Violet Evergarden (2018) Anime Review

Screenshot 2020-06-02 at 12.39.31

Every so often, a show comes around on Netflix that gets added to your list, only to, from time to time, go unseen for a year or so.  This situation happens to many shows in many households, and out of those shows that could be subjected to the situation…this might be 1 of my most bittersweet choices.  Not because of what, but because of when, as several of the personnel who worked on this show were murdered in the Kyoto Animation arson attack in 2019…only for me to see some of what they left behind.  This is Violet Evergarden.

For this review I will be talking about Violet Evergarden as a whole that has been on TV; that includes the 13 episode TV show, the movie spin-off, and the OVA midquel (The later 2 being more like episodes of the show that happen to last longer), and I may update this review when the second movie is finally out, and perhaps and 2nd season (the former of which being delayed until Covid-19 passes).  The light novels in which this all stems from will not be brought up, as it is not available in the west, let alone because that there isn’t an official english translation, which would have sped up the study.  Let’s get started.

Set in a world that’s borrows heavily from early 20th century Europe while mixing some advanced technology and fantastic fashion choices into itself, our story revolves around a young woman named Violet Evergarden, a former military weapon (called a “doll”) who is finding her place in a world where she isn’t needed for her ability to kill and protect.  Violet has 1 goal in mind – to find out what “I love you” means, as they were the last words said to her by Gilbert Bougainvillea, a Major in the Leidenschaftlich Army who gave her orders, and clearly saw her as much more than just a war machine…all before they got separated.  With the help of Gilbert’s friend and superior officer, Claudia Hodgins, who now runs the CH Postal Company, Violet lands a job as an Auto-Memory Doll (A ghost writer for people who can’t write or who struggle to express their true feelings).  However, due to her aloof and robotic nature, this comes as a real challenge that progresses throughout the rest of the series.

Now to discuss the makings:

The art style in Violet Evergarden is…absolutely breath-taking.  Outside of Studio Ghibli, Makoto Shinkai and Laid Back Camp, this might be the most beautiful anime I have ever seen.  The colours are perfect.  The backgrounds are almost organic, like you could step through the screen and you’re there – it’s amazing.  The anime designs are modern and stand out, not because of any trademark design, but because of the choices made to separate each character on screen and from different shows.  Violet herself is instantly recognisable with her hair and eyes alone, then you have the fashion choices for all of the characters…what can also be pointed out is how delicate the details all appear, and without making any suggestions…it’s partly because Kyoto Animation hires more women in their department than any other studio.  There’s this heightened attention to details that I rarely see in most anime…and I would definitely welcome it more.

The Animation is strong, especially in the action scenes.  At times we get to see Violet as the Weapon she was designed to be, and her animations make it clear that you wouldn’t want her on the other end of the battle field.  It maintains the minimalist style that anime is known for, but it’s done incredibly well.  The violence, though rare, decides to be powerful without glamourising itself.

The Voice Acting in Japanese is excellent and I have yet to hear it in English.  Each voice matches their respective designs very well.  I like how Violet’s voice evolves, which I’ll detail in the next paragraph.

The Characters are mostly good, with Violet obviously being the 1 character that experiences the most growth.  Outside of Violet, the other supporting characters give some development, but not a whole lot.  Meanwhile the one-of characters each give their story within their respective episodes, and we see how Violet is able to help them…and it’s beautiful.  Violet reminds me of Aigis (who appears in the video game and movie series called Persona 3) – she starts out talking and acting like a robot, but the more she interacts with other people, sharing their pain and helping them overcome the challenge she is set out to do for them, the more alive she becomes.  Her voice starts to warm up, and her blank expression starts to show more range…especially in sadness.  And in time, an empathy for her grows.

The Story is very much a Coming-Of-Age tale and it plays the long game.  It is episodic, with each story developing Violet a little more towards meeting her goal, which is to write a letter to Gilbert (and obviously to find out what ‘I love you’ means) – Her skills improve, and it becomes clear what impact she has on everybody she works with.  Especially when you consider how she writes – it’s the kind that requires her to hear the truth, whether through vocal tone or body language, let alone the spoken word.  If you want a good letter by Violet, you need to tell the truth.  Which usually creates most of the conflict – but I haven’t seen a bad episode here.

The Music perfectly fits the program, from providing the J-Pop influenced intro of ‘Sincerely’ by TRUE to the show’s outro, Michishirube by Minori Chihara, to the whimsical scores that Evan Call created.  I would give this 5 stars if I was able to recognise most of the music without watching the show (something that Studio Ghibli and Laid Back Camp have nailed perfectly), and while all of the music works well for me, I think 2 pieces stands out as “The heart” of the score (1 is literally called ‘The Voice In My Heart’, the other is ‘In Remembrance’ if you want to find the Original Soundtrack).

The Themes mostly revolve around Love and War…but also around pain, loss, and the grieving process.  Everybody who comes to Violet for a ghost letter, comes to her because they themselves are trying to say “I love you”.  This then adds to Violet’s own development as she gets better with each letter she writes.

Would I recommend Violet Evergarden?  Yes I would.  This, to me, is 1 of those anime that leaves you wanting to make other people happy…and that, once again, is impressive.  Much like Laid Back Camp, I like looking at nearly ever scene with its near photographic intricacies mixed into the design.  I could watch more episodes of this show quite happily, so bring on the second movie and second season when they’re ready!

Art style: *****

Animation: ****1/2

Voice Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****3/4

Themes: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/2

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