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August 17, 2015

Bento Bako Weekly: Emma (Manga Classics)

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Written by: Kristin
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emmascTitle: Emma
Author: Adapted by Crystal S. Chan and Stacy King; art by Po Tse; original story by Jane Austen
Publisher: UDON Entertainment (Manga Classics)
Volume: One-shot omnibus, $19.99 (also available in HC)
Vintage: May 2015
Genre: Adaptation, romance

[Other reviews in the Manga Classics line; interview with writer and editor Stacy King.]

Most people know the story of Emma Woodhouse. If not as Jane Austen’s novel, then perhaps as the 1995 movie Clueless or the 1996 film adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma. Socialite Emma Woodhouse lives alone with her father, now that her sister Isabella and governess Miss Taylor are married. With her governess freshly married, Emma finds herself without a close friend, so when socially ignorant Harriet Smith arrives, Emma latches on immediately and makes Harriet her pet project. On a happy high from matching off Miss Taylor with Mr. Weston, Emma is now determined to do the same happy favor for Harriet. Harriet, unfortunately, already hold affection for a farmer named Mr. Martin, but Emma deems the man unsuitable due to his low station (even though Harriet herself holds none, as her parents are unknown, and is quite humble before Emma gets a hold of her). Instead she attempts to set her friend up with Mr. Elton. However, after several attempts to push the two together, Emma discovers that Mr. Elton holds feelings for her instead. She turns him down, but Harriet is heartbroken. Emma’s solution is, of course, another man to draw her attention. She continues meddling with her friend’s life, under the watchful eye of Mr. Knightley who disapproves of his long-time friend’s behavior. Things become lively when Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill arrive in town, the very reserved Jane becoming a source of gossip, while Churchill’s cheery personality briefly captures Emma’s affection. Knightley, the consummate gentleman, does what he can to curb social slights, especially toward those whose lower social standing makes such slights particularly hurtful. He even reprimands Emma when her games go too far and she hurts the feelings of their friends. It’s disappointing her close friend so thoroughly that makes Emma realize her true feelings for Knightley, but she isn’t the only one in love with him.

Another delightful, faithful adaptation from UDON Entertainment. If you’ve read other books in this series, Crystal Chan also wrote Les Miserables, while Po Tse illustrated another Jane Austen title, Pride and Prejudice. They do a good job together here, paying careful attention to detail both in the story and the artwork. Chan approached the story as a mystery rather than (or as well as) a romance, as there are several little mysteries that unfold within the story, like Jane’s secret admirer and where Mr. Elton’s true attentions lie. As someone familiar with the story already, however, I cannot tell if writer and artist were successful. Through a letter from Chan in the back of the book, it’s clear she put considerable thought into presenting each plot twist, but I noted several very plain give aways within the art (a blush  here, a glance there). The art on the whole is very good, capturing the era well, and in particular making Knightley’s expressions a delight. Emma is appropriately subtly beautiful, while Harriet has a child-like innocence. Clothing makes clear everyone’s social standing – Harriet and Jane are in fairly plain attire, while Emma always has a bit of lace and frills. All the character designs are well imagined. I haven’t ever read Emma, as Jane Austen’s prose has always proved difficult for me, but I did notice lines of dialog that matched up with the Gwyneth Paltrow film, which in turn I assume were derived from the novel (as the lines in this manga are). And, of course, all the important plot points are present, including Harriet’s attack by ruffians during a walk, Emma’s slight toward Miss Bates, and Elton’s riddles. Emma herself isn’t easy to like at times, and it’s mostly by the grace of those around her (like Miss Taylor and Knightley) that she is tempered, and the manga doesn’t shy away from that or try to make her more likeable. There are usually good intentions, though, and room for her to become a better person, which is why Knightley is taken by her. The art is a bit over-the-top at times, feeling a little silly here, but wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese shojo manga, which I’m sure is the idea. Though I’d worry about it turning off readers unfamiliar with the genre. This nearly three-hundred page book is an excellent adaptation in a lovely presentation, with a couple color pages in the front, a how-to-read guide, and author and illustrator notes in the back, along with design sketches scattered throughout. Really, though, you’re here for Knightley, right? Everyone reads Austen for the Knightleys and the Darcys, and he isn’t a disappointment here.


Review copy provided by UDON.



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