Violet Evergarden. What is not to love about this anime? The art is spectacular. The plot is deeply moving. The theme is all about healing even the most terrible of wounds. I never thought it was sad because her arc never stopped pushing forward. I am so happy for her!
This anime has a lot of feel with bits of intense action interspersed. If you aren’t into character development, you won’t like it. I suspect the reviewers who dissed it couldn’t bother to get past the first episode. It might have been more acceptable as a 90-minute movie followed by ten more episodes. Or perhaps they need to start writing letters for other people to learn a wee bit of empathy.
I was in the military for 6 years but never saw action. I knew those who did. I’ve seen the thousand yard stare, the paranoia, the jumping at every loud noise. I’ve talked to them about the nightmares and the guilt and the brutality of combat. I’ve known men searching for a place in a world which now discards and despises them. Pick your war, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, I’ve met vets from all of them. Many came through without permanent damage while some were crushed by it.
After WWII they came home to parades and were heroes. After Korea, there were no parades but we still welcomed them back. Many people spat on those from Vietnam. Humans just suck.
Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers!
Violet was an enslaved orphan child soldier, deprived of the socialization and love that most of us take for granted. Her commander (unlike others around her) comes to see her as a human being instead of a war machine. She is subjected to the absolute worst conditions a war can offer and ends up a double amputee with PTSD and her only friend dead. She spends 13 episodes slowly recovering and learning what it means to be a human being. As she learns, she helps heal those around her.
We start in a hospital bed. Violet is clumsily writing a letter to her commander Major Gilbert. Violet does not know what happened to him, just that they were separated after both receiving critical injuries in action. She is requesting further orders. The letter is never completed. She drops her pen, she reaches for it and falls out of bed in her effort to retrieve it. The wind whisks her letter off into the wide blue yonder.
Major Gilbert is nowhere to be found. He is missing and presumed dead but nobody has the heart to tell her. Instead, Colonel Hodgins, a friend of the Major’s, picks her up at the hospital. The Colonel has been requested to care for her if anything happened to him.
Hodges thinks to take her to a relative’s estate (the Evergradens). The lady of the house has lost her own son to the war. Here we have a big reveal. Under her bandages, Violet no longer has arms. She lost both of them and now has metallic prosthetics for arms and hands. Violet takes on the surname of the estate’s owner, Evergarden. The bandages are replaced by gloves.
Violet Evergarden is set in a world approximating World War One. Her dress appears to be late Victorian even though those around her are dressed in a more modern style. You don’t see a lot of technology floating around, mostly trains, airplanes, ships, and the like. Typewriters are in use, an important plot element. A lot of people cannot write and so hire people to write their letters for them. Others can write but hire letter writers to craft stylized letters to better get their message across. The people who type those letters are known as Auto Memories Dolls.
Hodges just happens to have a company that supplies “dolls” to those who desire to have
letters written. These people (so far only women) try to distill the essence of a message into clear, yet heartfelt and elegant prose intended to communicate feelings as much as facts. His main squeeze is the head of the dolls.
Being a “doll” is a highly respected position. The name isn’t an infantilization or a dehumanization. Even royalty hire them to ghostwrite their most important letters. The job often includes going to the client’s location and may also include personal delivery of the letter.
The problem with the prosthetics is that (aside from being metal and mechanical) they seem to function nearly perfectly. So much so that Hodges takes her on as a doll. She doesn’t have a real command of emotions yet but she can type accurately at hyperspeed. This prosthetic technology is far beyond what we have today and how it shows up in a society a century behind us requires quite a voluntary suspension of disbelief.
Flash back to our child soldier raised only to follow orders and kill.
Deep inside an emotion is forming. She isn’t sure what it is but she is starting to think
kindly about Major Gilbert. Kindly enough that when on leave she asks the major to buy her a green broach that reminds her of his green eyes. Gilbert is also starting to see her in a different light, teaching her how to read and write. Giving her a name, Violet, instead of a number. The brooch practically becomes her signature for the show.
The final major action of the war is upon them. Gilbert and Violet secure an enemy stronghold but are both terribly injured in the aftermath. Violet has lost her arms; Gilbert is shot to pieces and cannot move. An artillery barrage comes down. Violet wakes up alone in a hospital and Gilbert was never found.
She has questions she needs to answer. What is love? What purpose is there in my freedom? This is Gilbert’s final gift to her. She spends the entire season seeking the answer, transcribing other people’s emotions as an Auto Memories Doll. Without Gilbert to give orders and with the War being over, Violet has no purpose to life. She must find a purpose in her newfound freedom.
And now you have the first three episodes. The remaining could mostly be stand-alone episodes, yet they still contribute to her arc. The people she writes for now take center stage as her arc proceeds quietly in the background. Letter by letter we feel the stories of the people she comes into contact with, from love-struck puppies to the deepest of tragedies, including the stories of the families who lost loved ones.
The last one almost destroys her. She understands that every person she killed in battle
was one more son or husband or father who did not come home. One more letter never to be replied too. The soldier who killed so many and with such abandon now has to share the pain the families of those who died. She rises above it and abandons the path of death. Letter by letter she rises above her legacy to become more human. All the episodes are great but ep. 10 left me crushed. In another ep., there is a Mary Poppinesque scene that filled me with joy.
The art is stunning. Backgrounds are detailed and atmospheric. Characters, especially Violet, have a very high line count that still flows naturally during motion. The music matches the mood perfectly. There weren’t a lot of action scenes but the ones it had were brilliant – often dark or colorless as real war often is. This is not an anime of bright primaries, so when you see them, it is important.
Thirteen leaves a bit of a cliffhanger. There was supposed to be an episode 14 out on Netflicks on July 8, but it isn’t there yet. A full-length movie is supposed to come out in 2020. I can hardly wait!