Emma: A Victorian Romance – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Eikoku Koi Monogatari Emma

 

Related: Emma: A Victorian Romance Season 2 (included in review)

Similar: Romeo x Juliet

Black Butler

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Romance

Length: 12 episodes per season

 

Positives:

  • Good visual Victorian setting.
  • Very romantic.

Negatives:

  • Emma is to passive a protagonist.
  • Conflict isn’t heavy enough.
  • Japanese mannerisms.

(Note: This anime is unrelated to Jane Austen’s Emma.)

While visiting his former governess, William Jones abruptly meets her maid, Emma, for she opens the door into his face. He is enamoured with her despite the difference in wealth and class, he a gentleman, she a maid. However, his father applies pressure for William to marry a lady, but he rejects them all. Then enters Eleanor, who seems to have a chance. A romance between two people from vastly different walks of life – I love these types of romances. Opposing circumstances bring great conflict and drama in the likes of Downton Abbey, The Forsyte Saga, and my personal favourite, BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. It is a shame then that Emma’s conflict is so weak.

The first source of weakness is within the character Emma herself. She is too passive a character, particularly for a protagonist. I get that in Victorian society maids are supposed to be invisible in the background unless called for, but in fiction, a protagonist cannot remain passive for long. Emma does little, always quiet, letting others take action while she does her best to leave no impact on the audience. Yes, Emma is reserved as a character, never asking for help – she didn’t inform the governess she needed glasses to work, for example – yet even the most reserved people must act when confronted. She reminds of a shoujo protagonist, too meek and passive to be an engaging lead. I would venture 95% of the action in the romance comes from sources other than Emma. Even when William’s friend, Prince Hakim of India, unexpectedly comes for a visit and is drawn to Emma’s beauty, she doesn’t do much. The conflict of this triangle is resolved by Hakim himself without effort from her.

Hakim is a purely superficial person, yet with a confidence to embarrass the Victorian upper class. He is accompanied by a harem of rather strange women and arrives astride a herd of elephants, causing much chaos for traffic in Trafalgar Square. While amusing, this display is at odds with the tone presented by the show elsewhere. It is too silly for a Victorian period piece. If one looks at JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which uses a similar setting, the tone of silliness is consistent, not promising a period piece only to switch to comedy. The tonal differences also apply to mannerisms. The dialogue, the characteristics, the speech aren’t Victorian. Characters sound too modern, too Japanese. In JoJo, this wasn’t a problem, as the style worked, but in a serious Victorian narrative, mannerisms are everything.

Emma’s strength lies in its sweetness. William, being a gentleman, cannot simply ask for Emma’s hand in marriage as Hakim would, so he contrives ways to run into her on the street by “coincidence.” He frequents a gadget and antique shop where he can watch the street for her daily trips to the market. When William’s father refuses the union with Emma (another weak conflict – too easily resolved), his romantic thoughts drive him beyond reason.

Emma is ultimately a sweet romance that lacks the weight of other Victorian dramas. The second season is a significant improvement on the first; should have started with season two’s plot and escalated from there. Season one is far too nice.

Art – Medium

The detailed London architecture is a pleasure and the fashion is gorgeous. Love the detail to old timey advertisements for biscuits and tobacco. Little in the way of animation unfortunately – static or stiff when it shouldn’t be.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine, but with a distinctly un-Victorian script, it all feels off. Pleasant music, yet as with the conflict, is all niceness, no weight. The one scene of actual English is pure Engrish.

Story – Medium

A romance of upper and lower class. Romance without serious conflict.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: I would suggest Downton Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and The Forsyte Saga over this. If you want romance with little drama and conflict, then Emma is for you.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Dissapointing

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