So this is my first post since, like, July, right? To make a long story short, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble in my personal life over the past few years, yadda yadda yadda, I’m not in school right now and am in the middle of psychiatric testing to see if I have some sort of cognitive issue (other than ADHD, which, boy, do I have). Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that I have trouble stringing my thoughts together. Think about it this way: you’re walking along the shore leaving footprints in the sand and every few steps, a wave comes and erases your footsteps. That’s what my thinking has been like lately. In addition, I have crippling self doubt that has kept me from posting this up until now, despite the fact that I’ve been working on it since the first episode of Violet Evergarden aired. I want to get these thoughts out there regardless and contribute to the discussion, so I’m like, whatever, now, here you go Anitwitter. I won’t make any progress improving if I don’t do anything, right? Okay, on to the good (bad) stuff.
Also, check out Zeria’s video that does exactly what I set out to do here, except better.
Violet Evergarden is good. Yeah yeah yeah, the animation is splendid and it’s like one of the most beautiful anime productions ever, or something like that, yeah, everybody knows that and nobody is denying it. I think that what we’ve seen of Violet Evergarden so far is exceptionally well written. Yo, it ain’t hyped enough. This is so much better than Clannad.
Kyoto Animation produces good anime almost exclusively, but very few of them really gave me the impression that they were ‘smart,’ at least not as a whole. This isn’t a knock against Kyo-Ani at all, and it’s not to say that their shows are dumb, the stories they adapt simply rely more upon emotional intelligence and empathy. That’s the way it ought to be for those stories. A Silent Voice was very smart, I think, especially with the way it depicted Ishida shutting others out of his world. This is what I mean when I say its ‘smart,’ it finds a simple, creative and compelling way of visually representing the psychological state of Ishida.
Hyouka is smart too, especially in its occasionally fantastical depictions of Oreki’s mental state and the creative animation that typically accompanies the exposition or solving of mysteries. Hyouka is also ‘smart’ in it’s depiction of Mayaka’s social anxiety and frequent frustration, and smart in a way that made the most of the studio’s strong character animation work. The depiction of Satoshi’s unspoken self-loathing is equally compelling. Chuunibyou was pretty smart as well in its depiction of the complexities of the grieving process.
I think this is the sort of smartness that the Kyo-Ani team has mastered better than anybody else in the industry. This smartness is also what makes Kyo-Ani’s sparse sexually charged scenes so special. Kyo-Ani’s product can be just as sensual and unconventionally erotic as anime that focus more on the blossoming sexuality of their awkward teenage characters. Of course, I also know absolutely nothing about animation, so please don’t take anything I say seriously.
I suppose that, for me, a ‘smart’ show is one that presents its characters, conceits or themes in such a compelling manner that I find myself reflecting upon it frequently.
Being smart alone doesn’t necessarily make a show good, in fact, being ‘smart’ isn’t even necessary for a show to be good. Even though my favorite show of this season so far is A Place Further than the Universe, I think Violet Evergarden is probably the ‘smartest,’ primarily because Violet Evergarden is heavily informed by psychology. Kyo-Ani manages to make important psychological concepts and their manifestation in Violet’s experiences accessible and even relatable to the audience. Casual viewers that don’t recognize the ways in which psychology informs the foundation of Violet’s character can still understand Violet’s story because of Kyo-Ani’s presentation.
Violet’s emotionless demeanor is the most obvious symptom of Violet’s problems. Violet’s story is one of a former child soldier that was trained into a doll now carrying out her final orders to live and be free. Violet takes pride in her identity as a weapon. She has been conditioned not to consider herself human and, for the most part, nobody else in the military besides (maybe) Gilbert seems to have treated her like a human. Violet needs to become human, to embrace her identity as a human, rather than as a weapon, in order to be free and truly live.
Though she has survived the war and has been discharged from military service, at the beginning of the series, I would not say that Violet is free. Violet’s continued commitment to military conduct is not simply out of force of habit. Violet is completely dependent upon orders. She can’t function without them. The first episode demonstrates this during the meal scenes. Violet does not touch her food until Hodgins vocalizes permission for her to eat. Hodgins has been out of the military for just as long and it takes him a while to realize that Violet’s mentality is still totally entrenched in the war. Violet’s dependence upon the structure that the military provided, demonstrated by the way she treats every job like a military operation and her approach to customer service, is just the most tangible evidence that Violet is not yet living free from the influence of the military, which robbed her of her childhood and groomed her into an ideal child soldier, an emotionless killing machine. I’ll note here that it seems as though Violet was taken as a prisoner of war, so it seems she had already been refined into a weapon by another military by the time she met Gilbert.
Why would Violet cling to such a state of mind, especially one so contrary to Gilbert’s order to be free? Well, I’d say that mindset probably safeguarded Violet from the potential horror of sitting alone with her thoughts and reflecting upon her experiences. Prompted by her encounter with Gilbert’s brother, that shoe finally dropped in episode seven, while Violet sat alone on the train.
Although Violet may be expressionless, her behavior reveals some of the specific ways in which her characterization is informed by psychology. The most obvious of these is her oral fixation, something which really stood out in the first episode. I’ll spare you the psychobabble and give you the sparknotes, or rather, the senpainotes version of what this means. Basically, Violet didn’t really get all the care and attention she needed as a child (infant, technically, but I don’t want to limit that arbitrarily), so she’s “making up for it” now by occupying her mouth with things like her dog plushie, putting on her gloves, and, most importantly, with the broach Gilbert gave her. All of this is reinforced by scenes where we see Violet curled up in the fetal position, another symptom of regression. Violet is trying to make up for the deficit of care and love she received as a child with love from Gilbert, something that makes sense given her background as an orphan and child soldier. Unfortunately, Gilbert ain’t coming back.
Violet is in denial with regards to Gilbert’s death. Accepting that death will only become more painful for her as she comes to understand what love is as an auto-memory doll. Violet is clearly repressing memories of her experiences during her time in the military. She remembered Hodgins from the night before her final battle, but in one of Hodgins’s flashbacks, it’s shown that he had seen her before then, fighting and killing in what I can only describe as an Atrocity Exhibition. Childhood trauma is almost always the subject of repressed memories. Being a child soldier, it’s difficult to imagine that Violet’s memories of that experience could be anything but traumatic. What is likely most traumatic about this, as episode seven has suggested, is that Violet was forced to kill. The military molded her into a moe murder machine, but it seems that, rather than directing her rage towards the militaries that wielded her as a weapon, Violet’s realization that she is indeed on fire will only cause her to hate herself.
If there are any aspects of Violet Evergarden that go underappreciated, let me know in the comments, I’m curious to hear what others have to say.