Title: Victorian Romance Emma Second Act
Company: Studio Pierrot
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 9 Apr 2007 – 2 July 2007
Synopsis: Emma and William have fallen in love, but the two come from very different social backgrounds. He is from a wealthy merchant family, she a maid. The Second Act picks up where the first left off, with Emma leaving London and trying to build a new life for herself. She finds work in a new household and begins to feel at home, but can’t quite forget William and her life in London. Meanwhile, William is trying vainly to move on. Despite not wanting to disappoint his family, he too cannot forget his feelings. Fate intervenes when Emma’s new employer decides to take her on a trip to London and the two are brought together once more.
Story development: Much less predictable than the first season.
Characters: Sympathetic and genuine.
New characters: Some spot-on, some lacking.
Atmosphere: Just as good as the first season’s.
When I first saw Victorian Romance Emma a few years ago, I very much enjoyed it. It was a sweet story with a rich setting and sympathetic characters. What took away from the experience, however, was the sense that I had seen this story before. While it was very well done, the story seemed predictable. Taken as a whole, this might be disappointing, but seen as the setting up of a more intricate tale, I can be much more forgiving. Victorian Romance Emma Second Act takes all the things that were established in the first season, and builds on them exceptionally well. This does mean that the first season is required viewing, since it introduces us to the relationship between Emma and William. The two leads spend most of the time in the Second Act apart, and their relationship would feel empty without knowledge of what came before.
The story is split between the very different lives of William and Emma. Both feel that being together would be selfish, but neither can forget the other. William’s pain is explored largely through his relationship with Eleanor. He knows how much the young Miss Campbell likes him, but finds himself unable to reciprocate. Eleanor is extremely sympathetic here, not deserving the pain she suffers. Yet is it through what he learns from Eleanor that William is able to understand what he really wants. The interplay between the two characters is sincere and, at times, heartbreaking. Supporting William in his trials once again is Prince Hakim who pushes William to follow his heart and helps to bolster his confidence.
Emma, meanwhile, finds herself, for the first time, in the company of many other servants. At first they are suspicious of her aloofness and privacy. Emma remains extremely introverted throughout, not able to share her feelings with others. Even her face betrays little. When faced with a difficult situation, her instinct is to run away. It is only in her private moments, in her letters to her deceased Madam Stoner, that we understand how she feels. While this makes it hard for her to fit in, her hard work and honestly soon win others over to her.
The main conflict in the story centres around the doubts harboured by Emma and William. Both worry about causing pain to the other due to the constraints of Victorian society. While Eleanor plays foil to William, a new character, Hans, provides balance for Emma. Hans is a perfect contrast to William. He is much more worldly and is able to understand Emma’s perspective of the world. Like Eleanor for William, Hans allows Emma to discover what is most important to her. Unlike Eleanor, however, he is mature and sees the situation for what it is. He is essential for adding the depth to Emma’s story that she herself cannot show.
While Victorian Romance Emma Second Act does a lot right, it does stumble in some areas. The characters may call it “fate”, but the circumstances bringing the two leads together again seemed somewhat forced. The character of William’s mother is not well explored and another new character, Eleanor’s sister Monica, feels out of place and unnecessary. In the later part of the series, the writers felt it necessary to add a villain into a story though up to that point the only villain had been Victorian English society. The side story involving Mr. Campbell manipulated the character into providing William with the opportunity to be a hero. William’s efforts in overcoming this challenge also have a great effect on his confidence, but the set-up was pushed into the story unnaturally.
Despite these drawbacks, Victorian Romance Emma Second Act is a very enjoyable series with fantastic characters that stand out against a beautiful backdrop. The historical detail that went into the setting and clothing is evident and it adds authenticity to the tale. This is enhanced by beautiful flute and piano themes that will be familiar from the first season, but match perfectly with the atmosphere of the show. Comparing the story as a whole to a sonata, the first season would form the exposition, while the second season provide the development and recapitulation. The story may have predictably returned at the end to its main theme, but it was fascinating to see how it would get there.
The Rating: 8
Reviewed by: Kaikyaku