Violet Evergarden was one of the animes of last season that got huge amounts of hype when it was announced. From the trailers, the animation looked highly detailed and even movie-quality. It definitely seemed like KyoAni had their work cut out for them to make this series live up to the hype now swirling around this series. I was definitely excited too when I first saw the trailers. The story looked to be an interesting concept and the main character was intriguing with her metal arms. The show had one big hiccup when it came out though: the fact that Netflix decided not to release it episodically in the US, waiting until the series was complete to release the whole thing on April 5th. It was definitely weird that they decided to do this only in the US, and it made watching the series as it came out challenging. I finally managed to catch up and finish it this week, and I have to say that while the series definitely has some faults, I generally enjoyed myself and was looking forward to watching each episode.
The plot of Violet Evergarden follows ex-soldier Violet as she tries to re-enter society after a bloody war that fractured the continent of Telesis. She had entered into the war as a young girl, trained for the sole purpose of being a weapon that could decimate enemy lines. Taken under the wing of the Major Gilbert Bougainvillea, she is led into a bloody skirmish towards the end of the war that leaves her hospitalized and reeling from the memory of the Major’s parting words to her. She begins work at “CH Postal Services” where she witnesses the work of an “Auto Memory Doll”, ghostwriters who are tasked with transcribing people’s feelings into words on paper. Intrigued by the notion, Violet starts her training as an “Auto Memory Doll” hoping it will get her one step closer to understanding the meaning behind Gilbert’s last words to her.
I absolutely love what KyoAni has done with the animation of this series. Just in the contrast between the CGI of her arms and the rest of the 2D animation creates a really interesting feel for Violet’s character and the show in general. You can see how well the lighting effects on her arms are used too especially in the opening. That pan across her arm as she falls with all the different values and shading creates a really visually appealing slice of animation. Apparently, this cut took about a month to key animate, with the tapes layout sheets becoming at least 2 meters tall. It’s completely understandable with the movement of the typewriter combined with her fingers and the amount of detail in the scene. I think this just reinforces how much work KyoAni’s animators really put into this series. Those fight scenes though. KyoAni released a clip when the anime was first being teased showing one fight scene from story-boarding to final cut and I think it further illustrates a lot of my feelings for the animation in this series.
But it’s not just the animation that pulls you in, it’s the music and the character designs and the backgrounds. I’m sitting here listening to the OST right now and just remembering how good a lot of this music was throughout the series. The opening, “Sincerely” by True, is really good and captures the mood of the story fairly well. I highly recommend checking out the OST if you’re looking for some great instrumental anime music. I think I’ll be adding it to future playlists myself. I also really loved the character designs, they were solid and fairly interesting, though I do feel like they could have added in a few more body-types to add a little more variability and visual interest to the series.
So after all this gushing, what’s wrong with Violet Evergarden? As a fan of the series in general, I don’t think it’s fair to the series to ignore its very prevalent flaws, mainly in the area of its story. Violet’s background story begins when she is “gifted” to Major Gilbert by his brother to be a weapon or tool for killing. She is an orphan and Gilbert becomes both her commander and new family. However, it’s this concept of Violet being a tool to command and use to kill during the war that can be a little shaky to stomach. Why did they think that she would be the ultimate killing machine? Did she show some aptitude for killing when Gilbert’s brother found her? These are the bits of back story they don’t give us that are fairly essential in order to make this core concept believable. I can believe her being an ex-soldier and I can believe her habit or even need to follow orders from army command, and honestly, that’s all I would’ve needed for her backstory. Later on, in Violet’s reactions with other army commanders we get the whole spiel about her only being good as a tool for killing or her only being able to follow orders, and it just becomes old and kind of corny after awhile. I think they definitely should have toned down her backstory a bit. They could have still pulled off a lot of her more highly emotional moments with Gilbert by just focusing on her loyalty and feelings for him.
In the end, the frame narrative of Violet’s past becomes less interesting than the smaller stories presented to us each episode. I think it’s here that the series really shines, giving us stories of love and loss that have never failed to bring me to tears each episode. The story of the dad trying to take care of his daughter after her mother passed a way while also trying to write a play she would love hit me hard. Episode 10, the episode that everyone all over Reddit was crying over, where the mother writes her daughter 50 years worth of letters for after she passes away is one of the best in the series. The episodic format of short stories fits really well within the frame narrative of “Auto Memory Dolls”. It not only allowed the writer to tell multiple different stories at once, but also expanded on worldbuilding and created learning or contrast moments for Violet that furthered her own characterization.
I’ve seen a lot of talk over the internet about how Violet as a character can be fairly flat, and in some ways I agree. However, I do think that she gains most of her characterization towards the end of the series, so perhaps people who are trying to watch the series are being turned off by her fairly emotionless performance in the first half and not staying until the end. Her character takes a major turn emotionally after she find out that Gilbert is actually dead and then the last three episodes of the series really help cement her growth as she both revisits and distances herself from her army past. Her growth is certainly very slow though, and I think some of that comes with denying Violet the knowledge of Gilbert’s death. It does make for a good emotional climax for the series, but I wonder how the story would have changed if she was told at the beginning.
I’m so tempted to write a longer, more in depth article on this series at some point. There are a lot of important themes to unpack. Chief among them is the problems veterans face when trying to re-enter society. The PTSD, the survivor’s guilt, and the lack of a familiar routine can all affect people differently. For Violet, she is unsure how to act to her bosses and clients outside of the military command structure. She’s used to following orders, but now there are none and she must come up with a way to live freely and for herself. We see survivor’s guilt in the way Gilbert’s brother looks at and interacts with Violet, blaming her for his death and wishing she was dead in his stead. We see these kinds of emotional scars throughout the series and in the smaller stories as well. It’s what really seals the backbone of this series and makes it stand out for me. Violet Evergarden is a story about healing and rediscovering what it means to be a free human being with emotions after war stripped all that away.
I hope you all enjoyed this series as much as I have. I would love to keep expanding on this series, but my throat is feeling scratchy (damn conventions) and I’m off to catch up on this season’s anime for a while. Let me know in the comments what your favorite mini story was in the series.
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