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Emma: A Victorian Romance Seasons 1-2 Complete Series Limited Edition Anime DVD Review

10 min read

God, I hate the gentry.

What They Say:
This complete series collection bundles together both box sets for Emma: A Victorian Romance!
In 19th-century London, class lines are sharply drawn, and the social standing to which people are born dictates the path their lives will follow. Emma, an honest and hardworking young maid, never felt her place in life to be a burden. But then she met William, a member of the gentry and the eldest son of a wealthy family. His warm smile and earnest affection threaten to capture her heart… but can love truly conquer all?

The season 1 box set contains all 12 episodes of the first season plus a 96-page “Victorian Gazette.” Written in the style of an actual Victorian newspaper, including “interviews” with the characters, articles, and period advertisements, this gazette features background information and illustrations, a full glossary, and comments and comics by Kaoru Mori, the author of the Emma manga.

The season 2 box set contains all 12 episodes of the second season plus “Episode 0: Intermission,” a recap/preview that aired prior to the start of the Season 2 telecast in Japan, and a 48-page Victorian Picture Book including line art and an Interview with Kaoru Mori.

The Review:
This release only contains a Japanese language track, which is offered in 2.0. While a surround mix is always welcome, it really isn’t necessary for a title like Emma, which tends more towards quiet contemplation. There is some decent directionality across the two channels, and there was no dropout that I could hear throughout. It won’t impress you aurally, but then it doesn’t need to.

Visually, this is a beautiful anime. Originally airing in 2005 (2007 for season 2), this release maintains its original 1:1.78 aspect ratio and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This is a beautiful anime. The art style is simplistic, but apropos for the story and time period, and the scenery is gorgeous. The transfer is great, with solid colors and lining, and no technical flaws that I noticed. I have no issues here.

The packaging is nice, though nothing different from the individual releases as Nozomi has just taken the two box sets and shrink-wrapped them together. The boxes are big enough to fit four thinpaks and the bonus booklets, and they have some good watercolor sketches of Emma with various other characters on each side. Each thinpak has a shot of Emma on the front, with the box summary and technical details on the back. Each of the pictures on the boxes and cases do a good job of portraying the quiet pleasantry of this series. I might have liked something special to mark this as a bundle, but it is otherwise a really nice set.

The menus for this release are well designed. When the disc first boots up, there is an animation showing travel along railroad tracks; the scene fades out, to be replaced with the series logo, which then shifts to the right as the background and selections fade-in. The background image is the same picture of Emma that graces the cover for that disc. The selections are offered to the right underneath the title, and whole menu has been given the coloring and feel of an old parchment/newspaper (though Emma’s picture is in full color. While on the main menu, a lengthy loop of the pleasant opening theme plays. Overall, the design is simple, but it is one of my favorites.

The on-disc extras for this release are fairly unremarkable, as there are the usual array of character biographies, trailers, and clean titles. The second season does have a recap episode narrated by Prince Hakim, though that is also encoded to play during the regular run of episodes too.

But where the extras are remarkable is in the two booklets that come with each set. The season one book, the Emma Victorian Gazette, is a near 100 page book that acts as if it is a newspaper within the Emma continuity. It contains articles, interviews, pictures, and comics that are essentially all about the characters and written as if they were real people and this paper was documenting them. The season two book, the Victorian Picture Book, is about 50 pages and is full of pictures and character sketches that show the art that went into creating the series. There is a lot of stuff here to plow through, and it’s possible to spend just as much time sifting through them as it takes to watch the series. Great stuff.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I first heard about Emma: A Victorian Romance in 2008, when it was first released in the US. I typically love slice-of-life stories and have definitely had good experience with the anime versions of them, so I was interested in checking it out. But then I found out it was sub-only, and as a dub fan, that pushed it down my list a bit, and in the end, it took me three years to finally get around to checking it out. While I missed the dub, I’m glad I finally did.

Emma is the maid for Mrs. Kelly Stownar, a retired governess for wealthy children. While Mrs. Stownar’s career has given her more money than most people, it is still just enough for a modest retirement. But Emma is just happy to have work, and Mrs. Stownar treats her well, if sternly.

Emma’s life takes a turn when William Jones comes to pay Mrs. Stownar a visit. William is the eldest son of Richard Jones, a commoner who has amassed a great fortune through his business and has ambitions to gain a title and enter the nobility. William was Mrs. Stownar’s last charge before her retirement, and he decides to pay her a courtesy call. However, when Emma and William lay eyes on each other, it is love at first sight.

Emma is hesitant to accept William’s advances, though. Though technically a commoner, his wealth places him at a station far higher than Emma could ever hope to rise, and that makes her nervous. She is afraid of acting on her feelings as she does not want to cause any difficulties for William. Ultimately, she convinces herself that everybody would be happier if he would just forget her.

William does not want to do that, but he has his own issues. The Jones family is well regarded among the gentry, and as the heir to the business and fortune, William is expected to marry somebody of his status, if not higher. As his father often reminds him, acting below his station could irreparably harm the reputation of the family which would destroy all of the hard work Richard has put in to raise them up. In particular, Richard feels it is William’s duty to protect the interests of his younger siblings.

While William struggles to find a balance between his familial duties and his own personal desires, his life is made all the more complex by the attentions of Eleanor Campbell. Eleanor is the younger daughter of a viscount whose family has fallen on financial hard times. While the viscount doesn’t like the idea of his daughter marrying below her station, he is practical enough to understand what the wealth of the Jones family could do for his own economic standing. And when Eleanor shows interest in William, he approves their courtship. But that just leaves William having to figure out whether he truly cares for this young woman, or whether he is just using her to soothe the ache he feels for Emma.

One of the reasons I was particularly interested in checking out Emma initially was its setting. Rather than Japan, Emma: A Victorian Romance takes place in Victorian London. Aside from it being an unusual setting for anime, I grew up in the United Kingdom, so I have a solid background in knowledge of British history, as well as an affinity for British stories. Emma shares a lot in common with Victorian novels in terms of theme and plot, as the maid that falls for the nobleman was a much-used trope in that era, but it uses those themes well.

Emma: A Victorian Romance really builds a nice love triangle between Emma, Eleanor, and William. Love triangle might not be the right term, as love only goes both ways between Emma and William, but their respective situations gives Eleanor just enough of a chance to be a threat to Emma’s and William’s happiness.

One of the things I liked best about Emma: A Victorian Romance, though, was that this setup gave us the perfect situation for cattiness and underhandedness from high-born, educated Eleanor, but it never went in that direction. In fact, other than some gossip among the gentry, along with some uncomfortable situations the Joneses are forced to endure due to their lower status, this series was devoid of much of this. Instead, while this series is certainly dramatic, it is more of a quiet drama filled with self-agony rather than conflict. I appreciated it for that.

I was also a big fan of the characters in Emma: A Victorian Romance, particularly many of the secondary ones. It isn’t that Emma and William weren’t well done, but they were out-shone (in a good way) by some of the people that surrounded them. There’s Hans, the sullen footman for the Molders family. Like Emma, Hans is a hard-worker who likes to keep to himself, and it quickly becomes obvious that he has also fallen for Emma; the question is whether he will actually act on it. And then there’s also Monica, Eleanor’s older sister, whose overbearing protection of her sister also causes problems for William (and is also just about the only “typical anime” thing about this series).

We also have Mrs. Jones, Richard’s exiled wife. She has never particularly enjoyed high-society, and Richard’s lifestyle wears her down to the point of illness, so she has retired to a country estate where she is most comfortable; her kooky personality is what drew Richard to her but also caused him many troubles in society. It is these memories that lead Richard to object to his union with Emma, as he doesn’t want his son to be trapped between a wife he loves and an unforgiving society.

My favorite character, though, was William’s best friend, Prince Hakim of India. Hakim’s ostentatiousness and laid back personality hide some true wisdom, and he acts as the voice of William’s desires, urging him to follow his wishes rather than conform to the dictates of society. He and his every-ready harem are a source of some of the best comedy this series has, but he is also often the catalyst that drives the story forward.

Of course, Emma: A Victorian Romance reminded me of the reasons I generally avoid Victorian novels: I can’t stand the gentry. The gossip over absurd slights, the way they act towards those lower than them, and all of the ridiculous shopping. Despite her being a rather pleasant person, I was almost immediately against Eleanor when she mentioned that she has to have a new parasol for every outfit. Again, this is an issue I have with the genre more than it is a flaw with the series, I just know there were many times I was gnashing my teeth.

More of an issue for me, though, was the previously-mentioned lack of a dub. While a title being sub-only is usually a drawback for me, I don’t tend to harp on it too much. I can understand the economics that would justify that decision, especially for a title such as this that might not have a real broad-base appeal. But it bothers me here precisely because this series takes place in London and is done is a way to be very life-like. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect the Japanese to have it in English (especially considering everybody speaks English according to Hollywood), but this is a case where I would think an English dub would be necessary. The whole series just felt off to me without it. At one point, I was left to sarcastically note that it was a good thing that Indian Prince Hakim knew Japanese because I wasn’t sure how he’d get around London without it. As someone who prefers dubs, maybe I’m not the best person to make this point, all I know is that it really bothered me here.

In Summary:
Emma: A Victorian Romance has some top-notch storytelling. A slice-of-life tale taking place in Victorian London, it won’t drag you through the emotional spectrum, but it will get you rooting for Emma and William and hoping they find a solution to their forbidden love. It has a great cast of characters, a terrific setting, and a stellar plot. The only thing it is missing is a dub. Otherwise, I have no real complaints. Highly recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Biographies, Textless Opening, Textless Closing, Japanese Promotional Commercial, Japanese TV Promotional Spots, Japanese DVD Commercials, Japanese Commercials, Fan Credits

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: September 6th, 2011
MSRP: $69.99
Running Time: 625 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection, Du-rabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System

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