Emma: A Victorian Romance Season One (of 2) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, June 16, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008
What They Say
In 19th-century London, class lines are sharply drawn, and the social standing to which one is born dictates the path his or her life will likely follow. But when Emma, an honest and hardworking young maid, and William, an earnest member of the gentry, fall for each other... Can love truly conquer all? Contains the complete 12-episode first season.
When Young Master William Jones meets a maid named Emma, he begins to face real choices about how his life will go in late 19th century England.
Victorian Romance Emma is a monolingual release from Nozomi Entertainment which is really the only disappointing aspect of this release, though an understandable one at least. The Japanese language track that's included is a decent stereo mix encoded at 192kbps which fits the material as it's mostly just dialogue outside of a few bits of incidental music and effects here and there. The opening and closing sequences are the "loudest" parts of it in general, so a really powerful mix it isn't nor does it require a lot of space either. While it doesn't overly impress, it is a solid track through and through and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The twelve episode TV series is spread across four discs in a 3/3/3/3 format and that allows it to be a bit freer with space but it's hard to say if it was really needed. The transfer in general looks really great here, and it benefits from there not being a lot of actual action to the show. Victorian Romance Emma has something of a soft look to it at times which is a bit off putting but so much of it is about designing the proper atmosphere that it fits perfectly. Colors are soft and very appealing and the detail visible in so many scenes looks wonderful. Outside of some very minor aliasing in a couple of scenes and a similar amount of noise in a background piece here or there, Victorian Romance Emma is a very good looking show and a very pleasing transfer.
Victorian Romance Emma has been given a full box set release out of the gate and it's a solid heavy chipboard box which holds the four thinpak cases. The box has a very classic and elegant feel as it utilizes manga style artwork as opposed to pieces from the show. One main panel features Emma opening the door to Mrs. Stowner's house with her in the background. The back panel features the same image but from behind where you can see William tipping his hat as he comes into the house. The side panel is very elegant as it has a minimal design where there's just the series logo in the center with the season one marking as well as the oval shaped image of Emma. Inside the box, the four keepcases use a similar kind of border design as the box itself and it has four very different anime images of Emma. The show her in very different ways but all of them with a very restrained and beautiful look. The back covers are all similar in design and layout with a brief summary in the center and four shots from the show. The individual volume's episodes are listed along with titles and the special features to be found on that volume. The technical grid covers the basics for each in a very clean and clear fashion. While we do get clear keepcases, there are no reverse side pieces of artwork used.
Not enough can be said about the Victorian Gazette book that's included. This isn't a small booklet or anything to just skim over. It's a richly filled book that has a lot of great in-story material done almost as a newspaper for some of it. But be warned that it has spoilers, so avoid it until you watch the show. What's written in it is very nicely done and there are even numerous in-theme ads as well. The book continues with a series of character designs and discussions about the period outfits, character details such as a look at Hakim and more. The best in a way is the panel short comic strips by the original manga author as she watches the show and toys with the characters. This book alone makes this set a definite requirement for Emma fans to own as Nozomi has gone above and beyond with it.
Simplicity and elegance is the key to the menu design here as the menus features the layout and design elements that are seen throughout the packaging. Adding to it is some nicely understated and elegant pieces of artwork of the characters on the individual volumes combined with music from the show and it's all quite good. These aren't top of the line standout menus that totally dazzle you, but they're top of the line menus in that they fit with the show perfectly and enhance everything, putting you in the right frame of mind for the show. Due to this being a monolingual presentation though, our player presets are a non issue and Nozomi doesn't even offer a language setup menu thankfully.
When collections like this come out, it's fairly typical to put all the extras on one volume. I tend to waffle between that and the method used here where things are spread out. Part of me just wants to see all the extras after I've seen the entire series since there are potential spoilers. On the flip side, especially with three episodes per volume, I want to see a little more meat on each release. The extras here aren't all that meaty but they're nice small pieces that complement the show. The consistent extra across each volume is a series of character biographies in which each new one shows us more of the cast. In addition to that we get the clean opening and closing sequences and some of the early promotional pieces used for the series. I was also glad to see the DVD commercials for the Japanese release, brief though they may be. The best extra in a way is the two minute long US made trailer for the second season which is on the last volume and serves as an incredible tease for more considering how this season ends.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Kaoru Mori, Victorian Romance Emma is a twelve episode series for this season that delves into 19th century Victorian England. The series is one that is definitely fairly unique in the anime world as it deals with the time period with almost nothing related to Japan or Japanese culture and by all appearances is quite historically accurate. The manga, released in the US by CMX Manga, left me incredibly unimpressed, enough so that I didn't bother going past the first volume of it. The anime on the other hand brings it all to life in a way that completely captivates and entrances.
Victorian Romance Emma is set in 1895 London where the class system is much like it is in other places around the world at different times. The series starts off with the arrival of young William Jones on the doorstop of Kelly Stowner, his former governess. Having been through school and now back at home in order to take over the family business, his father has instructed him on the proper etiquette of one of his social status and that requires him to pay a proper visit to her. Little did his father realize that everything would change because of it. William's almost completely taken, in a very restrained British way, when he arrives there as he meets Kelly's maid Emma. The bespectacled young woman is a proper young maid who takes her work seriously as a live in caretaker for Kelly who is in her fifties and retired.
It's from this meeting that everything spills forth. William finds ways to keep meeting up with Emma on the street or coming to see Kelly. There isn't exactly a full on blooming romance here, but rather a restrained and cautioned one as he isn't quite sure how to proceed. He's not so much concerned about the social aspect of it as he's part of a generation that's not thinking about it as seriously anymore. Things take a more amusing turn a few episodes in however when a former schoolmate of his arrives at his residence. Prince Hakim from India is possibly the best character in the show outside of Emma simply because he has a look about him where he feels that everyone is just acting foolishly and against their best interests.
Hakim's arrival sends things into unusual directions, but generally not too far out there. At least outside of the elephants he travels with and takes through the streets of London. When he meets Emma however, his interest in her grows significantly and he can understand easily why William interested in her. He even goes so far as to proposition her himself, which is something that feels completely foreign to William. Hakim also has the added benefit of spending his time with the four female attendants he always has with him who look like they're riding a little high most of the time and always eager to serve. The way he carries himself and interacts with everyone is priceless and he provides the role of an outside observer to the very class structured England.
The relationship between Emma and William is the main focus of the story as it plays with the issues of class. William's father becomes rather displeased with his son when he learns of this and begins to interfere outright. The Jones family has worked hard to become part of the gentry and William as the eldest son will inherit it and will have much to do to keep things going. So much so in fact that his father is intending to set up an arranged marriage of sorts in order to tie the Jones family to titled nobility and ensure that they will continue to prosper. That goes against William's beliefs pretty strongly but he still goes through with several meetings and events with the beautiful young Eleanor Campbell. His mind is completely elsewhere but Eleanor is smitten with him and seems ready to wait for him as long as she needs to. It's almost a love at first sight kind of moment for her since the two spend little time overall with each other and it's hard to see what reasons she'd had to fall for him otherwise.
The relationship that William and Emma share however is given much more focus as the two spend a fair amount of time together. The initial meetings where he comes to visit Kelly are cute and awkward as he tries to not pay attention to Emma but cannot help it. Kelly sees all and does her best to try and ensure they have some time together in subtle ways, but it's when the two begin to meet out of the house that things pick up a bit. Strolls down the parks, visiting places and so forth brings the two together in a very slow and careful way, a way that often has both of them blushing lightly at what's going on. It's a very slow and tender love that's brewing here, one that faces quite a few challenges along the way, which is what the second half of the season is about.
No discussion of Victorian Romance Emma can be had without talking about the series visual design and attention to detail. The original manga was done by a self professed anglophile and that shows up heavily here as it feels incredibly authentic. The amount of detail in everything, from the backgrounds to the costumes, is simply beautiful and highly appealing. The character animation and designs have a wonderful feeling to them as well and they blend beautifully into the backgrounds because of the color palettes used. There are always times where they don't feel a part of the show because of what's going on, but more often than not it feels like they could walk into the background.
Also very interesting about the series is the direction for it. There are very, very few panning shots in it which is very unusual. In place of them, they tend to do more direct cuts between scenes and characters. When a pair of characters are talking to each other, you're more likely to see fairly good close-ups of them shift back and forth rather than a pan across a room. The cuts do seem a bit quick at times here and there, but the overall effect is positive because it keeps you entirely focused on the characters and not motions that distract. The camera tends to move between relative close-ups and longer shots to provide more group settings. With the beautiful animation and designs and the direction of the series, Victorian Romance Emma is a winner with how appealing it looks.
Victorian Romance Emma was a series that I was really anticipating but unsure of how it would play out. With the way the manga left me uninterested, I really wanted to see if the anime form of it would give it the kind of life that I felt the manga was lacking. This season provided that in spades and having all twelve episodes in one set made it even more enjoyable. The progression of the relationship was wonderful and seeing the challenges they face, learning more of Emma's background which only makes her more endearing, and seeing the actual love blossoming in each of them was incredibly heartwarming. Victorian Romance Emma isn't a show for everyone to be sure, but for those who do take a chance on it and look to broaden their horizons, they'll likely come away enchanted and very pleased. Every year, Nozomi seems put out something that is entirely unlike everything else out there. This release is simply wonderful across the board and it left me smiling and engaged the entire time. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Character Biographies, Textless Opening, Textless Closing, Japanese Promotional Commercial, Japanese TV Promotional Spots, Japanese DVD Commercials, US Season One and Season Two Trailers
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Victorian Romance Emma