My wife and I have different tastes in what we watch for television and movies. I enjoy a wide variety of anime, and she enjoys nearly every Victorian and Edwardian England era piece aired. But, what if there were something that combined our dissimilar tastes? Ten years ago, that question was answered and our shared romance for all things Emma began. Victorian Romance Emma adapted the manga of the same name by Mori Kaoru. It tells a familiar tale of love amidst the class struggles of Victorian England.
Emma was sold into child slavery but managed to escape in London. She was found by Kelly Stowner; Kelly gave her a home and a purpose. Emma learned how to read, write, and perform the duties of a maid. Kelly was once a governess to the Jones family, a prominent merchant seeking to find a place in the gentry. The eldest son, William Jones, has never been particularly ambitious about taking over the family business or shown interest in much of anything other than odd trinkets. William pays a visit to his former governess, sees Emma, and falls instantly in love. So begins their uphill battle to find love despite the social pressures around them.
It only took twelve episodes to spin a story and create a cast of characters that both my wife and I fell in love with. As you watch them and their love mature, you want them to succeed despite the odds making the ending so bittersweet. Their lives are also entwined with an equally engaging supporting cast. William’s family has their own issues; the gentry look down at them for earning their money instead of coming by it the traditional way – inheriting it. None of his siblings nor his father support his efforts and only want to groom him to be the next head of the house.
William’s life receives another complication when his college friend Hakim pays a visit. Hakim is a wealthy prince from India complete with a harem, an elephant, and a penchant for sowing chaos in William’s life. When Hakim sees Emma, he becomes equally captivated by her and declares himself a rival for Emma’s affection. And if that were not enough, William finds himself engaged to the daughter of the Viscount Campbell. The Campbell’s funds are running low, and the match between William and Eleanor will shore up their financial situation. However, Viscount Campbell loathes the merchant class and finds every opportunity to show it to the Jones family.
All of these elements combine to tell an honest story without feeling contrived. It holds up against any similar live action piece on Masterpiece Theater; if you dared to love someone outside of your social strata of the time, these are the challenges you would face. One of the hallmarks of the manga was the meticulous and detailed depiction of Victorian England. Studio Pierrot faithfully reproduced this love for the visuals of Victorian England adding another layer of realism to the story.
The Crystal Palace episode stands out as my favorite with the mix of London’s varied population viewing the exotic treasures from around the world. Equally impressive is the beautiful simplicity of the opening and ending themes; they perfectly capture the mood of the story and feel like they could have been actual pieces written and enjoyed by Victorian ladies in their parlors.
Over the ten years since it aired, my love for this series has not faded. Despite knowing every beat and plot turn, it remains an enjoyable story from start to finish. While I may never watch Downton Abbey with my wife, I will always gladly pull Emma off the shelf when she asks. Nozomi released the first series and its follow-up second series on DVD in 2008; both are still available. No amount of words can truly do this series justice; pick it up and begin your own decade long romance with Emma.