Violet Evergarden – 09

A tool cares nothing for itself. It doesn’t even consider itself a “self”. It only has purpose in the hands of its master. No master, no purpose. Violet was only able to get as far as she did as an Auto Memoir Doll because she thought the Major was out there somewhere, they would one day reunite so she could be issued fresh orders.

Despite Gilbert’s attempts to appeal to her humanity, Violet had been so conditioned for carrying out orders and nothing else that even when she loses one arm to a bullet and another to a grenade, she’s still compelled to try to dress his wounds with her teeth, until he has to all but order her to stop.

But now there are no more orders to look forward to, and Violet is lost in her past. She revisits the ruin of the castle where he fell, perhaps harboring a glimmer of hope everyone was wrong, and Gilbert was there after all. It doesn’t take long for that hope to be crushed, which is just about when Claudia and Benedict arrive to pick her up.

Claudia explains his need to withhold the truth from her when she was admitted to the hospital; she was more concerned with Gilbert than herself, but Gilbert demonstrated to Claudia on the eve of battle that he never saw Violet as a tool or weapon, but an ordinary girl he’d taken it upon himself to care for.

Gilbert had hope of his own: that one day Violet could be an ordinary girl with a purpose and emotions and dreams all her own. And even if he wasn’t around to meet that girl, he entrusted Claudia to care for her in his stead. Claudia perhaps understood more than Gilbert did just how difficult a transition from weapon to person would be.

Still, he doesn’t regret how he’s handled things. Cattleya thinks him heartless to tell Violet she’s “burning in the flames of what she’s done”, but it’s true, and it’s not something unique to Violet. Everyone has lost people, and parts of themselves. There’s nothing for it but to accept those flames, and they’ll gradually subside.

Upon returning to Leiden, everyone is worried about Violet, but also keep their distance out of respect. She sits in her dark room, alone with her flames, her grief and regret. She dreams of returning to the steps where she last saw Gilbert, but he’s not very nice.

Dream Gilbert essentially repeats the words his brother said to Violet at the port—words that appeal to her guilt over being able to write letters that connect people with the same hands that took the lives of so many others. She cries. She makes a mess. She puts those hands around her throat and contemplates joining the major.

Then there’s a knock at her door and she receives a letter; her first. Before reading it, she helps deliver some letters an errant delivery boy abandoned, and seems to enjoy ensuring the thoughts and hearts and souls of those who wrote them find their way to where they belong.

The letter addressed to her was written by Iris and Erica, figuring writing Doll-to-Doll was the best way to maintain that respectful distance while making sure Violet knew they were worried about her and are hoping and waiting for her to return. Additionally, Spencer requested her by name to ghostwrite an apology/thank you letter for his sister Luculia.

In this way, Violet gets back to work, the embers still glowing but the flames perhaps gradually subsiding. Spencer’s hope was to express gratitude for the one who got her back on her feet, all the while unaware that he’s helping Violet to do the same.

On her way back to the office, she spots a newspaper article featuring Princess Charlotte and her new husband meeting with children, as well as an advertisement for Oscar Webster’s newest play about Olivia. It’s a little on the nose, but it’s important that she she be reminded of what she’s done since her military career ended.

That’s because when she rushes to Claudia’s office to ask him if it’s really, truly all right for her to live on, he tells her that while the things she did back then can’t be undone, neither can the things she’s doing and will continue to do as an Auto Memoir Doll. Not only is it all right to live on…it’s essential. Both the show and this episode share her name. They are hers, and so is her life. Time to start living it.

Violet Evergarden – 08

There are no fancy clients or letters written this week, as learning of Gilbert’s death pulls Violet back into her dark past. Though it’s never explained exactly how the girl who Gilbert would come to call Violet was molded into such an efficient killing machine, but one thing is certain: absolutely no care was taken into how her emotional development would suffer from her military duties; at least not until Gilbert took custody of her.

Violet was too valuable an asset for the military to keep on the sidelines, so Gilbert was ordered to put her on the front lines of the war, where she distinguished herself as a fearless weapon. But as he watched her slaughter the enemy without any kind of expression on her face, many a pained look came from the major.

He really didn’t want to contribute any further to this child’s torment, but he had little choice, not being the particularly rebellious type. And so he watches the girl everyone considers nothing but a weapon continue to tear her soul apart as he watches with pity and regret.

When Violet treks (in her memoir doll dress no less) to the Bouganvillea mansion and finds Gilbert’s grave beneath a tree, it may be starting to sink in for her that she’ll never see the major again, but as it’s something she’s never before contemplated—any more than she knew what concepts like “beautiful” or “gratitude” meant before meeting him—she just seems utterly lost without the man whose green eyes match the brooch she had him buy for her, calling those eyes “beautiful from the first time they met.”

Gilbert’s and Violet’s relationship was always an utterly tragic one, with the war dictating how Gilbert had to use her, and Violet never properly growing up or mastering human skills of interaction or self-relfection while Gilbert drew breath.

But thanks to him, she at least had a chance to gradually learn; her exploits with the doll company are proof of that. He was always right about her: she was more than a weapon, she was a human being, and it wasn’t too late for her.

Unfortunately, we learn what causes the wound that leads to Gilbert’s demise, and it’s just a cherry on top of the shit life sundae Violet has been handed. Enemy stragglers shoot him in the eye, using the light of the very flare he sent up to alert ground forces to invade the fortress.

It was the last goddamn battle he and Violet had to fight, and thus the war snatched him away from her when she needed him the most—with peace on the horizon. Will she ever recover from that loss? I would hope so, but she’ll need help from those around her, and she’ll have to want to be helped, as opposed to simply wanting to join the major in death.

Violet Evergarden – 07

Much to the envy of superfan Erica, Violet is sent to pastoral Roswell (in Genetrix, not New Mexico) to assist the famous playwright Oscar Webster with his newest work.

As is so often the case with great talents, he also has his problems: he lives all alone, his house is a mess, and he day-drinks too much (Violet helpfully points out it’s “not good for him”…I think he’s aware Vi). When Oscar first sees the blonde Violet, he narrates in his head how she isn’t the blonde he wished he could see again, whose name he can’t utter.

Violet deems Oscar a “handful”, but if anyone can handle him, it’s her. In the day before she begins taking dictation, she cleans the place and even tries her hand a cooking Carbonara. Her difficulty with cracking eggs and the resulting single mass of pasta she presents to Oscar engendered belly laughs from your author.

But again, before going to bed Violet must keep the booze away from Oscar, hiding all of his various bottles that she might get a good day’s work out of him. His status as a handful thus established, we move on to the why, which makes for the show’s most emotionally devastating and sorrowful stories yet—aside from Violet’s own tale of woe.

The why of Oscar’s solitude and drunkenness is revealed quite by chance. Oscar and Violet reach a rapport as he dictates his play—his first for children—and even Violet can empathize with its protagonist, Violet finds a frilly parasol that evokes in Oscar memories of a girl with a gap in her teeth.

With heavy implication that girl passed away, Oscar knocks the parasol out of Vi’s hand in anger and orders her to leave. Violet manages to calm him, correctly guessing there’s something deep in his heart he’s trying to hide. The truth is, Oscar hasn’t been able to write for some time, but thought the best way to do so would be to complete the tale he once told his late beloved daughter, Olivia.

Oscar’s wife, Olivia’s daughter, passed away all too early of an illness, leaving him to raise her. While he was sure she missed her mother, she never let on, as if being strong for both of them.

Then, quite tragically, she took ill as well, and rather than keep her in the hospital to pass, Oscar took her to their vacation home he still occupies, so she could die with a smile on her face. She does so as they sit by the lake; a lake Olivia promised to walk across, using her parasol to keep her aloft.

Oscar’s story is well and powerfully told (it’s akin to the opening scene in Up), and accompanied by composer Evan Call’s familiar ‘tragic’ theme; a theme that never fails to make me suddenly realize how gosh-darn dusty it is in the room in which I’m watching the show. I was glad this was the halfway point so I could grab a few kleenex.

That night, Oscar decides to finish the play after all, giving it the happy ending he and Olivia couldn’t have, in which the protagonist Olive will return home and reunite with her father. They complete it outside on the terrace, and Oscar asks Violet to go stand by the lake with the parasol to help him better visualize the ending.

While this scene is beautifully, breathtakingly staged—it’s one of the best-looking scenes of the series—it failed for me where the pre-intermission montage of Olivia fully succeeded: in not going too far. Call’s score gets a bit too bombastic, and when combined with the Bullet Time of Violet’s “walking on water”, the scene strays uncomfortably close to maudlin.

Still, the idea of Oscar dealing with his grief through finishing the play inspired by his daughter, and having Violet be the muse he needed to draw out the pages, still rang clear and true. The execution simply needed more moderation.

The episode closes with two instances of someone saying something to Violet that sets her off: first, when she and Oscar part, he thanks her for helping Olivia “keep the promise she made.” Violet lies sleeplessly in her berth, thinking of all the lives she took in the past, and all the promises they couldn’t keep because of her.

Claudia once told her she was “on fire”, and she took him literally; now she finally understands that she is on fire, and has not been able to forgive herself.

The second instance occurs when she returns to Leiden to encounter Lady Evergarden at the pier. The Lady can tell how much Violet has grown since their first tense interaction, and believes “now the late Gilbert’s soul can rest in peace.”

This is the first time Violet has been told the Major is dead, and when Claudia confirms it and gives her the details (they never found his body, only his dog tag), she immediately reverts to believing he’s alive and well.

The odds aren’t good, however. That hardly matters to Violet, who, like Oscar with Olivia, tied all her hopes to Gilbert. Coming to terms with the fact she may never see him again will not be easy, especially when the circumstances of his disappearance aren’t so clear cut.

For now, Violet simply runs, not knowing what to do. It’s appropriate then, that this episode has no title.

Violet Evergarden – 05

Violet must be making a name for herself with her unique yet compelling ghostwriting style, because her latest request comes from the royal family of Drossel, whose princess Charlotte is arranged to marry a prince of Flugel, a former enemy.

Violet must ghostwrite love letters to Prince Damian, on Charlotte’s behalf, which will be public and meant to “sell” the match to the two nations’ subjects. One could scarcely live two lives as differently as the coddled Charlotte and the tortured Violet, who are both around fourteen.

Still, Violet assures her client that she will accomplish her mission without fail. Her first love letter is well-written and has the desired effect among both the royal families, resulting in a favorable and just as well-written reply (no doubt from another Auto Memories Doll).

As such, the reply only frustrates Princess Charlotte (Nakajima Megumi), who is quick to emotion and tears, and knows the prince she only met once would never have written such a letter. Four years ago, she fled her “birthday” party, which was nothing but an endless parade of suitors.

The only one to go looking for her, and tell her it was okay to cry, was Prince Damian. When Violet hears of this, the genesis of true love between two people acting genuinely to one another without airs, she institutes a bold plan: let Charlotte write letters, by hand, from the heart, which Violet will refine as necessary.

A stirring correspondence between her and the prince ensues, captivating the public even more with their brutal honesty, modesty, and emotion. Violet assists, but the words are purely Charlotte’s, and once she gets into a rhythm, she has no trouble speaking her mind and voicing her concerns.

The replies she receives are similarly, refreshingly self-deprecating, suggesting the two are more alike than different, each finding the mantle of royalty—and even maturity—an ill fit.

Finally, the time comes for the prince and princess to reunite in the same moonlit garden where they met for the first and only other time. Damian, fully convinced by the letters that Charlotte will be a splendid match, offers his hand in marriage.

Through the power of the letters and the memory they shared (or perhaps the memory Violet told Cattleya to bring up on Damian’s behalf) the royal couple’s love became real, making their marriage not merely one of political expediency, but a strong and lasting bond that reflects the potential for the two nations to embrace each other in equal measure.

Charlotte, like every other “guest” character in VE so far, is quickly and wonderfully depicted, starting out as your prototypical spoiled princess but gradually revealing much more humanity, ironically thanks to the still very doll-like Violet. Her close bond to her maid Alberta was particularly poignant.

While Violet had to force a smile upon meeting Charlotte, her face bears a real one, without trying, on the beautiful day of Charlotte’s wedding, which neither she nor Damian’s doll Cattleya attend, as they must return to Leiden to tackle their next missions.

That smile is huge, because it means that through Violet’s interactions and education dealing with people whose emotions she must suss out in written form, is gradually rubbing off on her. She is learning how to be a person with feelings and desires of her own.

So it’s particularly troubling for someone from her past (Gilbert’s brother Dietfried, if I’m not mistaken) to appear, condemn her for the bloodshed she committed when she was nothing but a vicious weapon, and make her relive one of her many past slaughters.

It occurs to me that Violet Evergarden’s stoic, doll-like, emotionless demeanor was not something hastily achieved; it was the result of an entire life of fourteen years bereft of mercy, kindness, and love…until Gilbert. Now he’s gone, and someone who remembers what she once was and what she did, and threatens to tear down all her progress.

Yet this is also her first real test: Violet must not simply take Dietfried’s scorn and abuse lying down. Whatever she did, she had to do, because she was never given any other choice at that point in her life. Now that conditions have allowed her to claim a life all her own, it’s up to her to defend that life from those who’d drag her back into the shadows.

Violet Evergarden – 04

Violet Evergarden delivers yet another bravura character study, this time with a focus on Iris, the young, feisty, but not-yet-distinguished Memoir Doll. She’s so excited to get her first personal request—from her hometown of Kazaly, no less—she overdoes it, and ends up spraining her arm falling down some stairs.

That means the ghostwriter will need someone to ghostwrite for her—a ghostghostwriter, if you will—and newly-certified doll Violet accompanies her for that task. During a conversation on the train, Iris is miffed by Violet’s assessment of her hometown as lacking in valuable resources.

But what she doesn’t get about Violet in that moment is that she doesn’t have a mean or even passive-aggressive bone in her body. Violet actually considers Kazaly’s resource dearth a good thing, because it meant warring factions didn’t destroy it fighting over resources.

When Iris agrees that it’s good no one in her town was hurt, she then apologizes to Violet, who was hurt. Violet doesn’t see the distinction between Iris apologizing for what happened to her, and apologizing for being insensitive with her words.

Upon arriving in Kazaly, Iris is approached not by her client, but by her loving parents; her mother sent the request under a false name in order to lure Iris home. Her parents’ true intention to throw a birthday party, with many single young men invited, in hopes she’ll return home, get married, and settle down. Thus, Violet, on behalf of Iris, will type up invitations.

Among the invitees is Emmon Snow, whom Iris asks Violet not to invite. But the day of the party, Emmon shows up and offers his salutations, which throws Iris into a rage. She runs into the house and away from the party.

Violet is confused by Iris’ “change of condition”, so Iris spells it out: Emmon rejected her already. When Violet immediately relays this information to Iris’ parents, and Iris’ mother tells her they’ll find another, better match for her, Iris is furious at Violet for being completely incapable of understanding peoples’ feelings.

Then Violet issues an apology that’s as thorough and revealing as it is heartbreaking:

I’m sorry. I thought I’d come to understand them a little, but people’s emotions are extremely complicated and delicate. Not everyone puts all of their feelings into words. People can be contrary, or at times, untruthful. I can’t decipher them accurately. It’s proving all too difficult for me. I’m truly sorry.

Iris’ attitude towards Violet softens considerably, once she realizes the difficulties Violet faces and battles without complaint.

And despite Violet having parroted almost everything Iris has said to her, Iris opens up even more, giving her the details of her confession to Emmon and his subsequent, devastating FriendZone-ing. The words that “activate” Violet are “I love you.”

The way Iris used them, she deduces that it must take a great deal of courage to say them to someone, and she wonders if the Major felt the same way. Iris, in turn, learns that the Major Violet speaks of was the first person in her life to show her love. Then Violet suggests she help Iris write a letter to her parents, to tell them how she truly feels.

While last week’s letter from a sister to her troubled brother was so short and sweet it could have been a fluke, this week’s letter is no fluke. Violet strikes a balance of cold, straightforward facts and warm, resonant sentiments.

In the letter, Iris properly expresses her desire to return to the city and continue on the path she set out for herself. She is grateful to her parents for their love, and sorry for causing them to worry, but hopes they’ll give her more time and watch over her.

Iris narrates the letter, which is to say Tomatsu Haruka does, and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. By the time her parents finish reading it, they’re near tears; as am I. On the train ride home, Iris assures Violet it was a fine letter, and that her feelings reached those she loves.

Iris is given a bouquet before leaving: one of irises, which were in full bloom when she was born and which are in full bloom when they depart back to Leiden. When Iris tells Violet how her parents named her, she remembers the Major doing the same thing with her.

Gilbert spotted a solitary yet stalwart violet off in the distance, lit up by the sun, and decides that’s what his new charge will be called. It’s his hope she “won’t be a tool, but a person worthy of that name,” yet another episode-ending title drop that gave me all the feels.

P.S. On a lighter note: with the number of close-ups of feet, particularly Iris’, one could be forgiven for thinking this episode was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino, well-known as one of Hollywood’s foremost foot enthusiasts.

Violet Evergarden – 03

Violet attends Auto Memoir Doll Class, sternly instructed by Mrs. Rhodanthe. Violet treats it like military training, and without trying impresses the whole class with her two hundred words-per-minute typing speed, earns top marks for grammar and vocabulary. So far, so good.

Her desk neighbor Luculia (whose seiyu I can’t quite place…Yuuki Aoi, perhaps?) takes an interest in the “doll-like girl with a soldier’s demeanor.” When the time comes to ghostwrite letters to one another, Violet’s letter to Claudia sounds like a dry report, while Violet utterly fails to parse out the feelings Luculia expresses, resulting in another tactless letter full of potential misunderstandings, which the instructor soundly rejects. Technical proficiency will only get you so far in this class.

Still, Luculia, while walking partway home with Violet, decides to show her her favorite view of the city, from the clock tower. This induces a vivid flashback for Violet, remembering Major Gilbert telling her how he wished for her to see that very view.

This reinforces the notion that the only way Violet will make any progress—either as a Memoir Doll in touch with her clients’ feelings or a woman in touch with her own—is through external interactions with her fellow townfolk, like Luculia, which bring out her internal emotions. Seeing the view the Major wanted her to see is a step in the right direction.

At first, Luculia chose her brother as the recipient of her letter, but switched to her parents, and we get a glimpse of why: her brother is a raucous drunk and a layabout, and not really available to hear what Luculia might want to say, even if she found the words to say. Watching her eat dinner alone in the dark as he snored beside her was sad beyond words.

When the Doll class concludes, Violet is not among the nine who graduated, though Luculia does pass. Violet reports her failure to Claudia, who tells her not to feel so bad, since graduation isn’t a requisite of being a Doll. But Violet isn’t satisfied. She doesn’t see how she serve any purpose as a doll if she can’t do what the instructor said: draw out the true feelings the client wishes to express.

Violet returns to the school, perhaps for further guidance, but to her surprise is met by Luculia, who offers to ghostwrite her a letter about the person she kept mentioning at the end of her previous ones: the Major. This leads to Violet telling Luculia why she wanted to be a Doll in the first place (to understand what “I love you” meant).

Whether Luculia took “the Major’s last words to me” to mean the Major is dead or not, she proceeds to pour her heart out about her own situation. Her parents, whom she had Violet ghostwrite letters to, were killed in the war, and her brother, who was in the army but never saw battle, blames himself for not being able to defend the city where their parents died.

Here I thought he was tortured by the things he had to do in the heat of battle—this world’s equivalent of PTSD. But it’s the regret over not being able to do anything that took root in his heart that has been eating away at him ever since.

Watching him get into a pointless fight and getting badly beaten as Luculia expressed her feelings made for some singularly powerful drama, aided in no small part by Evan Call’s sumptuous score, which never strays into melodrama.

Violet hears Luculia’s words, and after Luculia leaves, takes up the typewriter once more. The next time we see her, she’s blocking a drunken, supine brother’s crutch with one arm, and delivering him a ghostwritten letter with the other. He had been lying there remembering better times, when he and Luculia would climb to the top of the clock tower to enjoy the view. It’s clear even here, at rock bottom, that he loves his sister very much.

The letter is oh-so-brief: I’m glad you’re here for me. Thank you for everything. They’re the words Luculia wanted to say but couldn’t, and they’re the words her brother needed to hear but weren’t being said. Words of forgiveness, gratitude, and love.

The next day, Luculia takes Violet back to the school once more. Luculia and her brother are on the road to rebuilding a relationship, thanks to the letter. Rhodanthe presents Violet with a brooch signifying her status as a graduate of the class, in hopes she’ll become an exemplary Memoir Doll.

This time Violet listened and understood the words being spoken, and took from them the feelings that needed to be expressed, without the need for paragraphs of flowery language. All she needed was a strong inspiration—almost a muse—and found one in Luculia.

We’ll see how this breakthrough translates to being able to successfully convey the feelings of people other than her new friend. But for now, Violet has achieved a hard-earned and well-deserved victory.

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.