It has been quite a few years since Anime and Manga stopped being regularities in my life. Since the day I started watching Naruto, when I was 9, I watched Anime and read Manga like they were some sort of daily ritual. This stopped when I entered Junior College. Eventually, the generic Shounen and Shoujo both began to bore me.
For the past year, however, I have found myself drawn back to the medium. Of course, I never returned to that level of obsession – I only watch a single series at a time, with a few movies thrown in here and there. While I will eventually talk about A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) and Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa), today I will be touching on the brilliant series that is Netflix-exclusive, Violet Evergarden.
Overview of Plot (No Spoilers)
Violet Evergarden is set in a fantasy universe, following the events of a war in what seems to be the anime’s version of Europe. The main character is Violet Evergarden, a young girl who used to be a ‘tool’ for the army. For her entire life preceding the anime’s main plot, she was brought up for and experienced nothing but war. Her existence revolved around killing enemy soldiers and obeying the orders of her superior, Major Gilbert. However, at the end of the war, despite risking both of her arms to save the Major, he was lost and Violet found herself thrown into the normal world – a world without war.
Before his death, Major Gilbert proclaims that he loves her. This is an emotion that Violet, due to her circumstances, could not comprehend.
In seeking her answers, Violet begins working as an Auto-Memory Doll, the anime’s version of a Ghostwriter. In other words, her job involves writing letters for others. At this point, she does not know that Major Gilbert is dead. While seeming simple work for common folks, considering how Violet has only experienced war, death and obeying commands, she starts off being extremely unfeeling, even apathetic. However, as the plot progresses with every episode, she is faced with more and more complex characters. She soon begins to understand the meaning of sympathy, and eventually, empathy.
Why I personally adore this anime
Above anything else, Violet Evergarden speaks to the heart of human emotions. “How?” you say, “when the main character herself cannot comprehend the simplest of emotions. I assert that Violet Evergarden is a foil, not for other characters, but for the viewer. But, what is a ‘foil’?
“In literature, a foil is a character whose qualities distinctively contrast with the qualities of another. The objective is to accentuate the traits of the other character.”
In other words, it is precisely Violet’s alien lack of emotions at the beginning that highlights, at least to me, how precious, taken for granted, and intricate human emotions are. The regular words we throw around to describe our feelings – love, hate, sorrow, guilt, etc. – are only that to Violet: they are only words. It is in watching her character experience, fall and grow that a viewer learns to become more self-aware. And self-awareness, after all, is a quality that I champion and hold to a very high esteem.
Violet Evergarden is not an anime about romance. It is the story of a girl learning about emotions, like an alien meeting humanity for the first time. Major Gilbert might be the object of her affection, but in the plot, he is also a tool for her awakening as a human being. After all, it is he who inspired her to enter the Auto-Memory Doll job. Furthermore, he was the only character around whom our main character, Violet, ever showed emotion before.
In the moment where Violet tried to save Major Gilbert, we saw the flare and beauty of human emotion in her. In that scene, we saw how she ignored her own broken arms, blown off by gunfire and grenades. We saw her desperation as she bit into his clothes, dragging him to safety through sheer willpower. Her tears, which she could not comprehend, spoke of the care she had for her Major.
When he spoke to her too – of his desire for her to life a free life after his death, of how he loved her – we saw that look of bewilderment. Violet could not understand, but because it was him, she wanted to. Here, we also see how inherent emotions are to being human. Despite never having understood them before, Violet was deeply struck.
I am still at Episode 10, following Violet’s realisation of what she has done. She had found out about Major Gilbert’s death. She had come into contact with so many who needed letters to convey their feelings. In the process, she has come to learn about the intricacies of human emotions and the value of human life. In her nightmares, she looks down at her hands, bloodied – the blood of those she had killed before. During the war, she had killed under the command of her Major. Now that the war was over and her Major was gone, reality strikes her hard – she had killed thousands, and these were thousands of letters never to be sent home, emotions that can never be conveyed, lives cut short.
In a powerful scene, I took in the beautifully animation of Violet clutching at her heart, screaming out in pain. Her tears were being held back, her teeth gritted painfully. It moved me to tears to see such raw emotions – pain and guilt. Her screams were primal, straight from her heart.
Why it makes a good anime
On top of the emotions, why should everyone watch this anime? Isn’t it depressing? Wouldn’t it mean only a masochistic (I kid) like me would want to watch something like that?
Well, one needs to ask themselves a basic question: Why do we have art?
One answer I can come up with is: empathy. These characters are fictional, no matter in film, anime, prose, plays, etc. Some of them have exaggerated personality traits, just like Violet Evergarden. Obviously no one on this earth is that emotionally-stunted. Yet, it is the ability to feel for and then, eventually, understand these characters that make us self-aware human beings. It is in the understanding of others that we come to understand ourselves.
That’s why I think anime, itself, as a medium, should not be dismissed as being childish. Even more so, because these characters are being depicted in a more cartoon-like manner, the ability of a viewer to empathise is reduced. It is easy for a viewer to dismiss the anime as being unrealistic from the outset. This means that if he/she wants to understand the character, a higher level of empathy is required.
This is also the reason why I personally enjoy A Silent Voice to Your Name, but that’s a discussion for another time.