Violet Evergarden 9+10 – Loss and Learning to Heal

Episode nine was what this whole series up to this point has been building to and honestly, had they wanted to make a shorter series, they could have cut it right here and have had in my opinion one of the best endings of the season, possibly of the past few years.  For all of those who may have dropped the show because of the pacing, I ask to please reconsider as episodes 7-9 were exactly what you were waiting for, but they wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the rest of it. The slow burn up to this point and the character and world-building are what enabled this midseason segment to work so well.  To those that were on the fence or those that had written this show off earlier I personally will vouch that this is the proof that it all does pay off and does so beautifully. Because of this, I’ll be interested in seeing what they do in order to continue this onward and what they plan to do for the actual ending, given how final and amazing episode nine was.

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This episode is a direct sequel to the events of the last two.  If you haven’t watched episode nine yet, give yourself an amazing present and go watch it as I’ll be forced to talk about some major spoilers.  On that note, I’d like to begin by saying that I personally know a few people in my life who deal with PTSD and while I am in no way an expert, I felt this episode did a great job of representing some aspects of this disorder.  It’s not only experience in war or trauma that can cause PTSD and Violet seems to have a stacked issue of being abused as a child, her own experiences in wartime, as well as watching someone she loved die, someone who at the time was her entire world.  Understandably, Violet not only blames herself, but feels helpless, and imagines the Major blaming her as well. She feels that she doesn’t deserve to have the life she lives now because of all she’s done. This not only leads to depression and violence but also a very hard scene to watch of self-harm.  These are symptoms and actions others with PTSD in real life can go through, and it didn’t help that at first, people avoided her, thinking that giving her space would help her instead of the actual isolation she felt.

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I have not bawled so quickly in an episode before.

It was hard to watch Violet go through this.  However, the latter half of the episode is what brought me to tears.  It starts with Violet forced to distract herself with the arrival of a letter and the postman that gives it to her.  She decides to assist him in delivering the leftover mail that had been thrown out by a lazy employee. In delivering these, she finds she’s giving a small bit of joy to others.  The postman notes that every letter deserves to be delivered, which causes Violet to think about the letters she herself wrote for others. She then reads the letter given to her and finds it was written by the other memory dolls, telling her that they are there for her and to never be afraid to confide in her.

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In this and the next few scenes – helping the brother of the sister in the previous episode, finding the photograph in the paper on her doll schoolmates, the poster for the playwright, as well as seeing the flowers that she gets her namesake from outside the flower shop – Violet is reminded of the good that she has done since the war.  Her support group is there for her and her actions have not all been black. The healing and positive re-envisioning of herself that goes on was very, very well done, allowing her to slowly overcome the self hate and depression she had previously in small steps. And I think it’s wonderfully written that Violet is shown to not suddenly, magically be back to normal even after all of this.

In fact, it was this point that actually made me cry, as Violet clearly shows the pain she still feels when she confronts Hodgins and asks the question that he had been asking himself this entire time:

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It’s such a powerful moment.  Both of them have suffered so greatly since the war, and while we see Violet dealing with it more now, we’ve also seen in several scenes how much Hodgins had been holding inside and dealing with by himself.  Both of them are having to live with their actions and the terrible things they’ve gone through and have done.  As soon as Violet voices the feeling they both have, Hodgins breaks down. Through tears, he tells her that they can’t erase the past, but what Violet has done since the war can’t be erased either. It’s very clear that what he says to her is also what he is saying to himself.

Their pain and wounds, what they have done won’t go away.  However, what they do from now on will help them deal with the pain and guilt they have, and with time, they can heal some.  Violet doesn’t leave this episode a new woman, nor is she suddenly better from everything. And that’s how it should be. The effects of PTSD can be managed, and even healed a bit, but it won’t ever be gone.  This show has done such a wonderful job of showing this but also showing that it can and will get better, if these characters allow it to.

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This is what made episode nine work so well and why I feel that the direction of a slow burn to this point was the right choice.  We have seen Violet grow so much up to this point, not only in learning the emotions and feelings she and others have, but also in coming to terms with herself and her past.  And it’s because of these experiences she’s had since the war that she is able to to do this. To take out the episodes prior to this would cheapen what KyoAni built for this episode and cheapen the story as a whole.  It may have taken patience to get here for some but, for me, it was a beautifully written build up to this episode and well worth the wait.

And so where does the story go from here?

While episode ten is another self-contained story, I initially felt that this was a good idea.  The past few episodes were a doozy and watching these back to back, it seemed this was a bit of a breather from the real intense feels both for myself, and I think for Violet as well.

That was what I thought, anyway.  But then I actually watched episode ten.  Hoo boy.

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This was my face halfway through this episode.

The episode starts off innocent enough, though obviously tinged in a dark way.  While it is obvious the the mother who has asked for Violet is ill, to see it from the child’s eyes as she helplessly watches her mother wither was hard.  I can understand how some may not enjoy this episode as much as myself. The child, Ann, is seemingly brat and in much the same way people feel The Fault in our Stars and other John Green books feel cheap in using sickness as an immediate emotional device, I feel it’s more how someone uses the idea rather than the idea itself being cheap.  In this case, I felt it was used very well. We see Violet work with the mother writing letters for someone Violet and the mother won’t say but we also see Violet then connect with the little girl, Ann, who struggles to understand what all is going on, frustrated by the lack of information from the adults.

In this way, it’s understandable that she may act spoiled.  She feels the adults are ignoring her, even her own mother. On top of this, this new “doll” that shows up seems to be taking all the time with her mother away from her and as we see later, she is very much aware of how much time her mother may have left.  The girl is not ignorant of death, as her father had passed away in the war, something that hit Violet hard and we see more of her struggle with her own PTSD as the comment from the little girl about her father causes Violet’s facade to break a bit (a wonderful nod to the previous episode).  On top of this, the girl knows how sick her mother is and is so very, very scared. She’s scared and helpless as she watches her mother get worse and worse and upset that knowing all of this, her mother seems to be ignoring her. Tension finally breaks and Ann says all of this to her mother, demanding that if she is going to die, to stop ignoring her and spend her last days with Ann.  Hearing this from her own child, her mother cries.

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The girl runs away and Violet goes after her.  When Violet catches up, Violet attempts to console her, explaining to Ann how strong she has been to deal with all of this. However, the girl denies this, blaming herself for her mother’s sickness and hating herself for making her own mother cry.  Violet, in a very beautiful moment, states that just as she cannot get her arms back after everything that has happened, the girl cannot change what will happen to her mother. Violet both better comes to terms with her own pain and loss and tries to convey to this girl how she must deal with it as well.  This was an amazing moment, in my mind. There are once again no sunshine and rainbows. This show is very mature and clever in how it approaches the issues it brings up, something very few I feel have accomplished well.  We all must accept death and we all need to understand that it more often than not, comes much earlier than we want it to.  Violet in just a few words and a powerful scene, is able to explain this to this Ann.  She doesn’t tell her it will all be alright because it sadly won’t, and Ann has to face this.  But even still, Violet still supports Ann and allows her to cry as she hugs her.

We see after this that as Violet is leaving, Ann thanks her.  Ann spends the rest of her days that she has with her mother, the letters now done, and in a twist from the norm for this show, we see the passage of time.  We see Ann get older and attend her mother’s funeral. And then we see the first letter arrive. We find out that each letter her mother and Violet wrote was for her, for each birthday Ann would have and each one arrives to her as she continues to age, giving love and her mother’s advice for each milestone the girl passes.  We see that with each one, Ann is able to cope with her mother’s loss better and we see how she is able to find happiness in her life again, growing up, finding friends, and starting a family of her own.

As we come back to Violet in the past and the shows current timeline, we find that she had helped the mother write fifty letters, one for each birthday over the next fifty years.  And we also see how much her time with Ann had affected her, as Violet bursts into tears thinking about how alone Ann will be. Cattleya consoles her by letting her know that Ann will have the letters Violet wrote for her to help her throughout her whole life.

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Episode ten started off in such a way that I expected it to be another one shot with a few feels and a happy ending.  And while that was what sort of happened, the actual story this episode told hit me really hard. The experience of dealing with a time limit, knowing someone you love is not going to be around much longer, and then having to deal with that as a child, was very, very well portrayed and hit me like a sack of bricks.  I can understand why others will see this as another one-off episode but for me, it hit a personal note. Growing up in a very large extended family, I attended many more funerals than weddings as a child. It was hard to deal with family that I knew passing well before I was able to grow up and truly get to know them as adults.  On top of this, I’ve known family that had a time limit due to sickness and others that died well before their parents did. Death had been a very hard and unfortunately frequent experience for me growing up and reliving that through Ann’s young eyes threw a lot of that back to me. I’m very lucky to still have both my parents but I feel can understand the pain and loss that Ann deals with here and I’m so very happy that this show has done such a wonderful job of maturely dealing with this topic.  For me, this was a one-two punch between the previous episode and this one but I loved both very, very much. Violet Evergarden has shown to me that while it isn’t perfect, it is able to smartly and beautiful deal with the topics and emotions it chooses to bring up.  For me, this anime continues to improve on itself and stand out on its own more and more. I find myself very happy that I’ve been able to enjoy its story.

 

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