called the Emmaverse, but as with Neil Gaiman returning to the Endless long after Sandman was over (to mixed results, in my opinion), I was worried that I'd have a similar feeling Emma: Better to leave things as they were than to try and continue on and extend the story.

One volume in to the extended stories, the jury is still out, but I'm leaning against these extra tales. They're absolutely gorgeous recreations of Victorian-era London and surrounding areas, but they feel a bit too much like filler and seem to lack the Henry James spirit that followed Emma along for seven volumes. They're just a bit too random (and usually too short) to have the feel of a turn of the century novel.

Context is also an issue here. Mori's strength is not in creating characters who are visually distinctive, so I admit I often had a hard time here trying to piece together just who we were following. Eleanor was the lone exception here, as she gets the length needed to tell a story that seems to fit with the main series without feeling like a deleted scene from the main text. I'd felt sorry for her in the main manga, and it's good to see her finding a way to recover. That's a luxury James never gave his ruined characters, though I sometimes wish he had. She's damaged goods to be sure, within the society that hides her, but Eleanor is going to try and move on. Mori's plotting works well here, and I wouldn't mind seeing one or two more vignettes with Eleanor before the mini-stories wrap up.

Less strong is the prequel that opens the book, which gives depth to Emma's visit to the Crystal Palace but also raises more questions than it answers in terms of continuity. If her original benefactor started so poor, how did she ever afford all she had by the end? The historical setting is amazingly rendered, but it feels like that was the whole point of the story, which is a big mistake and doesn't add anything to the universe.

The final few chapters don't really stand out, except to show additional contextual research by Mori about the lives of ordinary Victorians. They're okay, but because of the rendering of the characters themselves, I had a hard time trying to piece them into Emma's world. Since this is set in Emma's universe, my inability to mesh them into what came before really hurt any enjoyment I got out of the plots, such as they were. It felt like I could have read them as belonging anywhere, not necessarily linked to the events of Emma, and that was disappointing to me.

Overall, Emma Volume 8 was not as good as I'd hoped it would be. The effect was rather like the filler stories by starting writers/artists in an old superhero annual. They tried hard, but weren't ready to be part of the main body of comic book work. If you never read them, you wouldn't miss much, other than to maybe see what a certain artist's style looked like in their first published work. In the case of Mori, these are ideas that she had that weren't important enough to be included in the main cannon, and often I can see why. Especially given the fact that Emma is now out of print, I'd only recommend this volume for those who are absolutely in love with the series. Even then, it might be a bit of a let down, as it was for me. Hopefully, Volume 9 will be a bit closer to what I've come to expect from Mori in terms of storytelling.