Ever since Violet Evergarden was previewed back in July of 2017 at Anime Expo, it had generated a lot of buzz around it. Most notably, for just how beautiful the art was for a television anime series. Just a few short months later and the world was introduced to this anime. After checking it out, did the show really live up to all of the hype it was given?
Violet Evergarden is a story about a girl named… well… Violet Evergarden. She was perceived to be a tool to be used for war and was assigned to Major Gilbert Bougainvillea of the Leidenschaftlich Army who thought of her as something more than just a tool. During a battle in the war, both of them are severely injured. Violet ends up losing both of her arms while Gilbert loses his life. Before his time can come to an end, he orders Violet to live on and says “I love you” to her. Being an emotionless tool of war, Violet had no idea what the Major meant by those words.
She is then taken in by Colonel Claudia Hodgins, who was also a good friend of Major Gilbert’s. When he realizes that adjusting to civilian life isn’t going to happen anytime soon, he offers to employ Violet at his company, serving as an Auto Memory Doll: a person who writes letters for those who cannot express themselves on their own or have a lot of letters that need to be created in a short amount of time. Through this work, Violet hopes to gain an understanding of the meaning behind the Major’s final words to her.
That is the entire overarching story in a nutshell, but this anime goes beyond just that story. It also explores the stories of those Violet comes in contact with on her travels as an Auto Memory Doll. Through these experiences, Violet learns the meaning of emotions little by little. The one thing about this show is that every story you come across is almost tragic in some sort of way. Violet ends up having to experience the pain of others and you see how those experiences begin to affect her. A pivotal point comes where she experiences the same pain after learning the Major had died during that battle. All this time, Violet believed that he had survived and she was simply waiting for the day where the two of them would be reunited. Because of her attachment to the Major, nobody had the heart to tell her truth until one day, Claudia decides to inform her which nearly pushes her emotions over the edge.
The stories that they tell throughout this series are very powerful, but not everyone will find a liking to them. Some people are even upset that they swayed away from the light novel’s original story, some just found the show a bit too slow-paced or some of the stories/character uninteresting. Others, like myself, really enjoyed the stories that were told and felt that they were short, bittersweet and rather well-crafted. Seeing how these stories helped shape Violet’s interpretation of emotions was done very well… even though Violet herself remained mostly emotionless throughout the show.
Of course, we have to start off with the character that the show is named after, Violet Evergarden. Violet is an emotionless war tool and not much changes about her soft, yet direct, monotone inflection throughout the series. As she heads out on more jobs, she begins to understand other people’s emotions more and more and she starts to have them herself. It is mostly pain and sadness that affect her at first, but it’s through that pain and sadness that she learns about compassion and, eventually, love. Towards the end of the series, she finally understands what the Major meant by “I love you,” but it pains her to know that she can never return those words to him due to his death.
A lot of people took Violet a few ways. Many felt that she was too boring of a character or that people found it hard to relate to her because of her personality. I felt her personality was perfect for the type of character that she was. Her backstory explained why she is the way she is and made me fully understand the character’s archetype without any issue whatsoever. I felt that the seiyuu played the part perfectly and I felt attached to Violet as I got to experience the same things she did.
Honestly, the problem with Violet Evergarden didn’t really stem from Violet herself. It came from the fact that all of the supporting characters received some initial buildup within the first couple of episodes and then were treated like backburner stand-ins whenever they needed to take a break from shoving Violet in our faces.
Erica, Cattleya & Iris
Normally, I would use this section to go through the characters one by one; however, I don’t really feel that’s necessary because none of them really did anything to warrant discussion. The other Auto Memory Dolls such as Cattleya, Benedict, Erica, and Iris all had their own personalities, but the show didn’t really give us much of a reason to actually care about them. They came in and offered some moral support for Violet when she needed it or, in Benedict’s case, offered up a little bit of a comedic reprieve from all of the drama.
For supporting characters, they played their parts adequately, but it was clear that this show was about Violet and Violet alone and the series didn’t shy away from that one bit. They did put some emphasis on Major Gilbert as well as his brother Dietfried in the back half of the series when they explained Violet’s backstory and even set up the final story arc, but outside of that, none of the side characters really stood out with the exception of Major Gilbert who does deserve some discussion.
Major Gilbert Bougainvillea
Major Gilbert was a soldier with a heart. His brother Dietfried was quite the opposite of Gilbert in the sense that he was very harsh, cold and unforgiving. Dietfried saw Violet as that tool of war and nothing more. He wanted to use her until she had been run into the ground and then dispose of her. He only saw Violet as an object and even had a sense of hatred towards her when he saw how Gilbert thought of her as something more.
Gilbert treated Violet as a human. He gave her love and compassion as well as a reason to live. He tried to teach her that orders were not absolute and that one day she was going to have to live on her own, free from military order. It was obvious that Gilbert cared very much for Violet in many different ways and his kindness shone through with every word he spoke. Even though Violet was attached to Gilbert because she believed that he was the superior commander and it was her duty to serve under him, she began to feel more human emotions, but since she was a trained soldier, she kept those emotions suppressed. In fact, Violet didn’t even understand what those emotions were.
The fact that Gilbert never gave up on Violet and that he understood just what she was and what she needed made him my favorite character in this whole series. He was the proverbial white knight and he played his role perfectly.
Art, Animation, and Sound
Okay… let’s get this out of the way.
Makoto Shinkai? Is that you? #Gigguk
All kidding aside, the art in this show was absolutely stunning. Kyoto Animation really went above and beyond for the visuals from the very high-res backgrounds right down to the nice detail they gave all of the characters. While the supporting characters didn’t really feel like they contributed as much as they should have, you can’t argue the fact that they were all designed extremely well. Each character stood out, looked unique and matched each of their personalities.
The animation in the show was also well-done. It wasn’t exactly movie-quality, but it was a couple of steps above your typical television anime. Everything from facial expressions, to simple movements, all felt natural and conveyed the myriad of emotions that this show brought to the table.
The soundtrack was also really nice to listen to. Every song fits every scene and it really drew you into the world. It had a great mixture of soft, docile tones for the lighter moments to more impactful music to reel you in during the times where the drama ran high. The variety here made this soundtrack feel really complete and it’s one that I recommend that people go out and pick up just to listen to. Youta Tsuruoka and Evan Call formed a great team to really bring this anime to life through its music which was just as beautiful as its artwork.
Needless to say, I highly enjoyed Violet Evergarden from start to finish. There will be some who may be turned off in the early portions of this show because the pacing is rather slow. Actually, it’s fair to say that the pacing remains rather slow until we get into Violet’s backstory with the major, but even with the slow pacing, once Violet heads out and starts accepting jobs as an Auto Memory Doll, things begin to pick up.
They pick up in a way where you no longer mind the slower pacing of the series. You become absorbed in everyone else’s individual stories and it makes begin to take an interest in Violet as a character. It also draws you into a post-war world where there are some people who would rather the war had not ended. You get a sense of conflict and drama from the world itself in addition to its characters and while everything just seems like a side story or just background noise, you begin to realize that everything, eventually, ties to together in the end.
I don’t necessarily think that this is going to win Anime of the Year just because of the sheer amount of big shows coming up, but I will say that I think this deserves to be Anime of the Season without a shadow of a doubt. Even though the show has ended in Japan, it has begun airing on U.S. Netflix so if you’re someone who likes to stream anime here using a U.S. service, you can watch it alongside the other spring shows this season!
Beautiful artwork, well-designed characters, and enthralling stories will draw you in, but don't expect much out of the show's supporting characters. The slow start does hurt the series, but if you can get through that, it's all gravy from there. Excellent series!