Netflix has finally released Kyoto Animation's visually ambitious Violet Evergarden to audiences around the world. This week, Nick and Steve discuss their feelings on this gorgeous yet divisive story.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
You can read our weekly coverage of Violet Evergarden here!
Nick, I'm here on the scene waiting for Netflix to drop its latest delivery of anime. Hold on, what's that in the sky? Is it a bird? A plane?
It's VIOLET EVERGARDEN
Finally, after 13 weeks, Netflix has granted us the privilege to watch the show that the rest of the world was already watching.
At least this season they're going back to their old ways of preventing everyone from watching their shows instead of just some of us.
Still mad about them keeping me from Shoji Kawamori
's new bullshit tho.
Gotta love it! Because we don't have a say in the matter either way! But yes, Violet Evergarden is here, and she's Kyoto Animation's most visually impressive TV production yet. They're rumored to be focusing more on films going forward, so it's fitting that this show often looks indistinguishable from one.
The show is undeniably gorgeous, but before we get too into the nitty gritty, I think we need to address the elephant in the room. Namely: this is a show called Violet Evergarden, based on a book called Violet Evergarden, and it stars a character literally named Violet Evergarden, and somehow this was allowed.
Anime finds a way.
I'm sorry but Violet Evergarden is the name of your Harry Potter fanfic
OC who's Snape's long-lost daughter and in a love triangle
with Harry and Draco.
In this case, it's literally because the dude who named her looked around, saw a violet, and said, "good enough."
We're lucky they were outside for this conversation or this would be the adventures of Desklamp Evergarden.
To sweeten this detail, basically all of the characters in this show are named after flowers (Iris, Erica, and Cattleya to name a few), which took me about 5 episodes to pick up on because I'm very good at botany.
Anyway, if you can make it past the main character's DeviantArt screen name, there's quite a lot to discuss about Violet Evergarden, starring Violet Evergarden. In Violet Evergarden, Violet Evergarden is a child soldier picked up by her would-be father figure after his brother...bought her? Kidnapped her?
It's never really explained, but the point is she's real good at killing people.
She's a child super-soldier for some reason that is never explained. But basically, he takes her into war, they kill a lot of people, she grows dependent on him, he feels bad about it, she's emotionally stunted from I assume past trauma (because again, it's never really explained), they have to do one last job, and only Violet survives.
Which is where the show starts, with Violet in recovery wearing new shiny robot arms.
And along with those new robot arms, she gets a new dad and a new last name and a new job! Specifically, she's working as an "Auto Memory Doll", which basically means going to different places and doing freelance clerical work, but sometimes writing emotionally imperative letters, which poses a problem because, due to being a 14-year-old killing machine, Violet doesn't really get the whole "feelings" thing.
And this is where the show struggles against itself, because there are really two different Violet Evergardens. One is about Violet Evergarden the Auto Memory Doll, who travels the world with her typewriter and writes letters for people. It's a lovely series of episodic vignettes about relationships and communication, through which both Violet and her clients help each other process their emotions and grow as people. The other show is about Violet Evergarden the ex-child soldier who has to reconcile with her violent past and learn how to become her own person outside of war. The former show is beautiful and sentimental. The latter show is poorly-handled and frustrating.
And unfortunately the two are juuuuuust intertwined enough that neither can fully escape the other's orbit. To be frank, I didn't get much out of Violet Evergarden, and a LOT of the problem stems from Violet Evergarden's emotional journey being half-baked and poorly-explored throughout the series.
On the other hand, I came out of Violet Evergarden liking it quite a lot! But basically everything to do with its main plot sucks and I wish it wasn't there.
I just had a hard time connecting with the show's emotional core, unfortunately. I do like the idea of a traveling scribe helping others express emotions through letters that they can't say aloud, and on paper VE's vignettes operate in the same sort of emotional space as Mushi-Shi
or Natsume Yuujinchou
, both of which I love! But for all the lavish animation and attention to detail and gorgeous setpieces, much of Evergarden's premise feels undercut by poor writing that only rarely connected with me.
For me, Violet Evergarden's highs are high enough to overpower the lackluster writing that runs through the show's spine. It's a triumph of anime as a craft, where everything from the music to the mise-en-scène to the animated and vocal performance combine in often extraordinary ways. Where words fail, the wordless ways of communicating through this medium shine through. But before I get into the highlights, let's get the bad stuff out of the way.
Well if we're gonna start at the bottom, I guess we have to talk about Claudia.
We HAVE to. He's the guy who Violet's Major/mentor/father figure Gilbert entrusted to take care of Violet after he died. And Claudia decides the best way for Violet to handle the death of Gilbert is to let her continue thinking that he's alive. Because Claudia is the worst.
He's also there to narrate Violet's character development to us, which is always a great trope. I love it when some dude steps in to tell our heroine what she's feeling.
It's endemic of the running problem with the show's male characters, who can't help infantilizing Violet at literally every turn, making decisions for her and only validating her own decisions with their approval. The show is largely uncritical of this behavior, and it sucks.
The only dude in the cast I care for at all is Benedict, and that's mostly thanks to his footwear.
Bless that good boy.
Takes guts to deliver mail in heels with no cars to help.
The worst offense to me comes at the end of episode 9, which has a nice sequence with Violet remembering all of the people she helped in previous episodes. The subtext is that she's accepting her own existence as an Auto Memory Doll, and that she has the right to live on and help people in her new job. She reaches those conclusions on her own, after receiving the support of her friends! And THEN she goes to Claudia and asks:
It's insulting to the audience, it's redundant, and it continues the trend of Violet's development only being valid in the context of the father figures around her, which is BS.
It's easily the show's weakest moment, and it comes at a really bad time. This is meant to be the turning point of Violet's whole arc, where she stops trying to understand emotions in a literal sense and starts pursuing more concrete emotional connection with the world around her, but it's undercut by this weird paternal approval scene that actively removes her own agency in a story that's supposed to be about regaining that. This is a problem I ran into a LOT with this show. The series has a habit of keeping Violet at a distance from the audience through frequent breaks from her perspective. It regularly made her feel less like a character I was meant to relate to and more like a sad puppy I was meant to pity and protect.
It works so much better for me in the episodic stories, where that emotional distance from Violet still exists, but her clients treat her like a fellow human being instead of a small child to look after. This creates a neat back-and-forth relationship, where on the surface Violet acts as a cipher for other people to project on as she transcribes for them, but their stories and problems also impact Violet's own emotional development in different ways. That give-and-take is super important, and it's completely lacking in her interactions with Claudia, Gilbert, and Diethard.
Especially Diethard, who apparently lives to be the biggest asshole in the room.
And that's not even getting into the finale, which decides the best way to cap off this story about moving on from war and trauma is to have a big ol' gunfight on a train, complete with bombs!
It's bad. I mean, I understand the desire to want to see Violet deliver some pain through those sweet steel knuckles of hers (preferably to Diethard), but it runs completely counter to everything the show stands for. Like, this story that was all about the impossibly deep complexity of human emotions decides a maniacally laughing villain is appropriate for its finale.
Violet Evergarden: Badass Pacifist (sort of)
Apparently she always carries a gun in the light novel? So at least the anime had the good sense to improve some things.
But yeah, the show's main plot is easily its weakest element, and unfortunately it makes up a good 1/3 or so of runtime, which drags down what could otherwise be some enjoyable short stories. Because even when there's some neat incidental character stuff going on or a cute bit of comedy, I'm always quietly recalling Violet's nonsensical backstory or wondering how this'll eventually result in Violet being infantillized by Claudia.
It'll definitely vary from person to person how much these parts poison the overall experience. But I still have to recommend Violet Evergarden because the handful of good episodes are just that good.
Episode 5, for instance, was storyboarded by Naoko Yamada
, Sound! Euphonium
, and A Silent Voice
), and it's a lovely story about royal romance. But more importantly, it's about finally seeing Violet bond with a girl her age, and both of them helping each other grow.
It's also got good Violet Faces, which are hard to find.
It's a genuinely fun little story about Violet urging others to be open with their feelings, which helps her learn the value of expressing her own! I kinda wish it weren't in service of a 24-year-old guy falling in love with a 14-year-old girl, but hey, baby steps.
And that's why monarchies are bad, kids!
But that aside, it is a sweet romance, and I love how we see the kingdom get more invested as the letters shift from flowery romantic embellishments to candid callouts of the other person's faults.
Episode 6 is similarly great, as Violet bonds with another orphan who finds it difficult to communicate with others. It's about opening up and finding purpose in a big, scary, but beautiful world.
Episode 6 was the first episode that really clicked with me, I think. It's nothing amazing, but it's the first vignette where it feels like Violet being there is key to the change in other characters. Some other Memory Doll could have been there to help Iris with her family drama or the Princess start writing letters, but it's Violet's own circumstances and struggles that help Leon move out of stasis.
It's also the kind of nicely romantic story about talking out feelings while staring at the stars that I eat up like cake.
Episode 10 is without question my favorite. It's about a little girl and her dying mother, and I thought I knew where it was going, but it throws you a curveball toward the end that left me nonstop bawling for the last five minutes. Like all the best episodes, it's also about Violet's own growth, and in the wake of the reveal about Gilbert's death, we finally see her processing her own grief. I don't want to give too much else away because people should at least watch this episode if nothing else.
To be honest, I came out of that episode pretty underwhelmed. Not to be a negative nancy, but I've consumed a LOT of Sad Mom fiction and while I'm a pretty easy mark for this material, something in the execution of this one left me cold. Maybe it had just been hyped up too much by people who watched it weekly, but outside of the nominal progression of Violet's character, I didn't feel much from it, and that was kind of a bummer.
I think, as with the rest of the series, you need to buy into the sentimentality to some degree for any of it to impact you. Unfortunately, many parts of the show actively work against you making that happen, so it's understandable. But episode 10 worked for me 100%. It's gonna stay with me for a while.
I guess that's where I stand with Violet Evergarden and the Order of the Phoenix. I see a lot of potential, I want to like it more than I do, but in the end I mostly felt like I was watching an incredibly pretty adaptation of someone's first draft. It certainly seems to have worked for other people though, so I'm glad they found whatever I couldn't.
I was pretty guarded going into Violet Evergarden, and I thought I was gonna dislike it after the first couple episodes, but its execution won me over. At least for the stories that weren't about Violet as a child super-soldier. I can't ignore its flaws, but I also can't ignore those transcendent moments of raw human connection. They pierced my heart one after another, and while I still question the wisdom of adapting this particular light novel among all the other possibilities, I'm glad these moments got animated.
If nothing else, it's an attention-grabbing work that will ignite some kind of strong emotion in you, positive or negative. Just remember when discussing it with others who might disagree with you:
Words to live by. After all, the real evergarden is the friends we make along the way.
I mean, the Evergardens were just some family Violet was supposed to live with but never did. I think she kept the surname because nobody knows how to pronounce her adoptive father's last name. Violet Bougainvillea isn't as catchy.
okay but the show also ends on a shot of what could only be called a violet evergarden
Violet Evergarden and the violet evergarden, starring Violet Evergarden as Violet Evergarden.
(for real tho can we get a spinoff that's just Benedict going on adventures in his boots?)