It's London, the late 1890s. Young Emma is a "maid of all works" who lives and works for a former governess, outstanding because of her unusually high level of instruction (her mistress has taught her all sorts of subjects) and her glasses (which women of her class and station hardly ever wear). When a former pupil of her mistress, William Jones, drops by for a visit, both maid and man fall in love with each other. However, there are numerous obstacles to their relationship, like their different social statuses, the pressure on William to marry another woman, among other things.The manga, by Kaoru Mori, also has a number of side stories, covering things like older characters' pasts and the daily lives of minor characters. They have more of a Slice of Life feel than the main story.Yep, it's a classic, almost cliched story whose premise is almost a Dead Horse Trope. However, the story feels very fresh because of the personality of the main characters, and the fact that almost no one can be hinted as a real villain, even those who don't like Emma and William's relationship. It also helps that the Victorian sense of romance is very similar to the Japanese sense.There was an anime series in 2005, which only covered half of the story. A second series, which completed the second half, began in April 2007. Both series have been released separately on DVD in the U.S.; an omnibus DVD edition, in two volumes, was released on September 13, 2011.Although it has a sizable Periphery Demographic, fans explain it as "a show about a maid, but not a maid show."Not to be confused with Jane Austen's Emma.
This series provides examples of:
Adaptation Expansion: Especially in regards to the ending. The manga ends without a wedding or Distant Finale, at least at the time when the anime was produced. The last few side chapters wrapped it up with a wedding.
Animation Anatomy Aging: Compare Dorothea and Aurelia in flashbacks to their older versions. Also Kelly Stowner to some extent.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Mostly averted, as about half the characters are aristocrats. However, played devastatingly straight by Viscount Campbell.
Art Evolution: The manga starts off with its characters having soft, round features, making it quite unique compared to other manga. As it goes on, the style evolves into a more sharp, defined style, eventually with a typical "manga" look.
At the Opera Tonight: Will and Eleanor watch The Barber Of Seville (presumably Rossini's version) together; Grace and Viscount Campbell are also fans. A later side-story goes behind-the-scenes with the cast.
Author Appeal: Author Mori Kaoru is an avowed Anglophile and very fond of maids (and possibly blondes)
Big Fancy House: This series shows just how much work goes into keeping one of these running.
Bilingual Bonus: Any writing in the anime shows up in English... but the series is produced entirely in Japan.
Spelling is a little irregular at times, like the Cristal Palace Gaid in volume 2 of the manga.
Distant Finale: While it's not THAT distant, the 3-chapter finale covering William and Emma's wedding at the end of volume 10 apparently takes place several years after the end of the main part of the series, judging from how the children have aged.
The Door Slams You: Emma and William meet when Emma opens a door just as William raises his hand to knock. Mrs. Stowner is more than a little amused at the mark it leaves.
Eternal Sexual Freedom: In the manga Dorothea has a very frank attitude toward sex, though this may be partly to emphasize her "foreignness". Standing naked in front of a window is probably going over the line, though. Then there's the servant girls bathing together and openly talking about how much they enjoy sex...
Granted, this is likely an attempt to show the hypocrisy of Victorian sexuality.
Actually it was just one maid talking about how she could never have just one man and the head maid telling her not let her love life interfere with work or the household
It's also shown that Dorothea's attitudes have rubbed off on her husband as well.
Fanservice: Kind of an odd contrasting case, there's almost none, with the exception of Dorothea, who gets several rather gratuitous naked scenes.
Only Six Faces: It is often difficult to differentiate between the characters; the author usually uses hairstyles and Animation Anatomy Aging to make her characters distinct. Most obvious with the women in Hakim's harem—it seems to be made up of several identical Indian beauties.
Parental Abandonment: Emma is an orphan; the Jouneses have a Missing Mom due to what looks like a case of post-partum depression. She's not dead, just retired in the Yorkshire countryside because she couldn't stand the stress of society life.
Porn Stache: Dorothea agrees to marry Wilhelm on the condition that he grows one — his face looks "scary" without. In her defense, it does make him appear more paternal.
Promotion to Parent: Grace has to fill in for her absent mother and busy father with Vivian and Colin. She might be a bit too good at it. William also catches a little of this.
She Cleans Up Nicely: Emma. Not that she's unattractive in her everyday maid outfit, but when she gets dolled up to accompany William's mother to the party, she's stunning.
Shown Their Work: Rather obsessively in some respects. And then the translators Stateside decide to have Richard Jones say things like 'Blimey' just because he's British. Because, you know, people of his class would've said that. That said, there are some lapses by the author herself. In chapter 2, for example, there is a functional biplane model. Biplanes of that type only existed around World War I, almost two decades after the setting of the series.
It helps that after the release of Volume 3, a historical consultant was hired to maintain historical accuracy. That same consultant would also consult for the anime.
Shrinking Violet: Emma- justified on account of her social station; a girl from beginnings as... humble as hers could never have hoped for a respectable position as a lady's maid, which was fairly high-class for a poor girl in that day. Emma is keenly aware of social class and recognizes her absurd luck at having been taken in and educated by Kelly Stowner. She is thusly reluctant to do anything forward enough to jeopardize her career (or hurt William's standing), even if it means turning down the man she loves.
Also little Ilse Malders, who is quite shy.
Sleeping Single: Most of the aristocratic couples have separate bedrooms. This was very common in that era, partly because many upper-class marriages were Arranged Marriages, but even for Happily Married couples it was considered "proper behavior" not to sleep together all the time. Also, a husband wasn't supposed to witness his wife putting on makeup or other Women's Mysteries.