Victorian Slice-of-Life Shirley

by eternal on March 7, 2010


Kaoru Mori should be a familiar name among manga fans, known for her unorthodox – or is it completely orthodox? – depiction of the life of a maid. The TV series for the Emma manga aired a few years ago, which happens to be her most famous story, but I opted into buying the one volume Shirley since it seemed like less of a commitment.

Indeed, Shirley isn’t much of a commitment at all: it took me all of an hour to finish the book, cover to cover. It’s a fairly simplistic story about a thirteen year old maid in Victorian England, doing what normal maids do. Shirley is a maid, not a meido, if you know what I mean. Of course, being a manga character, she also possesses enough youthful charm to not bore you to death with 150 pages on the art of housework. You could say that Shirley has as much to do with housework as it has to do with otaku pandering.

Anyway, Shirley’s story might not be particularly memorable, but it makes for a pleasant afternoon read – preferably with a serving of crumpets and tea.

It might be fair to define Shirley as iyashi-kei, but it doesn’t seem to succumb the lack of plot that pushes me away from the rest of the subgenre. Perhaps that’s simply because it’s so short. There isn’t much to get bored of in the story, and there isn’t much to get excited over. I don’t want to argue the semantics of the often abused term “slice-of-life”, but I think it fits the description nicely, telling seven different episodic stories in the lives of Shirley and the other maids.

The most notable aspect of the manga is the fact that it’s historically correct, or at least I think it is. Non-moe fans can breathe a sigh of relief as there aren’t any noticeable undertones surrounding Shirley and her youthful innocence. Of course, it’s primarily a slice-of-life series, not a historical one, so it doesn’t read like one of those infamous classical novels about the British class system either. The characters are attractive, the dialogue is authentic without being forced, and the interactions between the two main characters should be enough to bring a smile to your face. If it doesn’t, there’s no point in reading.

I could probably give a better explanation of the story if I had read Emma, which is now something on my to-do list. I wouldn’t say that there’s anything particularly special about my first experience with Kaoru Mori’s manga, but Shirley contains the kind of feel-good slice-of-life that I love about iyashi-kei, and it’s presented in a manner that’s rarely seen in the medium. It’s a pleasant way to pass an evening as long as you don’t expect any frilly headdresses or garter belts.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

zzeroparticle March 7, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I read someplace that Kaoru Mori was a stickler for historical accuracy and that she took a lot of care to research the setting (though I hear, but haven’t confirmed, that she took a few liberties here and there) down to the day to day tasks that maids during that time period had to perform. I’d definitely suggest giving Emma a shot since the romance story feels a lot more genuine and that’s what sold me into the show in the first place.


karry March 8, 2010 at 6:12 am

“unorthodox – or is it completely orthodox? – depiction of the life of a maid. ”

Someone should watch more British series about 1800’s.


lightningsabre March 25, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I’d like to think Shirley and Emma are two different stories, so you can read one or the other without knowing the background. Like zzeroparticle, I do suggest you give Emma a shot as well. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read it, but the gorgeous art hooked me in right away and the story definitely sucker punched me to buy the rest of the volumes. It’s finished now, all 10 volumes of it, so less cliffhanger for you, lol.


ETERNAL March 31, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Thanks for the recommendations. I think this gives me a decent idea of what to expect when I read Emma.


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