Posted by SuperMario on 22 April 2018 with categories: Anime Reviews, Violet Evergarden

Violet Evergarden’s existence has surely been a public one. Acclaimed before everyone lick a taste of it (it was awarded for grand prize in the fifth Kyoto Animation Award’s novel category in 2014 – read, KyoAni awards), it goes without saying that Violet Evergarden is one of the most anticipated show of the sparse Winter 2018 season. As with my first impression, I left the show feeling a bit torn about it. On one hand, the production is top notch and when the show hits right, it sweeps you right away. On the other hand, I don’t buy much of Violet’s central conflicts and the show has a tendency to go over-soapiness and try to explain too much, which I never fond of. To be fair, Violet Evergarden has never known for its subtlety, its intend is always to pull as many punch as possible. Violet Evergarden, therefore, is at its strongest when it uses Violet as an observer, to put her as a background for characters with their own struggles have to finds ways to overcome. When she stays in the spotlight, however, the amount of predictable development and cheesy moments always overwhelm the show’s own emotions.

Let’s begin our journey with the way KyoAni adapts these Light Novels into anime form. The Light Novels start with Violet as an already established Memory Doll, and makes it ambiguous as to whether Violet is a robot or a human. Throughout many encounters with clients should we learn more about the violent pass of Violet, and her super-soldier self. To put it another way the Light Novels uses her more as a reporter with set personality. In the anime version however, KyoAni decides to shift the focus to the whole character arc of Violet. Make her vulnerable at first, and then build her character gradually. I appreciate the intention (in fact about half of their episodes are original material. Impressive), since anime medium works different than written form so it’s always a wise move to modify the content, so it’d fit with the visual medium; BUT I’m not sure if these changes improve the narrative. The thing is, Violet as a central narrative is a boring lead and she’s utterly unrelatable. She doesn’t possess any personality traits and repetitive responses get pale really, really fast.

But to build Violet the character from ground zero also means that when she changes, the changes will be massive. Violet is suppose to be a robot, at least in terms of narrative sense. Everyone regards her as a killing machine, she sees herself as someone’s royal dog, the show visualizes her as a bleeding doll, and the novel purposely frames her as a robot, anything but a human. It’s also the show’s narrative that Violet needs to learn these emotions in order to truly become a full-fledged human. There are some neat ideas behind it, namely the way she realizes the bad deeds she has done in the past. When she doesn’t realize, it’s okay to live on, but when she does, the fact that she ends many people’s lives comes back to hurt her. Relying on someone else to live (in this case, Gilbert), is as sad and unbalanced as it might get, and her own arc has to do with her coming to terms with the fact that Gilbert is no longer there for her and raise independent on her own. It comes to episode 8 and 9 which feature one huge flashback to the day Gilbert died and Violet experiencing her grieving process. While I personally feel this flashback a huge waste of time given we don’t learn anything new, it feels like a complete arc for Violet. That is the reason why the real climax in the end doesn’t do much to me since we already see her arc done in previous episodes.

Violet Evergarden’s best parts are the standalone episodes where Violet doing her jobs – reciting or writing letters for their clients. At heart, these letters represent the desire to connect between people, they represent all those raw feelings that can’t be said out loud, and Violet is in middle of its own trying to translate those feelings into written words, and learn about emotions in the process. All these little stories, from a playwright making a new children-play, to the sick mother write future letters for her daughter, to write love letters from the heirs of two nations, each of them adds more layer to the concept of ghostwriting and her job of connecting the hearts of people together and most of them give a satisfying emotion to their story. The best episodes amongst them are episode 10 (sick mother and her daughter) and episode 7 (playwright).

The production by and large is impressive with detailed character designs (it’s one rare production where all the background characters are fully portraited with their own costumes and figures), consistent animation and striking background designs. Each story where Violet performs her jobs has different kind of settings, and Violet Evergarden really gives it their own on breathing life to those places. The lighting, however, doesn’t give the show a justice here. All interior scenes feel too dark, for one thing, and the way Violet Evergarden uses their focus lenses which make the centre of focus detailed and the rest blurred) hurts the show more than support it. It’s one of the case where I consider they over-playing with post-production. Such a shame since it feels like they don’t have enough confidence to their raw production.

As for characters, it pains me to say that the supporting cast doesn’t reach their full potential either. There are many anime original characters, and most of them have their own episodes to shine. But Hodgins and Cattleya are surprisingly underdeveloped despite appear almost in all episodes. Gilbert is just a vessel for Violet’s personal growth and the appearance of Dietfried in the end doesn’t leave much impact either. There is a hint of the aftermath of postwar era, which I somewhat enjoy but I don’t feel that it reaches its full potential. And all the drama is over-blown, which kind of bang me hard in the head.

All in all, Violet Evergarden is a roller coaster of emotions, in more ways than one. It either sweeps you away with its grandeur approach, or it doesn’t (like myself). The central development is a conventional and predictable one, and the show’s best moments are the ones where they move away from Violet as the central conflict. Despite my grumpy it’s still a solid made and worth watching at least one, if only for the beautiful CG-animated mechanical hands of Violet.

6 Responses

  1. Avatar moochi2000 says:

    interesting observations, for me the first 3 episodes absolutely sucked. i really had to grind it through to see the beauty of this show. if episodes 7 and 10 were standalone episodes, this anime would be a strong 9/10. i think you are absolutely right in saying that violet alone is super dull and boring. the animations were so nice, it’s a waste that everything felt out of place and kind of ‘slice of life’ yet nothing really ties it all together.

    • SuperMario SuperMario says:

      I share the same sentiment. To be fair this show has a substance, and has the look. But the way it approaches its emotional moments are way too ham-fisted it leaves me cold. But like Travlos down there said it, it’s just a matter if its grandeur approach is for you or not.

  2. Avatar KTravlos says:

    I on the other hand found both the Violet centered arcs great, and the ones were she is an observer good as well. I did not mind the weakness of elements of the premise (her shoe-horned military role), and I enjoyed seeing her grow and make peace with who she is and her story. Thus an exceptional show for me. It is as you said. If the Violet arcs do not hold you, this is a flawed show. If they do, this is a great show.

  3. I agree with you on the dual climaxes of the show, and that some of the side characters could have used a little more screen time. The problem was that with such a short show its hard to give every character their proper development. The dark interior settings didn’t bother me and I didn’t even think about it till I read your review. I didn’t find Violet to be a dull character, but then I like the discover your humanity/emotion stories. The very least I could give it would be a 90.

    • SuperMario SuperMario says:

      Well, Hodgins and Cattleya (and many other side characters) are unmemorable not strictly because of their limited screentime, but because every time they’re on screen, it has to do with Violet and Violet alone. How they feel for Violet. How they think this and that is the best way for Violet. As a result, I don’t even consider them as independent characters.

      Even the night scenes are too dark as well. While watching the episodes I didn’t mind them too much but when I looked at the screencaps I took, I can’t barely make out some of them. The thing is, from what I heard originally those scenes were brighter, but then KyoAni darkened them with post processing, which I don’t think strengthen the show much.

  4. Avatar Mike says:

    Violet Evergarden was the best anime this winter season. I was impressed by it’s grand approach and production.

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