Whether it be their classics beloved classics like Clannad and Haruhi Suzumiya or their new projects like Hibike Euphonium and A Silent Voice, Kyoto Animation is continuously creating some of the most talked about, visually impressive Anime in the medium. Their newest project, Violet Evergarden garnered a lot of hype ever since its reveal in 2016 and finally aired this past winter
Now that it has been available on Netflix for some time, is the show a new classic for the Kyoto Animation portfolio? Well, at the risk of spoiling the verdict early, I believe Tristan Gallant of Glass Reflections on YouTube probably summed things up best in the opening of his first impressions of Violet Evergarden some months back.
“Watch. Violet. Evergarden.”
Violet Evergarden is a war orphan who was used as a weapon in a great war. She is cold, distant and lacks an understanding of emotions. She finds herself under the command of Major Gilbert, who sees her as more than a weapon and even gives her a name of her own. The two grow closer as Gilbert tries to teach Violet about how to live as a normal person rather than a soldier.
However, during the final battle of the war, both are severely injured. Before an explosion separates them and knocks out Violet, Gilbert tells her his true feelings, but Violet cannot understand what he means. She wakes up in a hospital with new prosthetic arms, not knowing what to do with herself now that the war is over, and desperate to find the Major, whose whereabouts and condition elude her.
One of Gilbert’s friends, Claudia Hodgins, offers to give Violet a new home working at his company, CH Postal Service. There, women known as Auto Memory Dolls write letters for those who cannot read or write, conveying their clients’ thoughts and feelings into them. It is here that Violet sees an opportunity to try and understand what Gilbert told her by learning about others’ emotions.
Violet Evergarden is a show about empathy and how people understand each other without necessarily having those commonalities spoken. As Violet learns to be an Auto Memory Doll, she realizes that a large part of the job is not simply writing what is said, but also picking up on what is not said and writing it in the letter.
To one such as Violet, who is very literal, learning to interpret what is not said is a herculean task. I found myself sympathizing with her as it would seem a very presumptive thing to anyone with her upbringing. It makes you think about how we do things like this every day, interpreting based on contextual/ nonverbal communication.
Much of the series follows Violet’s various assignments, traveling the continent and writing letters for her clients. These stories are equal parts Violet coming to understand aspects of the human condition, but also her clients learning to overcome those struggles and become stronger people with the help of Violet. She sees part of herself in her clients and her sincere goal to understand why people are the way they are brings out a lot from the people she aids.
It is difficult to pick a favorite story amongst all of these. Rest assured, Violet’s own story and how she comes to understand what love is while receiving closure about Gilbert’s whereabouts is a joy to watch. That being said, the standalone episodes are what I think about the most in the months since I finished the series.
Some episodes envoke a sense of unapologetic joy, such as an episode following the royal correspondence between a princess and her husband to be. Others are a gradual build an emotional climax that stayed with me for days, such as Violet’s quest to help an alcoholic playwright wrought with grief finish his latest work. There are others that are more grueling and strain at your heart, such as the tenth episode about a young girl’s journey to learn the sad reasons behind Violet’s appearance at her house.
Evergarden was directed by Taichi Ishidate, whose previous directorial work was Beyond the Boundary and it shows. Beyond the Boundary, and in particular its follow up film, were very emotional dramas that were relentless towards the end and I believe Ishidate has a talent for delivering this kind of drama without it feeling excessive. There is no doubt that Violet Evergarden is one of the most evocative dramas I’ve seen in years.
The characters of Violet Evergarden can be a mixed bag at times. Those who are at the focus of standalone episodes are highly memorable for their roles. Violet herself goes on an incredible and punishing journey of self-discovery but her coworkers at the CH Postal Service are underutilized. Erica and Iris get their own stories, but only the latter’s comes close to memorable and sadly there is not much to say about Benedict Blue other than he has the coolest design.
Speaking of Benedict, there are implications about the characters’ pasts that sometimes are not expanded upon. For instance, Violet’s past before meeting Gilbert is very vague. It may have been meant to be up to the interpretation of the viewer, but it leaves some questions to be asked later. As for Benedict, I can’t recall the show mentioning if he had any military experience, but he displays certain skill at the end of the series that was very out of place. Neither of these is a deal breaker but it adds to my suspicion that there is more than was intended to be shared about these characters.
There are exceptions to the issues I have with the characters. Hodgins’ struggle in trying to provide an opportunity for Violet to thrive at the behest of Gilbert made him a very likable character. Similarly, Cattleya proves to be an excellent teacher of Violet’s. The only other major side character is Dietfried, Gilbert’s brother, who is Violet’s chief aggressor through her arc in the series. I would say that the recurring characters had less of an impact on me than those featured in standalone episodes. Hopefully, with new OVA’s planned to continue the series, we will learn more about those who had less time.
As for the performances, I can only speak for the Japanese vocals, which were astounding. Yui Ishikawa’s (Mikasa from Attack on Titan) performance as Violet is positively invigorating. The English dub is still worth a shot in my opinion as there was nothing bad in my short viewing of it, but I felt I needed to watch it in Japanese for Takehito Koyasu’s performance as Hodgins. Ever since he voiced Dio in Jojo’s, I can’t get enough of his voice and sadly, the English actor couldn’t get close to that same depth of voice.
Staying with the topic of sound, the soundtrack by Evan Call is pure magic. His previous credits are few in number, but after hearing his work here, I would be very shocked if he did not get more work from now on. It reminds me of classic Disney works. As I wrote this review, listening to the soundtrack in the background, I was reminded of so many scenes that were made so much more impactful because of this score.
In tandem with the score are the visuals and I’ll be blunt. Violet Evergarden may be one of the most beautiful shows KyoAni has ever produced. It is the culmination of the studio’s many strides in terms of liquid and lighting effects. As for the characters, KyoAni’s in-house style is given new life with the complex designs by Akiko Takase sporting a meticulous level of detail.
That the artwork can simultaneously look so good and animate so fluidly during the shows’ occasional bursts of action is an achievement. To many, Kyoto Animation is the best Animation studio, and while my heart still belongs to Bones, I too am constantly falling in love with KyoAni’s work. Even simple character action is made more spectacular thanks to the subtle facial twitches and expressions (another trait of director Ishidate’s previous work, Beyond the Boundary). It goes a long way to telling a story without needing to explain everything, which can be a detriment to other, less-active animated shows.
For as much as I praise Violet Evergarden, I do need to level some criticism at Netflix of America. I have said recently that I am hopeful of their foray into the Anime industry, but for Violet Evergarden to have been simulcast on Netflix in so many countries during the Winter season, yet to have only been made available in America after the show was finished, is ridiculous.
This show is very good and with Anime having such a big following in America, Netflix of America needs to change to adapt to how this community watches Anime. Binging shows is fine. That’s why I enjoyed B: The Beginning so much, but the difference here is that when I got B: The Beginning, everyone else got it too. Same with Devilman Crybaby.
I have no doubt this show will get lots of praise, but I have seen shows I love in the past get overlooked unfairly and wither away in obscurity. I don’t want Netflix’s incompetence in this manner to hurt the viewership of Violet Evergarden.
At the end of the day, Violet Evergarden is a show about how most people, regardless of their myriad of differences, are all united by what we lose and what we long for. The pain that we can all relate to makes it easier to understand one another and reach out to help them. It may be sad, but it is because of that sad truth that Violet is able to become truly human, and that might just be worth the pain.
I hope you enjoyed my review of Violet Evergarden. With my summer opening up, I’m hoping to get more reviews done and this is just the start! Next reviews planned are Batman: Ninja (that’s gonna be fun) and the final part of my RWBY series that people have probably forgotten by now. I will also be reviewing Megalo Box and Darling in the Franxx when those finish and I will likely be talking about Attack on Titan and Sirius the Jaegar once the next season starts. Hope you will all join me, this is gonna be a good summer. Thanks for reading, and as always, see you next time!