Review of ‘Emma: Volume One’

I went to Sakura Con last year and had an amazing experience that introduced me to the world of anime, manga, Japanese culture and K-Pop. However, when I was there I felt lost in a sea of anime and manga admirers that traded and discussed their sentiments for a certain character or provided their condolences for the death of another character. I wanted to be part of that community. So after attending Sakura Con, I vowed to myself that I would begin reading manga. That promise fell through, until now. I was finally rescued from my state of oblivion when a friend allowed me to borrow her manga books.

The three books that I was allowed to borrow are all entitled “Emma” and are created by a Japanese manga artist named Kaoru Mori.  They are three parts of a much larger collection that includes a total of 10 volumes. I have thus far read the first volume and I was truly impressed by the meticulous attention to detail in the illustrations as well as the understated but compelling story line.

The story of “Emma” revolves around a maid named Emma who lives with her kind employer in Victorian England at the end of the 19th century. She eventually falls in love with a young gentleman named William Jones, but issues arise in their love affair due to the matter of class differences. In the first volume, readers are introduced to Emma as well as her employer and love interest. Emma lives with Kelly Stowner, a retired governess, working as a maid. Kelly is very kind to Emma and takes an interest to her. One day, Emma opens the door to a young gentleman named William Jones and from then on, their love blossoms. William is a high class young man who was raised by Kelly, his former governess. Their first encounter leads to many more encounters, allowing for their love to grow and become stronger. However, they have not yet confessed their love to each other as this is only the first volume in a large series.

Story aside, my hands-on experience reading manga did not begin on an easy note. Firstly, Japanese manga books begin from the back, so they open in the opposite direction from typical books. Essentially, you’re reading backwards because the pages are organized in a way that the reader is made to read from right to left. Reading the first chapter was quite difficult because I kept losing my place. However, after the third chapter I got the hang of it and I was able to breeze through the pages. Manga is illustrated like a comic book so the graphics are essentially the focal point of the story. The illustrations of 19th century London in “Emma” are absolutely stunning and are meticulously detailed. They permit the reader to become fully immersed in the setting and Mori does a fantastic job in allowing this.

My first experience reading manga was a pleasant surprise. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it but I was glad I did because the storyline is ironically related to my admiration for Romantic British tradition, minus the class exclusions of course. In 2005, Kaoru Mori won an Excellence Prize for “Emma” at the Japan Media Arts Festival. Many of her works are set in Britain, centering on characters who are maids.

I recommend “Emma” to individuals who are beginners in reading manga because it becomes an easy read once one becomes accustomed to the page organization. The story is also compelling and accompanied with beautiful art work. A definite must-read for manga beginners and manga enthusiasts alike.

Illustration by Danielle Burch.

Illustration by Danielle Burch.

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