Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 04 – The Bodyguard

When the Prince and Adel arrive at the Kingdom of Light, the show isn’t quite sure what to do with them, so an interminable amount of time is spent in a standoff with Faios. While en route Adel decides he’ll play the role of envoy while the Prince plays his bodyguard, concerned that if the spotlight is on the air to the Black Throne he’ll be the first one cut down.

Adel may be a better talker, but shunting the Prince off to the side was misguided, in my view. We’ve seen him go through a lot in a short time, but now that he’s aligned with the snail’s pace of the Kingdom of Light, I’d hoped he and Iris would have some things to say. Instead, Adel takes the lead. There’s an increased sense of occasion when they finally meet, yet it almost immediately fizzles out when they go their separate ways.

More maddeningly, time that could have been spent with, say, the Prince and Iris conversing over a meal or some such, is instead utterly wasted on pointless side characters: a quartet of identical brothers goofing off in the hold of the skyship that ferried the Prince to the Kingdom of Light. I honestly don’t know what the point of this was other than some comic relief, but I would have preferred more A-plot for this comedy to relieve.

The Prince asks Faios about Iris only to be shot down, as his stated status as a mere commoner bodyguard makes him unworthy of even speaking the Queen’s name, in Faios’ eyes. The night passes, and the next morning Iris asks the Prince directly about the regular people of Black. The Prince’s response is barely an answer, but repeats Adel’s initial entreaties: this is about establishing a united front against Bahl, who is destruction incarnate.

In other words, this felt like a wasted opportunity, not helped by a host of iffy production values that are increasingly hard to overlook. The ending in which the Prince and Iris are so lovey-dovey almost felt mocking in the wave of such inconsequential first impressions. Iris has very little to go on other than the Prince seems to be reasonable. But they could have interacted a little more.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 03 – What a King (and Queen) Need

Well, SPZC has one thing going for it for sure: the story ain’t hard to follow! As with last week, a lot less happens on the light side that has to be stretched out. Queen Iris is troubled by the recent violence, but looks back to the time when she and Cima were still candidates.

Back then she managed to dispel a cloud of darkness on her own when the Rune answered her call. The look back reminds her of her duty not just to protect her people, but maintain the balance of Black and White, even if no one else understands that bit.

Indeed, the only person she can probably relate with on the matter of balance (as opposed to simply eliminating one’s enemy completely) is the Dark Prince. As I said, more happens to him, as he has yet to succeed the present King. However, this week eliminates the obstacle of competition for his spot as successor.

Like Iris, the prince’s commitment to balance causes him to act in a way the other candidates fight inexplicable, like helping one of them rather than letting them die. But the prince remembers the horrors that befell his village and has determined he’ll be a king who doesn’t just look after himself and his own power.

The competition is quick and efficient: after the larger group is whittled down in a beast battle, the last two standing duel each other, with the Prince beating Adel, who like Cima takes the loss very well and is willing to befriend the winner.

Groza bestows upon the Prince the symbol of his right of succession—the unimaginatively named Greatsword of Black—and his first mission: for him and Adel to go to the Kingdom of White as official envoys and deliver the news of their succession to the Queen of Light.

It looks like the fourth episode will be the one when Iris and Prince (God I wish he had a name) finally meet. I wish these first three episodes had delved a little deeper into who these two characters are besides their very simplified archetypes and shared ideals, but this isn’t that kind of show.

Instead, Iris and Prince are more symbols of hope in the idea that a lasting peace beneficial to all could be struck if they can come together. The stage is now set for that encounter. Will Cima and Adel stand by their friends throughout these efforts, or undermine them, more confident in the strength of their side than with the prospects of balance?

P.S. Here’s the poppy ED. It rips!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 02 – Marking Time

As befits a show shows central message is balance, this episode is evenly split between White and Black. First the White: elemental spirit-summoning Elf mage Alantia leads the defense of Metis against a Bahamut-style dark boss named Bahl. Queen Iris eventually shows up and puts on quite a light show, but isn’t really able to put a scratch on Bahl, which is concerning to say the least. She’s worried the Progenitor Rune is being taxed to its limit, and her kingdom can’t afford to lose it.

The would-be Prince of Darkness’s story is progressing at a much faster clip. This makes sense, as Iris is already Queen of Light so he has some catching up to do. Still, the difference in the pacing of the light and dark halves is noticeable…and not necessarily complementary. Valas impresses upon the young prince that becoming king is about more than just being good with a sword. It means learning how to govern and pitching in when needed (as presented in a montaaaage).

This “king of the people” angle is seemingly at odds with the present King of Darkness, who is little more than a smoke monster with a Sauron-like “cover everything in darkness” policy. He considers future generations like the prince to be unnecessary. Where “Egoism of the world” Bahl fits into this isn’t quite clear yet.

One assumes from the OP and ED that the prince and queen will meet someday, but for now, the prince settles for meeting Princess of Black Groza, AKA the “Gray-Green Demoness.” She’s a bit spoiled what with her squad of loyal troops, but when the Prince rescues her from a stray monster, she proves quite amiable to the lad, and tells him of the official competition with other potential successors in which he must participate in order to become an official Prince of Darkness.

After two episodes Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE remains perfectly watchable, if unexceptional and a bit sluggish. I continue to be driven to watch by the simple premise, Iwasaki Taku score, and promise of the eventual meeting of Iris and the Prince. Mainly I’m neither turned-off nor busy enough to drop it!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 01 (First Impressions) – The Desperate Pursuit of Balance

In the Kingdom of Darkness, an unnamed young lad (Kaji Yuki) flees from his village with younger children when monsters attack. Neither the villagers nor the children survive, leaving the lad alone. Not knowing what else to do, he digs a huge hole for the dead, but also for himself, because he comes to like how the sun pours in, coating everything in the hole equally.

He encounters an old but stout knight named Skears, who urges the kid to come out of the hole and direct his energies elsewhere. He manages to inspire the kid into having a little duel with him, and he shows a bit of skill. That’s apparently enough for Skears, who by the way is dying, to name the kid his successor as well as the next Prince and future King of Darkness, a title Skears himself failed to gain.

Meanwhile, high above the clouds in the Kingdom of Light, Queen Iris (Horie Yui) leads an attack on an encroaching darkness that is expanding in both size and density, making each battle tougher. Shironeko Project takes pains to accentuate the stark contrast between the kingdoms of darkness in light.

Obviously, there’s more light, but more saturation, richer hues, and an ethereal vividness. It’s as squeaky clean and gleaming up here as it is muddy and brooding down there. And just as important as the visuals are the sounds, and Iwasaki Taku’s lavish orchestral score is excellent, featuring distinct leitmotifs for the two kingdoms: more orchestral and soaring in the sky; more grungy and metal down below.

The Lad makes it to the capital where he’ll become stronger and challenge the current King, but he’ll need allies. He gains his first in Valas, a knight friendly with Skears (and possibly his former student). Valas presumes the kid is a thief, but after flashing some skill and more importantly Skears’ words, Valas changes his tune, pledges his loyalty to the kid’s claim, and takes him to Skears’ mansion.

This all happens rather fast, but as the Bard said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” If you’re using my viewing time wisely and efficiently I’m rarely going to be mad, as long as you don’t run out of story or worse, the speed hurts my ability to get engaged with the material. Neither is the case here…at least not yet.

Back in the Lightdom, we get to know Queen Iris’ top officers, like the knight Faios and mage Sima. They know their queen is more concerned with maintaining balance than achieving a total victory. Interestingly, Sima was once a candidate for Queen but lost to her best friend. Refreshingly, she seems to hold no hard feelings, and wants only to serve her queen as best she can.

Iris’ commitment to minimizing fighting and death is noble, but the expanding darkness is forcing her hand, and a report comes that the Western capital is under attack, she must immediately head back into battle. Even so, she sees this latest incursion as a sign it’s time for the King of Darkness to be replaced. She’s confident his successor will work with her to maintain the balance.

I first approached SPZC with skepticism—with so many fantasy anime out there (isekai or no) any newcomer would have to make quite the impression. I wasn’t encouraged by the breakneck speed and simplicity of the early scene of the kid and Skears, but once I saw both sides of this dark-light coin, and heard more of that sweet, sweet Iwasaki sound, this gradually grew into something I’d tentatively recommend.

I’m also a sucker for star-crossed love stories in the midst of warring nations, and a big fan of both Horie and Kaji, so the inevitable meeting of Prince and Iris is a built-in reason to keep watching. SPZC is telling a very old story with very basic elements, but telling it reasonably well. We’ll see if it can elevate that material.

Fire Force – 07 – A Long Way to Go

In the wake of the nighttime “joint exercise” (read: heated battle) between the 5th and 8th companies, their commanders decide to hold a “job well done” cookout in hopes of fostering peace—and keeping their superiors off their backs.

There’s no clearer evidence that the two companies have put their differences aside than Princess Hibana feeding Shinra cuts of grilled meat, but she also agrees to assist Captain Oubi and the 8th in their investigation of the scourge of spontaneous human combustions.

The most likely culprit is believed to be someone from the 1st company, since most of the man-made infernals come from their jurisdiction. It’s logical enough, even if it’s almost as likely to be someone not of the 1st who just happens to operating there.

In any case, Oubi wants eyes and ears on the inside, so he makes use of the above-board, inter-company trainee exchange program to send Shinra and Arthur to the 1st. They’re accompanied by first-years from the 2nd and 8th to allay suspicion that the 8th is up to something.

When Maki escorts the trainees to the 1st’s Captain Burns (the fire soldier at the scene when Shinra’s family was killed), Shinra immediately challenges him to sparring, with the understanding that if he can beat Burns, the good captain has to answer his questions without reservation.

But as both the 2nd Company trainee and Arthur exhibit, these 1st dudes are no joke, and challenging them to a fight so soon, even under the guise of training, doesn’t so much help their investigation as show them exactly what they’re up against in terms of strength.

One of Burns’ lieutenants, Karim, can turn flame into ice with the use of some kind of one-man-band air compressor, while Burns is able to stop and extinguish Arthur’s vaunted Excalibur with one lazily outstretched hand.

When Shinra gives Burns his best shot, it’s clear no member of the 1st is breaking a sweat today, despite Tamaki’s needless worry that Shinra might be able to hurt one of them. Once Burns dispatches Shinra, he asks him why he became a fire soldier, and suddenly Shinra’s spiel about wanting to be a hero to stop what happened to his family to happen ever again, Burns simply replies that Shinra has a long way to go to achieving that goal.

Still, perhaps being among such scarily powerful fire soldiers will help Shinra learn a thing or two, even as he and Arthur investigate the possibility one of them is creating Infernals. One 1st soldier I’m reasonably certain is innocent in all this is Tamaki, whose main special skill seems to be accidentally tripping and falling on men…her superiors have even adopted a habit of catching her in mid-air.

Fire Force – 06 – Wherein Opposite Paths Converge

As shounen heroes tend to do, Shinra struts into Princess Hibana’s lair and prepares to go a second round, despite having learned nothing about how to defeat her ability that had him flat on the ground. He’s confident that between his talents and determination he’ll figure something out and rescue Iris. Hibana is ready for him, but because she’s a shounen villain, she explains what her ability does, which enables Shinra to resist it.

Of course, heating up her opponents so they become lightheaded ragdolls isn’t Hibana’s only trick. She conjures up scores of flowers to launch at Shinra, and finally releases her featured attack, which bears more than a passing similarity to Captain Kuchiki’s Senbonzakura.

Hibana is convinced that the world is made up of the burned and those who burn, and ever since all the sisters but her burned in the convent, she’s dedicated herself to…herself. Burning whoever and whatever she needs to to get ahead. It’s how she became a successful researcher, and it’s how she became Captain of the 5th.

But here’s the thing: Iris survived too, and Iris is still around and kicking despite not becoming “the devil” to the god Sol everyone prays to. Which means there were obviously more than just the single evil path Hibana took. Iris continued her sister training and became a good and caring person who helps comfort people both during and at the end of their lives.

As we see in the expanded flashback, Hibana was unique among the other sisters in her ability to manipulate flames into beautiful flowers, and change their colors with chemicals. Iris and the others loved her flowers, but the nuns in charge discouraged her, warning that she was, well, playing with fire.

But Iris never forgot their promise: that if she overcame her shyness, Hibana would show her her flame flowers once more. This time, defeated by the flames she believed only served her, and by someone she deemed just more “gravel” to be trod upon, the hard crust that those old flames created around her heart shattered, revealing her heart wasn’t hardened to the core.

Princess Hibana is redeemed, the 5th and 8th cease hostilities, and she even develops a little crush on Shinra, who after all managed to defeat her, making her reconsider whether his prattle about heroes and saving people without getting anything in return was just empty BS.

As for Captain Oubi, after the credits he calls Hinawa, announcing he’s finally ready to join the fray, only to be told that it’s already over, and the dramatic battle music stops abruptly.

Fire Force – 05 – Captured Princess

Both Iris and Princess Hibana were present for the events of the end credits sequence when someone presumably combusted and burned all of the nuns and the church—except for the two of them. But while Iris’ faith in the Church of Sol seems to have strengthened since that tragedy, Hibana has all but abandoned hers, and has pursued a life of inhumane, heretical research.

The gulf between them is weighing on Iris, who wants answers but won’t tell anyone in her company, including a curious Shinra. That means Iris leaves the safety of Company 8’s station to pay a visit to Hibana at the 5th. The mere sight of Iris’ holy raiment enrages Hibana, and she burns most of it away, mocking all FFS nuns as mere “window dressing.” Shinra, Hinawa, Maki, and Arthur are quick to mount a rescue; hey’d been planning to raid the 5th anyway; Iris simply accelerates their timeline.

Hibana’s eclectic collection of pyro-weirdos don’t really cause that much trouble for the outnumbered 8th; one 5th soldier who blows explosive gum bubbles is outdone by Hinawa’s ability to control the speed and course of bullets from his guns, the “Three 5th’s Angels” are no match for Maki, and Arthur is able to deal with the souped-up captive Infernal when he realizes he was using his wrong hand. He’s an idiot, but a strong one.

All of this allows Shinra to slip behind Hibana’s defenses and reach the front door of her central mansion. Perhaps, when she’s rescued, Iris would be so kind as to fill in those who saved her on why exactly she did something so reckless as entering enemy territory alone, as well as why her smiles look so forced. The 8th is a family, after all; there shouldn’t be secrets.

Fire Force – 04 – Infernal, Know Thyself

Many scenes of this week’s episode (and indeed previous ones) reminded me of the work of Akiyuki Shinbo, whose work in turn reminds me of live action directors Kubrick and Anderson. Sure enough, Fire Force’s director Yase Yuki is a SHAFT vet, having worked on Monogatari, Madoka, Nisekoi, even Koufuku Graffiti. That means there’s a generous amount of artistry to each shot, even if said shots aren’t really doing that much for the narrative.

The three balloon-holding mascots against an azure sky is one example; the scene of Company 5 Captain Princess Hibana and her man-throne is another, the latter evoking religious iconography that is reflected in the brief scene of Iris in a stained glass-filled chapel, looking at the burned photo of what we gather to have been her family. It’s just a really pretty, stylish show, but if you’ve been watching you knew that already.

Despite the flashy visuals, the episode starts out pretty harmlessly, with Maki dispatching Shinra and Arthur to help get a dog—later revealed to be one of the firefighter mascots—out of a tree. He was “hooray”-ed up there by college kids. With a firefighter (distinct from the fire soldiers) named Miyamoto on trial for a string of murders, the profession is not as respected as it once was.

However, just after Miyamoto is declared not guilty (by reason of insanity) he spontaneously combusts and becomes an Infernal, and not just any Infernal, but one that is self-aware and can talk (and also reminds me a of a hollow from Bleach).

Company 8 deploys to deal with the threat (though Maki leaves out the part about her sending the boys to get a mascot out of a tree, so Hinawa thinks they’re on unauthorized leave. Meanwhile, Princess Hibana moblizes her Company 5 in hopes of grabbing a rare specimen for Infernal research.

Thanks to Shinra’s rocket feet, he and Arthur get there first, and make quite an acrobatic entrance, with the force of Shinra’s kick knocking Miyamoto back the exact same distance Arthur flies before arresting his momentum and showing Miyamoto the back of his fist.

Mika and the rest of the 8th arrives, but her Sputter Comet attack is immediately neutralized. Even so, Miyamoto puts up his hands and surrenders—another Infernal first—before making a quick getaway. Only Shinra is fast enough to chase him. Oubi understands the difficulty of sending off a self-aware entity, but Hinawa tells Shinra not to listen to anything it says.

The ensuing fight between Shinra and Miyamoto!Infernal involves the former kicking a Peugeot 405 at him, showing the guy he means business. Again Miyamoto pleads for the mercy of a nun’s prayer before being sent off. Shinra forgets what Hinawa told him and listens to the Infernal, which immediately double-crosses him by trying to attack.

That’s when Princess Hibana and the 5th arrive and start throwing their weight around. Shirna says this is his job, but Hibana outranks him and her company outnumbers the 8th. Shinra manages to resist having to lick the imperious Hibana’s shoes, and uses his rocket feet to free himself from three of her “5th’s Angels”

The standoff continues when the rest of the 8th catches up to Shinra, and Hibana looks down on her fellow captain Oubi for having no pyrokinetic powers—not to mention low breeding. Ultimately, it is Oubi who caves, deciding letting a better-equipped company use Miyamoto in their research to learn more about human combustion is for the best.

Before the two rival companies go their separate ways, Oubi promises Hibana that the flame of the 8th won’t go out so easily. Kinda sounds like a challenge the princess would be all too happy to accept. In the meantime, she’s got a new specimen for her research department to mess with.

Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.

Fire Force – 01 – (First Impressions) – Exorcising Fire Demons

The premise of Fire Force is as bizarre as it is frightening: in its timeline, the “Solar Era”, spontaneous human combustion is not only a great hazard to Tokyo, but the beings that emerge from the flames, “Infernals,” are demons who must be defeated in order to put the souls of the victims at rest.

That’s the job of Special Fire Force Company 8, of which young newcomer and third-generation pyrokineticist Kusakabe Shinra is its newest member. He just happens to be a witness to the latest emergence of an Infernal, which Company 8 is dispatched to the train station to tackle.

In this way, Shinra gets a first-row view of how the Fire Force gets things done, and it’s as much a battle with a demon as it is a religous ritual; there’s even a sister, Iris, on staff to deliver the proper prayers at the proper time. While Shinra doesn’t participate in the battle, which is another success for Company 8, his quick thinking (and literally flaming feet) manage to rescue Iris from suffering a freak accident at the hands of a falling lamp.

From there, Shinra is taken back to Co.8’s HQ, a somewhat run-down but still very cool-looking cathedral (all of the architecture and mechanical design is very quirky and cool-looking, for that matter). He already met Iris by sweeping her off her feet like a princess, but soon meets Captain Oubi, Lt. Hinawa, and the first-class fire soldier Oze Maki.

Still, while his job is ostensibly to purify fire demons, Shinra clearly has some demons of his own, something he largely gives away every time he gets nervous and his mouth tightens up into a sinister-looking crooked grin. Those demons revolve around some kind of tragedy in his past where he was blamed for his mother and little brother’s death and subsequently ostracized by most other adults in his family and among their friends.

He doesn’t have time to contemplate how he’ll wrestle with those demons for long; the alarm sounds and within minutes he’s prepped and deployed with the rest of the company aboard the armored firetruck “Matchbox” to a factory fire caused by the manager’s wife combusting.

Another firsthand look at a scene of fire and destruction triggers his worst memories of the end of his mom, brother, and home, as he insists within his thoughts that someone else was present who was the primary culprit; it wasn’t a matter of his powers going out of control but someone causing them to.

We’ll see how that pans out, but his Captain and Maki work to keep him in the here and now, focused on the not inconsiderable task before them: the Infernal is one tough cookie.

Ultimately Shinra has to put aside the fact he couldn’t keep his promise to protect his family like a hero, but he decides to make a new promise never to let that happen again, and to protect anyone else affected by the Infernals. He delivers a devastating kick to the core of the Infernal, dispersing it, and Iris says the prayer. Mission Complete.

Outside, Shinra and the rest of the Fire Force gets its due congratulations, thanks, and adulation of the assembled crowd of citizens, not just for stopping the blaze but saving the soul of the manager’s wife. And for the first time since before his mother died, Shinra finally smiles a genuine smile, not the forced smirk with which he is so often cursed at the wrong times.

Fire Force, in a couple words, is pretty damn good. Stylish, fast-paced, and uncomplicated in its presentation of its protagonist, his motivations and goals, and the introduction of his new family and life among Company 8, which is definitely not your typical fire department. It’s a fun and imaginative setting that still feels grounded in reality and modern life.

The vaunted David Production studio provides a feast for the eyes, blending the reds and oranges of the flames with the ever-glowing blue of the fire soldiers as well as the eerie green aurora above Tokyo’s skies. The orchestral score also delivers the appropriate sense of occasion, peril, and excitement, particularly during the boss fight. I’m looking forward to this one.

Violet Evergarden – 11

As a civil war rages in the frigid north, Claudia decides to decline a doll request from a soldier in the war zone; it’s just too dangerous. However, Violet overhears him, snatches up the request when no one’s looking, and takes a ship to the war-torn country. After all, there’s no place too dangerous for Violet.

When no ground route can be taken, Violet suggests they drop her into the camp via airplane; the pilot likes her moxie and goes along with it, possibly seeing the iron resolve in her eyes. When she says there’s nowhere she won’t go for her clients, she means it, damnit.

Looking outside my window, I don’t see a scene all that different from the snow-covered woods of the camp outskirts…at least in terms of looks. Thankfully, I don’t have snipers lurking in the distance trying to pick me off, which is the case with the unit Aiden is in. Everyone is killed but him and a younger colleague. Aiden tries to carry him with him, but it slows him down, and he’s shot too.

Not long after the enemy arrives to finish the job, Violet’s plane appears in the air and she leaps out and soars through the sky like a missle before pulling her chute and landing. She takes out a number of the enemy troops with ease until their leader trains his gun on her.

This leader knows who she is (and what she was), and so orders his men to retreat, leaving Violet with Aiden, who is most likely a goner. After so many jobs in the lands where there is peace, this is the first time she merges her past and present worlds.

When he wakes up in a cabin, Aiden tells Violet he can’t hold out long, and would like her to write his letters immediately. With neither a typewriter nor writing pad on hand, Violet simply uses her hands to air-type the worlds Aiden is saying, which she says she’ll memorize; another heretofore unknown talent.

At first Aiden only asks her to write a letter thanking his parents and hoping that if they ever reincarnate and marry again, he would love to be their son again. Then he drops a photo of his sweetheart Maria, and Violet asks if he wants her to write her a letter as well.

When Aiden went off to war, it was before he and Maria—childhood friends—had truly started acting like a couple. He never even got to kiss her, and when he closes his eyes in these, his final hours, Maria is foremost in the imagery, smiling in the fields of their home. He tells her how happy he was she confessed, and his desire to be by her side.

Then, as Aiden starts to fade, he asks Violet to her to put her hands on his, he tells Maria he loves her, and as he kisses Maria in his mind, for the first and last time, Violet kisses him on the forehead before promising the letters will be delivered.

There are no more dealings with the war-mongering extremists, and Violet is safely taken out of the zone, but before returning home, she visits Aiden’s family to deliver the letters and his bloody kerchief in person. When she sees the anguish and grief well up in Aiden’s parents and Maria, Violet cannot hold back her own anguish, and turns to leave before she makes an undue scene. But Aiden’s mother stops her and gives her a hug.

Thinking she caused so much pain by delivering the news of Aiden’s death, Violet is taken aback when they thank her for bringing him back to them. So many other families will never know what happened to their sons, brothers, fathers who went off and never returned.

But Aiden’s family not only knows, and have closure, but they were able to read the feelings in his heart in his last moments, and know he wasn’t alone…all thanks to Violet.

No other Auto Memoir Doll could have done what she did to fulfill Aiden’s request. She suffered a horrible past as a fearless weapon, but at least in this mission, those skills served a good cause. She should take solace in that.

Violet Evergarden – 10

Anne is of the age where she still plays with dolls, and is both troubled and intrigued when a life-size one arrives. Of course, Anne equates Auto Memoir Dolls with the ones she plays with, so for the duration of Violet’s seven-day contract, Anne believes she is not only a doll, but bad news as well.

The reason she is deemed “bad news” is simple. Anne may be young, but she knows all is not well with her ill, oft-bedridden mother. Now that Violet has arrived, all of the time Anne wants to spend with her mom is being taken by Violet, who ghostwrites letters of and for which the content and recipients remain frustrating mysteries to Anne.

When she witnesses her mother collapse once more while working with Violet, Anne has had enough, and confronts her mother with the truth of which she’s already aware; that her mom’s time grows short, and that she wants to spend what is left of it together.

Anne runs off, but Violet catches up, and impresses upon her the futility of Anne blaming herself or believing she can do anything about it. As Violet puts it, just as nothing can make her arms have soft skin like Anne’s, nothing can be done about her mother’s illness.

What follows this emotionally harrowing seven-day encounter is nothing less than the full realization of Violet Evergarden’s talent and skill, made possible by her own ability to step out of the role of the “toy” and be her own “player”, borrowing the terms Anne used when she still thought Violet was an actual doll.

All along, the letters Anne’s mom wrote weren’t for some distant people who didn’t even have the decency to pay her a visit in her final days; they were always only for Anne. Holding back tears for the duration of her contract, Violet wrote letters to Anne from her mother, to be delivered once a year for the next fifty years.

In a masterful montage of those years spanning from her tenth to twentieth birthdays, we see the insecure, clingy, doll-clutching Anne grow into a fine young woman, fall in love, get married, and have a kid.

Each year, her mom is right there, Violet having provided her with the means to live on through the letters, reminding her beloved daughter that no matter how far away she might be, loved ones will always watch over you.

It’s as moving a story as any Violet Evergarden has shared, and my favorite so far. Now that she’s emerged from the shadows of her past, we can now see just how exceptional an Auto Memoir Doll Violet really is.

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.