Premiere Report: Violet Evergarden Episodes 1-2by Spencer Dakos,
Something unusual happened in May 2014. After 4 years of entries that didn't meet the standards of the judges, a manuscript finally won the Grand Prize in the Kyoto Animation Awards. That alone brought some attention to Violet Evergarden, but the entire world took notice at Taichi Ishidate's commercial for the first novel uploaded in May 2016 announcing that it would be adapted into a full anime project. Since then, the anticipation has been immense for this series, especially since Kyoto Animation is taking Ishidate on a World Tour to Los Angeles, Mannheim, and Singapore to preview the first episode. To give something special to Japanese fans, the Japanese premiere featured the first two episodes rather than just the first episode.
To begin the day, Ishidate and the actress for Violet, Yui Ishikawa, came out on stage to introduce the show and set the stage for the audience to enjoy the first two episodes. As with most preview screenings, there wasn't an opening or ending animation; instead the credits flowed on the episode itself, so we went straight into the main story.
Violet Evergarden is not the standard KyoAni show in content. From the very beginning when we see Ishidate's now-standard visual scenery tour to open the show, we see that we're not in Japan anymore. We're not even in the modern age. Instead, Violet Evergarden takes place in a more Western European style setting occurring literally just after a war has finished. The first episode begins with Violet awakening in recovery after one of the final battles of said war, experimenting with her newfound mechanical hands. Said hands become the visual metaphor for the first episode; as Violet becomes accustomed to using the new mechanical apparatus to do simple things like write or feed herself, she becomes more accustomed to living an ordinary life post-war.
These first two episodes are setting the beginning for Violet's growth. Having lost her previous path in life and unacquainted with the world itself, she's hunting for something she wants to do and to solve the mystery of the last words she heard from a very important person to her. That leads her to becoming an Auto Memories Doll, essentially a person who dictates letters for people. Most of the story takes place in the post-war time, but we do see Violet's memories in flashbacks and in dreams at the beginning of these episodes. While that's a lot of information about the series, it's the setup for the story that unfolds.
Violet is not alone in her path. These two episodes introduce the majority of the characters in the CH Holdings Post Office: the president and her boss Claudia Hodgins, her supervisor Cattelya Boudclaire, Benedict Blue, a postman, and two other Auto Memories Dolls Alice and Erica. While the main story focuses on Violet's own beginning, each of the workers at CH get their own characterization to feel important. Hopefully, additional episodes will provide more focus on these characters to provide different perspectives in the world itself.
Early details from Anime Expo and ANImagic spoke about the quality of the animation and it's no lie: Violet Evergarden is one of the most visually stunning TV series produced by any company. Ishidate's color sense displayed in Beyond the Boundary is combined with a level of mechanical animation most mecha series could only wish for. Between streetcars, typewriters, and especially Violet's mechanical hands, any doubt whether the animators at KyoAni could adapt their talents to a completely new setting is gone. First time character designer Akiko Takase's designs are also worth mentioning due to the amount of detail in each character. Violet's hairstyle changes constant throughout these episodes, but remains consistently detailed in each scene. Animation-wise, this is one of the strongest works from Kyoto Animation.
Ishidate is best known for focusing on the usage of color in his shows, even naming episodes of Boundary with colors rather than plot details. That focus has been carried into Violet. For most of the series, we see a lot of earthy colors similar to the Western settings of other anime series as well as Hollywood movies, which were Ishidate's inspiration growing up. This allows certain scenes to stand out when we see a more brighter color palette outdoors with blooming flowers to signify the beauty of a world Violet does not understand, in contrast to the drab setting she's lived in previously. These two episodes ended with a beautiful use of lighting/color highlighting Violet's new start/design to signify a new beginning for her having advanced from the “age 0” that Ishidate mentioned yet again at the Japanese premiere.
It's easy to compare Evan Call's soundtrack to the one that Jun'ichi Matsumoto composed for The Ancient Magus’ Bride; they aim to accomplish similar aims with the shows’ settings and character tales. Having said that, Call's soundtrack was better used in Violet’s episodes than in Magus Bride thus far. The emotional highlights were aided very well by touching music that didn't call extreme attention to itself and complimented the visuals. Accordingly, Ishidate and sound director Yota Tsuruoka deserve extra mention for their use of audio in Violet. Beyond the music, the city truly feels like a 20th century European city. One can hear people walking around, the combustion engine's noise while riding in a car, and horse steps walking in the background. It feels alive in a way that many productions fail to convey to viewers.
While there was no opening or ending for these episodes, the second episode featured the ending song, “Signpost” by Minori Chihara, as an insert song during the final stages of the episode. As this episode had additional focus on her character, Erica, it fit very well for this preview showing. This may be kept for Japanese broadcast/Netflix streaming, or it may be replaced with the standard ending animation. Regardless, it was worth mentioning as it helped boost sympathy for Erica's situation in that episode.
Following the second episode, Ishidate and Ishikawa came out to talk about the episodes. Ishikawa mentioned the tale that led her to audition for Violet's role and her communications with Ishidate about the series itself. Ishidate again emphasized that this story is Violet's growth from “age 0” as he did with the previous events in Los Angeles and in Mannheim. This was followed by a performance of the opening song, “Sincerely,” by True with scenes from the first episode displayed behind her. Following her performance, True announced the surprise guest at the event, the ending song performer, Minori Chihara, who gave the world's first live performance of “Signpost.”
After their performance, Chihara and True were joined by Ishidate and Ishikawa on stage to talk about their thoughts on the show and the day's event. Chihara constantly mentioned how wonderful the novels were which True agreed with. In addition to Chihara being a surprise guest, the details for the opening and ending theme song CD releases were revealed to go on sale January 31, 2018 along with cover art of both singles. They fit together (as junior and senior musicians) with Chihara's cover art featuring a typewriter. Chihara commented how different writing with a typewriter felt in contrast to a computer's or smartphone's keyboard. One has to physically push down with much more force on a typewriter. Ishidate mentioned that the typewriter shown in Chihara's cover art was the model used for the typewriter in the actual series itself.
After some well wishes to the audience and thanks for coming out in horrible weather, the guests left the stage and the lights dimmed again. The audience was shown the second promotional video for Violet, featuring scenes from the first two episodes, and the new key visual for the series, highlighting all the workers at CH.
All-in-all it was a tremendously successful launch for Violet in the Japanese market. Many fans commented how they were in tears and audible sniffles were heard in other areas of the theatre. Violet Evergarden looks to be a great series for KyoAni to challenge itself in terms of setting while keeping the focus on its highly regarded characterization that their works have been lauded for in the past. While we have a while for Netflix to release it here in the West, rest assured that it will be worth the wait.
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