Violet Evergarden: Eternity And The Auto Memory Doll

Japan (2019) Dir. Haruka Fujita

It was inevitable that, with a concept as broad and inviting as the one driving the TV series Violet Evergarden, a second series or a film was going to appear sooner or later. We are still waiting for the second series so here is the film.

Former child soldier turned Auto Memory Doll Violet Evergarden has been specifically requested by the Drossel Royal Family to head to an exclusive all-girls finishing academy for debutantes. One of the students, Isabella York, the heir to a noble house, has given up on her future, feeling unworthy of being a lady. Falling behind on her lessons and in need of a confidence boost, Violet has been hired as Isabella’s private tutor.

Posing as her handmaiden, Violet becomes Isabella’s shadow, earning the awe of the other students whilst Isabella assumes from Violet’s poise she was from posh stock. As this initial frostiness begins to thaw and Isabella lightens up towards Violet, she reveals more about herself and her past, lamenting how she lost contact with younger sister Taylor. Violet offers to help Isabella write a letter for Taylor.

Before we go any further, it should be noted that seeing the TV series prior to watching this film is essential in understanding the characters and the concept of the Auto Memory Doll. Since this is based on one of the light novels by series creator Kana Akatsuki, it is canon, despite being an adjunct to the TV series, therefore doesn’t offer any concessions to newcomers to the franchise.

Eternity And The Auto Memory Doll is essential a tale of two halves but connected by the ironically separated sisters. The end game is partially the same, with Violet learning a new emotion, this time friendship, but the journey undertaken belongs to Isabella and Taylor. Returning fans won’t be disappointed as this film “brings the feels” as the kids say, like the series does, although they will have to understand this story means a little less Violet than usual.

There is a reason for this though it isn’t as straightforward as first seems. Isabella on first impression is a sullen, self-pitying young woman with confidence issues, as if the weight of the world is on her shoulders. For someone from a noble upbringing there is something odd about her lack of aspiration as a debutante, showing little of demur poise of the other girls.

After confiding in Violet, the root of this solemnity is Taylor but at this point, it isn’t part of Violet’s remit as private tutor to offer a solution to the problem. Gradually, they get closer as Violet helps Isabella improve her posture, dancing, education, and gives her a boost by dressing up for the ball. This part of the narrative was inevitable, although I doubt many fans were expecting the homoerotic undertones to the relationship, as Isabella treats Violet as a friend.

Violet, of course, doesn’t understand the concept of “friends”, and is still trying to figure out what “I love you” means. But she too finds comfort in Isabella’s company, making her Violet’s first friend. It takes them sharing a bath to solidify this mutual appreciation of one another – don’t worry it’s not prurient in any way, but even with this implied touchy-feely development, this is still chasten and pure.

Having written the letter for Taylor, it needs to be delivered which sees Violet return to CH Postal Company and resident postie Benedict Blue to do the honours. He finds Taylor in an orphanage, clinging to the teddy bear Isabella made for her. Flashbacks reveal the true nature of the relationship, putting Isabella’s inferiority complex at the academy into context, although not every question about her situation is answered.

Jumping forward three years, Benedict is followed by a young boy on his way back to CH HQ – the boy is in fact Taylor, now older but still illiterate. Isabella’s letter spurred Taylor into wanting to track her sister down and felt CH was the best place to start, specifically hoping Violet might know where Isabella was. Unfortunately, their correspondence ended abruptly after Isabella left the academy, possibly meaning she had been married off.

Keen to help, Taylor is given a job as Benedict’s apprentice whilst Violet teaches her how to read and write, ahead of composing a letter for Isabella. Have your hankies ready if you are easily moved, as the denouement will likely make you well up. If you are already conversant with the series, you’ll know the happy ever afters it delivers aren’t always cut and dry, mostly bittersweet but leaning closer to positive than negative.

Relating this story in a singular sitting does make some sense, et at the same time one can see the potential for it to work as a multi-episode TV arc too. In its current form, running 91-minutes, it equates to roughly 4 and half episodes; with so many gaps in the backstory that need filling, and the depth of this is quite abundant, we are looking at maybe seven or eight episodes.

Not that one should feel short changed by this film, it covers enough ground to feel like a complete work, the question now, speaking as someone who has not read the source material, is whether Taylor is a regular character going forward or if she is conveniently forgotten in future works. There is a second film that is an anime only affair, which will no doubt answer this query.

Once again animated by Kyoto Animation, there are scant signs of a bigger budget for this theatrical presentation, but the TV show already boasted top end visuals so there isn’t much further for them to go. The serene pastel veneer returns to give warmth to the settings, nicely juxtaposed by the austere reverie of the winter set flashbacks.

Eternity And The Auto Memory Doll is a pleasant continuation of the Violet Evergarden saga, with plenty to keep existing fans happy whilst leaving us wanting more.

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