by Kaoru Mori
published by Yen Press; $16.99 US
Kaoru Mori is the fan-favorite author of the popular manga Emma and A Bride’s Story. As she explains in her comic-format foreword, this volume is a “stewpot book… a bunch of manga short stories, illustrations, and columns” she’s done over the past ten years, since the launch of Emma.
It’s good to see such a collection make it to the US, especially for those eager to buy whatever she has available, but I found the result a mixed bag. I love Mori’s illustrated author’s notes, and there are several of those in this volume. I liked hearing her comments on her career or reactions to her own work or the products (anime, figures) made from them. However, the actual short stories mostly weren’t for me. I think I was expecting more from them, in terms of meaningful content, than they were intended to have.
The first story features a crazy maid and butler. I like Mori’s maids, when they’re given room to shine and space for character development, but this was too silly and over-the-top for me. I felt the same way about a later two-parter with a fighting maid. The piece about a girl who needed glasses for class was barely an incident, although Mori draws an adorable schoolgirl in fetching frames.
Several pieces clearly came from men’s magazines, since the subjects often boiled down to “look at these attractive women.” There’s one with a bunny waitress, one with a woman in a low-cut swimsuit, one with various body parts of a girl in tight shorts. A 40-page story written by Satoshi Fukushima, “Sumire’s Flowers”, is supposedly about friendship between two different art students, but all I will recall about it is how obvious the author is in establishing that one of the girls doesn’t wear underwear.
The second half of the book, which is shorter art pieces, was much more pleasing to me. There are pinups and advertising images, which allowed me to focus on the beauty, grace, and dignity of Mori’s women without feeling like I was being treated as a peeping tom (as I sometimes felt after the works in the first half). We learn more about the character designs for some of Emma‘s cast, and the last few pages even are educational, as Mori explains corsets. She covers more than I could have ever imagined but still leaves out the damage they did and their health impacts, such as the inability to breathe fully if wearing one too tightly laced. Her work is about fantasy and historical escapism, after all. She also explains fireplaces and servants in an Agatha Christie novel.
The book is well-assembled. The hardcover will fit nicely on shelves next to A Bride’s Story, and the table of contents includes original sources for the material, a very nice touch. It’s a pleasure to see a manga with page numbers, especially one where they’re so helpful for cross-reference. As the crowning touch, it’s translated by William Flanagan, whose work is always enjoyable to read. (The publisher provided a review copy.)