by Kim Morrissy,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Violet Evergarden ?
This will be the last Violet Evergarden episode for a while. There will be an OVA episode in the coming months, and a new anime project is already in the works, but as far as this particular TV series is concerned, we've reached the finish line.
This episode certainly felt as if it was wrapping up Violet's story with a neat little bow. The showdown with the insurgents concludes before the midway point of the episode, leaving most of the runtime for the denouement. All of the main themes of the series are reiterated here: Violet states that she has learned the meaning of “love” and that she no longer needs orders. She also writes her first letter and predictably addresses it to Gilbert. She talks about how she has grown, as if that weren't self-evident, and the episode concludes with her continuing her work as an Auto Memories Doll. All of these events were utterly predictable.
If there was anything about this episode that struck me as unexpected, it was the constant fake-outs about whether Gilbert was still alive. When a client by the name of Bougainvillea asks for Violet's services, Violet rushes out to greet him—only to be disappointed to find that it's Diethard. He then takes her to see his mother, who tells her, “My son is alive,” only to follow that with, “Inside our hearts.” And at the end of the episode, Violet greets her latest client and appears to be startled for a moment by their identity, before finally breaking into a smile. Gilbert was never outright shown in the episode, but it is consistently hinted that he is still alive.
Honestly, I don't mind this kind of open-ended conclusion—or at least I'm glad that it doesn't show Gilbert. It would have cheapened Violet's coming-of-age story to show her reuniting with Gilbert at a particularly vulnerable time. At the same time, I would like to think that Violet does end up seeing Gilbert again when she's in a better place in her life. She needed to learn how to live without him to truly appreciate her love for him. As uplifting as this episode was, I still think that ending the story with Violet realizing her feelings and never being able to act upon them is cruel, especially since Gilbert never left her any letters to remember him by.
Speaking of love, it turns out that one of my predictions for the ending was wrong: I thought that the relationship between Violet and Gilbert would turn out to be romantic. Instead, it remains paternal to the end. I wonder how much this portrayal has to do with Taichi Ishidate's own feelings towards Violet; he has commented in interviews that he regards Violet as a daughter figure and hopes that the audience sees her the same way. Having seen the TV series in full, I can now see where he's coming from. Violet may have been frequently portrayed as beautiful, but she was never objectified or framed as romantically desirable to the audience. A romance between her and her father figure would have been tonally dissonant—not to mention off-putting.
As sweet as this episode was, I do remain ambivalent about Violet Evergarden as a whole. As I mentioned earlier, the finale ties up Violet's story with a neat bow, but it's too neat. The themes were practically shouted from the rooftops. Of course, that's how this anime has always been. Even the flower imagery at the end—which showed a violet blooming after a long night—was conveyed through a drawn-out scene, which leaves a heavy-handed impression. This anime's earnest and straightforward approach to emotional drama has succeeded in making me cry before, but it didn't work this time, even though Violet cried multiple times this episode. After a point, it just gets exhausting.
There's also no getting around the fact that the war elements were under-developed, making the climax of the anime feel underwhelming. Violet's heroic efforts to defend the people on the train—including sacrificing both of her mechanical arms—would have had more impact if her arms didn't return in the next scene with no comment. The leader of the insurgents throwing himself off the train was also an odd moment, as was the fact that all the other rebels on top of the train suddenly went missing. Given that Violet was so concerned in the previous episode about preserving the lives of even her enemies, it's strange to see the narrative kill them off without showing any repercussions as soon as they stopped being relevant to the action. Yes, we all know that Violet Evergarden is more about the emotions than the fighting, but then why bother including action elements at all in the finale?
On the plus side, it was good to see side characters like Benedict finally do something relevant to the overall plot. That scene where he performs acrobatics in high heels was honestly more impressive than any of Violet's super-soldier feats. That still doesn't amount to much in the end though, and having all of Violet's co-workers plus Luculia appear in a group scene afterward just highlighted how superfluous they were in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps it's expected that the narrative would struggle to know what to do with its recurring characters; the series was structured in a way that Violet would meet a new character every week and be shaped by those incidental encounters. But it still feels like a waste to see these fun characters interact without ever seeing them become dramatically relevant.
Reviewing this anime weekly has been an interesting experience. I found myself impressed with the individual episodes (and this is reflected in the scores I gave), but by the end, the series never quite came together as a whole. I approached this anime as someone familiar with the original light novels, so I was already well aware of the strengths and flaws of the narrative. While I would say that the anime is overall an improvement, largely thanks to the significant liberties it took with its source material, the plot and script are still the weakest parts of the experience.
Overall, I would say that Violet Evergarden has very narrow and specific strengths. When it plays to those strengths, it can be a truly beautiful and touching series. But the story was also about many things besides people struggling to come to terms with the death of their loved ones, and it ultimately failed to hit the right notes whenever it shifted focus. I don't regret watching Violet Evergarden, and I recommend episode 10 to just about everyone, but part of me still wonders what this series might have been in the hands of a more consistent director.
Violet Evergarden is currently streaming on Netflix in select territories.
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