|Emotionally Powerful Story, Amazing Characters, visual feast for the eyes
|May feel emotionally manipulative?
If I were to attempt to succinctly describe the experience of watching Violet Evergarden, then I would definitely call it “sentimentally beautiful”. Violet Evergarden is a show that is beautiful, emotional, powerful, elegant and masterful at the depiction and communication of raw human emotion. And its that ability to communicate the sorts of feelings and experiences that Violet Evergarden does, that originally gave the anime studio behind it, Kyoto Animation, the fame and acclaim they’ve enjoyed for years now.
For the avid anime watcher, Kyoto Animation is most certainly a name that is almost synonymous with quality anime works. This is a studio that’s created some of the most emotionally resonant pieces of animation in this particular medium. And while the track record of the studio is more or less a great one, All Kyoto Animation fans have that “one favorite series” that they fondly remember. For some its Kanon 2006, for others its Clannad, and for some its their more off brand work, such as Hyouka or Amagi Brilliant Park. Kyoto Animation as a studio most certainly has a range to the kinds of stories it tells, but I think the one style that seems to stick with the viewers and fans of its content the most, has to be the emotionally powerful tear-jerker stuff. Its that stuff, the stuff that fans remember the most fondly, that sadly, seems to have fallen to the wayside in recent years. Or at least, it did until now.
Fans of the Kyoto Animation of old, the one that brought many of its viewers to tears with the likes of Clannad After Story, Kannon or AIR, are in for a real treat here. Violet Evergarden, their latest work (a Netflix exclusive), is simply put, one of their best works in that particular style yet. After watching all thirteen episodes, I have to say that its Violet Evergarden that may very well be the series that I call my own personal favorite now. Why? Because this show does something that we haven’t actually ever seen from the studio before, even in it some of its best works.
In the aforementioned classics like Clannad or Kanon, there’s a bit of a lull period in the story (sometimes in the start, sometimes in the middle). The show has to build up and setup a world, it has to create a sense of normalcy before it turns everything around and puts the viewer through that strong emotional roller coaster ride. Its safe to say that while the heights of some of Kyoto Animation’s past works are superbly high, there’s a requirement of time investment before you get to the goods.
Amazingly, with Violet Evergarden, that period of build up and setup is relegated to just one single episode (the first one). This is a show that features masterful storytelling, combined with a sense of immaculate pacing that oscillates between keeping things moving and taking a nice deep look at a particular stand alone story. The pacing and the story is one thing, but its the fact that Violet Evergarden (the series) is able to basically create a “Clannad AF” or “AIR” payoff moment in almost every episode!
This show is 13 episodes of powerful, emotional storytelling that just hits you again and again, making you cry out and tear up with emotion every time. And as if that weren’t impressive enough, what Violet Evergarden frequently does, is openly telegraph what its about to do and yet it STILL manages to be just as impact and powerful. The confidence and ability to make it all seem trivial and effortless, is the hallmark of a show that’s really really special.
And its that sense of confidence, that is exuded from all aspects of the show. The animation and art direction? GORGEOUS! The voice acting and music? Fitting and captivating. The story itself? Elegant and simple yet equally powerful and expertly executed. And that confidence doesn’t read as arrogant or fool hardy, but rather as a firm belief in a vision that’s just begging to be made into reality. A vision that just features a world and a cast of characters that are living and breathing through some of the most difficult and joyous experiences that human beings can experience.
Now, before we get into any further detail I do want to post a warning here. if you’re one of those people who’s looking for a solid, heartwarming and emotionally powerful set of stories that connect together beautifully, then I highly suggest you just go ahead and watch this series completely blind. Don’t read a synopsis or any of the other details in this review unless you absolutely have to. This is a show that deserves to be experienced fresh and unbiased, in every way possible.
I recognize, however, that for some, my lavish praise of the show isn’t going to be enough. A lot of us need to know some details about what it is we’re going to spend a good 6 or so hours with, so I’ll attempt to be as spoiler free as I can but obviously, this is the point where some basic plot details get revealed. So… I suppose its worth starting with what this show is about. Violet Evergarden (the show) is actually about a young woman named Violet Evergarden (imagine that!).
Violet is a unique girl, in that she’s an ex-military child soldier that we the viewers get introduced to after she survives horrible war. There’s some dark and painful things in her past, but as Violet moves into the present day after waking up in a hospital, she finds that the world is a very different one from the one she knew. Violet, having been separated from someone special to her, ends up becoming a “Doll” in a company that deals with and delivers letters. Dolls, as they’re called, are actually women that go to various places and locations, writing personalized letters for their clients to send to whomever they need. And Violet, being a socially inept person who actually has issues with emotions, takes on this role in order to learn more about herself and the people around her.
Now, it may seem that a story about a young woman going around and writing letters for various people may be horribly dull, but its in these various letters and the stories behind each of them, that the show is able to explore many different aspects of the human condition and the various relationships and situations that people find themselves in. Going back to what I used to describe the show in this review’s very first sentence, the way the show explores and tells the various stories it tells, is just… Sentimentally beautiful.
The stories are thoughtful, mature, and most certainly drip with a complex array of emotions and feelings. And I guess if you were to boil down Violet Evergarden (both the show and its protagonist) to their core, then I’d say that they’re both about the discovery and appreciation of human feelings. Violet is a complex and damaged person, and as she struggles with her own sense of isolation, confusion and loneliness, she encounters various people who’ve suffered their own losses and challenges. Its this cast of characters that push her learn real empathy and experience the world in a way that she never has before.
Yes, while Violet Evergarden is show that is a collection of seemingly stand alone stories, its also the journey of discovery and growth for its protagonist Violet Evergarden. Violet starts off as an awkward, cold and seemingly robotic person. By the end of the first episode, however, you begin to see the kindness, the tenderness and the warmth that she actually has, and the complete lack of malice in any of her actions. Violet Evergarden doesn’t behave the way she does because she chooses to, she just doesn’t know or understand how normal humans behave.
And its that almost childlike innocence that Violet starts off with, that is sure to charm and entrap viewers, as they see her struggle and try to connect with other people. And like many other great character based stories, Violet Evergarden is a story about beautifully flawed, complex but ultimately likable characters. The entire cast is, at least at first, tough to really like. As the show slowly peels back the layers of each character through personal stories, however, well… There’s a level of attachment that the viewer just develops for each of them and an investment in their relationship with Violet herself.
And again, I know I’m kind of repeating myself, but I just have to echo how darn beautiful this show really is, this time, from a visual perspective. Kyoto Animation has always been known as a studio that creates breathtaking animation, but with this recent partnership with Netflix and what I assume was a significant budget, the studio really has gone to town and outdone itself. The artwork and talent of artistry on display with this show is just, amazing, and I long expect that there will be articles and long discussions on the animation and production of the show itself, as the years go by.
Of course, while there’s a lot to love about Violet Evergarden, enough to call it a masterpiece, the release of the show and propagation of the show, was another matter entirely. If there’s one small tragedy around this series, its that it came out in a rather weird way on the platform that its available on world wide. Netflix, as has become its custom, refused to release the show on a weekly basis, sticking to its “binge it all” model. The show was thus released a good season or so after it aired in Japan, and was thus largely missed by the majority of the hardcore western anime audience (myself included). Its a shame, because Violet Evergarden is the show that needs to be talked about. If I had seen it as it had come out, I would’ve easily made it not only my anime of the season but a show that I blogged on a weekly basis.
To add insult to injury on top of that fact, is the realization that this show just works so well as a weekly series. This is not one of those “I MUST BINGE IT ALL AT ONCE” kind of shows. I mean, it can be sure, but I think there’s some value in taking in a episode of this show, and then taking a few quiet moments to digest it all. I certainly wasn’t able to watch it all at once, if only because I felt myself really drained (in a good way?) after I had seen and experienced am episode. My preferred way to experience the show, was to take a bit of a break after each episode before jumping into the next one. And I think the reason for that is that this is one of those rare shows that feels like it provides enough content in each episode, to make viewing it weekly a worthwhile experience.
So, I think Netflix’s decision to hold onto the show, robbed it of the popularity and discussion that the show would’ve clearly gotten from the hardcore western anime crowd. In the end, all I can hope for is that people take the time to actually give this show a shot and experience it for themselves, even if it isn’t the hot new show on the block. The surge of emotion that people will feel while watching this series, is something truly special, and I say that as someone who had tears streaming down his face, while watching almost every episode.
Violet Evergarden is thus, a phenomenal show. Its a return to form for Kyoto Animation, and its really a reminder of just how darn impressive and powerful Anime as a medium used to be and can be. With a glut of good to pretty good shows releasing these days, its easy to forget that there used to be a time when shows like Violet Evergarden were not a rarity in a particular calendar year.
Sure, we may not get back to those times, but boy is Violet Evergarden a fantastic and welcome series to behold in 2018. And with a sequel movie confirmed at the end of this series, you can count on more of this coming your way soon. Which as a renewed Kyoto Animation fan, I couldn’t be happier about. This is definitely the anime to watch and experience in 2018.
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