The war is over, and the wounded soldier known only as Violet feels like little has changed. Waking up in a hospital with new metal prosthetic arms, she is taken in by her former commanding officer’s close friend Hodgkins, who gives her a job at his letter-writing business. She is tasked with the job of writing emotional and heartfelt letters for citizens who cannot read or write. But having known only war and fighting, can Violet really understand what emotions are? And what of the last words her commanding officer told her? Her quest to discover what “I love you” means takes her on a whole new journey of discovery, changing the lives of many others.
Violet Evergarden was the first anime to be simulcast by Netflix. Beginning on January 11th, episodes were released on a weekly basis, with the show ending on April 5th. The show was available to all countries where Netflix was available, with the exception of the United States and Australia; it was eventually released in its entirety to those two countries when the finale came out in April. Produced by Kyoto Animation (A Silent Voice, Sound! Euphonium, Hyouka) and directed by Taichi Ishidate (Beyond the Boundary, Clannad), Violet Evergarden is an adaptation of the light novel written by Kana Akatsuki and illustrated by Akiko Takase. The anime itself was announced all the way back in May 2016, where production began. Episodes were premiered in screenings in both Japan and Singapore throughout 2017, and Netflix announced they would have global rights to it in the August of that year. I have said frequently in past Netflix anime reviews here on Japan Curiosity that Netflix are very eager to make themselves a name for anime streaming, and by simulcasting this show, they have proven that they can be just as capable as the likes of Crunchyroll and HIDIVE. And by having the global rights for this show, they have been very keen on promoting it…although people did become sceptical when it was announced that Netflix users in the United States and Australia would not be able to see it until the show was over in April. This is why this review is now, and not in January. As the show is over, I have the opportunity to review Violet Evergarden as a whole.
An abandoned orphan forced into becoming a soldier in the Leidenschaftlich army, all Violet has ever known is fighting. Her military indoctrination means adapting to civilian life is more than a struggle. The officer who originally took her in, Gilbert Bougainvillea, is missing, and she wakes up in an army hospital with prosthetic arms to discover the war is over. His old friend, Claudia Hodgkins agrees to take her in and give her a job at his postal company, ghostwriting letters for those citizens who are illiterate. Reluctant to take the job on, she then remembers the last words her commanding officer told her…but she has no idea what “I love you” means, and with him missing, she has to find the meaning herself. As we watch this show, we really understand how difficult this kind of task is for someone as emotionally detached as Violet. When Gilbert first met her via his older brother, she didn’t even have a name and had the mentality of a rabid animal; the light novel goes into more detail on how she killed the soldiers who tried to rape her, forcing Gilbert’s chauvinist brother to pass her on to someone else…someone who has more morals than him. We want her to succeed in her mission of knowing what “I love you” means because Violet is the kind of person we desperately want to have a happy ending. After an eternity of being cast aside and forced to work as a soldier, she deserves to have her own life and forge her own destiny.
Kyoto Animation have spent a lot of time and money putting this adaptation together, and it shows. This could be another step forward for them in terms of how they present their shows and movies in the future. Deciding to skip anime seasons to get the production of this show just right, they have used their time well in creating a well-polished, well-written, emotion-filled piece of work. While we see many of the KyoAni traits here, it’s clear to see that the studio want people to take them more seriously.
In the light novel, the definition of Auto Memory Dolls is told more in detail; created by a Dr. Orland, they are automatons to help his blind wife write novels. In time, the term changes to refer to the industry and profession itself, with regular people choosing to adopt the term as a job. People like Erica who was influenced by the blind wife, Iris who wants to impress her family out in the countryside, and Luculia who wants to do something with her life and not just be a caretaker for her crippled veteran brother. As you begin watching the show, you warm to each character more and more…even those who appear in single episodes. People like the reclusive playwright who asks Violet to help him write a children’s story, or the cynical astronomer requiring her aid for some ancient manuscripts, or the princess who needs to write love letters to her betrothed, or the young Ann who…well…I won’t spoil that episode as that one actually made me cry.
But the strongest character design comes in Violet herself. Despite not having much in the way of emotions, being a soldier and casualty of war has made her the person she has become, and suddenly having to adjust in a world without war comes as a shock to her. There is no commanding officer to give her orders, there are no missions to undertake, there are no soldiers to kill…as someone who has no military experience, I can’t be one to say whether this is something every veteran feels after coming back from a tour of duty (my childhood pipe dream of joining the Navy was shattered when I was diagnosed with epilepsy). Violet is not totally haunted by the horrors she witnessed in war though; instead, what frightens her the most is that she might not fully understand what Gilbert meant, and because of this, she questions whether she is even worth being an Auto Memory Doll, and even whether she should be on this planet. Should the war have killed her? Why was she the one who escaped death? Why can’t she understand emotions like the people around her can?
The first thing that will strike you as you watch the first episode is how beautiful the show looks. The country of Leidenschaftlich is calm and serene after a long war, with the capital city of Leiden successfully putting itself together. The continental European influenced architecture, lifestyle and fashion is evident to see, and is quite refreshing compared to seeing a modern Japanese city setting. Everything is illustrated in great detail and in sparkling colours, the soundtrack sets the mood in every occasion, and every now and then, the art style changes slightly, with animation sometimes slowed down and “lens flares” used to set the mood, whether it be tense, emotional or melancholy.
As for the English dub, well I take my hat off to the dub director who had to put a dub together in the little time they had (Violet Evergarden was simulcast after all). With Erica Harlacher stepping in to play Violet, Kyle McCarley playing Hodgkins, and many veteran famous English VAs making an appearance (Kira Buckland, Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Wendee Lee, Cassandra Lee Morris, Keith Silverstein), they have all done very well considering the short time frame they were given. Harlacher has really made a name for herself recently; I applaud her performance as Yumeko in Kakegurui and being Violet shows that she is a very capable and adaptable voice actor. The opening theme is “Sincerely” by True, and the ending theme is “Michishirube” by Minori Chihara.
Here’s the Japanese language trailer of Violet Evergarden Netflix used to promote the show:
Kyoto Animation don’t really want to be known anymore as that studio who only make shows with a handful of stereotypes and traits that appear all the time: school setting, distinct face art styles, leg shots, cheesy but very likeable OP and ED themes. When I reviewed the Hyouka Part 1 home video release here, I remarked that Kyoto Animation were beginning to mature, and all of that effort to make the studio more…’grown-up’ is plain to see in Violet Evergarden. This is the kind of show that a lot of people will love; it’s a wonder then what kind of reaction people would have of the show if Crunchyroll or HIDIVE had acquired the rights for it instead. But then looking at it from another point of view, this is the kind of show that proves that Crunchyroll are no longer the be-all and end-all of anime streaming anymore. Hell, my top anime of last year, Little Witch Academia, is a Netflix show.
But this was a huge catch for Netflix, and if you don’t have it yet, this is just one show among many that is more than worth the monthly price. I know that these reviews of mine will all be for shows that appear exclusively on Netflix, and so I suppose it’s my duty here on Japan Curiosity to defend their interests in the anime community. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong…but here, they’ve nailed it.
We get to see what kind of mark Netflix can make on the anime community by simulcasting a show like this. With a highly charged and unforgettable script, detailed character design, and stunning artwork, this is a show that can get to you deep inside, affect you emotionally and make you wish the world Violet lives in was real…somehow. Violet Evergarden proves what the staff at Kyoto Animation are really capable of. Easily a contender for anime of the year.