“I want to know.”
You know, I’ve waited a year and a half for today to happen. And yet, now that it’s finished airing and I’ve finally watched the first episode, I’m almost at a loss as to what to say. It’s not like I’m stunned into silence or anything, I’m literally having difficulty putting my thoughts into words. Which is a little ironic, as that’s what Violet Evergarden is all about.
Let’s start from the top, I guess. And by that, I mean some context. There was a lot of hype surrounding this show before it aired. You were probably aware of that – even if you didn’t know why exactly it was hyped, chances are you’ve watched at least one PV for it, or some other Kyoani adaptation like Hibike Euphonium or Maid Dragon and decided that it might be good to try something else from the same studio this season. Further research would have revealed that Violet Evergarden broke a record in being the very first light novel to actually win the grand prize when it was entered for the Kyoto Animation Awards – a contest infamous for only handing out honourable mentions and leaving the top prize blank every year. The light novels involved usually end up being adapted into an anime by Kyoani in one way or another, so everyone expected the grand prize winner to get the same treatment. And it did. In fact, its PVs suggested that Kyoani was prepared to put all of its resources into it, as did its schedule – in February, work on Maid Dragon was finished (two months early), and then there was just radio silence from Kyoani for the rest of the year. From which you might reasonably guess that they were working bloody hard to make VEG as best an adaptation as it possibly could be.
At the same time, there were certain signs cropping up that left me a little uncomfortable – for example, as I mentioned in the season preview post for Winter 2018, the animation style had changed between PV1 and PV2. The character designs and art went from looking like Amagi Brilliant Park to something of a cross between Koe no Katachi and Kyoukai no Kanata. It could just have been a general shift in Kyoani’s standard in-house style, but it wasn’t one I was too happy about. There’s also the fact that VEG is directed by Ishidate (who did Kyoukai no Kanata) when, in light of its genre and its strong emotional focus, you’d have expected Yamada (Koe no Katachi, Tamako Love Story) or Ishihara (Air, Kanon and Clannad, Chuunibyou, Hibike Euphonium) to direct. So I went into this first episode with a sense of optimistic caution, and having deliberately stayed away from any details involving its source material (even though I know a translation of the light novel’s first volume is out) so that I could experience the anime first-hand instead.
So what did I think of it? Well, I found myself a little disoriented for most of the first half. The synopsis didn’t reveal much either, so I spent the first few minutes trying to work out what was going on. That’s probably the intended effect, though – you’re shoved into this story in medias res and expected to find your feet by yourself, all while admiring how beautiful the animation is for the tea Violet drank or the seawater in the port. That led to quite a few surprises on my part, including the fact that Violet is actually a war veteran who had horrifically lost both of her arms. What I did find useful, if you haven’t done so already, was to go back to this first half and watch it again in light of what you later learned from having watched the rest of the episode. Doing that makes it uncomfortably apparent, from the way Hodgins reacts awkwardly to literally everything Violet says when they first reunite, that Gilbert is probably dead. In fact, it looked like he was about to take out something from his pocket which might or might not have been the missing brooch, but then realised that she might not take the news of Gilbert’s death too well given how dependent his existence was (and clearly still is) to her very unhealthy mental state. So he held onto it in the end, all while feeling unsettled at how emotionally stunted this girl seems to be and not really being sure of how to deal with her. Hodgins really dodged a bullet in that first scene, I think. Violet conveniently interpreted his words (about Gilbert having asked him to take care of her) as being a confirmation that Gilbert is still alive, when in reality Hodgins has said no such thing. I suppose it’s possible that he’s still alive, as Violet should really have died too from the blood loss she sustained, but it wasn’t too clear exactly what sort of injuries he had. It might be that he just couldn’t move, whereas Violet could still walk and save herself (though again I highly doubt she would agree to just abandon him there unless he lied to her about him being okay somehow). Either way, Violet is living under this assumption that Gilbert is fine when the chances are that he really isn’t, which will obviously be a key turning point for her development later in the show.
I really liked the second half, especially the ending scene. I think the show really picked itself up with the introduction of the Auto Memoir Dolls. That’s when things began to fall into place for me. Up until then, my general impression was that it was an alright show. It wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t an earth-shattering, industry-defining experience that would change the history of anime forever, like some people have been advertising it as. Most importantly, most of the episode didn’t give me any vibes that it would be something really special. Visually it looks stunning, and it’s got a beautiful OST, but it doesn’t make me feel the way I feel when I watch Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – at least, not yet. And it hurts to realise this, because I’ve been looking forward to VEG for over a year. I really, really want it to be good. But at the same time, I can’t say this episode was the best thing ever and the guaranteed AOTY when… well, it wasn’t. And depending on how Madhouse plays its cards, VEG might not even make AOTS. Shocking truth, I know.
At the same time, I think it’s a little unfair to judge it based on just this episode. From that ending, it’s now possible to understand the sort of show VEG going to be and the rough direction it’s heading in. And it’s looking positive. It’s fascinating how much of a difference that one final scene changed my perception of how interesting VEG would be. At first, it was looking like it’d be a comfy show about Violet living a quiet life and re-adjusting into a post-war society. But Violet working as an Auto Memoir Doll turns this into an emotional journey – Violet herself is in the same position as all the customers wanting to have a letter ghostwritten, except she’s just unable to express herself instead of being unable to write. From what I have heard (and I may be wrong) the show will adopt an episodic structure from here on out, with Violet meeting different clients each week and helping them out. By working as an Auto Memoir Doll, and by helping to convey what other people want to say through words, she’ll grow as a person, learn about emotions she’s never understood before, and possibly be able to do the same for her own feelings towards Gilbert someday (except that Gilbert might not be alive to receive them). And I think that will be the real substance behind this show. Only after a few weeks will it be possible to properly give an opinion on VEG, and so all I can do is to reserve judgment for now. But hey, that’s why the three-episode rule exists, right?
Violet is super cute! Also apparently noble, faithful and as pure as driven snow, but I have a feeling the lyrics to Violet Snow are about a future version of Violet once she’s become really good at her work. At the same time, I’m really looking forward to hearing it as an OST in an episode, so I hope it makes an appearance soon. I also admit that, as cute and comfy as she looks (especially in her postman uniform) she has this vacant, blank look in her eyes that’s actually a little creepy. Almost inhuman. But it’s not like she has no human emotions at all, right? A common rumour before VEG aired was that Violet was a literal doll with robot arms, and this episode seems to confirm that she’s actually a real person who happens to be emotionally stunted. It’s just that she’s never come across these feelings before, and doesn’t know how to interpret and express them. She feels something for Gilbert, but she had no idea what that something was until she projected her own experience onto the letter that man asked for. I’m really looking forward to seeing her grow and develop every week.
Finally, to end this very long post, I’d like to present two pieces of artwork to you. Behold ‘Water’ by Kyoani, followed with ‘Tea’ by Kyoani!
That’s reminded me of one last thing, actually – the schedule for VEG. It airs on Wednesdays, and although it’s been imprisoned behind a Netflix paywall it’s being saved by a joint venture between Vivid and Asenshi. They will be releasing a 720p version on Wednesday evenings, followed by a 1080p version ripped from Netflix on the Thursday. While I will try my best to get posts out on Wednesdays, sometimes that might not be possible due to my work commitments (e.g. like was the case for this week). But if I end up running over to the Thursday, I’ll make sure to use the 1080p. In other words, I’ll be compensating by providing nicer backgrounds and better quality pictures of Violet. Look forward to them.
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