[Disclaimer from the team: While this anime is not out in the United States, currently, a large amount of our followers and fellow Anibloggers are not from the United States and we felt it would be good to share our own thoughts on the series along with them. This is also a bit of a statement for the US branch of Netflix. While we are happy that Netflix is helping to fund and support the anime industry and we fully support legal means for watching anime, their practices in timed region-locking content are not something we agree with, particularly in the case of this show which is available in every country except our own with no explanation as to why. Therefore, given the show in nature is the most anticipated of the past year and we have no available legal means of joining the international discussion, we felt we should write about it regardless.]
Violet Evergarden is finally here. To say that it has been one of the most-hyped anime series to come by in the last few years would be a pretty massive understatement. Whether it’s been through talks about Netflix’s choice of streaming with regards to other countries, discussion from those who have read the source material, or just sheer hype over the potential of the show shown through interviews and PVs, it seems like Violet Evergarden has seeped into conversations for a very, very long time. Does it stand up to the raging hype machine that’s been set up alongside it?
Well, yes…but I’m also a tad concerned.
For those unfamiliar with the show at this point, Violet Evergarden begins as a story of our titular character, who, up until the beginning of the show, a child soldier in a visceral, brutal war, where she was considered by most who knew her to be nothing more than a weapon. Though she was under the care of Major Gilbert during her service, in the aftermath of the aforementioned war, we find her being taken in by Gilbert’s close comrade, Commander Hodgins. Now, under Hodgins’ care, she works at his postal company as an Auto Memories Doll – one who writes letters for those unable to write themselves. Being thought of as a weapon, a doll, a dog, you name it, and having a clearly traumatic past, Violet currently struggles to relate to others in ways that “normal” people might otherwise do. Despite this, she is determined to do her job, even if she feels that she is unsuited for it.
Honestly, two episodes in, I’m pretty into Violet Evergarden, and I feel as though a major reason for this is because I kept myself very much in the dark about the show and kept hype pretty close to zero. In the leadup to the show’s release, I pretty actively tried to avoid the hype, PVs, etc. for the show, largely due to the fact that hype has had such a burning effect on me for many shows and other forms of entertainment that it’s honestly never been a force that made something better. In avoiding all of this beforehand, I think that my expectations for the show have been pretty sufficiently tempered – I am fully aware that Violet Evergarden has a great deal of potential to it, but I am also not expecting it to save anime, either.
With those more modest expectations for the show, it seems to me that, in many ways, the show is fulfilling quite a lot of this potential in a few ways already, primarily through its artistic design and direction, and the subtle ways in which it uses its animation to tell its story. Violet Evergarden is easily one of the most breathtaking shows I have seen in recent memory, evoking such a depth of life, emotion, and splendor that the world of the show and the characters within it are incredible to see in action. With the backdrops of the show, the colors are vibrant, even in scenes of trench warfare, or on a scummy side alleyway of a burning city, and these scenes are furthered and crafted with such an attention to detail in their designs that everything feels intentional and bespoke for this show. The locations feel familiar, but simultaneously entirely their own new, exciting locales just waiting to be explored, and it gives a solid sense of excitement – of what we might see in the coming episodes.
But with the characters themselves, the use of very specific animation of facial expressions and body language really work to bring the cast to life. Small expressions in Violet’s usually stoic face, for instance, are particularly effective, as it gives us a look into her conflicted self, but it is a look that we have to parse ourselves. Interactions such as Hodgins’ inability to remove his hands from his pockets when he is speaking with Violet about Gilbert’s wellbeing after the war, for example, are noteworthy as well. Being a fairly expressive character himself, seeing him struggle to answer and give a tell of sorts through this adds yet more depth to how we perceive Hodgins – though an expressive person, he is also capable of attempting to conceal, as well. The other major cast characters are quite well put together also, and it makes the postal service feel quite alive with characters that have their own thoughts, motivations, hopes, dreams, and lives outside of what we see in the span each episode.
This living, breathing ecosystem of characters is one of the things that makes this show so fascinating, and one of the more interesting dynamics is that of how both Hodgins and Violet are handling postwar life. The two, though they manifest it in different ways, are each grappling with some level of postwar trauma – Hodgins, for example, is able to hold it all together most of the time, but we have instances where his calm and composed outer demeanor cracks from the grief of losing comrades, close friends in the war. As for Violet, though she does not often seem to realize it, as Hodgins puts it, her body is “on fire” because of what she did in the war, though it would likely be more accurate to say that her entire being is, and that she is going to burn up because of it at some point. She does, of course, have the ever-present physical reminder of the war – her prosthetic arms – with her always, and she does struggle with it, but more than that, she struggles with the reality of living as a child soldier for, at the very least, four years. While that in and of itself is an incredible amount of trauma for one person to shoulder, though, episode two makes it quite clear that her traumatic past was not just limited to the years on the battlefield with Gilbert – full disclosure, this is spoiler territory for episode two. We find out that Gilbert’s brother Dietfried gave Violet to Gilbert as a “gift” that he found in the warzone – that she was merely a weapon, not meant to get attached to. But in this scene, Violet is ragged, skinny enough to see her ribs, and quite clearly bruised all over, suggesting that she indeed has experienced some degree of trauma for some time before this. Violet is very much a broken person, and it is tragic seeing it.
Due to this brokenness, she has internalized a great deal of baggage, genuinely believing herself to be merely a tool to be used, and further, discarded if she has no use. Beyond that, even though she is out of the war, since war is about all she has known, it is almost part of her DNA to be a soldier, in that sense. She still salutes, she still gives military affirmatives, and she can’t even begin to eat a meal unless she’s told that she can begin eating. Her entire sense of self-worth revolves around her belief in her status as a soldier and a weapon, and seeing her cope with that is hard. This difficulty in watching is one of the better things about the show, though, because although some of her awkwardness is funny every now and then, we also do get these very genuine moments of support for her from her peers, as they see her trying to do her best at her work. And for me, seeing a show like this where Violet’s peers rally around her as she works to break free of the status of soldier that has shackled her would be incredible, if it was to have her come into her own through it. However, I’m not entirely sure that that is where this is going, and that’s what worries me.
For me, the show of course does not necessarily have to be what I described above. Having it simply be an alternate history period piece of some kind would be interesting enough. However, what I fear is that the show may go down the path of becoming the beaten-to-death scenario of “the robot/doll/weapon/whatever learns to love”, and if it does, I feel like that would be such an incredible amount of wasted potential. Violet does, after all, decide to work as an Auto Memory Doll so she can understand what the phrase “I love you” means after she was told this by Gilbert. But for us to have such a fundamentally broken character that works and strives to become her own person, and for her to suddenly have an epiphany that’s spurred on by “true love” or something of the like would just be the most hackneyed, underwhelming direction for this show to go in.
I’m not saying that there’s no place for romance in this show – there is, and I feel like elements of that could definitely be beneficial and instrumental for Violet to understand different facets of human life and interaction. I am saying, though, that having romance be the end-all-be-all centerpiece of the show seems like a waste, especially when there is actually such an upwelling of possibility for Violet to discover the meaning of “I love you” in, for example, a familial sense. She could come to a realization of a fatherly, mentoring love from Hodgins; perhaps a sense of familial, found family love from the other Auto Memory Dolls as they all, as Cattleya puts it, use their typewriters as weapons to help them forge a path for themselves as working women in society. Again, there’s nothing wrong with romance, but having that as a development as opposed to having Violet live out Gilbert’s wish for her to be free and to live her own life just seems like wasted potential.
At this point, the show has not given me any overly major reasons to worry about this, but as it stands, I can see how it could possibly go down that road. However, rather than worry about it excessively, for now, I’m going to continue to enjoy the leisurely ride we’re taking with the show so far. It’s definitely a slow burn, but it’s an enjoyable one, for sure. These have been a solid, heartwrenching, and heartwarming first two episodes, and I’m thrilled to see where it takes us from here.