What Is Love In 19th Century London In Kaoru Mori’s Emma Vol. One?

Kaoru Mori's Emma

Among the many manga series that have been created, Kaoru Mori’s Emma is a breath of fresh air. While the trope of a servant and a man of status is one we have all heard of before, Kaoru Mori’s detailed artwork and complex characters make this love story one that tugs at the heartstrings.

What Is It About Kaoru Mori’s Emma?

Kaoru Mori's Emma
Credit: Kaoru Mori’s Emma; CMX 2007

At our core, we all hope to find and experience love with that special someone. In the 19th century London, social class and one’s wealth are important; it serves as the background to the love story between Emma, a servant, and William Jones, a man of wealth and status. In Emma, the love between the two is sweet and heartfelt, but the traditional values of Victorian London society threaten their courtship.

In order to not cause any confusion, there are two versions or sets of Emma published: one version is where ten volumes of Emma have been published by CMX Manga (Elly, Figuratively Speaking) and most recently, the version published by YenPress is released in five hardcover omnibus sets. For this series review, the YenPress version will be covered rather than the CMX Manga version.

Who’s Who In Emma

The main couple in Emma is, of course, Emma herself and William Jones. Emma is a servant of Kelly Stowner, a former governess of William Jones. An intimidating woman she may be, she is supportive of Emma and William’s pursuit of happiness. William Jones is a gentleman and is the eldest son of the wealthy merchant, Richard Jones who is the head of the Jones family. William’s best friend visiting from India, Hakim Atawal, appears and also falls for Emma’s beauty.

A strict and traditional man, Mr. Jones believes in sticking to the rules and dislikes going against the norm. Eleanor Campbell, daughter of Mrs. Campbell, is another love interest for William. We also get to meet William’s siblings who are: Grace, Arthur, Vivian, Colin, and last but not least, Stevens, the butler for the Jones family.

What’s Going On So Far In Kaoru Mori’s Emma?

In the first half of the omnibus volume, we get to see how William Jones and Emma meet; from the second he accidentally gets hit in the face, to the moment he tries to woo Emma. William Jones is an endearing, kind, and honest individual who lights up each page he’s on. Emma is also kind and endearing while being a rather observant character. The way Kaoru Mori writes and draws Emma speaks volumes; despite her social status, Emma walks as if with an air of calm nobility. Not only is Emma beautiful (given by the many comments by admirers), she has endured a rather rough childhood shown in a flashback chapter in the latter half of this volume.

Emma’s master, Kelly Stowner, is a woman who cares deeply for Emma. Stowner sees Emma not just as a maid but as a pseudo-daughter; YenPress has emphasized in bold italics the following words: “My Emma,” (Mori 207). Kelly’s appearance in the series is short-lived, but her impact on Emma’s growth as a character is impactful. In the latter half of the omnibus volume, Emma and William spend a day at the Crystal Palace; Emma is a bit overwhelmed with all the artifacts around her but it’s evident that just being around William Jones makes her happy.

It is at the Crystal Palace that Emma and William first shared their first kiss under a full moon. The artwork that Kaoru Mori puts into a couple of pages of the scene is jaw-dropping; the panels leading up to the kiss made the wait worth it and my heart burst with hope.

The Troubles That Lie Ahead

Set in the 19th century, Emma and William face a society that does not like people going outside the norm. The entire London society (from what we know so far) will most likely disapprove of their courtship. Even Richard Jones, William’s father, states:

“[…] there are two classes: those of the gentry and the upper class and those who are not,”

(Mori 186)

In this volume, Kaoru Mori also introduces a new character, Eleanor Campbell, who is another love interest for William. Eleanor’s introduction causes problems as this reminds Emma of how socially far apart she and William are from each other. With the news of Eleanor and William’s budding courtship, Emma starts to distance herself from William.

Why Emma?

Most manga series focuses mainly on romantic plots in a high school setting, but Emma is a breath of fresh air. As a fan of anime and manga, Emma fits all my personal tastes (romance, slice of life, and an element of historical fiction). What drew me to Kaoru Mori’s Emma was the setting and the genre, but the art cemented my interest in Mori’s work. With Emma not being categorized as ‘shoujo,’ Kaoru Mori is able to avoid the typical shoujo-esque elements by writing and drawing the interactions between Emma and William in a natural fashion.

Kaoru Mori's Emma
Credit: Kaoru Mori’s Emma; Enterbrain

The two main characters are lovable and their interactions with others show how complex Emma and William are. Kelly Stowner being a silent cheerleader for Emma and William’s romance is endearing to read. In the afterwords included in Emma Volume One, Mori stated that she had conducted extensive research about the history and fashion of Victorian Era London. The effort is translated well in this debut volume of Emma; the painstaking artwork and passion Kaoru Mori exhibits are absolutely eye-catching.

In addition, the side characters featured in Emma are not written simply to prevent Emma and William from getting to know each other better. Each side character has a purpose; they have their own beliefs and actions that exist outside of Emma and William’s courtship. As a work of fiction with historical elements to it, the story and writing feel organic. Emma may not be for everyone, but the artwork itself is eye-catching and refreshing. If Emma volume one is not what you prefer, Kaoru Mori’s other work, Otoyomegatari (or, A Bride’s Story) may also be your cup of tea.

One thought on “What Is Love In 19th Century London In Kaoru Mori’s Emma Vol. One?

  1. I love your analysis, especially the last three paragraphs that put all of the elements together in a way that I, as a non manga person, can appreciate. You have made Japanese pop culture very intriguing to me.

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