There are very few shows that can get me excited from the premise alone. Every once and awhile, a production comes out with an idea both incredibly unique and simple enough for me to easily wrap my mind around and sells me near effortlessly. Back when I was first getting into anime Yumekui Merry sold me with it’s premise of “Fighting nightmares in the dream world” idea, back in 2015 Gakkou Gurashi! sold me with “Cute girls in a not-so-cute zombie apocalypse”, and this year Kyoto Animation’s Violet Evergarden sold me with the idea of “A war veteran who only knows conflict writing letters for people who don’t know how to.” While I’m certain there’s no way any of the aforementioned ideas were wholly unique, something about the breath of fresh air that the idea behind Violet Evergarden provided was more calling than anything I’ve heard about before. So, today let’s take a look at Violet Evergarden.
A great war has just ended. After an arduous four years of conflict, a young girl named Violet could finally join normal society. Having lived her whole life with combat in mind, she was left with one last order by her major that she didn’t understand. Thus, she becomes a so-called Auto Memories Doll, a profession begun to mimic the same purpose literal mechanical dolls of the same name had, to write letters for individuals unable to do so for whatever reason. Through this new job, Violet slowly but surely comes to understand this final order.
Overall, this is the concept behind Violet Evergarden. The show is a somewhat episodic look at Violet in various jobs she’s hired for as an Auto Memories Doll and the lessons either she learns or her clients learn through hiring her. Aside from a short story arc in the middle of the show, this episodic nature continues through to the ending and is honestly a phenomenal approach to this idea. The only problem I could think of with Violet Evergarden while waiting for the anime to come out was that even with a concept like that, a long continuous plot seemed very difficult to pull off as surely there was only so much you could pack inside of a story with that short idea.
By opting for the episodic nature of the production instead, the story lent itself to being consistently interesting and never really growing tired. Since every episode held something new and separate from the others, there was never a moment that felt like it droned on for too long and instead the production held a constant curiosity in the world and Violet’s job all the way to the end. Even in the short story arc, the production paces itself well enough that it’s presence isn’t off-putting.
This isn’t to say that the story of Violet Evergarden is perfect by any means, as there are small moments where pacing does fall apart and character development feels forced, but these negatives don’t drag the story down itself due to how rare they are and how delicately handled and well executed the more important elements of the story are. While there are one or two loose ends that feel like they were never properly tied up, they take effort to remember the existence of and even then are too minute to drag down the production. Violet Evergarden‘s format and overall execution takes being a bit of a nitpick to find the flaws in, and it feels like the narrative was well designed to fit the sort of production that was created.
Being an episodic production, characters are the most important aspect of the show and there is absolutely no shortage of them. The show is filled with a large cast of creative personalities that give the world a full feeling. Often times when a production does what Violet Evergarden does and practically make at least one character with every new episode, things fall apart because characters begin to feel extremely similar and like they hold no purpose. Instead, this show’s cast is a part of it’s identity. The large number of characters the show not only creates, but creates astonishingly well makes it feel like there an infinite number of unique personalities in this world that not only exist in a logical way, but were all moved by the four year war prior to the events of the story in different ways.
An added treat is that when the production does bring characters back to the table again they never remain static. Something about them changes in a logical way but doesn’t conform to a perspective that seems overly predictable because of the episode they were last from. Every character has their own ambitions and goals and learned something different from Violet, so every character develops and continues their lives differently from one another and from how might be expected.
However, when talking about character development in the production it’d be a crime not to bring up how near-perfectly Violet developed as a character. Starting as an emotionless girl who didn’t understand how to write with feeling, leaving all of her letters sounding like status reports from the war, and transforming into a girl who holds back tears when taking a heartbreaking job, who becomes famous because of her ability to represent people’s deeper emotions in letters with unfailing accuracy, and who has learned a sense of identity outside of conflict. Violet transforms beautifully as a main character and in a way that feels incredibly satisfying to witness. Seeing how jobs she takes not only teach others moral lessons, but how these jobs mold her into understanding emotion and the point of view of others is touching in all of the best ways.
This, of course, isn’t without its flaws. Unfortunately because of the kind of story being told, it’s not uncommon for each character to sometimes feel like they’re boiled down and reduced to a springboard for Violet at the story’s command for the sake of plot progression. This somewhat goes hand in hand with the pacing issues the story occasionally has — when the show is nearing the end of the episode without the main conflict of the episode being solved, it begins to speed up for no reason other than a lack of the time needed and when this happens the characters feel more simple so that Violet can have her aha moment.
This unfortunately happens more often than the small issues with the plot. While in many ways the development of the characters — especially Violet — and the unique personalities they have formed largely in part by how the past four years affected them makes up for this, it sometimes makes these hugely unique and well crafted characters feel ultimately pointless. A question of “Why even put the effort into this character if you’re going to reduce them to nothing by the end?” comes up more than once, and while it’s never to a degree that shifts the enjoyment of an episode to purely negative, it is an undeniable problem.
Visually, Violet Evergarden is a bit fickle. While, yes, it often looks gorgeous as Kyoto Animation productions do, there is a bit of an annoying problem in the lighting department of the show. This issues seem to stem from that someone responsible for the computer graphics of the show really likes bloom, and bloom isn’t always the most necessary for every scene that it was added to.
A bright glow is added to several objects in the show merely because they emit light and sometimes the amount of glow they emit is not only disproportionate to how much light that object seems like it would emit, but as soon as the the show hits night time the problem sparks up a bit more. The level of light the same area seems to have different lighting depending just on the emotion of the scene and while, sure, this creates some memorable and stunning scenes, it also creates a bit of an annoying visual inconsistency. How light is handled is never consistent and when keeping that in mind, often the brightness of any given scene can be a bit of a stand out.
Aside from this, the show is very pretty. The setting and characters all have a unique visual identity (the joke of Violet looking a little like Saber from the Fate franchise aside) and every scenery shot is gorgeous. A large spotlight for Akiko Takase for her fantastic character designs and Mikiko Watanabe as well as Yuka Yuneda for their art direction and color direction respectively. The visual appearance of the show from stills or screenshots is consistently great and undoubtedly without their work this show would be very different.
The soundtrack of this show is already taking a strong lead as my personal favourite from 2018. All of the music from the show being by Evan Call, a name I had never heard of prior to absolutely needing to know who was responsible for the soundtrack, not only being perfectly crafted to fit the production, but are very emotional and spectacular stand alone pieces as well. While there are definite stand outs, such as “The Voice in My Heart” and “Never Coming Back”, it’d be doing the entire soundtrack a disservice to say that the whole thing wasn’t as good as the most memorable tracks.
Several of the songs give me goosebumps every time I listen to them and similarly to how without the visual identity that was specifically crafted for the show to a largely important degree, I can’t even begin to image what kind of production Violet Evergarden would be without Evan Call’s music. A soundtrack like his, that both makes the show part of what it is to an integral degree and also stands alone effortlessly, is a golden standard for soundtracks in my book and I look forward to hopefully hearing more of Call’s work in future anime.
The theme songs for the show are also spectacular in great ways. “Sincerely” by TRUE being the opening song and “Michishirube” by Minori Chihara are excellent beginnings and endings to every episode to the point where I watched the ending and opening credits every single episode. The opening song gives a feeling of curiosity and beginning to open the next part of an short story anthology and the ending song is a proper conclusion to many of the largely emotional endings. The insert songs “Believe in…” and “Violet Snow” by Aria Yuuki and “The Songstress Aria” and “Letter” by TRUE are also excellent flares that were added into the show at great moments.
Usually, this is where I’d wrap everything up and tell you my verdict on Violet Evergarden, but before I do, there’s one last very important note I wanted to touch on. Towards the end of the show, after the short story arc I mentioned before, there’s a truly unforgettable episode that undoubtedly won bonus points from me. While being what I’ll likely go on to consider the saddest episode of anime I’ve ever seen, it is also an episode that highlights everything that the production does well in a neat package.
It introduces two new characters as per the episodic format of the show and does a flawless job of making them feel unique and fully developing them so that the conclusion hits you like a speeding truck. The music and visuals throughout the entire episode as well drive that single episode narrative to being as powerful as possible. The only negative I could see saying about this episode (you’ll know which one when you see it) is that it makes the following episodes, while great, seem lacking in comparison — this is to say that this episode is almost too good.
With that now out of the way, I can safely say that Violet Evergarden was absolutely worth waiting for the full release of on Netflix. While not my favourite from the Winter releases, it is an unforgettable highlight that does everything it was set out to do very well. Unfortunately, however, the flaws in it’s visual department and the few and far between pacing issues did tug a bit on my enjoyment of the show and the issue with keeping the fully developed and unique characters relevant throughout all of their screen time did provide a bit of a blow to my view of the show as well. With that said, Violet Evergarden is still undoubtedly a show worth watching and I highly recommend it now that it’s available worldwide. This show was a very enjoyable unique idea that I’m happy I was able to see.
8.37 out of 10
Reviewed by Tsuyuki.
All of the images in this post, including the featured image, were from the television anime series Violet Evergarden. The show is not licensed to my knowledge, however it is available for legal streaming on Netflix worldwide.