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.

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 – 06

Violet Evergarden is not content to keep its titular character holed up at C.H. Postal, which I feel works to the show’s advantage. This episode in particular introduces Justitia Province, a fresh and fascinating new locale where she and 79 other Dolls have been summoned.

There, Violet takes an aerial tramway above the clouds to a vast observatory dramatically perched high atop a mountain. There, the 80dolls are paired off with 80 men from the Manuscript Department to undertake a massive effort to transcribe old books that are on their last legs.

It’s unlike any other mission Violet has undertaken, and one would think the impersonal nature of transcribing old books would not afford her the same insight into love and other human emotions as, say, writing letters for a client.

However, it’s all about who she meets there, and that’s Leon Stephanotis, whom we learn right at the outset harbors an inherent distrust for all Auto Memory Dolls, believing it “a profession full of women who hope to one day marry into money.”

While there may well be Dolls with that goal, it hardly seems proper to lump them all into one category, and Leon learns this firsthand immediately upon meeting Violet, who is, as we know, neither a normal Doll nor a normal woman.

Leon is fairly chilly to Violet, but the fact that Violet doesn’t react like he is throws him off. She doesn’t regard his conduct as particularly chilly, just efficient, and if there’s one quality one could be used to describe Violet, it’s efficient…when it comes to taking dictation, not sorting through her feelings for the Major.

The night after they do three day’s work of work in one, Leon asks why Violet is a Doll, and she says, simply, because “it is a role I can fulfill”, expressing her gratitude that she can do such a wonderful job, while questioning if she deserves it—no doubt the words of Gilbert’s brother weigh on her, even if she has nothing to apologize for.

When other scribes ask Violet whether it’s trying working with an annoying guy like Leon, who is a penniless orphan only there because of donations. Violet sets the lads straight by saying she’s not a person who has lived the kind of “proper life” they’re assuming; she’s also an orphan, never laid eyes on her parents, and only recently learned to read and write, further warning them that if one’s birth or upbringing is such an important requisite for being able to speak to someone, they should stay away from her.

Leon overhears her defense of him, but it was never meant to be a defense; just the facts. But regardless of her intentions, he’s all but smitten with her, and does what so many other scribes must be doing with their Doll partners: he asks her if she’ll join him for the comet viewing (a comet that appears only once every 200 or so years). She agrees without hesitation, and he’s so elated he tears his baguette clean in half.

That night, before the comet reaches its most beautiful position, Leon tells Violet the story of how his father once traveled the world collecting manuscripts but went missing. Rather than stay with him, his mother, who loved his father more than anything (certainly more than him, he figured) left to find her husband, and also never returned. If love makes people such “bumbling fools” they forget the well-being of their own children, he wants nothing to do with it.

When he asks how her story goes, she tells him about the one person who cared for her, and who she cares about more than anyone else. Leon gets her to understand that what she’s feeling in the Major’s absence is, indeed, loneliness. Leon tests her, asking what she’d do if she heard the Major was alive and in need of his aid in the middle of her job there at the observatory.

He assumes she’s upset he put her on the spot, but that’s not the kind of person Violet is. She’s upset because she’d have to find some way to apologize to him, meaning yes, she’d go just as his mother went, in order to find the person she, well, loved.

It feels like a kind of gentle rejection for Leon, who might’ve thought he had found the perfect woman for him. But quoting the first manuscript they transcribed together, “That parting is not a tragedy.”

Indeed, Leon is not sad when the job is complete and Violet heads home, because being with her even for this short time didn’t just subvert his expectations about Dolls. It made him rethink and alter the course of his very life.

As Violet departs on the aerial tram (making for some very nice camera angles) Leon resolves to tour the continent as she does and as his father did, collecting manuscripts. And perhaps they’ll even meet again somewhere, under a starry sky.

Or Leo my man, you could always keep in touch by, uh, writing to her from time to time. Why leave their next encounter to such small odds…unless the show intends to reunited them. We do have a lot of show left to go…fortunately.

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.

Oregairu 2 – 13 (Fin)

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My, how time flies when you’re engrossed in a long-standing love triangle of friends! Oregairu wisely pared down its cast to just the main three this week, and gave those three an arresting send-off in more or less the same awkward state they’ve been in for most of the season, but at least knowing where they can, if not should go, along with where they’ve been and where they shouldn’t go.

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Ah, Haruno-chan. The lighting, BGM, and close-ups always seem to cast her as the villain, an interloper who likes watching the world burn. But more than a force of malevalence, she’s an agent of change, for Yukino if not herself (her own personal and emotional issues are not a big focus of this show, which is both a shame and a relief). The time is soon coming for Yukino to make her own choices in life. If she doesn’t, her mother and Haruno will make them for her. Will she let herself be washed along in the current, or swim against it?

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For now, she seems to be caught in some netting cast out by Yui and Hikki, not to catch and eat her, but to keep her in the pleasant stasis Yui wants to keep going on forever but knows it won’t.

Outmatched outside the school, when Yukino calls Haruno, she decides not to lend her more potential ammunition, and instead parrots what Hikki told her: neither sister is thinking clearly, and a night apart is indicated.

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Throughout Oregairu Yui has indicated on numerous occasions that she wants to “make a move” vis-a-vis Hikki at some point, but this isn’t that time. Instead, she invites both Hikki and Yukino to a date at the aquarium.

Hikki isn’t the sort of guy you’d expect to be on a three-way date, but it’s not like this is going to be The Episode Where One Girl Gets Dumped so that a couple can emerge and progress into adulthood.

Rather, the aquarium trip is billed as a kind of last hurrah for the trio in their current state, a nostalgic look back before turning towards an uncertain but increasingly close future where stuff like this is not guaranteed.

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Thus follows a sequence of the three making comparisons between the traits of aquatic wildlife and themselves, with the metaphors flowing wildly. The camera’s insistence on shoving that sign with the mated pair of penguins, the fish in the muddy water, being contained, and the life-partner penguins grooming each other—all of it reminds them of what they are.

But an aquarium is a place that doesn’t exist in nature: a kind of training center where one learns about the ways of the aquatic world, the world humans left when they exchanged gills for lungs and fins for legs. The parallels are never not on-the-nose, but not obnoxiously so, and they also happen to all ring true.

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The Deadman Wonderland Ferris Wheel the three ride is one last elemental symbol that the three of them are spinning their own wheels. They feel like they’re going somewhere, but always end up at the same place in the end; the progress is an illusion—just like the “world where nobody gets hurt” Hikki believed he’d created back at the season’s start.

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Pretty soon that ride has to end. When it does, the Service Club might be toast. But if you wanna make a life omelette, you gotta break some eggs. Yui, who has thought all of this through, thinks she knows how to help Yukino with her family issues, and brings up the bet that, if she wins, she gets to “take everything.” She almost gets Yukino to go along, just as she appropriated Hikki’s words to Haruno.

What Yui seems to be suggesting is that things continue going on, finding answers for one another, like three penguins grooming one another (which I doubt happens often in the wild). But Hikki intervenes before Yukino goes along with it he thinks Yukino should find her own solutions or she’ll grow, and neither will he or Yui.

Now, I knew going in this wasn’t the kind of show that would rush into confessions. It did come close with its many confession-friendly atmospheres set up this week, but what with three people present there were never going to be any. But everyone’s eyes are open now, both to what the three of them are and that they have to choose between stepping back on the Ferris Wheel together, or starting off on a long road they won’t necessarily be able to share.

This felt like so much more emotionally complex a show than the first season, and I imagine if there’s a third it will grow even more so. But even if there isn’t one, I’ve really enjoyed the run, and content with the open ending.

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Oregairu 2 – 10

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So this is how it’s all poised to end? With Yukino marrying Hayato to form an alliance between their families? And this is how Haruno decided to break that news to Hikky? Man, that’s harsh! Nagato Yuki getting hit by a car harsh!

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But let me back up: this was another solid and thoroughly enjoyable episode of Oregairu. Irohas’ non-flirtation flirtation, along with her not-so-easily-concealed growing affection for him (paired with yet another quick rejection, even as she herself stings from the same thing), starts things off right. Sakura Ayane is doing a nice job as Kosaki’s sister over on Nisekoi:, but she really shows her stuff here, with a far better script in her hands and a meatier character to chew on.

If my hardly-groundbreaking theory about Yukino and Hayato holds true, it means both Hikky and Iroha are alike in being rejected by the members of that couple. Misery loves company, yes?

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Putting aside romantic entanglements real or envisioned: the cavalry arrives a week earlier than it does in Preston’s DanMachi, as Yukino cuts through the other school’s verbose president like butter. I don’t know what it is about Hayami Saori and rants, but her swift, biting, brutally accurate takedown is her best performance since Hatoko’s Rant, and was a lot longer in the making.

It wasn’t just a takedown of the haughty synergy nut, either. A lot of what she said also, somewhat devastatingly, applies to her present situation.

This is what Hikky had been missing: someone who knew what to say and wasn’t afraid to say it. Better still, Yukinon opens the door for Yui, Hikky, and Iroha to take the reins of the meeting and finally hammer out what they’re going to actually do for the Christmas event.

And lest I forget, Hikky lays his past mistakes bare before Yukino pipes up. After the display, Kaori comes to him, both impressed and admitting she was wrong about him. While dating remains as out of the question as ever, she wouldn’t mind someone like him as a friend, if he’ll have her.

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LOVE how quickly the event flies by, in montage-form. Sometimes, you just need a montage to barrel through something that in a longer form would only take away valuable character time. Suffice it to say, Iroha and the other Prez manage to shine and the event is a smash hit, thanks to the efforts of the Service Club.

Back in the club room, Hikky not only finds Yukino pouring tea again, but the girls got together to get him a special teacup as a Christmas present, which was all kinds of sweet.

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When Yui brings up getting a present for Yukino with Hikky, he asks her when she’s free to go shopping, with phrasing that could be easily construed as asking her out. Later, Komachi ditches Hikky and Yukino, leaving them alone on the train, where she grabs his sleeve as much as she dares when they hit a bump.

But there was something so final about those doors closing on the softly smiling Yukino, as she said she was looking forward to the next year. Could that be because it’s her last year as a single woman?

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I’m with Yui: glasses DO make you look more intelligent. That’s just SCIENCE, man! ; )

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All of Hayato’s seemingly guilty self-deprication and strange comments to Hikky; all of Haruno’s meddling; the presence of Haruno, her and Yukino’s mom, and Hayato at the same mall where Hikky and Yui happen to be shopping for Yukino; Haruno calling Yukino and telling her to join them; it all feels like Yukino and especially Hikky being ambushed. With Yukino being ambushed into participating in the ambush of HIkky.

Is this Haruno’s way of presenting The Truth to Hikky, and by extension us, the audience? If so, it’s Classic Haruno: cruelty with a smile. Hikky has certainly had a lot of other options placed in front of him, but while I’ve at turns shipped for him and Yui or Iroha or even Kaori (Hilarious!), part of  me has always felt like the show was going to somehow get Yukino and him together. After this week, whatever went on here, the chances of that kind of ending seem bleaker than ever…

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Oregairu 2 – 09

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Happiness is:

  • Hikky dreading going back to school after the club’s big conciliatory catharsis.
  • Komachi doing a pitch-perfect impression of Hikky’s condescending mumble, before remarking that she likes this “scum-niichan” just fine, and Hikky agreeing with her.
  • Hikky returning to a very brightly-lit club room to find a perfectly civil, downright chipper (for her) Yukino.
  • An elated Yui wanting to sit as close to Yukino as physically possible.
  • Yukino being both happy and a little uncomfortable with the closeness.

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Happiness is:

  • Yukino and Yui attending the event meeting with Hikky. The cavalry has arrived!
  • Yukino and Yui’s priceless reaction to Hikky and Irohas’ little bag exchange ritual. “What was THAT all about?” their eyes seem to ask…
  • Yukino and Yui both agreeing with Hikky’s opinion of the other president dude, but being unable to enact instant change. Fixing will take some doing.
  • Shizuka giving Hikky, Yukino, Yui and Irohas tickets to Destiny Land to celebrate the club pulling through.
  • Hikky’s demand for someone to marry Shizuka already, before he’s forced to.
  • The gradual reveal that Yukino is not only a yearly member of Destiny Land, but doesn’t want to go during the busy season.
  • Yui and Hikky working together to convince her to come anyway.

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Happiness is:

  • Iroha inviting her crush Hayama, which leads to Miura, Ebina, and Tobe also tagging along. One big happy family. (Unfortunately absent but probably for the best: Kawasaki and Totsuka).
  • The resulting dynamic of Hikky with his two girls (Yukino and Yui), Hayama and his two girls (Miura and Iroha) and Ebina and Tobe, a pairing that Hikky worked so hard to prevent, which led to all that unpleasantness that is now behind them.
  • How Hikky is cut off in the group photo, but the one closest to him is Yukino.

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Happiness is: This photo.

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Happiness is:

  • Yukino teasing Yui about how there will never be a “next time” in which she’ll allow her photo to be taken.
  • Hikky’s realization the two are only joking around and are actually closer than ever.
  • Ebina properly thanking Hikky once more for what he did, knowing what it cost.
  • Hikky telling Ebina his, Yukino’s and Yui’s problem had nothing to do with her request; it had been brewing before; at best it was a catalyst/last straw.
  • Hikky smiling unironically. I know; I’m scared too!
  • Yukino demanding absolute silence on the Panda Battle ride.

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Happiness is:

  • The adorableness that is Yui getting up in Hikky’s face with a panda puppet.
  • The moment Hikky believes Yui is making “the first move” she told him she’d make (last season), rather than wait.
  • The way Hikky agrees to a date at the theme park next door (Amaburi?), “someday,” which is enough for Yui for now.
  • Yui slipping animal ears on herself and Yukino and having Hikky snap their picture.
  • Everyone wanting to give Komachi gifts. She got the ball rolling on Hikky’s redemption, after all. But more than that, she’s just a very cute and lovable sister.

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Happiness is:

  • Circumstances working out so Hikky and Yukino end up separated from the others.
  • Yukino taking Hikky’s sleeve in her hand, asking him to “save her someday,” just before their boat takes the plunge. DAT PLUNGE. The silence…pure poetry.

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Happiness is: Yukino making relative peace with the fact she isn’t like her sister, or Hikky, and may not “have what they have,” but that’s okay, because she still loves them both. (She doesn’t say that part, but it’s pretty evident.)

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Happiness is Hikky, Yukino, and Yui side by side by side, watching the park’s fireworks show, being bathed in warm and cool flashes of light as they wear smiles on their faces.

Happiness is Yukino’s many smiles throughout this episode, in particular that last one looking up at the sky, and Yui whispering to Hikky, again getting as possible close to the person she loves.

Happiness is NOT watching Iroha confess to Hayama, only to get flatly rejected and run off, more upset than we’ve ever seen her.

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However, as unhappy an event as it was, I was very happy with how it was portrayed: from the POVs of the others, in particular Hikky; without words, only expressions half-concealed by the shadows. All the planning in the world to create an opportunity for Iroha to get closer to Hayama didn’t mean a thing, because Hayama didn’t want to get closer to her.

Will she now turn to Hikky, fulfilling the prophecy in the OP of Iroha taking her place among the other three Service Club members, filling the void between Hikky and the others? Whatever happens, and as sadly as this episode ended, there was still plenty of happiness to be found.

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Oregairu 2 – 08

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After living a tentative dream stumbling both with his one-man service request and his “replacement triangle” of Iroha and Kaori, Yukino splashed cold water on him before walking away.

(*VROOOM VROOOM*…a red Aston Martin DB9 pulls up…)

Oh, Shizuka-sensei, thank God you’re here! I’m not going to ask how a teacher can afford that car—I’m guessing an on-the-side service club-for-profit of her own—but I am glad she’s arrived in Hikky’s darkest hour to counsel him.

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As far as mentors go, Komachi is too young and Haruna is Yukino’s sister with her own baggage, so Shizuka is the right woman for the job. And goddamn it, if a gorgeous woman in a suit picks you up in her British GT, drives you to a bridge, tosses you a coffee and lights a cigarette, you listen to her.

You listen as she talks about how mental states and emotions one feels are not always equal. How if you can only think in terms of calculations, calculate. How it’s impossible not to hurt people; it’s just a fact of life. That instead of worrying about how not to hurt someone (again, an impossibility), try to find out why you don’t want to hurt them in the first place.  How caring for someone means knowing you’ll hurt them from time to time.

Shizuka’s saves her wisest and coolest words, and one of the central lessons of Oregairu—and growing up, period—for last:

Right now isn’t everything, but there are things you can only do now, and things you can only have here. Now, Hikigaya. Now is the time. Think. Agonize. Struggle. Worry. Otherwise, it’s not the real thing.

Hikky makes Shizuka blush by telling her all the men she’s courted have had terrible taste—a very Hikky compliment—and in his head, wonders what might have been had they been closer in age. I’m thinking “Dude, when you turn 18 and she’s still single, don’t hesitate!”

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But that’s then. This is now. So he thinks, agonizes, struggles, and worries, through the night. And the next day after school he knocks on the door of the service club; not as a member, but as a client: The joint Christmas event many of his own actions led to is a hot mess, and he can’t fix it by himself. But this isn’t about swallowing his pride or admitting he was wrong.

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Yukino tells Hikky that people who made messes on their own should fix them on their own. Hikky agrees; Yui doesn’t, calling Yukinon unfair, and all of a sudden the discussion is no longer about his request. The event, like Komachi’s request, was simply the means to get in the door, a reason to spur action, but not the reason; the one Hikky agonized over. He cuts off Yukino and Yui’s sniping about being unfair and the efficacy of understanding through talk.

Hikky has been uncharacteristic from the start in this scene, first by knocking, and then sitting so he faced Yukino and Yui. But he really catches them off guard when he himself tears up in preparation reveals his true request, or rather desire. He doesn’t want words or mutual understanding or acceptance of each others’ “ugly self-consciousness”…he just wants the real thing, which he tearfully proclaims after a montage of all the times he believes he experienced it. But what is that?

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No…not that, but for many, including me, Coke is so irresistible because of nostalgia: it tastes like childhood; like a simpler time, long before we were aware of the concept that we all hurt each other, and that understanding others can be extremely difficult. But I don’t guzzle a two-liter every day. It’s a temporary retreat, not a replacement for life. Diet Coke, on the other hand, tastes like being six feet under. Just one guy’s opinion.

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Oh. Sorry about that!

Hikky wants “the real thing” even though he’s not entirely sure what it is, let alone how to get it. But there’s value in knowing that he doesn’t have it and that he doesn’t know how to get it. Of moving beyond what one doesn’t understand and instead trying to figure out why one wants to understand.

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He also believes all three of them want it. Yui is able to express that right off the bat with a smile, but Yukino still doesn’t understand. She’s terrified of not understanding, and flees while clutching her arm as if she’d just been shot with a dose of radiation.

Hikky is paralyzed in the moment, but yet again proving she’s the essential fulcrum of their group, Yui snaps him out of it and urges they chase after her. Whatever Yukinon’s problem is, they can’t let it end without knowing, or trying to know. She takes him by the hand—a romantic gesture in most Japanese high schools—but Hikky’s grip loosens; not because he isn’t going with her but because he “can walk himself.”

And who is it who know where she went? Why Iroha! Yui and Hikky’s shortness with her underscores how special their three-person group really is, and how far Iroha still has to come to being as much of a priority.

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Thankfully, her aim isn’t to break their momentum, but to point them in the right direction of their wayward member (on the school rooftop at sunset, for maximum dramatic impact!) There, Yui takes the lead, telling Yukino none of them understand, but if they talk more, maybe they will…and even if they don’t, they’ll at least understand that they don’t understand. Yui doesn’t even understand what she’s saying, but like Hikky, and like Yukino, she doesn’t like the way things are now.

Now, when there are things you can only do and have. Yui tears up again, as does Yukino, who calls Yui “unfair” again as they tightly embrace. Yukino says it’s unfair because they’d just fought a battle of sorts: a battle Shizuka hoped Hikky and Yui would win before someone else does later in life: the battle to get inside Yukino. With Yukino accepting Hikky’s request—upon further consideration, tears, and hugging, and perhaps even the tiniest sip of the real thing—victory is in sight again.

Last week was so grim for the service club that I’d gone ahead formulating contingencies in case it simply wasn’t to be, something Shizuka touched on during her bridge chat. This was an outstanding episode not just because it chastised its characters for having holed up inside their own heads, but it chastised me and anyone else whose hope had faltered, making me feel foolish for ever contemplating lame backup scenarios. Hikky, Yukinon, and Yui are the real thing, and their time is now. Thank God!

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