I would have used anime promo artwork, but it all made Hans look like a domineering man forcing himself on an unwilling Emma.
In the strict class system of Victorian England, a romance between a maid and a member of the gentry was never going to work, and so when Emma left London to return to her old home, it seemed like the best thing for everyone. But even as Emma makes a new life for herself as a maid for the German Molders family and William tries to accept that Eleanor is a much better match for him, fate somehow keeps bringing them together. Could it be that they are meant to be together after all?
In the annals of anime, there exists a select group of series whose names are always spoken of with respect, and from the time it aired, the first season of Victorian Romance Emma showed itself to be one of them. A compelling tale of forbidden romance in a historical setting, Emma was dramatic without being extreme, imbuing so much emotion in its simple words and gestures that it never needs to be excessive or extreme to get its point across. Even so, with only two of the seven manga volumes covered, there was clearly room for more anime, and so it was with enthusiasm that news of a second season was received. Yes, there would be five volumes of manga to fit into twelve episodes, but this was the fabled Emma- surely it could do no wrong.
Even so, when the first episode finally aired, it could not be said to be the most auspicious of starts. Eschewing the plentiful manga material, the opening instalment instead chooses to present the tale of a maid stealing items for her soldier boyfriend (naturally as the newest employee, Emma falls under suspicion). Whilst not terribly bad as filler goes, it still wasn’t exactly what we had been waiting for, and it was to also plant a few seeds of doubt into the minds of even the most rabid of Emma fans.
Fortunately, after including a little more filler in episode two (correct me if I’m misremembering the manga), the Emma anime finally settled down, and in short order, we were once again enjoying what made the series great in the first place. Yes, some things had been changed from the manga, but the overall feel of the series, and the decisions and dilemmas facing its protagonists had all been kept intact. This was one series where you no longer noticed that you were merely observing the scripted lives of 2D images; their fictional status aside, you could not help but actually care for the characters and their feelings. Even if you desperately wanted William and Emma to find love with each other, how could you ignore the fact that poor Eleanor would be heartbroken in the process?
Sadly, as the closing stages of the series are reached, it becomes clear that missing out so much manga material can only have had a detrimental effect. Yes, we could probably do without the arc where Emma is kidnapped and taken to America, but the rushed pace and volume of omissions elsewhere can only make us wish that Emma was given three more seasons instead of just the one. Instead of gradually coming out of her shell as she does in the manga, Emma seems to remain permanently in angst mode in the anime, moping around and never saying much. Meanwhile, rather than seeming like a man who, as anyone might do, finds himself regretting a mistake and causing trouble by trying to reverse it, William comes across as more of a cad, toying with Eleanor even as he knows he cannot get over Emma. Yes, he is still likable in his anime incarnation, but overall he just seems to be portrayed as even more thoughtless and indecisive than in the manga.
Similarly, Eleanor is likewise affected by the change in pace; no longer a girl who pursues William in the hopes she can persuade him to return her feelings, she becomes a more immature personality falling head-over-heels in love with him without reservation. Although her role in the epilogue provides some nice closure for her (whilst giving a nod to the readers of the Bangaihen manga), the speed at which she switches from crying into her pillow to ‘bucking up’ her spirits is remarkably fast.
Where most of the characters are left with a rushed or reduced role, however, there is one person who benefits from the animated adaptation- Molders footman Hans. Never a serious love rival, Hans nonetheless had a distinct interest in Emma, and compared to his supporting position in the manga, he manages to step forward and enjoy an expanded role in the anime. Although it was never really justified, Hans always seemed somewhat suspicious to me in the manga, as if his taciturn exterior was hiding his true nature, but here in the anime, he comes across as stoic but genuine.
Visually, the second season of Emma retains the quality of the first, melding simple yet attractive character designs with intricately detailed and carefully researched settings. Ryo Kunihiko returns to handle the music, offering more of the beautiful and atmospheric Celtic and folk style themes heard in the first season.
After such an excellent first season, Emma had some lofty expectations to live up to, and it seems almost inevitable that it couldn’t quite manage to please all of the people all of the time. Although in an ideal world it would have been a 26 episode series with the same intricacy and pacing as the first season, these twelve episodes at least capture the broad essence of the story, and should be applauded and enjoyed for even achieving that much.
Extra: Brief summary of episodes 10-12
As we saw at the end of episode nine, Emma opens the door to William, but with everyone in the house eavesdropping she turns him away again. Emma then spends a good deal of time in moping angst mode, whilst William periodically visits the Molders House and hangs around outside (for some reason an older woman and her dog always seem to be passing by too).
Determined to get the screen time he always wanted, Hans says his piece to William, before taking Emma to visit a fair. William, meanwhile, is finding himself in a bad way as Campbell has influenced all of his clients and prospective clients to refuse to deal with the Jones family.
After discussing his problems with Hakim, William decides to take action the next day by climbing onto a parapet outside the Molders London house and shouting out his feelings to Emma, with everyone naturally listening in from various windows in the house.
After that little interlude, it’s time for work as usual for Emma and the other maids, whilst William continues to have trouble getting any prospective clients to invest in the Jones company. Finally, work finished, Emma decides to go and visit Kelly’s grave and her old house, where she imagines Kelly talking to her. On her way home, however, she sees that a fire has broken out at Molders house, and rushes home in desperation.
All efforts are made to douse the fire, and eventually they are successful, but Emma is desperate to get into the house to find something precious to her- the lace handkerchief that William bought for her way back in season one. Realising the extent of his feelings, she decides that she must leave Molders House and take William up on his offer to meet him at Crystal Palace- a symbolic place to start a new life together.
Meanwhile, after a string of disappointments, William finally finds someone willing to give him the money he needs, and so he heads off to Crystal Palace to wait for Emma. Despite her best efforts (even running after a bus at one point), Emma is a little late, but William waits long enough for her to get there, and the couple prepare to live happily ever after.
In the epilogue, we see that several years later, William and Emma are happily married with four young children, whilst Eleanor seems to have attracted the attention of a certain young man that Bangaihen readers will immediately recognise. Meanwhile, Al visits Kelly’s grave, and imagines hearing her voice one last time.