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Anime Review: Violet Evergarden

English Title: Violet Evergarden

Japanese Title: ヴァイオレット・エヴァーガーデン

Director(s): Ishidate Taichi, Fujita Haruka and others

Screenwriter(s): Yoshida Reiko

Studio: Kyoto Animation

Released: 2018

Series Runtime: 13 episodes, ~24m each

OVA Runtime: 34m

2021 Film Runtime: 1h 35m

Starring: Ishikawa Yui, Koyasu Takehito, Endo Aya, Tomatsu Haruka, Chihara Minori, Namikawa Daisuke


Violet Evergarden

Based on the light novel series of the same name written by Akatsuki Kana and illustrated by Takase Akiko, the plot follows the journey of the titular character, a former child soldier learning about what it means to be human and how to live in peacetime. Please note that I have not read the novels so the review is purely of the anime.


Violet was an abandoned child but highly trained, eventually serving in the Leidenschaftlich army under Major Gilbert Bougainvillea who cared deeply for her. Towards the end of the war, Violet lost both arms and Gilbert was MIA, then later presumed KIA.


The plot begins with Violet having already been in hospital for 120 days trying to get used to her prosthetic arms. The war had just ended. She is discharged to the care of Claudia Hodgins who was a lieutenant colonel during the war. Violet asks to see Gilbert but Claudia only tells her that Gilbert intends her to live with the Evergarden family.


Violet Evergarden
Violet Evergarden
Claudia Hodgins
Claudia Hodgins

However, she rather go with Claudia. He runs a postal service that also offers writing services by Auto Memory Dolls. These writers, simply referred to as “Dolls”, can serve as ghostwriters, scribes or copyists for those who cannot write or don’t know how to express their feelings. Violet wishes to become a Doll to learn about these feelings.


As expected, this is a character-driven work. Violet was in essence a weapon and still acts like one. She takes orders mostly without question and then proceeds to calmly and efficiently execute them. She comes across as cold and is indeed mostly unable to consciously process feelings, whether it is her own or others.


As Violet settles into civilian life, she interacts with various clients and learns about their life difficulties and how they deal with them. This is not uncommon since everyone has problems, especially when the consequences of the war are still very real.


The series can come across as somewhat episodic as there is no central arc. Violet’s character arc is essentially it and she deals with a different client or problem every episode by which she learns a lesson. Thankfully, the story does not attempt to be emotion porn. Or, if it does, it fails for the better without being cringe.


Fellow doll and employee Cattleya Baudelaire
Fellow doll and employee Cattleya Baudelaire

If anything, it can be too cold, at least at the beginning. This is perhaps unavoidable when the main character behaves like a machine. What emotional charge there is comes from her clients and even then it slowly builds through the series. On balance, this is a good thing.


The setting adopts the aesthetics of romanticized early 20th-century Europe and it is beautifully rendered, from backgrounds and architecture to clothing and everyday objects. Think of it as a slightly fantastical version of post-WWI. There is an extensive but fitting use of momentary close-ups of everyday objects which is expected for an arty character-driven work that has a little slice-of-life. The lighting and reflections are also well done.


The music composed by Evan Call is technically well done with its sweeping orchestral strings. It is difficult to judge it beyond that because on the one hand, as already mentioned, it can be emotionally cold and the music is one way to augment it. Up to a point, that is necessary. However, on the other hand, there are occasions when the music pushes a little too hard. It’s not cringe but it is noticeable.


The OVA “The Day You Understand ‘I Love You’ Will Surely Come” (きっと"愛"を知る日が来るのだろう), set between Episode 4 and Episode 5, is a nice addition to the series. At 34 minutes, it is a slightly longer, fuller episode. It tells of Violet trying to help an opera singer Irma Fellicha write a letter. Irma is unable and/or unwilling to express herself, presumably in denial about her situation.


Violet Evergarden: Recollections

The 2021 film Violet Evergarden: Recollections (ヴァイオレット・エヴァーガーデン特別総集版) is a retelling of the series. Obviously, the narrative is compressed which, in a way, is not difficult given the episodic nature of the series.


As expected, it unhurriedly goes through the first three episodes to establish the setting and the character. This is a good thing but then it jumps to Episode 7 in which she works as a scribe for a famous playwright. Her working for such a high-profile client in Episode 7 of the series is fine, she has by then gained some experience and earned a reputation. In the film, it’s as if that’s her first job as a Doll which is not plausible.


The film is trying to be tight at approximately 1h 35m which is appreciated but can afford to spend some time on one of her earlier clients. The film also excludes the last two episodes. It is not a bad film as it is but the contents of those two episodes provide a little action as well as bringing her character arc to a fuller and more satisfying conclusion. If included in the film, this would extend the runtime to just over two hours which is perfectly acceptable.


Overall, it is a solid character-driven work that is not cringe. It is well-produced with excellent voice acting. Visually, it is beautifully done and is clearly a show-off by artists and animators.

 

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