Violet Evergarden – Ep. 1 (First Impressions)

Note: Violet Evergarden is now available on Netflix in the US.

To be honest, it’s a little surreal that Violet Evergarden is finally here. It has, after all, been almost two years since the original announcement that this anime got greenlit. But sure enough, it’s real and you can watch it right now. It’s a slight shame that Netflix has only sort of figured out simulcasting in some countries. Here at the US, the show won’t be officially available until sometime in the Spring. Oh well, baby steps I guess.

I think it’s safe to say that this was one of the most anticipated anime for Winter 2018. It certainly was the case for me personally; I even marked it under “High – Most Anticipated” in my Season Preview. As crazy as the hype may be, I get why it got to that level. Kyoto Animation is a prestigious studio by default and you even have Netflix distributing and dubbing the show as well. The Violet Evergarden light novel is the first and only work to have ever won the Grand Prize at the KyoAni Awards and as self-serving as those awards admittedly are, having that honor is still a big deal.

Now, I should disclaim in this post that I have read a translation of the light novel and that will naturally affect how I anticipate, interpret, and ultimately enjoy this anime. Personally, I thought the light novel was far from perfect but I still liked it a lot. The prose can be a bit clumsy or overwrought from time to time but I nevertheless found the characters to be quite good and the story emotionally evocative and thematically poignant. I don’t know if I’d call it a masterpiece but it was, overall, strong enough to make me think that an anime adaptation would be worthwhile.

I obviously can’t speak for the whole show right now but I must say that this premiere had me thinking that KyoAni is doing their dardenest to make Violet Evergarden work as an anime. Frankly, I wonder if this story might fit this medium more than on text. The experience just feels lot subtler and more concise now that characters can emote in animation, thereby speeding up the story’s need to convey their thoughts to us. Regardless, this episode was just solid on its own merits – a strong introduction to Violet herself (Yui Ishikawa) and how she becomes an Auto Memory Doll, a sort of ghostwriter for those unable to read and/or write. The set-up is dramatic for the most part as we learn about Violet’s past as a child soldier but there’s also some nice comedic bits involving her, her new employer Claudia Hodgins (Takehito Koyasu), and other staff members of Hodgins’s postal service.

One thing I really like about Violet’s character (both here and in the light novel) is how emotionally “incomplete” she is. The show only presents a few glimpses of her past but you understand that she has never lived a normal life. She was raised to fight and kill for a war and as such, her emotional range seems limited and inhuman. The very fact that she’s been discharged now that the war is over is a truth she can’t fully accept as she’s so used to following orders and being useful to her commanding officer, Gilbert (Daisuke Namikawa). Hodgins seems to struggle with bringing her to a less violent side of life. He offers her stuffed animals as a gift and introduces her to her new guardians, the Evergardens — all of which phases through Violet. Only by hiring her as a member of his postal service is Hodgins able to reach a middle ground. Violet is still following a chain of command but it’s at least a gateway towards a freer life for her.

Towards the end of the episode, Violet meets some of the Auto Memory Dolls. That the Dolls essentially write people’s feelings down compels Violet to take on the job herself. The reason behind this is that Violet desires to know what love is after Gilbert once professed that he loves her before the end of the war. It’s an interesting set-up as it’s implied that you need to be empathetic in the first place in order to work as a Doll and the meanings of various emotions clearly elude Violet’s mind. Still, it’s no wonder that Hodgins approves of her decision as this is the first time that Violet has ever exercised her free will and living freely is what Gilbert hoped Violet would do after the war.

Something that I should point out to those who haven’t read the light novel is that this is actually not how the text starts. The light novel was structurally more episodic with Violet’s character gradually revealed to the reader from observations made by her clients. This anime pilot instead takes materials from the end of Volume 1 and the beginning of Volume 2 which is when the reader would find out Violet’s origin. It’s an interesting choice for sure, one that I can imagine some source material purists feeling peevish over. Personally, I approve of this change. In the light novel, keeping Violet a constant mystery was getting a little stale and I think knowing more about her motive and demeanor at the start will make it easier to relate with her. And thematically, Violet Evergarden is a story about self-discovery, moving on from the past, and developing empathy. It’s a reasonable decision to put that all upfront. Fortunately, not everything about Violet’s past was given away so I’m hoping that’ll mean the story will sometimes cut between that and the present when it’s most appropriate. Judging from the last trailer for the show, this anime will eventually get to the earlier contents of Volume 1 so I don’t mind that KyoAni chose to save it for later.

As far production values go, KyoAni is just killing it. Even by their own standards, this show is just downright gorgeous. The coloring, the lighting, the textures — it all looks good. Perhaps the most curious aspect of the visuals is the show’s use of blurring effects. In a number of shots, the subjects in the foreground are visibly clearer than the backgrounds they stand against. I’m curious about the reason behind this aesthetic choice. I highly doubt it’s budgetary because let’s face, KyoAni clearly spent a lot of time and money on this. I will say that in some scenes, I think the effect works quite well; I feel like it fits with how lost Violet feels in her life and how little she understands the world around her.

It’ll be interesting to see how Violet Evergarden will fare as a full cour. The visuals will most likely stay at this level of quality but the story is potentially a wild card. KyoAni has made artistic liberties with their anime in the past, even for their Awards-based ones. I’m sure the studio will stay fairly faithful to the original text but I’m hoping that this premiere’s shakeup to the original plot outline was not a one and done deal. Again, I think making Violet’s goals and personality clearer from the get go is a good change to make. Regardless, I’ll continue to watch Violet Evergarden and you can expect more posts about it on this website.

Thanks for reading!

Violet Evergarden is officially available on Netflix.

For more Violet Evergarden posts, check out the show’s archive page!

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2 thoughts on “Violet Evergarden – Ep. 1 (First Impressions)

  1. It’s great reading the opinions of someone who actually read the LN (and still enjoyed the adaptation!). Now that I think about it, this is definitely the kind of story that just works perfectly in text (the kind that leaves a lot of room for fantasy).


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