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Emma: A Victorian Romance - Season 1

Right Stuf // Unrated // February 5, 2013
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted January 23, 2013 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
I've been a fan of RightStuf since I stumbled upon a VHS tape of anime that they released in the mid-to-late 1990's.  I've been following their releases (and their store... I dropped a bundle last month during their "13 Days of Christmas sale."  I can resist everything except anime discounted 80%) ever since.  One show that they released that I never got around to watching however was Emma: A Victorian Romance.  It had heard good things about it, but there are only so many anime-watching hours in a day, and that title just slipped through the cracks.  I'm said it did, because the show is excellent.  Previously released in a limited edition with an attractive artbox, the first season is being re-released in a single case at a reduced price.  If you haven't had a chance to check out this wonderful show, now's the perfect chance.

Set in Victorian London, Emma is the sole maid in a modest house belonging to Mrs. Stowner, a retired governess.  Emma is attractive and smart, but she's turns down all of the suitors that come knocking at Mrs. Stowner's door.  None one has caught her interest... until William Jones came to the door. 
Mr. Jones was one of the children Mrs. Stowner took care of before she retired.  Now grown, the handsome young man is the eldest son of a wealthy merchant is being groomed to take over his father's vast holdings.  When coming to pay a visit to his old teacher however, he instantly falls in love with Emma, and the feeling is definitely mutual.

William is afraid to let the servant know how he feels, so instead he arranges to 'accidently' bump into her every day while she's doing the shopping.  He walks her home, carrying the produce that she's purchased, and they talk. 
The problem is that Emma and William are from two different worlds.  Not only is he wealthy while she's a domestic, but the Jones family are newly rich.   It has been hard for the family to be accepted into polite society since they aren't of noble birth, but their money has, reluctantly, managed to open doors.  Now they are invited to the best balls and dinner galas, but a scandal like the eldest marrying one of the help would not only make them laughing stocks and ostracized by the rest of the society people, but it would harm their business holdings.  A lot of deals are made while the men are talking together after a lavish dinner. 
As his father sternly tells William, as the heir he has a responsibility to the rest the family, the business, and the 100+ servants that they employ.  Some things are just not done and he can't buck convention.  But the heart wants what the heart wants.

This is a show that's very different from any other manga I've read or anime I've seen.  Set in the past, there aren't any fantasy or SF elements.  No dragons, wizards, time travelers, or invading armadas.  This is a charming show about what it was like to live over a hundred years ago. That's it, but it's more than enough.
The first thing that will strike viewers are the backgrounds.  The author of the manga that this anime is based upon, Kaoru Mori, has done his research and has recreated 19th Century London wonderfully.  The public transportation (horse drawn carriages) have ads for contemporary products (in English no less) and the details of making tea or shopping in the market are quite authentic looking.  This attention to detail really draws you into the story.

The characters are very likable too.  William is a somewhat shy young man who has a stubborn streak.  Even though he can understand his father's point, he doesn't see why he has to abide by it.  One of my favorites in the show is Hakim Atawari, William's best friend from boarding school who also happens to be a prince from India.  Hakim, who arrives riding an elephant with scantily clad women throwing rose petals in his path, is much more of a free spirit than William, and he also takes a fancy to Emma spurning his friend to take action.
The background to the simple love story is what really makes this a superb anime.  Not only William's problems with his father, but also how he lives and what he and his siblings do for fun.  When Emma's story is told towards the end of the season it's heartbreaking but all too believable.  The fact that the show doesn't go for any easy answers at the end to tie things up is also very welcome.     

The DVD:

This release collects the entire 12-episode series into one compact single-width DVD case.  Inside you'll find four discs with three episodes each.  In these days where most anime companies are cutting corners wherever they can, it's nice to see this wonderful story spread out across four discs.
The show comes with the original Japanese audio track in stereo and optional English subtitles, and it sounds fine.  It is a rather sedate show, with no mecha, space battles, or fight scenes, so there not much going on aurally.  The audio suits the show, with a clean and clear dialog and some exceptionally nice piano music for atmosphere that all comes through nicely.   
The anamorphic 1.77:1 image looks very good.  As one would suspect with only three episodes per DVD, there isn't any compression artifacts.  Aliasing, a defect that often plagues animated shows and films, is absent and the same can be said of other flaws that creep in with the encoding.  The show uses a warm color palate and that comes through nicely.  This is a great looking set.
The bonus material includes character biographies, a clean opening and closing, Japanese TV spots and promos as well as a R1 trailer to season two.
Final Thoughts:
This show is very different than the other anime I've seen (and that's a LOT) but don't let the setting and the lack of SF/Fantasy aspects turn you off.  Emma is a wonderful, touching series that will surprise you.  It is highly recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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