In the aftermath of war, peace fills a land of lost souls. Conflict stole loved ones from their significant others and people seek stability and harmony. This is the setting of VIOLET EVERGARDEN. Among all of the Netflix original anime, VIOLET EVERGARDEN is the most emotion-focused, a stark contrast to the relatively shonen/action-style most others have. But even then, it dives far below the surface with its story. Rather than developing a merely emotional storyline, it pushes a narrative of true emotional development. VIOLET EVERGARDEN shows us that truly the empty heart yearns only to be filled. On top of that, its narrative is true to its post-war context every step of the way.
VIOLET EVERGARDEN follows a titular protagonist as she re-enters society after serving as a soldier. Since childhood, Violet has been immersed in war. She’s an orphan who’s never even seen her parents’ faces. Because of this, she is heavily indoctrinated and values her superiors the way most value family. For example, Violet idolizes Major Gilbert Bougainvillea and spends almost all her time acting on his command. Consequently, her battle skills are amazing. She can take down entire platoons of men twice her size. However, even she isn’t invincible. Violet loses both of her arms and most of her memories during the war. All she remembers are the parting words of Gilbert, “I love you,” before he disappeared in battle. For Violet, who knows only her missions, “love” is an unfamiliar concept. After the war, she works as an Auto Memory Doll to explore this strange emotion called love.
So What Exactly are Auto Memory Dolls?
Despite what the name implies, Auto Memory Dolls are all human. The term stems from a device created to transcribe voices into text. The scientist who invented the dolls wanted his wife to continue writing novels after going blind. The series has a vague steampunk setting with fitting technology, so all the writing is happening on typewriters. In the present day of VIOLET EVERGARDEN, the term refers to professional ghostwriters. These Dolls either transcribe the words of clients unable to write or translate simple feelings into elegant prose. During the war, families had to travel across continents and soldiers moved with the battle. Demand for the service skyrocketed once the war ended as society began to piece itself back together.
What VIOLET EVERGARDEN does extremely well is construct this job around the plot of the series. Each episode corresponds to a new client. Rather than rehash overdone characters with ridiculous problems, the series finds the silent struggles: a girl with brilliant verbal communication skills that just wants to assuage her veteran brother’s guilt over their parents’ death; a woman wanting to play hard to get until she builds up the courage to confess to a suitor; a princess wanting to send her true words but forced to appeal to the public. These silent struggles are people’s true emotions, rather than the emotional masks they wear. A good Auto Memory Doll is able to discern these emotions in someone and pour them into a brilliant letter. This is the occupation Violet finds herself in after the war.
Violet’s Journey toward Finding Emotion
It isn’t until halfway through the series that we even see the hint of a smile from Violet. She may seem somewhat dense and emotionless at first, but for good reason. As someone forced to grow up on the battlefield, she lacks emotions. Violet is just over 14 and nearly every memory she has left is of the terror of war. Because of this, she isn’t emotionally expressive at all. Most of her mannerisms sound distinctly military and her demeanor has an ever-present air of formality. While this makes her a great candidate for emotional growth, it also makes her job very difficult.
Violet has a couple problems at the start of the series. One, she has to learn to perform complex and detailed tasks like typing with mechanical hands. Two, her flat expression and speech patterns creep out customers. Thirdly, and most importantly, Violet is completely unable to do the most important part of an Auto Memory Doll’s work: understanding people’s emotions.
Violet’s growth is a form that integrates the experiences with people around her. This is to say, she slowly learns more about emotion by watching others feel. Whether they are clients or her fellow Dolls, she slowly discovers more about herself. Rather than a soldier defined by her orders, VIOLET EVERGARDEN highlights Violet’s life as more than just an instrument of war. Slowly but surely, she becomes her own person.
Strong Adherence to Context
The steampunk setting of VIOLET EVERGARDEN mixed industrial technology with elements of science fiction. For example, Auto Memories Dolls were created as a transcription machine that could be linked to a typewriter. Meaning, this is a world where computers don’t exist, but voice transcription is possible. Violet’s fully functional mechanical arms are even more evidence of this strange contrast. But discrepancies like this create a neat thematic and metaphorical motif in the series. Ironically, Violet has to learn to become more human using robotic parts. The mechanical hands seem to suit her personality more than the words that they type. For Violet to make use of army technology to understand love is the perfect allusion to her seizing agency from a system that dehumanized her.
Within the broader context of war, most of Violet’s travels are appropriate for a nation just recovering from conflict. Marriages occur between bonding kingdoms, class structures are rigid, and peasants worry about veterans. By keeping that portion of the narrative consistent, VIOLET EVERGARDEN truly creates its own world. This is the perfect way to preempt Violet’s daily adventures and set a solid foundation. Often, anime shirk these small details in favor of increasing the superficial cosmetic appeal of the larger plot. But by constructing a strong base from which every episode is framed, the simple plots of Violet’s adventure become powerful.
While Violet is an amazing protagonist, the stories her letters tell really got me hooked. Each episode chronicles a new job with a new set of clients. Initially, these jobs are relatively simple since Violet is just learning. As the anime progresses though, jobs involve traveling for weeks at a time. Auto Memory Dolls must be willing to travel far and wide to capture the hearts of the world. Violet eventually proves her merit as a Doll, crafting elegant letters on emotions she seldom understands herself.
The structure of each episode lends a sort of slice-of-life feel to the show. Each event is separate from the next, but they’re thematically linked via Violet. Her emotional growth always builds in ways that are subtle but strong. For example, Violet initially struggles to reconcile how someone’s words can contradict their actions feelings. She understands telling the truth but never can understand the real meaning of someone’s words. The story uses multiple episodes to build up these learning experiences in logical progressions. Violet has to first see the consequences of taking everyone literally. Then, she has to observe how someone’s love can be masked by their words but elucidated via their actions. By linking these experiences and watching love through writing letters, she pieces together context like this.
For the viewer, this provides constant warm entertainment through a saga of true love. Not only is Violet able to touch the hearts around her, but she’s able to bring people together. Every episode feels like a small resolution toward a world with ubiquitous emotional connection.
A Bingeworthy Favorite in VIOLET EVERGARDEN
Netflix is certainly the biggest platform for binging and every episode of VIOLET EVERGARDEN is now available. That means you have the perfect show for your weekend. This anime is one that acts as a refreshing shift from the shonen and other action shows dominating anime. Shows that do more than just show romance are lacking nowadays. VIOLET EVERGARDEN depicts emotional growth on a personal level that is unprecedented in a series. Combining this steady character development with strong artistic stylings and light music makes this an incredible show.
Ultimately, the words we say and the words we mean will always be at odds with one another. The prosperous industry of ghostwriting in VIOLET EVERGARDEN is indicative of a cultural awareness of this fact. But even in the real world, we often hide what we feel in fear of loss or pain. Violet is a great protagonist because she brings forth the hearts of her clients while finding her own. That form of storytelling is rare in anime, and the reason VIOLET EVERGARDEN is one of this Spring’s best anime.
Featured image from Netflix.