Violet Evergarden (original title ヴァイオレット・エヴァーガーデン) is an anime adaptation of an award-winning series of light novels. It is produced by Kyoto Animation and is currently released on Netflix in several countries including Canada, the UK, France, etc. but sadly not (yet?) in the United States.
I am an aficionado of manga in general but I have trouble with the anime format. Not that I don’t appreciate Japanese animated films, far from it. When it comes to series though, I usually am better engaged by reading a manga than watching episodes. However, Violet Evergarden surprised and captivated me.
I’ll be discussing its first five episodes.
Plot & Setting
The story follows Violet, a young girl who served in a war and in it lost both her arms. Now that this war is over, she has been discharged and taken under the wing of another ex-military. This former officer, Claudia Hodgins, helps her because he is ashamed of not having done so during the war, and also because Violet’s direct superior asked him to. Hodgins is now the director of a postal service, and offers Violet job there. He also places her in the protection of the Evergarden family.
Soon Violet learns of a profession called Auto Memory Doll, in which a person writes letters for other people in order to help them express their true feelings. Wanting to understand what the Major meant when he told her “I love you,” Violet decides to become an Auto Memory Doll herself.
Violet Evergarden is a work of fantasy set in a sort of early twentieth-century Europe. “The war” looks inspired by WWI, and although clothing styles are a bit all over the place, that’s about the level of everyday technology as well. A notable exception is the existence of mechanical prosthetics, though I don’t know how common they are, considering how surprised everyone is by Violet’s. Regardless, this world is incredibly immersive. You learn a bit more about it with every episode, which keeps it intriguing.
Speaking of mystery, Violet Evergarden is full of them. First of all, who is Violet? She was a child soldier for sure but is there more to it? Was she genetically engineered? Some sort of cyborg? Just a foreigner? She has some characteristics of the born sexy yesterday trope (more on this later) but how much of that comes from her upbringing, and not from her being different from the others? What happened to the Major? etc, etc.
In short, Violet Evergarden is a story that unfolds itself slowly and makes you want to be there at each new step.
The clearest theme of Violet Evergarden is the awakening of feelings. It is the job of Auto Memory Dolls to help people express their feeling. It is the quest of our main character to understand feelings, the ones of the Major of course, but also of her own and the people around her.
This happens in a very specific context. Some of characters have problems that any average viewer can relate to. However, more than one character has been personally touched by war and has trouble expressing their feelings because of the trauma coming from their experience. Luculia’s brother is an alcoholic who picks fights because of his guilt and the after-effects of his physical wounds
Violet Evergarden is about a society learning to feel again—to accept the emotional life of the individuals living in it and its value. It is about relearning to be kind and compassionate toward others after a traumatic event. It is about people learning how to best care for each other.
Speaking of people…
The first five episodes Violet Evergarden are told from Violet’s primary POV and the POV of a different, secondary character each episode. The first one was Claudia, the second one Erica, the third one Lucilia, the fourth one Iris, and the last one Charlotte Abelfreyja Drossel.
Violet knows nothing of life except what she learned in the army. She knows how to fight and how to obey orders but is virtually clueless when it comes to feelings or ‘normal’ human interaction. As I mentioned earlier she has some characteristics of the Born Sexy Yesterday trope–she is clueless about love and was momentarily presented as being nothing more than a tool. However, despite my initial fears, she isn’t really an example of this trope.
First of all, of her immediate entourage never take advantage of her naivety to look better or their worldviews on her. Second, several of the people looking after her are women, and she isn’t really sexualized (There is still this weird thing with her prosthetic hands).
She has scars, including on her face. Her innocence isn’t portrayed as cute or sexy (no moe fanservice here). It makes her awkward, rude, and somewhat insensitive. For example, when she first meets Mrs. Evergarden and the old woman is talking about her dead son, Violet bluntly states,”I will not replace your son.” Sometimes her behavior is funny, of course, but the show does not default to that.
Violet is actively working to improve her social skills, trying to make sense of a world she is unused to. It makes her quite the compelling main character.
There is a full ensemble of secondary characters and each have their strengths and weaknesses. They want to progress and reach their goals but it doesn’t mean that everything always goes smoothly for them. For now, every secondary character has been interesting and compelling for the viewer. Another thing that I love about Violet Evergarden is that there area lot of female characters. Out of the five secondary points of view, four of them are women/girls. They take care of each other—not in an ‘everyone is perfect’ kind of way but more ‘everyone has their issues and trying to take them into account is what a decent person does.’
The arrival Dietfried Bougainvillea is probably going to change that, but it will also further the plot, so I am not going to complain.
Violet Evergarden is worth the watch if you are into well-made Japanese anime. There are a lot of colors and a lot of beautiful lighting. It is a visual treat, which aids the world-building immensely.
My big caveat is that I don’t understand why the main protagonist has to be fourteen, especially since she is in love with a man who is at least in his mid-twenties. They could have make her sixteen or even eighteen without really changing her character(I personally headcanon her as sixteen, since she only guess that she ‘must be’ fourteen). But nothing is perfect I guess?
Anyway, I do encourage you to have a look at Violet Evergarden if you can. It will be my pleasure to talk about it more when it reaches its conclusion.
All images courtesy of Kyoto Animation.