“I want to understand the meaning of the words “I love you”. I want to understand the last words the Major has given me with his final orders.”
— Violet Evergarden, Episode 1: “”I Love You” and Auto memory Dolls”.
The quiver of emotion that slid in between her monotonous words as Violet, the protagonist, spoke these words to the President of the C.H. Postal Company defined this series’ core and plot right from Episode 1: “”I Love You” and Auto Memory Dolls”. And I have to say, Violet Evergarden delivered above and beyond what I had expected from it. It has definitely has made it’s mark and imprinted itself upon me and now that I’ve finished this stunning 13 episode series animated by Studio Kyoto Animation, I can’t help but put my feelings and thoughts into words as it has quenched a quiet yearn I have for the theme of Love in media.
Introduction: The Story and Production
Violet Evergarden takes us with her on her journey when she decided to become an ‘Auto Memory Doll’, an occupational title for women who travel from place to place to help their customers write their feelings into letters which will then, be delivered to their recipient of choice. The plot in itself is filled with potential and grabbed my attention from the get-go. As a fantasy and human-drama genre aficionado, I was more than excited when I read the premise for Violet Evergarden. And, what with the extreme hype that surrounded this series upon the first release of the Promotional Video of Violet Evergarden on their official Youtube Channel in May 2016, and their recent success with the animated feature film adaption of “The Shape of a Voice” (original title: Koe no Katachi), I wasn’t the only one who knew that Kyoto Animation would once again be indulging us fans to an aesthetic feast for our eyes and heart with their prowess in bringing tender stories to life through animation.
And though the animation in the series differed in slight from what was shown in the PV, needless to say, it did not disappoint me. Even though it’s association with Netflix might make it difficult for people without registered accounts (such as myself) to procure, I was extremely happy to what the KyoAni and Netflix partnership for this series might signal for other projects in the future. The fact that it was made available on a platform that wasn’t just made for Japanese television certainly made it all the more delightful to support this series.
Violet Evergarden was based on a 3 Volume Light Novel with the same name by author Kana Akatsuki. It won the grand prize in the fifth Kyoto Animation Award’s novel category in 2014, the first ever work to win a grand prize in any of the three categories (novel, scenario, and manga). The Light Novel also includes illustrations done by Akiko Takase.
You can watch Violet Evergarden on Netflix.
Though in all honesty, it wasn’t the stunning European-inspired backgrounds or the ephemerally animated scenery time lapses, nor the light reflection that swam in Violet’s gem-like eyes as she teared up that blew me away. Don’t get me wrong, that alone filled me up with so much emotion at times and that it supplied me with enough inspiration for another article altogether by yours truly. But, no. Rather, it was the collection of stories of the lives she’s met and touch along her journey that came together to form and drive the narrative of this series: Love.
The Core of Violet Evergarden: Love
With the background setting being that of a fictional post-Victorian Era influenced nation recovering from a recent War, the story allows for the nations’ Dolls to be the centre point of driving the human narrative and culture around communication. In turn, letters, a form of communication considered dated within today’s era of technology and electronic communication, becomes a pivotal tool to transmit emotions and thoughts within this universe. For Violet, a stoic, shut-off ex-militia girl who knew nothing but war and carnage at the start of the series, it seemed almost poetic that her method of reintegration back into society is her work as a Doll; as someone who helps others deliver their true feelings to one another.
Throughout the series, she is often likened to an actual doll, what with her stiff manner of speaking, and her pristine beauty, it wasn’t hard to see why. Her quest and mission to find what Love or rather, the kind of love that Major Gilbert had given her was certainly enhanced when she came to understood the different types of love there is. Whether it be the love for your passion, as shown by fellow Doll colleague, Erica in episode 2: “He’s Never Coming Back”, or the heart-wrenching love of a dying mother for her daughter in the appropriately title for Episode 10: “A Loved One Will Always Watch Over You.”, Violet Evergarden was like a buffet of different showcases of what Love can be, or rather, what Love really is, ready for those who are hungry for a good, hearty, heart-warming and tear-jerking stories to sate their appetites with.
It certainly easy to say that the first kind of Love that would come to most of our minds would be one for lovers; the kind that between you and your significant other. And no doubt, it is definitely what started Violet’s journey. Though she may not have understood it at the time, her hollow world certainly took it’s first step towards that direction when she met Major Gilbert Bougainvillea. And as Violet started to search the meaning of non-platonic love that the Major has given her, it made it all the more meaningful that the different stories of love that built her understanding of it were ones from such varied and diverse kinds of love. Which in turn, in my humble opinion, was what makes her love with the Major all that more meaningful. That the foundation of her understanding his love came from the multi-faceted types love of those whose lives were touched by her.
Love is powerful, unrelenting, persistent, beautiful and even painful but as people, we certainly yearn and search for it anyways. Those are the themes that Violet Evergarden chose as narration about Love. And as corny as it may sound, I believe it’s important to have stories that still speak about it in a hopeful light. That true love conquers all. And, even in the darkest of times and we hit our lowest of lows, the love of those around you will be your guidance to a better place. Stories that help us remind ourselves that there is always more to our lives than just heartaches, hurt and pessimism.
The Accompaniment of Love: Pain and Anguish.
Accompanied by it’s main narration about love, the series also touches on other heavy topics such as depression and learning to move forward from a loved one’s death, the latter which was portrayed numerous times throughout the series. For example Violet’s experience in the untitled Episode 7, where Violet helps a talented but depressed writer, Simon Webster, move on from the devastation of his young daughter’s death, or her chance encounter with Leon in Episode 6: “Somewhere, Under A Starry Sky” where she gave young Leon, the strength to move forward from a stagnancy that came with his sadness of dealing with his missing parents. The subject of moving on from a painful parting of a loved one is one that personally touches me deeply and having still struggle with that departure, I found myself sobbing in tears at the end of any of the episodes that makes this subject a theme.
It wasn’t just the fact that it was about moving on that brought me to tears, but rather their depiction of going through such pain was so marvellously conveyed, I couldn’t help but be moved by it. Whenever Violet starts understanding what these emotions meant and thus expresses it a little better than before, it really highlighted how difficult it was for her to move forward with it. I felt her struggle and anguish. Moving on from the pain of losing someone you love and knowing you will never see them again is far from beautiful, and yet, when shown through the lens of this series, it still manages to be beautiful, despite not hiding even an ounce of the reality of what it’s like to feel that pain.
What touched me the most about this series was it’s cry for human emotion and its portrayal about the beauty of living, about being human. Those are things that I haven’t seen for a long time in media or at least, transmitted the way the Violet Evergarden series did. It’s visuals, characters, swelling orchestral music and story all came together like a beautiful ensemble that left me in tears by the time the curtains came down. The details that the cast and staff have carefully placed into this series is mesmerising. Even something as simple as the placement of the episode titles which are shown at the end of every episode, (as opposed to the beginning of every episode). Each episode title are seemed to bookend the chapter with what Violet felt was, as though it was counting down every step she took closer to understanding emotion. It started off taciturn and almost matter-a-factly and slowly, it morphed more and more into emotional and expressive phrases. That alone impressed me tremendously.
It hit me hard to see Episode 7 and 8 are both untitled as the pain she felt from hearing what had really happened to her beloved Major reached its climax. Anyone who has been through the death of a loved one would understand that no words can describe that level of anguish. To feel, even for a fleeting moment that life isn’t worth living without them leaves you beyond empty and devastated. It was the flawless and acute projection of these difficult emotions that made me feel instantly connected with Violet throughout this series. I shed tears of pain with her and I cried in joy when the series ended with her reading the letter she wrote for her beloved Major Gilbert and the title for the final episode revealed to be appropriately titled “Auto Memory Doll and “I Love You””, a direct inversion to Episode 1’s title. Violet’s journey came full circle as she started from a hollow human being in Episode 1 and became a learned and stronger person as an outstanding Doll by the end of Episode 13.
To me, it seems that the magic of the series was not lost but instead, gained momentum as the episodes go by; a clear sign of a well written and paced series.
Overall, Violet Evergarden was a beautiful experience for me. It’s by far, not perfect, as I can see a lot of people might make a fuss about how innocent and perhaps even naive (though, grounded) its opinions on subjects like Love, growing stronger, etc. These are subjects that, I feel, in a society ridden with pessimism isn’t always viewed so open-heartedly. (And judging by how the overall impression by the majority of the targeted demographic was lukewarm at best, I definitely feel a little sad for it.) However, if you enjoy aesthetically pleasing tales of Love, of understanding pain and emotion, of a protagonist that learns not only to genuinely love but also learns how to be human, then I highly recommend this series for you.
Violet Evergarden‘s prose on subject of Love felt like, in itself, a long love letter to the different and beautiful facets of human emotion and word for word, Kyoto Animation made that letter sound like world-class poetry, unrivalled in the beauty it pours.
I have nothing but praises for Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of Violet Evergarden and it is, by far, one of their best works that definitely belongs on the high shelf for me. Alongside the CLANNAD series, Violet Evergarden has found it’s way into my heart for good and I can’t help but applaud their improvement on a genre they’ve mastered. Especially how they’ve even improved on the animation of very intricate emotions on their character’s faces without breaking its aesthetics is amazing; a feat I find rather rare in Japanese animation, especially ones that prioritises visual aesthetics and style.
Though I’ve yet to see plans of adapting the Novels to English, I do hope I will gain the opportunity to read Violet Evergarden in it’s original source material. Kyoto Animation’s adaptation certainly made a deep impression on me and I would love to experience the novel as well some day too. Or alternatively, I’m also hoping for the soundtrack and Opening and Ending themes to be available on Spotify and Malaysian iTunes because, God, do I need that in my life. But for now, I will be sitting in anticipation, a smile on my face and a box of tissue at the ready for the Original Video Animation episode slated to release with the 4th Volume of the Bluray and DVD release this July.