Violet Evergarden 5+6 — In the Eye of the Beholder

Violet Evergarden is one of these shows that I feel at odds with when trying to discuss, as I feel while there’s so many good things to say about the series and how much I enjoy it and what it does, there’s an equal amount of criticisms I have for the show, yet it never detracts from my enjoyment of the show as I’m watching. It’s a complicated feeling for me, as I do deeply enjoy the show, but at the same time, cannot bring myself to call the show anything more than “good” as I’m watching it. I feel there’s plenty more the series could do with itself than the story is showing me at this moment. “Why is that?” is always what I ask myself in these scenarios, and I think episodes 5 and 6 are perfect to discuss why I both love this series and also feel like it could improve upon itself.

Episode 5 is a fantastic episode story-boarded by Naoko Yamada from Kyoto Animation, a favorite studio of mine for producing all sorts of ground-breaking and amazing works of all kinds, not to even mention how much I adore Yamada’s works such as K-ON! and A Silent Voice. She seems to always place a great amount of emphasis on more subtle character interactions and animation choices than for a more flashy or glamorous shot, which is something that I deeply enjoy from anything she’s ever worked on. While Yamada isn’t the main director, it’s clear as to the touches she’s placed upon this episode as Violet Evergarden gets involved as a ghostwriter for a princess in order to write to a prince of another kingdom. It’s a somewhat cliché story, but a heartfelt one nonetheless.

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With a more romantic emphasis upon the characters and story of this episode, this was definitely an enjoyable episode with those more subtle touches placed upon the characters, and ironically because of their subtlety, they became some of the more memorable moments of the episode. Kyoto Animation as a studio has many directors and animators that are good at subtle, nuanced, and focused animation, and it shows throughout their work. Even though episode 6 had a different storyboard animator and episode director, it’s clear that this is something that they’re emphasizing for this show, as feelings can be very difficult to tell through words, something which Violet and the princess discuss during episode 5.

This animation technique is very effective for each of these one-off sort of stories they tell, and it’s pertinent to the story at hand; a story about a character attempting to uncover how she really feels about things and has many difficulties expressing herself, which makes her gestures that much more important, which definitely is exactly within Kyoto Animation’s range of both storytelling and animation style, and is something I look forward to seeing every single week this show airs.

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The trend followed with episode 6, and surprisingly, I even appreciated this one more for those animation techniques than I did episode 5. Having a similar character within the story in a similar situation to Violet and having her interact with him seemed to have really connected with her and caused her to be even more expressive than usual. Perhaps she felt a greater connection to someone that’s been in a similar place as her. Even if it was nowhere near as harsh of an environment as her being a child soldier, Leon himself has been through enough mentally and emotionally to have the same sort of trauma and feeling of exile that Violet has had in her past.

I feel that through this sort of camaraderie that they experienced by having to work together, they felt a bit more at ease in discussing their problems and comfortable in their surroundings, despite being unfamiliar with each other before this. It’s possible that Violet may be improving upon actually expressing herself gradually, and this episode was the first signs of that happens, or perhaps it was only because she was beside another character similar to her, we can only see how much she’s improved by having a mirror image next to her.

In contrast, it’s obvious that Violet’s issues are more deep-rooted than Leon’s per the ending of the episode, but it’s definitely true that Violet is slowly discovering things about herself and her personality through these interactions with other people and her growing experience as an Auto Memoir Doll.

While I have so many good things to say about this series that I heavily enjoy and will praise in many aspects, I also can easily say that it’s not my favorite show of the season, nor do I think it’s the best show of the season. That doesn’t mean that I hate the show in any capacity, but I can easily understand why others either cannot get into the series or have dropped the series on the whole, as I feel the same way about certain aspects of the show.

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I can’t speak for others that may have dropped or lost interest in the show, but I think the show’s pacing may have thrown people off at first, and I can understand why. It is definitely one of these shows that has a “slow burn” aspect to its story, one that you’ll have to keep watching for several episodes to really uncover the the big emotional hitters within the story, and I realize that’s not something that everyone enjoys. I myself enjoy stories like this, but I think Violet Evergarden definitely puts the term “slow burn” to the test, with showing little development of Violet as a character over several episodes.

While the episodes have definitely had some powerful moments within themselves along with some very interesting side stories involving other characters within the series, I feel that those moments are definitely few and far between. This contributes to this “slow burn” effect a bit too heavily and turning the show into something different than what the story seems to intend itself to be at this point in time, which isn’t problematic in itself but is definitely a glaring issue in the grand scheme of the story.

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I heavily enjoy each of the one-off episodes I’ve seen, but considering we’re almost halfway into the series at this point and we’ve gotten only subtle hints of Violet’s character changing within episode 6, I’m concerned that we will never see any progression by the end. There have been many series before that have an ending that prepares for a second season or that has a point of “we want to end on a more ambiguous note to let the viewer interpret the ending for themselves”, which are both fine in their own regard. What bothers me though is that we’ve had so few stand-out moments for the series in question up to this point, and I’m not entirely sold that we’ll get too many more before the end without a major change in the direction of the story.

This brings me to my second major concern: the ending of episode 5.

The series tends to lean in the direction that it has a bit more to it than meets the surface through its more subtle nuanced scenes, although it hasn’t done anything too drastic to throw the balance of the story off. It’s one thing to have a series where the main character has little to no progression shown throughout it, as that’s more of a stylistic choice on the writer’s part than an issue with the writing itself. What would become an issue though is if this tone is suddenly contrasted by many larger, more dramatic ones after this long spell of having few scenes with great impact within the series.

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The ending of episode 5 tends to swing a bit more into the side of “heavy drama” than “nuanced drama”, and I’m not sure if the series takes that more dramatic route how it would tonally feel against the material of the show that we’ve already seen. It may become jarring if done incorrectly, and I’d hate to see a series this beautiful and the potential to be so good take a heavy-handed turn in a direction that doesn’t fit with the show’s characters or thematic overarching plot.

It feels like to me this series needs to strike some dramatic balance within the story to be able to successfully pull off what the series seems to be going for and also keep the story interesting. The pieces are absolutely there for a fantastic story; it’s just a matter of putting them together in the right way to refine the series to its maximum potential. The show is very enjoyable and good as it is, but I see so much potential for the future of this series if it steps up its game a bit, and I do have faith in the KyoAni team that they will make it happen somehow, but that still doesn’t entirely break my skepticism for the series as of now.

Even as I’m writing this, there are now 3 episodes I have not seen and am excited to watch and see how the series unfolds itself, but those concerns still loom in the back of my mind even amongst the sheer beauty and talent that shine through with each episode of the show.

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As a final thought, I want to stress that I still think this show is still one of the better shows of the season, and it shows through each episode that the staff of the show is definitely trying their hardest to make this series the best work they can possibly make it, something which I find easy to believe is KyoAni’s goal for every single one of their shows. It has some room for improvement as of these episodes, but I entirely thing that this show has some of the best self-contained stories that I’ve seen in a while, each of them serving a distinct purpose for Violet’s character development. We may have yet to see the payoff of that development, but I am awaiting that moment with both excitement and anxiety, seeing if KyoAni can pull of their magic touch once again.

Keep pushing forward Violet Evergarden, your potential has yet to be reached.

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