This Week in Anime
Why the Violet Evergarden Movie is a Real Tear-Jerker

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Kyoto Animation's beautiful Violet Evergarden I: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll film won over even our most stalwart of critics. Nick and Steve find out why the movie won't leave a dry eye in the house.

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.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

Nick, I don't think either of us are strangers to frustrations about Netflix's anime release schedule. Nevertheless, I have to commend their timeliness with this movie here. Somehow they knew we Americans would need, at this moment, a dripping-with-emotion defense of the magic and sanctity of the good ol' postal service.
The timing is certainly serendipitous! And if more people can learn to appreciate their nationalized postal carriers because of this, it will have made this whole Violet Evergarden adventure worth it.
I suppose it wouldn't be right not to address the timing of this film's original release, which happened to be the first KyoAni production distributed following the unspeakably awful arson attack on one of their studios.
There's not exactly a graceful way to broach that topic in typical jokey-joke fashion, but it's really, really hard not to think about that tragedy when watching this movie. Nearly every victim has a credit in this film or the TV series, and ignoring that would be in incredibly bad taste.
To go on a brief personal tangent, I visited Japan last November, and I happened to be in Kyoto while this film was still airing . I'm nowhere near fluent in Japanese, so I could only go off what little I did know combined with the visual language in the film (which, as we'll get into, is quite good). Nonetheless, seeing this film in a theater, in Kyoto, surrounded by other fans, was an unforgettable and heart wrenching experience that transcended spoken language. It felt like we were all able to have some small semblance of catharsis in that one small moment. But I still can't properly grapple with the magnitude of this tragedy. I don't know if I ever will.
It's totally unprecedented in the industry and I suspect the anime fan community at large hasn't fully come to terms with it yet. And in the end this is all a long way of acknowledging that when we sit here and joke about the movie and I call the main character Lavender Alwayslawn or something, it's not an attempt to dishonor the lives lost who had a hand in creating it.
Yeah, we're really just beyond privileged to have this film, have it speak to us, and be able to talk and joke and cry about it. That's not something we'll ever take for granted.
All that said, I still cannot believe that Violet Evergarden is her honest-to-god name.
I can't believe that after 2 years and 6 hours of screen time I still have no clue what her job entails.

The conceit of this first half stretches it pretty thin, to be fair. At least in the TV series, "Violet transcribes letters for other people" was a fairly accurate catch-all. But I guess now she's a renowned expert on which of the little forks and knives to use first?
I can jive with Violet just being a jack of all trades and traveling Victorian NotEngland to do odd jobs, but I just worry about what kind of employment contract she signed that her boss can just send her away for months to be a stranger's new live-in tutor.
And by live-in I mean they share a bed. And bath.
Just like all good friends do!!

And despite the weird occupational justification, the result falls in line with most other Violet Evergarden arcs: exploring the lives of her clients and helping them as best as she can. I actually really liked that the movie more or less feels like two extended episodes of the show. And if anything, it's more down-to-earth than some of the show's arcs.
I think that's a fair assessment. As per when we covered the TV series back in 2018, I was decidedly not a fan of VE's storytelling instincts, but I actually came out of the side story (a Violet EverGaiden, if you will) really touched by the story it had to tell. And no, it's not just because I'm an easy mark for yuri baiting.
I think it's fair to say that I genuinely did not expect Violet to possess so much game.

Like wow.
Granted, Eternity and The Auto Memory Doll doesn't fix all my complaints with the series. Violet still spends most of her critical screen time having other people describe her while making this face.
There are small strides made, imo. Like, the crux of the first half is Violet making a genuine friend her age for the first time and opening up. Tho her "client" Amy doesn't make things easy. And of course it goes without saying that the film both looks gorgeous and thoughtfully composes pretty much every scene. Like in the beginning with all these shots emphasizing the initial distance between Violet and Amy.

Oh, the film is drop dead gorgeous. And the structure of a 90 minute feature does wonders to warm me up to VE's aesthetic. Where previously the porcelain sheen of it all felt at odds with the stories it was trying to tell, here you have the time to just sit and indulge in it all as characters delicately walk up staircases or prance through fields of exquisitely illustrated flowers.

I remember being consistently slack-jawed in the theater at how the film uses light and shadow, both on a technical level and in how they frequently mirror the characters' emotional states.

Like, the first time Amy's room really brightens up is after she and Violet finally establish a connection.

Gotta put extra focus on that lascivious hand-holding.
I'm more of a simpleton, my favorite flourish in the first half was the gratuitous doves that show up to punctuate Violet and Amy's wedding debutante ball appearance.
That there is pure Dezaki, and there's no doubt classic shoujo series like Dear Brother had tremendous influence on the boarding school setting of this arc.

by the way, Discotek, if you're reading, please rescue the Dear Brother license
They even have the same blond drill-hair girl!
Oh it's a well-known fact that any all-girls boarding school has at least one drill-hair ojousama. That's just Nature.
But anyway, despite what those visuals would tell you, this isn't the story of Violet Evergarden marrying her client. It's actually about helping Amy cope with her new life as she checks notes trains to join high society after being plucked from poverty by her anonymous aristocrat father, in order to provide for her adopted street urchin sister.

Man Violet can never land an easy client, can she? Where's the movie about Violet helping a well adjusted family file their taxes?
Violet, much like us unfortunately, truly is living in a society. Amy's backstory with her adopted sister Taylor is the emotional backbone of both halves of the film, and while the film doesn't dwell on its flashbacks, they paint a stark portrait.

It's a setup that works much, much better than the frankly nonsensical pre-teen supersoldier stuff in the TV series, while much more effectively marrying the heavier story details with VE's trademark sentimentalism. Amy took in Taylor in part to refute the cruelty of the life she's lived, and yet ends up having to serve the forces in charge of that world to best make good on her promise.
It's a beautifully bittersweet construction that possesses the kind of awful nuance I love to see in stories like this. I'd actually go so far as saying it even helps ground Violet's own comparatively fantastical backstory, since their mutual childhood traumas are how she and Amy bond in the first place.
In theory, I agree with you. But in practice Violet remains such a cipher of a character that their relationship in particular just does not land for me. I'm pretty sure more dialogue is spent having other people describe Violet than she actually speaks in the first half.

That's fair, but I do like how she's more assertive in the second half, after the three year timeskip, both interceding on Taylor's behalf and then sassing Benedict without blinking.
I imagine part of the difference is the time disparity. The first half seems to take place to Violet's big character progression in the series, so it's where she operates more as a mirror for the focus character to project onto than a character in her own right.
Oh yeah it totally makes sense from a growth perspective. And also from a bullying Benedict perspective.
You leave this boy and his slutty, slutty footwear alone.
Look, when a dude dresses this perfectly, someone has to be there to take him down a peg.
There's a story about Benedict's fashion and I hope we never, ever learn it. Let this stripper boot, open back blouse wearing, gold motorcycle riding anime boy remain forever an enigma.
Just want to make sure nobody thinks that's a joke. My dude really does haggle for a solid gold motorbike, bless his soul.
Really he deserves it for helping carry the 2nd half of the movie. Turns out a good natured but easily embarrassed anime boy is the perfect foil for the other focal character of the story.
Ah yes, that classic clashing character dynamic between a spunky hotheaded young girl and a gruff older man with frilly stilettos. Luckily for her, Taylor is an unbelievably lovable little stinker.
Really though, it's a good dynamic! Inspired by Benedict delivering Amy and Violet's letters to her years ago, she up and runs away from her orphanage and Dickensian Street Urchins her way into an apprenticeship, and letting her bounce off the established cast is way more charming than I was prepared for.
Yeah, it's a lot more straightforward of a story than the first half, but it's classic and it works. And I especially appreciate that Taylor isn't merely relegated towards being a tragic detail informing Amy's current life. She's a character all her own with her own aspirations and her own complexities.
She lands perhaps a little too far on the Pwecious side of things to be a believable kid, but as a character in the larger narrative she works well, and even helps to make Violet a more engaging protagonist while she's at it.
Ms. Evergarden could still stand to choose her words better though.
I guess there's some virtue in being honest. I remember in the theater being a little confused why Taylor didn't just rush out to hug Amy at the end, but now that I can fully understand the dialogue, I actually really like the conclusion. Taylor, essentially, wants to reunite with Amy when she can finally stand on her own two feet, i.e. the whole reason Amy decided to join the aristocracy. That's kinda buried in the subtext, but it was enough to endear me to her character in the end. The whole situation is still bitter as hell, but these characters are gradually working towards something better.
And that reunion letter she writes to her is heart wrenching. I walked out of the TV series with dry eyes despite its loudest efforts, but somewhere in all of this the film managed to grasp my heart in its shiny metal hands and squeeze hard.
Oh man, the letter, the framing, and the entire exterior aforementioned situation involving KyoAni just swirled together and utterly murdered me at this point. Like, the way the two of them each clutch their mementos of each other. Ughhhhhhhh.
And what gets me is how it takes what was already a touching sentiment from Amy's letter in the first half:

And uses it to absolutely kick you in the teeth with Taylor's response at the end:

Like alright, Violet Evergarden, you win.
I'm just gonna post more utterly gorgeous stills from the film.

OH, one more thing. The final flashback from Taylor's point of view where the perspective shifts from the harsh white snow to the gentle blue of the sky framing Amy's head.

It's like the only moment of warmth and beauty in that entire timeline. Well, that and these pancakes.
So yeah, I went into this movie with, let's say tempered expectations, but this time around VE finally clicked with me where it hadn't before, and I encourage others who were left cold by its predecessor to give this one a chance in good faith. You might come out of it surprised.
It'll for sure pluck your heartstrings in one way or another. Plus, I dare you to find another prestige film that discusses the tactical disadvantages of twintails.

discuss this in the forum (4 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

This Week in Anime homepage / archives