Nozomi/The Right Stuf has been streaming a lot of this shows recently on youtube, most episodes are only up for two weeks but provided you keep up with them that's plenty of time, and this is one of their titles I've wanted to try out for years. I've read all of the main storyline of the manga and a few of the spin-off volumes (almost all of which sadly are super expensive since CMX went out of business two years ago) but I had held off from purchasing the anime since I wasn't so sure how much I would like this version.
Emma: A Victorian Romance
Summary: Set in Victorian England, Emma is a maid to the retired tutor Mrs. Stowner and lives a quiet yet content life serving her mistress. But one day Mrs. Stowner’s old student William comes to visit and it’s love at first site for the two of them. The problem is that William is the son of a wealthy merchant who hopes to marry his son into nobility to raise their class and no one, except William’s friend the eccentric, Indian prince Hakim, believes their love can ever succeed.
The Good: The original manga had a meticulously researched setting which makes this one of the most realistic depictions of Victorian England in anime and it's always nice to have a well thought out setting. The characters are clearly a product of their time and the ways they think and act are clearly influenced by the world they live in, except for Hakim who seems a bit too eccentric for his background and it's possible that's why he fades from a main character to a minor character as the season goes on. All of the main characters get enough screen time to flesh them out so that their motivations (and this is more of a slice of life story so the setting and character motivations drive everything) become very clear and understandable and that makes the whole story feel more realistic.
The Bad: Between the fact that I remembered more of the earlier parts of the series and I like the later parts of the series better (season two) it took a while for this show to get going for me. Since Emma is such a quiet (and many times passive) character I sometimes find her to be the most boring character in the story and William often wasn't any better for me, I'm never fond of characters who think of almost nothing but their crush when they're in love. I did come to like all the characters more but in the very early episodes I was worried that maybe I didn't like this story as much as I remembered and was going to be terribly disappointed as it went on.
The Audio: Emma elects to go for wordless opening and closing themes and instead have upbeat, almost folksy sounding, instrumental pieces instead which work quite nicely. The voice actor work is also quite nice, no dub exists for the series but the Japanese voices manage to sound completely natural regardless. It might help that I was less familiar with these voice actors (so I never had the odd moment when I recognized them from another role) but they all had very natural and down to Earth voices, especially Emma’s and if a series didn’t a dub that the setting really needed (part of the reason I haven’t watched this show before is because it is so odd to see a series set in England without an English vocal track) at least it had an excellent Japanese dub.
The Visuals: Kaouru Mori’s original manga contained a lot of fine detail, some of which I thought was lost in the anime but I seem to be in the minority here. I feel like the facial designs don’t translate as nicely (although they are very expressive) and at times the art seemed just a bit too bright. The backgrounds however are wonderfully detailed and provide the series with the same sense of authenticity that the manga had. The art did grow on me after a while but after reading the manga which was entirely pen and ink shaded it was a bit of a shock to see so many bright colors (although it's true that the Victorians did have brightly colored outfits so that would be historically accurate).
It seems like I choose a very good time to follow this series since TRSI is offering a nice bundle pack of both limited edition sets of the series (which come loaded with extras) and I think I will try to grab those this holiday season. They've started streaming the second season as well so I've gotten back into the rhythm of the story and if I can't buy all the manga volumes then I might as well try to buy all of this version instead.