Violet Evergarden – 02

The second episode of Violet Evergarden begins with a flashback to four years ago, when Gilbert first “met” Violet. I use quotes, because his brother suddenly presents him with Violet like she’s a new weapon for him to try out, rather than a human being to meet.

As we know, Gilbert would come to think a lot more of Violet than merely as a trusty tool, be it a comrade in arms, a sister, or even a lover. But witnessing the simple moment they met serves to underscore what was lost when they were suddenly separated at the end of the war.

I imagine Violet and Gilbert were quite inseparable for all of the four years that followed, but now they’re apart, and Violet is trying to make the best of it. More importantly, she wants to learn what the last three words he said to her meant.

For her, that means learning the secrets of the women who write letters that properly express the feelings and intentions of their clients. But there’s a problem: Violet may be able to express love—for Gilbert, mostly—but since she doesn’t understand love, she doesn’t know she’s doing it.

As such, despite her speed and precision at the typewriter, she has a rough go of perceiving or transcribing the clients’ wishes. She’s always lived by cold hard facts and logic. The nuances of words and the concept of tact are as foreign to her as her metal arms are to her new co-workers Cattleya, Erica, and Iris.

When a customer is so angry he prepares to walk out without paying, Violet restrains him with ease, showing she can be an asset to the business (in addition to accurately typing addresses and records). But she’s not going to learn about love by simply doing the grunt-work.

Unfortunate circumstances lead her to writing a “love letter” from an interested woman who doesn’t want to come off as too easy to her admirer, and it goes about as well as you suspect. I actually really felt for the poor customer who had the bad luck to entrust Violet with such a coorespondence.

But I also felt bad for Violet, who has no idea (not yet at least) why her letter was so horrible. We can only hope she’ll apply that military discipline and sticktoitness to learning the finer points of interpersonal communication…and tact. I felt worse still when she thought she saw the back of Major Gilbert’s head, and her crestfallen face when it turned out to be a stranger.

The fellow Auto Memoir Doll who gets the most exposure this week is Erica, who was struggling to write letters that satisfied her customers before Violet showed up. In Violet’s blunders she sees her own shortcomings in this very tricky business, albeit different shortcomings.

She later learns from Violet (in a gorgeous end-of-the-rain scene where the sun starts to pour on their faces) why Violet is so adamant on persisting with the job even though she’s not well-suited for it: to learn what “I love you” meant.

Erica often walks past a store window with an early typewriter, whose inventor built for his blind wife so she could keep writing novels. It was a tool build out of love. The wife’s novels inspired Erica to try her hand at writing, and she intends to stick it out just as Violet does.

Erica (and Iris for that matter) are well aware not everyone can be Cattleya, who is the company’s popular (and money-making) celebrity. She likes Claudia Hodgins (so named because his parents wanted a daughter), but he can’t treat her to dinner because he spent his month’s pay to retrieve the brooch Gilbert gave to Violet, which was later stolen and placed on the black market.

Once Cattleya dolls Violet up a little to give her a look better befitting her regimental aura, Hodgins presents the brooch to Violet as a surprise, and her reaction shows every one present there’s a lot more to Violet than she’s revealed to them thus far.

When Cattleya asks Hodgins about the “Gilbert” Violet mentioned, he tells her, gravely swirling his drink (creating patterns of undulating light on the bar) and as Violet, in her quarters holds her brooch up to the light: Gilbert is from the rich and famous Bougainvillea family.

But still unbeknownst to Violet, he’s Never Coming Back, in one of the more effective episode title drops I’ve ever had the privilege to see. Violet bites the brooch, no doubt believing she’s now a little closer to meeting Gilbert again. In reality, that brooch is all that’s left of him.

It’s a truth Hodgins is in no apparent hurry to reveal to her, and who can blame him? The way she is now, Violet would either not believe him, and possibly undertake a desperate, futile quest to find him, or believe him, and lose all will to live one moment longer without her Major.

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Violet Evergarden – 01 (First Impressions)

Violet’s life was once simple to the point of elemental. Rather than earth, fire, water, and air, she had the Battlefield, the Mission, the Orders, and, most importantly, the one who provided the last two on the first, the Commanding Officer; Major Gilbert.

When she comes to in a hospital, her face and arms bandaged, unable to hold a pen, Major Gilbert is the first person she calls for. She believes she’s in sufficiently good working order to begin the next Mission. She wants Orders as soon as possible. She wants to return to the Battlefield. She wants Gilbert.

She doesn’t get any of that. Instead, there’s this guy Colonel Hoggins. Violet’s new orders are simply to come with him. He takes her to a mansion, and there lives the Evergarden family to whom Gilbert has entrusted her until she comes of age.

In this civilized civilian capital untouched by war, Violet must feel utterly out of place. You don’t go stashing a military asset in a civilian setting, now do you? That would be improper. And Violet has always seen herself as such an asset. It’s why she stands at attention and salutes Mrs. Evergarden.

When Violet cannot grasp a lovely-looking cup of tea, it’s a highly symbolic gesture that becomes far more explicit when she reveals her adamantine hand. The metal on that hand is unlike anything else in that mansion, and so it doesn’t look like it belongs. Violet senses this.

When Hoggins starts to go, she protests. She must have orders at once. She must contact Gilbert. She must restore those elements that made up her world as long as she could remember. But again, Hoggins is unaccommodating. The war is over, he tells her, and to her that means she no longer has a purpose, and should be disposed of.

Colonel Hoggins, realizing Violet won’t adjust to life in peacetime so easily, decides to take her with him to the new postwar business he started: a civilian post office that also ghostwrites letters for the many members of the populace that can’t write (presumably due to the ravages of the war).

Because Hoggins, once the a leader of a force dedicated to destroying the enemy and nothing else, found a new niche in the war their blood and toil created, so can Violet. It’s just a matter of re-configuring the nature of those elements which she requires to live.

The “Battlefield” is now the port city of Leiden. In Gilbert’s stead, Hoggins is now her Commanding Officer (he prefers “Boss”). He’ll issue her Missions and Orders.

Those orders will consist not only of work—sorting and delivering mail—but also to learn that she needn’t work all day and night; that she must take breaks, eat, sleep, and all the other things civilians take for granted every goddamn day.

She seems to gradually get the hang of things, but there’s still a “fire” within her Hoggins hopes she’ll one day recognize. Not a literal fire, of course, but the fire of the trauma she suffered. She may regard herself as a weapon and tool and much of the rest of the army might’ve thought the same, but there’s also a human girl in there, and it’s time for her to live and be free.

Live and be free were Gilbert’s last orders, so Violet has no qualms about carrying them out. One day, she listens to one of the “Auto Memoir Dolls” writing a letter for a man who wants to urge his childhood friend not to marry another man.

As the words flow out of the “Doll” (really a beautiful, perceptive woman), memories of Violet’s former Battlefield surface. They’re brutal, and cruel, and dark. She’s every bit as brutal, taking out every enemy soldier that comes near her with grim efficiency and with no regard for her personal safety. We also see Gilbert, who seems to silently curse having to send her out to fight and kill.

The Doll’s closing words in the man’s letter are “I love you”, which are the last words Violet heard from Gilbert, who most likely died in that alley.

Violet didn’t understand those words, any more than a rifle would, but after witnessing the Doll use those words with such surety and conviction, she wants to learn what they mean. As such, she asks Gilbert if she can join the Auto Memoir Dolls in order to learn more about love and other emotions. Gilbert agrees, and Violet’s new Mission begins.

My first impressions of Violet Evergarden are…Wow. Dayum. This is how shit is done. KyoAni really balled out, delivering a wonderfully structured, quietly thrilling portrait of this broken vet. The war between nations may be over, now a new, more difficult war begins: to survive and find purpose in peacetime; to learn what an individual is and to learn what love is.

Ishikawa Yui (AKA Mikasa Ackerman) also delivers a compelling perfomance as, well, someone very similar to Mikasa in terms of loyalty to the person she loves most (though Vi doesn’t know what love is yet) to her general badassery.

Animation is, in a word, majestic. There’s a very vivid sense of the ugly pall of war being lifted over this alternate world, and yet the episode never banged us over the head with exposition. The flashbacks to the battle are effective in their brevity and intensity.

And the score, composed by American Evan Call, was the perfect aural accompaniment to Violet’s story. I don’t award 10s to first episodes lightly, but in the case of this episode, there is no other choice. Bravo.