Violet Evergarden Complete Series
(13 Episodes + OVA) (2018)
Life after serving on the frontline during war is always going to be a struggle. Seeing and experiencing things nobody ever should leads to trauma and other long lasting mental effects and returning to Civvie Street is not an easy transition to make. Imagine being raised and trained as a ruthless killing machine, a 9 to 5 office job is not ideal.
For the heroine of this story, her re-entry into society is an unusual one. During a civil war in an alternate European country, the eponymous Violet Evergarden is a former child soldier, with prosthetic metal arms after hers were blown off whilst protecting her handler, Major Gilbert Bougainvillea. Gilbert’s last words to Violet before they parted were “I love you”, and ever since Violet has wondered what he meant.
Returning to a normal life, Violet applies for a job as an Auto Memory Doll, someone who writes personal letters on behalf of the illiterate and inarticulate. Violet’s typing skills are exemplary due to her flexible metal fingers but in lacking emotion and empathy, her letters are too cold and literal. To lean more about life and understand emotions, the deadpan Violet travels around the country taking various writing jobs yet can’t escape her grisly past.
If you are tempted to compare Violet Evergarden with Mahoromatic as both shows have former women of war return to a normal life with vastly different occupations then don’t. First, Mahoro was a battle android and became a maid to a pervy schoolboy; Violet is a human of unknown origins whose emotions were stolen from her after years of abuse and stringent military training.
Second, this is not an ecchi comedy series with any female objectivity like Mahoromatic. Adapted from the light novels by Kana Akatsuki, this is a sombre, thoughtful, gently paced character study of a young girl going on a serendipitous journey of self-discovery as she looks for meaning in words. However, the spectre of war looms heavy over Violet, not just in her memories but also in the ever-changing world around here.
Violet’s past is rather murky with the barest of details shared, though we do learn that she was an unnamed orphan found on an island by naval officer Dietfried Bougainvillea. Impressed by her fighting skills, her trained her to be a ruthless tool of war but “gave” her to brother Gilbert when he is promoted to the rank of major in the Leidenschaftlich Army.
Unlike his brother, Gilbert treated Violet like a human being, naming her after the flower as a parting gift before they were separated. This is important because Violet remains under the impression Gilbert is still alive, this hope driving her mission to understand his words, yet others who know better, say he is “never coming back”. The ambiguity of this wording is to protect Violet, who treasures a brooch Gilbert gave her which matches the colour of his eyes.
There is an interesting dichotomy present in Violet – she doesn’t understand nuanced emotion yet is driven by a clear emotional attachment to Gilbert and her memories of his humane treatment of her. Because of this, her sullen appearance and immediate servile response to any request gives the impression of Violet being a robot, her metal hands complicating the issue.
Gaining employment at the CH Postal Company headed by Claudia Hodgins, a former colonel and friend of Gilbert’s, Violet takes baby steps learning to think for herself and act on her own free will. As an Auto Memory Doll, Violet’s start is rocky through writing unsatisfactory letters from being unable to translate the meaning of the client’s words into poetic and subtle text, but slowly begins to understand the power of words.
Comparisons to Violet and androids is not unfair. Aside from never smiling and speaking in a low, almost flat tone, she is like a computer that has just had its operating system installed and is awaiting programming. Each episode she learns something new yet her callow view of life affords her to approach situations via a different angle, and ends up enriching the lives of others as they too learn about themselves.
With a run of 13 episodes and an OVA (which takes place between episodes 4 and 5) it is remarkable how much depth there is to Violet’s character and the world she inhabits, a unique blend of post-Victorian and 1920s aesthetic that could only exist in anime. Violet in her bell-shaped dress and tied up blonde tresses makes for a chaste porcelain figurine against the sadly revealing attire of her busty supervisor Cattelya, the only cast member who spoils the asexual tone of the show.
After a “client of the week” formula, we reach the final stretch of the show which should be renamed Violent Evergarden, incorporating flashbacks to Violet’s military past and a present day story where peace in threatened. Any concerns that this is too slight a show are dismissed with the brutal action of these episodes. Admittedly jarring a little against the tenderness of earlier chapters, they are inevitable given Violet’s past yet avoid being incongruous or gratuitous.
Kyoto Animation respond to the well-meaning nature of the story with commensurate and usual top-notch presentation, no doubt bolstered by the Netflix budget. Creating an oddly idyllic and charming world for Violet to traverse, the serene pastel colours lovingly rendered in impressive detail convey warmth and comfort during lighter moments, and the cold, imposing bleakness of the battlefield scenes.
The real mystique of Violet Evergarden is how a series with an emotionless protagonist is so emotionally resonant in understanding how human’s interact and express themselves and the importance of choosing the right words. With two sequel films in existence, the story of Violet is far from over and its capacity to touch its audience seems boundless for such a simple concept.
In a world of repetitive plots and lowest common denominator content, it is nice to know some genuinely affecting and intelligent anime like this still exist.
Rating – ****
Man In Black