A few weeks back, Sue emailed me to ask if I'd discovered a wonderful anime called Emma: A Victorian Romance. I hadn't seen it before, so Sue was kind enough to write a guest review of what she loved about it, and what she found troublesome. Sue's examination includes some plot points from the series as a whole, and examines elements of the story that might bug the hell out of you, but also discusses why she found this series so charming.
My name is Sue and I’ve been given the privilege to write a review for you about Emma: A Victorian Romance Anime TV series.
First a little bit about me. I remember my first romance book. Every summer my mom and I would go to a book store throw 10 paperbacks in a basket for our summer reading and indulge. One summer I threw in ‘Dance upon the air’ by Nora Roberts. My mom didn’t have a problem with me reading a romance at 12 (you can’t be a Unitarian and a nurse and be close minded about your child) and was probably glad I was reading something other than Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Alex Healy (I had angstsy things to prove people!). So when I started reading it, it blew my mind! People are reading and writing about falling in love making out and having sex?! And I had happy brain explosions; from then on I was hooked and over time I’ve discovered and nurtured my love for nerd themed books and (especially) historicals.
While I’m strictly anti-weak-willed-stammering-virgin-turned-sexual-goddess-wife-after-knowing-each-other-for-2-weeks kind of person, to me there is something I really enjoy about Historical romance novels where people fall in love through conversation and hidden moments in gardens, and interesting story plots that could only happen within the constrictions of 19th century society that just don’t happen in modern life(not that I don’t love a good contemporary one)…Plus, Kilts.
This lead me to a recent search on Hulu for the 2009 BBC series of Jane Austen’s Emma (if you can, watch this, it’s amazing, such good casting and acting!). What also popped up was “Emma: A Victorian Romance” a short TV series in spoken Japanese, with English subtitles, that is Anime meets Downton Abbey, and let me tell you, it’s AWESOME.
Here’s the gist of the story: A young man, William Jones, second generation Nouveau Riche and eldest son, goes to visit his former governess and is met by a door in the face when the maid, Emma, opens it. First he sees stars, and then he sees hearts. William becomes enamored and falls in love with Emma through a series of small gestures and outing. Emma is a great mixture of strong and subtle and we learn later on what a hard childhood she had, how far she’s come, and good-guy-William love her even more for what she has endured, than dislike her for her beginnings which were even more humble than originally thought.
Love by nosebleed.
As you can imagine Dad isn’t having any of that. Dad in fact would like his son, who he is sure is amounting to nothing, makes an advantageous match with a titled young lady (there are, happily, surprisingly few references to just having an affair on the side with the maid then one would assume). As is the position of the oldest child in the historical romance genre, his actions reflect all of his other four sibling’s marriage prospects and their newly formed social standing as well.
William “Eyebrows” Jones. Check out that smolder.
There are two seasons and 12 episodes each (about 24 minutes long). The first season is mostly about William and Emma slowly falling in love, showing the constraints of society, the background of both characters, the bond between Emma and the Governess, and ends with Emma and William separating after his old governess passes away and she needs both new work, and distance from the difficult situation with William.
The second season unfolds when Emma finds her new job in the country with a German family who live on a very large estate. William finds himself so lonely that he gets engaged to the society miss whom his father has been pushing him to marry although he is a hollow, hollow, man. Through many twists and turns Emma and William meet again in a spectacular Cinderella moment (vision be damned! Get rid of her glasses) where they realize they still love each other.
William breaks off the engagement (that shouldn’t be a problem right?) and starts a quest to make himself worthy of Emma. Emma tries to resist (and be level headed frankly) and separates herself from William. The story wraps up with a traditional HEA including William and Emma together with tons of children, and Emma saying good bye to the governess that was so good to her and brought her together.
The Good, the Bad, and the I. HAVE. NO. IDEA:
There are a great many things that are both interesting and fun about this story and surprisingly, only a few factors that really made me roll my eyes.
Emma is a great heroine. I definitely lean to the smartass/spinster/tom boy heroine in the books I like, but what I loved about Emma is that she a had a quiet strength, and that she never had any palm-to-face moments where she was supposed to be smart, but acted like an airhead for the sake of the plot.
First, she is non-traditional in appearance with her glasses, simple hairstyle and calm demeanor; the men who fall in love with her because she is a total package, not just a humorless hottie with a hankie on her head (alliteration fiesta!) She is humble; when William offers to buy her extravagant gifts, she says she only wants a handkerchief. She is rational; William’s like “screw ‘em all, let’s get married and they can suck it!” (A summary), but it's Emma who is intelligent and seems to be the one who really understand what the effects of the two of them being together would mean in society.
Finally, Emma is steadfast; throughout the whole series she loves William. She doesn’t fall for Hakim’s affections, she doesn’t fall in love with someone in her own station, and she is prepared to be separated from the person she loves.
Emma, our heroine.
Early on William is visited by his best friend from school, the Indian prince Hakim (harem included, don’t worry). Hakim is used as the foil in every way for William. Hakim is the dark womanizing prince where William is the light fair Englishman. When Hakim first meets Emma he also falls in love and immediately tries to court her versus Williams bumbling attempts. When William is unsure of what to do about his situation, Hakim simply states they should be together no matter what. He also arrives on three decorated elephants and then takes William out for a joy ride on one through the streets of London.
Indian prince and his smolder in English dress.
To be honest most of the time he’s lying around smoking a hookah surrounded by his harem. Rough life, buddy.
Oh good, the harem’s here….
William’s mother is an interesting character. WARNING SPOILERS: You get the sense in the first season that she is dead, you see the father often talking to a portrait of her, no one talks to her and she isn’t present. You find out through the second season she is an eccentric friend of Emma’s new employer and when they all go to London, she takes Emma as her companion to Williams’s engagement party. I believe the modern idea is that the mother has an anxiety disability with life in town and goes to the country to live an eccentric life including a pet monkey. I thought there might animosity between the parents, or with the children but there didn’t seem to be. They accepted her happily in and out of their daily lives. Is that a thing?! Did that happen to women? I’d love to know more about it!
This is not the only weird pet. There’s also a squirrel named Theo, I kid you not.
Hanz, oh Hanz…Any of you ladies/gentlemen like the gruff brooders with intense facial hair? Good! Because we got one for you! And his name is Hanz, and he has side burns for days. Hanz appears in season 2 and serves as a convenient love interest for Emma. He is practical about his love for Emma (compared to Williams’s infatuation), he is steady and happy with his lot as a valet/butler, and he seems to appreciate and accept Emma for her quiet and steadfast personality. He stands up to William for his eccentric behavior towards Emma and Good-guy-Hanz even gets his own hero moments.
Love triangles all around! Who wants one?! Get ‘em while they’re hot!
There were only a few things that bothered me about this series.
The Harem and the Plot Moppet: so I get it’s a harem…and they’re essentially objects, but they are literally the same person, as in the artist gave them the same faces. They dance around in saris and do suggestive things and become furniture the Prince lounges around on, but were they necessary to the story, or the prince? NO. At the very least give them different faces!
The Plot Moppet (TM RedHeadedGirl) is William’s youngest brother and he just makes whiney noises and says three sentences for 24 episodes. Kid doesn’t need to be around. This is so frustrating because the other siblings are actually interesting. The next oldest child is a daughter trying to be the perfect society daughter, the next oldest is the second son who understand and accepts the way the world works unlike his idealistic older brother, and his next youngest sibling is the gregarious sister who says the inappropriate things and is in general an instigator. Plot Moppet is unnecessary.
Oh, look, it’s the women with the SAME DAMN FACE.
Also, Plot Moppet making the face he shows the ENTIRE series. He’s all Frodo up in there.
Sister Monica: Who the hell is Sister Monica?! You haven’t mentioned her at all?! EXACTLY.
The society-bride-fiancé-for-a-hot-minute, Eleanor, has an older sister Monica and I honestly have no idea what she exists for. She shows up in the second season and my suspicion is that she shows up to support Eleanor so you don’t think she’s such a dolt, but her existence ends up being confusing, and Eleanor is really just a dolt. She is married (I think) to an older English Lord, bursts into William’s familial home to (how she has any idea where he is in that giant house I have no idea) demand he stop leading her sister on (he wasn’t really doing that…), is portrayed as super-promiscuous and runs off with Hakim to India at one point (I HAVE NO IDEA PEOPLE) and then shows up again to demand action for her sister being wronged, only to have her sister stop her.
I. HAVE. NO. IDEA.
Pacing and noises: the pacing and noises drove me crazy at times. I am admittedly no Anime aficionado so I don’t know if this is a function of the Anime style, so I may be introducing aspects of the storytelling that are actually quite normal. There would be quiet moments where they seemed to introduce gasping and gulping and strange breathing that frankly didn’t need to be there. Sometimes humans don’t make noise. Which brings me to the pacing fractures; there would be scenes that would get drawn out, so you expect something to happen….but nothing ever did. In most of these situations, it wasn’t used to create or maintain suspense; it just drew (ha!) a moment out that didn’t need to be.
Finally, I didn’t completely love William, which is difficult to swallow when you’re supposed to be rooting for him. For example, Emma was kidnapped as a child, forced into child labor on the streets of London and worked her way up to housemaid for a respectable woman where she learned to read and write. William is the oldest son of an insanely wealthy family who is best friends with a prince whose life seems difficult because he has to actually work and can get a little whiney about all his (first world) problems. The biggest problem is that he enters an engagement quickly after Emma leaves when he thinks he’s never going to see her again. WAY TO GRIEVE FOR, LIKE, TWO MINUTES OVER THE LOSS OF THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE DUDE?! They try to explain it away, but it doesn’t really strengthen the quality of his character, particularly for Emma who herself is so strong.
His biggest redeeming factor is that he seems to love and show love in a way that Emma wants. (Which, as being a married person myself, is impressive thing to do right off the bat). He doesn’t court her with expensive gifts and jewelry with what he thinks she would want, but with taking her on a trip to the Crystal Palace, and talking with her, and a giving her a simple lace handkerchief; with no expectation she change who she is to fit in to his class.
A trip to the Crystal Palace.
Will wooing her right.
Another redeeming moment which is so beautiful and wonderful happens when they finally reconnect. It is so worth it and gives you all the happy feelings you’ve ever felt. She cries, then he cries and then you cry and if you don’t love it, I worry about your soul.
So tender and sweet!
Here’s the lowdown on how to get your hands on this awesome piece of Japan meets Victorian England.
If you have a Hulu account, you can access it there as part of your subscription, I apologize now for all loss of work.
I tried to see if they were on YouTube for those who don’t want to pay or don’t have a subscription, but the only ones I could find were episodes spoken in Japanese with Spanish subtitles for the linguistically badass out there.
Finally, there is also a graphic novel, or manga, out there as well, available for purchase or at your local library. The graphic novels do veer from the anime story line however — apparently they come to America… woo hoo!
Thank you to Sue for this write up. Have you seen this anime? What did you think?