Series Review

Anime Hajime Review: Violet Evergarden

Original Run: January 11, 2018 - April 5, 2016
Number of Episodes: 13
Genre: Drama
Based on the Series Created By: Kana Akatsuki

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Violet Evergarden. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

After years of war, peace has once again spread across the land. For most soldiers, this means they can finally return to the homes and loved ones they left behind. But for one soldier who has known nothing except fighting, there is no place for her to go back to.

Violet Evergarden (voiced by Yui Ishikawa) wakes up alone in a hospital bed. Unsure of what happened, Violet asks to see the one person who has ever been there for her, her commanding officer. However, the only one around to meet her is former army commander turned entrepreneur, Claudia Hodgins (voiced by Takehito Koyasu).

Claudia tells Violet that per her commander’s wishes she will now be under his care. He brings Violet to his new postal company and gives her, what he hopes, is a fresh start at life.

It doesn’t take Violet long to come across the company’s most important department, the Auto Memory Dolls. These professional scribes’ responsibilities include transcribing and documenting. But their most meaningful role is one of letter writers. It is the job of a Doll to express a person’s heart and emotions into written words.

Violet, who had been trained to abandoned all emotions, feels drawn to the Dolls. Ever since waking up in the hospital, there has been something weighing on her. She becomes an Auto Memory Doll to learn the meaning of the last words her beloved commander said to her.

While still not sure what civilian life entails, Violet searches for something to once again give her a sense of purpose.

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Series Synopsis

There is one aspect of being a marathon viewer that makes being a reviewer difficult. When a new anime season starts, it’s impossible to know which shows are going to do well. If I had the time, I would watch every series that releases in a given season. As it stands, I don’t see that ever happening.

Therefore, when planning what I will cover of the most recent season, there is a mix of me trying to be as diverse as possible and me merely picking shows that look interesting. Then once a season has a few episodes to its name, it becomes much easier to figure out which series are worth discussing. Thus, I try to set aside a slot in my schedule to accommodate what is getting the most buzz.

For the 2018 Winter season, the show that I kept seeing come up was Violet Evergarden. And once this series was firmly on my radar and I kept hearing more about it, I couldn’t stop myself from getting a little excited.

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When it came time for me to sit down and watch this series, I was as hyped as one could be towards a show I knew so little about. There wasn’t a looming expectation, but I wanted to learn where the talk surrounding Violet Evergarden was coming from.

Five minutes in, a large part of that answer became very apparent. Violet Evergarden was gorgeous. This series was stunning. With this being a Kyoto Animation production, there was a certain reputation on the line. This group has produced many visually, as well as, narratively excellent shows. Their filmography includes ChuunibyoFreeNichijou, and Kobayashi-san chi no Maid Dragon.

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I have not seen all of Kyoto Animation productions, and the ones left for me to get to are high on my “to watch list.” But when up against the shows I have seen of theirs, Violet Evergarden is, without question, the most beautiful. And when compared to anime in general, this was as good as gold. Regardless of what was going to happen, this series would at least be a treat to the eyes. That was a comforting thought.

Too bad, on the flip side of that, there was an immediate concern. Would this be an example of a show placing all its efforts on animation and ignoring other vital aspects such as story? Pretty pictures are nice and all, but I have seen plenty of series that have had both style and substance. That and I have encountered enough people who have fallen onto the bandwagon of assuming if something looks good it must be good.

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Yeah, none of that happened with this show. Violet Evergarden was the full package. This series was well-animated, the characters were fascinating, and the story was…wow.

Steering my thoughts back to the artwork this show had two major tools in its toolbox, and it knew how to use them. The first was light manipulation.

Violet Evergarden understood what it took to create an atmosphere. There were plenty of sunset scenes, starry night skies, and other settings that would require total incompetence to mess up. When these moments appear in a series such as this one, they are powerful. And they are as powerful as they are because these instances are both inherently beautiful and they serve a purpose to the story. While this was great and everything, this was only on the surface of what was going on.

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This show’s incorporation of light elevated an element of visual storytelling that is in animation’s wheelhouse: the usage of color. Violet Evergarden was vibrant. There were many points to pull examples from, but my favorite had to be Violet’s eyes.

By the way, Violet’s eyes were like reason number seven why I liked her. Hintity-hint-hint to what I might be talking about in a second.

The other crucial aspect to Violet Evergarden’s artwork was its mastery of visual storytelling. This was a well-written show, but when something didn’t need to be said, nothing was said. There was one moment I don’t want to spoil, so I won’t even mention what episode it was in, but I have to say something.

2

Violet was working with a client, and the nature of her assignment was not addressed upfront. But it was very easy to piece together what was going on, and that was what made this so effective. This led to a temporary, yet nevertheless unfortunate misunderstanding that was unavoidable. This resulted in one of the many “best” moments of the show. Granted there was some natural dialogue in this particular scene, except the full weight of the frustration and heartbreak came from the visuals.

Moving on to something else, Violet Evergarden had a rather large cast of characters. This show also did something I usually find a ton of issues with. Most of the people in this series were “one-time use” only, but their respective episodes went into enough detail to make them feel like they were more critical to the story. And when I say they felt critical, I mean I would have bet money on these characters appearing more than once. A handful did, but a lot didn’t.

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I have not seen a lot of shows which have used this style well. Violet Evergarden is now one of those few exceptions. And a lot of this series’ success in this area had to do with its premise.

As an Auto Memory Doll, Violet had to interact with many people who wanted to express their feelings. Since Violet was not a mind reader and she was learning how to be more empathetic, she had to get to the core of what was going through a client’s head. It made sense why this show would take the time to explore a character it was never going to use again.

That and Violet Evergarden never forgot these interactions happened. The series didn’t always call attention to lives Violet touched, but it acknowledged she made a difference.

And that brings me to the two most significant elements of this show. Without these, Violet Evergarden would have still been good, but it wouldn’t have been…this.

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The Story

There was an overarching narrative that I will touch on. But for the most part, Violet Evergarden behaved like a typical slice-of-life series. The big focal point of a particular episode didn’t often carry over to the next.

Besides the main story, there were a number of smaller side plots that came along for the ride. While this series had its ultimate purpose, it looked at these secondary stories and said, “We are not going to ignore these.”

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Over a year ago, I published my Top Tear Inducing Moments in Anime. I do want to update that list because I have since come across some strong contenders. A few of which are from the 2018 Winter season. I won’t make any promises, but Violet Evergarden has a good chance of appearing on the second edition of the list. The problem is, I’m not sure which moment to pick.

There were feelings in this show. There were a lot of feelings in this show. Pick any episode at random, and I probably cried during it.

Violet Evergarden wasn’t a sad show, but it did have a ton of sad moments to go with a lot of other emotional ones. I won’t pretend there were tears of happiness, but there are many different types of tears. And this is what made the series so amazing.

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A telltale sign of a story doing its job is when it produces a reaction. For a comedy, if you are busting up laughing, it did what it set out to do. For horror, if you are averting your eyes from the screen, it worked. And for something like Violet Evergarden, which centered itself on understanding emotions, its determinate for success is if it manages to get you worked up.

To better explain, Violet Evergarden was an example of a show that had two endings. This is another thing I have marked against other series since this was an instance where the first ending was much better than the actual one. Except this show used this with a purpose.

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I won’t say when the first ending happened, but when you get to it, it will feel very definitive. It was closure to that part of the story; enough to where the show could have ended. But there are two reasons why Violet Evergarden made this work.

The first, while there was closure, so what? In real life, people on occasion do reach a point where a specific part of their past is now officially in the past. They are no longer going to dwell on something anymore. They will move forward. They won’t forget what happened and it will remain a part of who they are, but they will take the next step, nevertheless. That is what Violet Evergarden did.

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The second, after the first ending, the show didn’t start half-assing its efforts. If anything, the series decided it was time to make us feel feelings even harder. I didn’t think that was possible, but it happened.

Let me remind you, these were just the side plots. It was the main story that held everything together. And if I had to narrow it down to one reason why this show worked, that’s actually not a difficult thing to do.

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Violet Evergarden

Everything. Absolutely everything about Violet was great.

I am forcing myself not to bring up specific scenes with her. If I highlighted even a single moment, I would only be ruining this show for you. But let me make this as clear as possible, there was no shortage of moments.

Following Violet on her journey from beginning to end felt complete. She was not the same character in episode thirteen who we saw in episode one. Each step she took was thought out, deliberate; they made sense. There weren’t any leaps. There weren’t patches missing.

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Violet Evergarden was the most critical aspect of this show, and there isn’t much else for me to say about her. Except for two things.

I loved Violet’s motivation for becoming an Auto Memory Doll. She only knew war. She was bred to fight. And now that there was no more fighting left to do, what purpose was there to give her life meaning? That purpose became her finding out the meaning of the last words her most important person said to her.

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And lastly, I have to give credit to Ms. Yui Ishikawa, the voice actress for Violet. Ms. Ishikawa delivered a brilliant performance. I knew she could do the soldier side of Violet’s character. But what blew me away was how Ms. Ishikawa brought Violet’s humanity to life.

There is no doubt in my mind that Violet Evergarden will be one of the best characters to come out of 2018, and Ms. Ishikawa is a huge reason why that is going to be the case. That’s impressive since this will not be the last time we will see her this year. I can’t wait to see you again in season three, Mikasa.

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Series Negatives

TIME TO NITPICK!

There’s not much to discuss here.

I suppose the best place to start would be to follow up with something I said earlier. As I stated, Violet Evergarden had two endings, and the actual one was the weaker of the two.

Violet Evergarden

By weak, I don’t mean bad. The real ending to Violet Evergarden was fine, it made sense, and it wasn’t forced in. To be honest, all the signs this show gave indicated the story would end up in the position it did. And it also had everything that made this series great.

The ending did focus on the characters and what they were going through. In many ways, the events of the climax weren’t essential, and that was apparent in the comparatively lackluster nature of what was happening.

Violet was an elite soldier during the war. Many considered her to be a weapon and not a human. With that setup, yeah, she could dominate any fight she was in. But by and large, the show never focused on the combat side of her military training. This was not an action series, and it never pretended to be one. That notwithstanding, this ending got a bit action-y.

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The climactic fight, and me saying it that way bugs me a little, was not poor. It was exciting. But when up against everything else that happened in this show, this was the part where I felt myself caring the least.

And before I get too far ahead, Violet Evergarden didn’t go from final fight to end credits. It went from final fight, back to what it had been doing well, and then end credits. You will not leave this series with your last thought being, “underwhelming.” Where this show signed off was the perfect place for it to do so.

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Another thing I can bring up, Violet Evergarden wasn’t free of characters that felt pointless. All of these instances had to do with Violet’s coworkers, specifically the two people who worked alongside her, Erica Brown and Iris Cannary (voiced by Minori Chihara and Haruka Tomatsu).

To be fair, Iris fared much better and had a satisfying episode dedicated to her. With Erica, no, that didn’t happen. The biggest thing going against these two characters was their role in the story. Unlike the people we met in the many side plots that were never going to appear again, Erica and Iris were always going to appear again. They were around. They had a presence. Why not give them a bit more backstory?

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But then again, should’ve, would’ve, could’ve. It wasn’t as if the show was riding on these characters.

The last, and I’m using this word for the sake of discussion, issue was the role of the Auto Memory Dolls.

I get what it was these people did, and I understand how they could be useful in this society. If you were someone who didn’t know how to or couldn’t write, you would go to a doll. If you were someone who felt they didn’t know how to write a meaningful letter, you would go to a doll. This was not an arbitrary vehicle to carry this story’s message.

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But then there were small things where I thought, “Hmm, that’s silly.” Some clients got mad at the Dolls for what they wrote. And some got mad at what the Dolls wrote after the letter was sent. Why didn’t you read it or have it read back to you beforehand? Tiny stuff like this was the extent of a problem that really wasn’t one.

If what I wrote in this section is making you hesitate with this show, please reconsider. These insignificant details were like a plastic toy shovel trying to crack open a boulder. One is going to break before the other, and it’s not going to be the boulder.

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Final Thoughts

My God this was good.

Brilliant animation, wonderful characters, an outstanding lead character, and a compelling, hard-hitting story; this show did it all. The beginning minutes grab you with the series’ beauty, and you will stick around thanks to its mastery of emotions.

As I said at the start, you never know what shows are going to leave a mark on a season. This one definitely left a mark.

Violet Evergarden is one I highly recommend.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning Violet Evergarden? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

And if you liked what you read, be sure to follow me on my social media sites so that you never miss a post or update. Also, please share this review across the internet to help add to the discussion.

I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

7 comments

  1. I might be a little bit biased, but I thought this was one of the best shows ever made in recent history. I wrote a letter in response to this show on my site, I seriously hope you will check it out, I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written on the website.

    I can’t heap enough praise onto this show. I really didn’t have any problems with it at all. My guess is that you watched this (and most of your anime subtitled). This one had an outstanding dub, that I actually greatly preferred to the sub, which almost felt stilted at times.

    Anyway, great article here for a great show!

    Liked by 1 person

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