Violet Evergarden
Episodes 1-2

by Kim Morrissy,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Violet Evergarden ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Violet Evergarden ?

Violet Evergarden is a show that many people have been looking forward to for a while now, perhaps because it's easily Kyoto Animation's most global anime yet. Not only is Violet Evergarden getting a worldwide streaming release, it's also one of the few Kyoto Animation shows not set in Japan with Japanese characters. The story itself, which is about a young woman learning the meaning of “love,” is about as universal as you could get.

When I watched Violet Evergarden's Asian premiere in Singapore last year, the audience was completely floored by it. On a big screen, every lush detail in the animation stood out prominently. In those final moments of the first episode, when Gilbert tells Violet that he loves her in a moment of perfect cinematic beauty, I held my breath. One thought ran through my mind: “This show is on a different level.”

Reflecting on the episode afterward, however, I wondered if the show had peaked right then and there. Violet Evergarden is based on a pair of light novels under the same name, which I'd tried to read beforehand but found too repetitive and overwrought for my liking. The first episode of the anime begins very differently from the light novels, mixing elements from the final chapters of both books to weave a straightforward telling of Violet's origin story. Unlike the light novel, which always framed Violet through the perspective of another character, the anime focuses more on Violet's perspective. It's like the anime staff read the novels and came to the conclusion that the story they wanted to tell was the one hidden between the lines. Violet learning to love has become the explicit rather than the implicit theme of the narrative.

By the end of episode one, Violet has already decided that she wants to become an Auto Memories Doll in order to understand why Gilbert said “I love you” to her. We have already learned that Gilbert is dead, so when Violet finally learns the nature of love, we know that she will also learn grief for the first time. That initial rush of emotion cannot be replicated to the same effect again when the entire premise has already been laid out. So where can the narrative go from there?

After the extravagance of episode one, the second episode was definitely an anticlimax. Even the visual style and storyboarding became more down-to-earth as the story shifted gears. The second episode is an anime-original storyline that delves into how the postal service works, as well as Violet's place in it. A story about Violet's initial struggles with her job was needed in order to keep the focus on her character development, but it mostly just reiterated things that episode one had already made clear, like Violet's current lack of emotional intelligence and her unswerving dedication to doing her job. The climactic moment of this episode, when Violet's coworker rushes to defend her after saying that she wasn't suited for the job moments before, felt as if it was cut off abruptly and didn't connect well with the scene that followed. Episode two isn't going to wow viewers the way episode one did, partly because of the show's narrative structure and partly because it just wasn't as well-written.

However, Violet Evergarden's anime adaptation has been able to consistently breathe life into the setting and side characters that didn't exist in the original novel. The story's setting has never been quite clear in terms of specific time period or location. The flowers and dresses suggest a Victorian aesthetic, while the war scenes suggest World War I, and the town itself looks as if it's situated in the Mediterranean. (It also has palm trees). As anachronistic as it seems on paper, this world feels like a place that people could really live in. The attention to detail in this show is astonishing, with each establishing shot bursting with vibrant details and movement.

The side characters are also enjoyable to watch, even if they do serve mainly as foils for Violet right now. Cattleya's self-confident sexuality steals the show, but she also possesses the sensitivity to respond to other people's emotions in a way that Violet seriously lacks. She's the first one who brings up the idea that people don't always say what they truly mean, a concept that will no doubt prove to be a running theme in this show. Episode two was also refreshing in that it gave Violet some female mentors and role models after the first episode only showed her being cared for by older men. Violet already feels as if she's developing a sense of agency thanks to her interaction with the other female characters, which does a lot to offset the paternal grooming vibes that were present in the premiere.

The first two episodes of Violet Evergarden do an admirable job of setting the tone of the story and laying the groundwork for Violet's character arc. Aesthetically, Violet Evergarden is a fantastic show that's worth watching for its production values alone, but the story is shaping up pretty well too. Even if the rest of the show doesn't match the sheer impact of episode one, there's already enough indication that this will be a strong adaptation. I'm curious to see what other changes the anime will make to the beautiful yet flawed novels.

Rating: A-

Violet Evergarden is currently streaming on Netflix in select territories.

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