There are a few anime I’ve watched that left me at such a loss for words that I decided that I would never write about them out of respect for the impact they had on me. It was almost like there was an innate thought that no matter how much I wrote, it wouldn’t do justice to the aforementioned impact. The big three that come to mind for me are Violet Evergarden, The Garden of Sinners, and Hanamonogatari (I find it fascinating that all three have a theme in titles there). Most of these are placed so highly because I relate to them on some deep psychological level. Maybe the time will come for the other two, but I (obviously) would like to share about Violet Evergarden today.
I know the elephant in the room is that I left, but I want to continue writing as a creative outlet. My life feels a little emptier without being able to watch anime and write about it (I tried watching a series without writing about it at all and it was a borderline miserable time). I have my differences with some, but I am on good terms with most of the team at AniTAY and I wish to just make content on my own terms. I recently deleted my social media so these posts will likely not be making rounds like they used to, and that is okay. I just want to share some passion in writing with some readers at best and at worst I get to take a few hours away from everything and just write. Whether you are with it or not, that’s the way it is.
There is a really heavy connection I hold (as well as many others like me, based on stories I have read related to the series online) to Violet Evergarden that will ultimately lead to the end of this reflection so I would rather save it for the end. If I shared it this early, it would likely encroach on discussing the impact the rest of the series had on me from a storytelling and technical standpoint.
I’ve been no stranger to share that I love film study- I find it fascinating to break down everything in scenes from the writing and acting to the cinematography and choices in direction. This is why the genre of drama in anime is so appealing: it allows for the exuberant to be amplified and for distress of characters to be fleshed out in ways that even the most skilled stage directors could never begin to dream to execute. Perhaps my affinity for looking into scenes leads me astray sometimes when analyzing anime (plenty of times I’ve had friends tell me something to the effect of “It is just a cartoon, there is no way it has the same level of thought as a drama film”) and I end up viewing comedies like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid as a beautiful portrait of family and not the means for people to make deplorable hentai of certain characters. With all of that said, I really wanted to be able to sink my teeth into an anime that both took itself seriously as a drama and was able to execute what it set off to do in a mature fashion.
Violet Evergarden does exactly this with something that turned many viewers away- it has a very slow and methodical pacing that builds towards dramatic heights. This, in less artistic words, would be what many call “boring” and quickly turned many of my friends I know in real life that watch anime away from the series. The issue with some anime dramas is that there is a perception that there is a green light at all times since there are only 13 episodes so the drama needs to be immediate and blasted out of a canon or, in the extreme opposite, people won’t stick around for a drama if the big “twist” is revealed too early/shown early on. A big problem with the latter is that we can go 10-11 episodes just fueled by people fawning over a lead character and, before we know it, there is no real payoff.
Despite its slow pacing, Violet Evergarden knows how to control the drama and what it hits the audience with. There are several times where the drama is just at an 11, but it isn’t so sudden that it feels out of place. There are a few episodes in the beginning stages of the first act that really take their time to let the viewer become comfortable with the world built before easing into the conflict and inevitable resolutions. I think this careful consideration in how much is given to the audience really prepares them for just how grueling and heart wrenching some of the turns this series takes can be. If it were in less capable hands, I would see this story being muddied by flashback sequences that go on too long and destroy the pacing and storytelling. Instead, we get just enough references to young Violet’s past to show they are on her mind amidst the work she carries out.
Even if someone didn’t like this series, there are two things no one can deny: the series is an absolute marvel to look at with Kyoto Animation on top of their game here, and that this series is a love letter to those who love to write. If I spent the rest of this article just posting screenshots, I think it would do the first point enough justice. One of the things I adore about the Monogatari series so much is that it knows how to make stunning background aesthetics and in this series Kyoto Animation puts Shaft to shame. Almost six months removed from my last viewing of the series I still immediately remember the incredible background of a struggling writer’s home in the middle of autumn (I actually joked with my mother, who was watching the series with me, that doing such a scene was Kyoto Animation’s way of “just showing off”). I think this sort of attention to the details makes for a much more enjoyable time while allowing the series to slow burn.
Writing is the most important part of this whole series, and it is used in ways that are arguably more beautiful than the art itself. There are so many ways it shines in the storytelling that this is the facet of Violet Evergarden I was overwhelmed with emotion to write about. It writes stories of love, loss, sorrow, redemption, dreams, and hope. There is something for everyone here to the extent that I would find it hard to believe if there was not at least one story that pulls on a heart string in a viewer. These stories all found a way to really resonate within me and the entire series left me as an emotional wreck. The one in particular that was really gripping was going through an episode where...
A dying mother contracts Violet to write letters for every single birthday in her daughter’s life. This was such an emotional episode to watch because I was watching it with my mother. As I’ve written before, she almost died not too long ago, so when I looked over and saw her bawling her eyes out I couldn’t help but to cry too.
*Brief Spoilers End*
..I know it is difficult to go into specifics of the writing in this series without brushing by spoilers, but it is really that important to preserve the impact of the storytelling. If you haven’t watched this series yet, it is only 13 episodes and it is worth it if you have a fragment of appreciation for art or writing.
There has been one issue I’ve taken with the series since I saw it last, however, and that is in that the last four or five episodes feel really out of place. I understand there needs to be some closure on a few loose ends, but the way one episode at the end of the second act wraps up is the kind of perfection that deserves a “Fin” at the end of it. The last act isn’t necessarily bad, but it just feels like it somewhat undermines an otherwise perfect conclusion (on a more comedic note, it reminds me of the time Carlton wanted to shoot the last shot in the big basketball game in that one episode of Fresh Prince). With that beef aside, this anime really is a 10/10 if you’re in the right mood for some artistry.
Now for the heavy stuff that has nothing to do with the technical aspects of the series- I warn you that if you’ve heard my story before and don’t want a rehash, just stop now. Also this will be littered with spoilers so I apologize for that in advance. I promised in my previous article that I would go into it some more in my Violet Evergarden piece, so here it goes.
I don’t know where to begin really. There have been tons of stories that have made their way around various Reddit forums and other outlets about what this anime has done for the shockingly large portion of military members who consume anime. There was one that a young man wrote that I regrettably don’t have on hand anymore, however everything I thought I would say about the anime was shared with an almost 1:1 impact on his life as well. For everything writing does for the characters in Violet Evergarden, there is a subtext of a nation reeling from a recent war (which I might add is handled a very neutral manner- no anti-war nor pro war messages at all-it absolutely just focused on the people) and how individuals pick up the pieces from the end of it. Young Violet goes through what some might consider to be an overtly dramatic hardship, however those who know of the challenges she goes through felt their scars. I know this because the countless articles and tweets I read from those who suffer from PTSD find themselves placed in Violet’s shoes. Now I know the direction most of you might be thinking I’m going with this is that I related to the character too but I found myself more drawn to a different character. LtCol Claudia Hodgins is a man who has ambitions of helping people in a nation torn by post-war confusion and in his heart of hearts wants to connect people through letters and writing. Throughout, you get the idea that this man is still looking to improve the impact of his newfound business and there are things that motivate him with morality and a heartfelt dedication.
Almost immediately, Hodgins recognizes the horrors that Violet has ahead of her (the bone shaking “You’re burning” exchange in the pilot) and takes her under his wing in however he can. There are really striking decisions he makes (some good, some bad, but I also think the bad ones bring some humanity to the character) with how he mentors her and when the time comes for Violet to face the dark inside herself, he is there for her. I think what Hodgins tries to do for people and, in a very literal sense, Violet, is something I can really get behind and relate to.
What Violet goes through is something that I think anyone can relate to, not just those who have served or those with PTSD- she questions her very being and reason for living too. The one thing that jumped out to me that I experienced at some point with Violet would be the nightmare she has with her Major. She tries explaining that she is looking to follow Hodgins in helping people and the nightmare of her conscious beats down upon her heart through the body of the Major in her dream, with the imagery of the blood going down the steps. I have a recurring dream that happens frequently where I walk in on a wingman of mine attempting to burn his hands on a hot gas stove and pulling him away right before he does anything. The entire time he struggles, I tell him it is okay and that I am going to make a difference. But he just screams and punches me repeatedly in the back yelling that I never could help him and I have no right trying to help others like him. Sometimes the dream ends with him leaping out a window, other times I manage to calm him down. What I have to say is that this dream is very real and that at one point during a deployment I was on, I had to stop a dear friend from hurting himself badly in an identical way. I tried my best to be there for him afterward but no matter how hard I tried, he kept getting stirred up in trouble and it eventually cost him his career. He doesn’t speak to me anymore.
I think that was the catalyst for me changing my life ambitions from writing screenplay (which was my decision when I first started here at AniTAY) to a career in mental health for the military (be it active or veterans). Going through something like that makes me realize how incredibly lucky I was to have the right support system when I went through my stressful times when I was active duty and how I managed to stay standing. Every time I have gone away from this site for a period of time, I have been involved with local community services to help veterans and taking an intensity into my college studies that is unmatched. I’ve constantly been a short fuse for jokes about mental health and it has cost me friendships and has isolated me into my work. But I remember why I do it and it keeps me going. I keep myself healthy and talk to my support system when I need it, I ask the right questions to those working in the field I wish to join and I let my motivations be well known by everyone it may concern. By all accounts, what I have endured is not unique, it doesn’t make me a hero, it doesn’t even give me entitlement to do what I want to do.
I know I have a lot more to earn and I have a lot more work ahead of me to make an impact, but seeing things like what Hodgins does in this series really resonates with me. It makes me go “Yes, this is exactly the kind of thing I want to do. I want to help these people.” I wake up every morning ready to go and fired up to make a difference. I picked up new sponsors for running where I can run knowing I’m putting awareness for those who need it and to promote good mental health.
I’m biased. I’m so very biased for this. But there is something that will forever be the best moment of anime for me. I saved even thinking about it for the end here because I’m that sure I was going to break down in tears. The first time I saw this scene, I just wailed. Probably the first time in forever. There is something young Violet says in an exchange with Hodgins that I hear all the time from those I’m working towards helping. It is something that can crawl out of the recesses of even the most morally sound person’s mind and heart every once in a while. This scene, which is beautifully performed in the dub by Erika Harlacher (Ann in Persona 5) and Kyle McCarley (9S in NieR: Automata) is one that is so precious to me. I want to get it printed so I can see it every morning it has that kind of impact on me.
Violet: Is it okay? So do I...do I have any right to be a Doll? Do I have any right to live?
Hodgins: You can’t erase the past...although...just know...everything you’ve done as an Automemories Doll...won’t disappear either, Violet Evergarden
The moral is so obvious here that I feel really dumb spelling it out, so please don’t take it that way but I just am moved to tears not only by this performance and the build up the entire series has for it (showing the shots of all of the people Violet helped along the way really hits the feelings too) but because this is the exact message someone like me who wants to help pick up the pieces for those broken wants to help deliver. No matter how much hardship or pain we endure as people, we are capable of good. I believe in all of my heart that this world is full of good people and that we are inherently good. Hodgins bringing Violet to a calm by sharing what he was trying to do the whole time to prepare her for facing her demons is so beautiful. It is so moving. For some, anime might just be cartoons, or something not worth getting emotional over, but something like this serves as a reminder to me in the frustrating parts of a semester where it feels like I’m really not making an impact on the better good of what I’m hoping to achieve. It reminds me of the wonders I want to do for others, and the impact it can have.