TV Series Review: Violet Evergarden (2018)
“The war is over, and Violet Evergarden needs a job. Scarred and emotionless, she takes a job as a letter writer to understand herself and her past.”
Violet Evergarden is a Japanese anime series by Kyoto Animation, currently streaming on Netflix – one episode a week, like the good ol’ days of television. The series is based on a light novel/manga of the same name by Kana Akatsuki and illustrated by Akiko Takase. The story chronicles the emotional awakening and reckoning of a former child soldier, a human weapon of war, in her new post-war world. There’s a steampunk quality to this world.
Violet is a stunted being, having been treated as a thing, a weapon, an object, for much of her young life. She sports prosthetic arms, answers to commands and does not compute emotions and desires, negating herself to authority. In short, she is an automaton, cyborg-like in her appearance. And yet, she is human; she just needs to find her humanity, to learn to feel and grieve and cry and berate and laugh and love.
And that’s what the series Violet Evergarden is about. It’s about Violet Evergarden finding herself and learning to be human, with all its heartache, horror, regrets and beauty.
What is the Meaning of “I Love You”?
Violet Evergarden owns an emerald brooch, which means a great deal to her, although she cannot express her feelings behind the attachment. In flashbacks, we – the viewers – quickly come to understand the brooch’s significance, to understand Violet’s feelings, even though she does not. The brooch is the same color as the eyes of her former commanding officer, Major Gilbert Bougainvillea. Indeed, Gilbert bought it for her as a gift, the first she ever received in her life. And he declared, as he’s mortally wounded, and the bombs are dropping, and the blood is flowing, and Violet’s arms are blown off, “Live, Violet. Live and be free. From the bottom of my heart, I love you.”
They are his last words to her. And she does not understand them. She does not compute. She does not understand what, “I love you” means. And a year later, recuperating in a hospital, she is still expecting to hear from her officer with the emerald eyes, still awaiting Gilbert’s orders. He never comes. Oh, but we – dear viewers – know what this all means, know that she loves this man and that when she finally realizes that, finally taps into and understands her own feelings, it will be too late. She’s lost her love before she knew what she had.
But one of Gilbert’s old friends, Hodgins, comes to the hospital and offers Violet a position at his postal company. After trying her hand at varying positions, she decides she wants to be an Auto Memory Doll. Her boss does not think her a suitable candidate for such a position.
From Child Soldier to Auto Memory Doll
Auto Memory Dolls are letter writers and secretaries, but more than that, they are empaths. Their job is to compose letters that speak to the heart of the matter, to sift through all the words and feelings and projections and write the emotional truth. They help people find the right words.
So, the near-cyborg, so out of touch with her own emotions, starts learning about feelings, as she has to digest others’. Violet’s typing is speedy, her letters clinical and without nuance, but she is nothing if not determined and steadfast. She is a former soldier after all. And she starts to learn and to understand, not just about others’ feelings, but her own as well.
And as her own feelings begin to come forth, there’s a greater understanding of what she has done. No longer not computing, she feels the pain she has caused, the lives she has taken. She understands now. She burns with remorse and guilt and questions her own right to life. Does a weapon of war deserve a life? Does she have a right to live? Can she forgive herself and allow herself to love and be loved?
I tell you, it’s all very gripping, thought-provoking, tear-inducing stuff!
Animation and Humanity at Its Best
Violet Evergarden is beautiful – beautifully animated, beautifully told. Loss pervades the show, but there is also hope. With every person Violet helps, helps to find the words, to digest the swirling emotions, there is this sense that out of loss comes understanding. Words grow from it, and words are hope. And, yes, life is messy and unfair and incredibly cruel sometimes, but there is always joy. Joy in the details. Joy in the friendships. Joy in the loves. Joy in the breezes. Joy in the memories. Joy in our connections to one another.
Violet Evergarden is a powerful, poignant and incredibly moving series. It may be “just” a cartoon, but it’s dealing with complex human issues in such a compassionate, enlightening and engaging way. See it!
Where to Watch: Netflix.
Content Note: Rated TV-14. There are some brief wartime images/flashbacks that are rather violent and gory, although it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It is there to accentuate a point – that war is bloody. Other than those brief images in a few episodes, there is nothing to come after. No skin, no sex, nada.
Photo Credits: Netflix.
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”