Monday, March 7, 2011

Manga Monday: Can a street girl be taught the same way as the upper class?

Maids have a strange place in Japan pop culture. Maid cafés are fantastically popular in the big cities, especially Tokyo. They seem to have taken the place of tea house among the younger crowd, with hostess bars filling the gap for older businessmen. These maid girls, especially in manga and anime, are often hyper-sexualized and this genre has taken the place of the school girl fantasy manga of a decade ago. They have little or no relation to the era from which the maid costume originated.

Emma: A Victorian Romance, is not one of these manga.

Emma had a hard start to life. Kidnapped from her home as a young girl and sold to a brothel, she managed to escape on her way there, but ended up lost on her own in London. After escaping, she lived the life of a street child in Victorian London selling flowers and the like, until she met the women who will change her life forever.

Kelly Stowner is a former governess who now lives in retirement. Upon stumbling on a fairly charming little flower girl, and about to leave her last posting as a governess, she decides to take her in as her maid. She also took the time to really pay attention to her new little charge. Young Emma didn’t leave dust on the banisters and cobwebs in the corners just because she was a lazy or sloppy cleaner.  It turns out that she simply can’t see well enough to do any better. And in an act of charity nearly unheard of at the time, Mrs. Stowner takes Emma to get a pair of glasses.  

Having been a governess, and because a household of one does leave some down time for a maid, Mrs. Stowner took the time to educate Emma as well. In her care, Emma learns to read, write, and speak properly. She also learns to read a bit of French, which implies that she was taught the classics as well. Along the way, although very shy and unsure of herself, she learns proper comportment, which in as stratified and formal a culture as Victorian England, is of the utmost importance.

In this volume, one of Mrs. Stowner’s former students, William Jones, comes to visit. He has something of a…run-in …with Emma, and is immediately smitten with her.

What follows is an amazingly accurate depiction of Victorian England, and what might happen in a romance between two people of dramatically different social classes. A self-admitted Anglophile, Mori did an amazing amount of research for the series, and it shows. She took painstaking steps to make sure each line of dialog is accurate to the period as possible. The love that went into this series shows.  And with paired with pleasant characters and a truly Victorian style romance, you get perhaps the most charming romantic story to come out in recent years.

Highs: The folks that hang out at the pub are great fun

Lows: Probably too slow-paced for some

Verdict: A very lovely series for all ages

Further Reading:  Honey and Clover, Maison Ikkoku

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