January 8, 2011

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Emma Volume 9

Written by Kaoru Mori
Illustrated by Kaoru Mori
CMX

More stories from the world of Emma! Watch as Erich's chipmunk spends a night alone in the woods, we get a peek inside the relationship of Emma's German employers, and what to house laborers do with their wages? Plus, the first meeting of William and Hakim shows the competitive edge started early on, over a friendly game of tennis. Lastly, meet some new characters in an operatic love triangle. It's Victorian England seen from the perspective of Anglophile Kaoru Mori.

I liked this collection better than the first set of short stories that we got in Volume 8, though I admit to being totally thrown off by the opening story featuring the nature adventure of a household pet. It's a very cute tale of survival in an unfamiliar environment, but at the same time shows that these stories really don't have a strong connection to the main story of Emma. They're exercises and vignettes that give Mori a chance to keep visiting England of the late 19th Century within a familiar series. They have about as much to do with Emma as a superhero comic might if the main hero swung past in the first frame only--and even that might be a bit generous.

How much you like these stories in this collection will depend heavily on how much you care about the characters involved. I liked Emma's German family a lot, so it was nice to visit with them again. If you found them boring, then a good chunk of this collection is going to be worthless to you. The chapter between Mr. and Mrs. Meredith might only be of interest to married couples as well, I don't know. It's so rare to see positive images of married couples still in love that anytime they do exist in comics, I tend to latch on to them. Mori's portrait of them is so very close and intimate as to capture exactly what it's like to be happy with the person you love and know that nothing can change that feeling.

I found the William and Hakim interlude to be interesting. There's clearly a power struggle between them, even if they are friends, that makes some of Hakim's comments at the end of Emma Volume 7 make a lot more sense. This might be the most "essential" of the short stories so far, if you want to take one as such. I laughed a lot at the antics in this one, particularly as Hakimn gets the hang of playing tennis.

The problem I had with this one, though, is the end story, about characters we've never met who have no ties to anyone else in the "Emmaverse." I think it's pretty self-indulgent to include a story like this in an ongoing series, especially since the concept (boy loves girl who loves another) is so pedestrian. There's no twist or angle that made it special and no connection to the rest of the stories either in this volume or in the previous eight. That was disappointing to me--if I am reading about Emma's world, I expect there to be more going on. There are plenty of other side characters to read about, and I don't really want to be adding to the cast at this late date.

Mori's storytelling ability and artistry remain remarkably consistent here, as her focus on character interaction and expressive close-ups dominate all of the stories. Her nature scenes in the opening story are better than I'd expect, honestly, given that I really haven't been impressed with her versatility in character design. She continues to work hard to make the period come alive on the page, whether it's outdoors in England or India or recreating Victorian-era shops. Part of the fun of reading the Emma series is to have the world of Henry James brought to life, and that continues in this trade as well.

I loved the main story of Emma, but I haven't been able to get into these short stories as much. I feel like maybe they'd have been better placed mixed in to the overall continuity, where they'd feel less like side projects and more like character development. The problem with reading them as standalone stories is that they end up too much like filler, separated as they are from the main characters. This is like reading an inventory story--they're good, but the lack of connection to what's going on hurts them. Though I liked this one better than the first set of stories in Volume 8, I still don't see this as must reading for anyone who isn't a huge fan of the Emmaverse or Mori herself. I am, however, looking forward to finishing things up in Volume 10.