Written by Kaoru Mori
Illustrated by Kaoru Mori
Happy Valentine's Day! And what better way to celebrate this day of love than with the final volume of Emma, which features the moment we've all been waiting for--Emma and William's marriage!
Of the several volumes of short story collections, this is by far the strongest. The emphasis is on characters we've seen frequently, and their tales tie up some of the loose ends of the main storyline. We also get the return of the title character, which also helps to ground this manga more firmly in the world Mori created so well.
I really liked how Mori showed this was an end of an era by bringing in more modern ideas here and there. I am not going to get picky about some of them surely being anachronisms, because they are there not to show Mori's historical knowledge, but to let the reader know that the world Emma and William are entering together is not the one of William's parents or of Emma's guardian angel first employer. Just as the social standards are changing, as we see when the servants mingle into the wedding party or when William's ex-fiance Eleanor is shown to still be desirable despite the taint of scandal, the practical world is changing, too. I don't think there should be an automobile or a plane in Emma's world right now, but they, like the idea of a gas stove, are coming. Each of these ideas is just slipped in, without commentary, allowing the reader to process the changes themselves.
If there's an issue with this volume (besides the 4chan section, of which the less said the better), it's that things seem to work out just a bit too neatly. Emma and William are married without incident, though also somewhat without approval. Eleanor will rebuild her life. (Though in this case I was glad to see that--she got the short end of the stick in this manga!) The remaining servants all have plans, and seem to all be in positions that were probably more comfortable than is true to the time period. In the end, everyone is joyous and happy. If this manga reminded me of a Henry James novel turned into a comic, here it becomes the anti-James, or perhaps what a James novel might have looked like if he actually liked any of his characters.
While it certainly warmed my heart to see Emma happy (I'm not as keen on William given what his waffling cost Eleanor), the ending here is sweet but just a bit too good to be true. Yes, Hakim is lurking, purposefully putting himself in William's place or showing him up, but that's about it. I really think someone in William's family breaking code of conduct to speak out would have been appropriate, just to give things a bit of conflict.
All in all, however, this was a wonderful series that sadly, very few people will get to read in the future because it's from a defunct publisher. Emma may never have had the best story or the best art, but the level of artistic detail in the settings brought out the English Literature lover in me. Mori put together great relationship dynamics, and even gave us a lot of closure here, where other writers might have focused on the main characters only. I'd recommend Emma to anyone who likes love stories, especially those set in a historical context. Sometimes, it's just nice to see a happy ending. It's hard to think of a better story to use for a Valentine's Day post. May your love run as true as that of Emma for William, everybody!