11/12/2009

Emma Vol. 9

Emma volumes 8 and 9 collect several filler stories focussing on the secondary and minor characters of the comic. And I do mean minor. The first story of volume 9 deals with the Mölders household pet squirrel Theo getting lost in the woods for one night. And the last story is about three off-panel opera singers who sung in a performance that William and Eleanor attended. As these stories have no bearing on the main narrative of William and Emma's romance, they aren't exactly essential reading. But they still make for a compelling showcase of Kaoru Mori's considerable skills. The story of Theo demonstrates that Mori is just as capable of drawing nature as she is capturing the nuances of Victorian England. She manages to evoke Theo's isolation without unnecessarily anthropomorphizing the squirrel's behavior:

Theo is lost and alone in the woods
The story about Dorothea and Wilhelm pays careful attention to tiny details that adds up to a highly charged erotic tale about the married couple that deftly shifts between past and present:

Dorothea and Wilhelm hold hands

A bit of their background revealed explains how much passion plays an essential part in their relationship, especially given Dorothea's flair for the dramatic:

Dorothea on horseback
In contrast, the last and longest story about one rising opera singer's unrequited longing towards his colleague is a rather sweet and funny tale about young love, and young people's dreams and ambitions. It has the most tenuous connection with the other stories in this volume:

Alan confesses to a prostitute
The story of William and Hakim's first meeting in India is a reminder of the comic nature of their friendship, but is in itself a funny tale of how two boys from alien backgrounds manage to bond over sport. Their meeting pretty much defines their relationship from that point:

Hakim compliments William's appearance
The story about two Haworth maids spending a day on a shopping trip is a nice slice of life look into the world of ordinary working women. For such a short story it feels meticulously researched:

Polly and Alma in a store
Mori is not an artist who skimps on the backgrounds. They're essential to creating her authentic Victorian environments. Indeed, for a project like this, they are as important a character as the people who inhabit them:

Louise and her maid Amelia
Alan's flat
Since these are additional stories, they basically serve to round out characters the reader is already familiar with. There are no major emotional climaxes, not counting Theo's tearful reunion with his owner. Just a lot of small character studies. But there is also an overwhelming sense of Mori's mania for the Victorian era. Having completed her main narrative, she's not yet ready to part with her beloved period. But this is an obsession not for something wholly imagined and fantastic, but for something grounded in a particular reality that is still foreign to her. This grants to all of Emma greater believability while still allowing the manga to be full of romance.