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Violet Evergarden: Anime's Golden Standard

Violet Evergarden is more than an anime. Every aspect of it is inspired, from its painstakingly detailed and beautiful animation to its powerful soundtrack and subtle character writing. Violet Evergarden was created to teach empathy and the nuances of the human condition, to inspire others to be better and not take what they have for granted. Why did this show surprise me? I was surprised by how much I loved it, how much it moved me to my core. How much Violet taught me about the responsibility of being alive.

Violet Evergarden is a piece of art. With powerful insight on the effects of war, post-traumatic stress, and — what may be the show’s biggest moral — the power of communication and human empathy, Violet Evergarden surprised me because I wasn't expecting to watch a masterpiece.

I wrote the above back in 2018 when I had first watched Violet Evergarden and decided to include this excerpt because, years later, nothing has changed. Violet Evergarden transcends its medium in every way and achieves emotional peaks that most anime— most creative works of any origin— cannot come close to. I was reminded of every chillingly perfect aspect of Violet Evergarden upon my rewatch this week in preparation to see Violet Evergarden: The Movie, which I had the pleasure of viewing last night. It was a triumphant return to the movies after a sorrowful 2020 and, together with a crying theater full of anime fans, we witnessed the end of Violet’s life changing story.

The Movie begins in a way no one expected it to, not with Violet or her friends, but with Daisy, the granddaughter of Ann Magnolia from the legendary episode 10. I found it fun how The Movie cashed in on this story; why fix it if it ain’t broke? After her grandmother’s funeral, Daisy finds her prized possessions, the letters Violet wrote, and sets out on a journey to learn more about the Doll that changed her beloved grandmother’s life. This frame story adds an additional emotional layer to the film since obviously it wasn’t emotional enough already. I did enjoy this subplot, especially at the end of the film. Violet Evergarden is about the power of emotional connection; Daisy’s discoveries made me feel nostalgic about something I had only just seen, heightening the power of emotional resonance over time and space. That bittersweet nostalgia is carried through the film and amplifies the catharsis of its main plot which is as heavy and impactful as we would expect from Violet Evergarden.

Four years after the end of the series, Violet is...still Violet. She works nonstop and in her few moments of spare time longs for the Major, which to me seemed like a step back for her character. At the end of the television series, Violet was ready to think of the Major fondly while still walking towards her future. This Violet seems to have reverted back to a previous state, but a small complaint that I am fine with overlooking. We do get to see her emotional development at work when she takes on a new client— Yurith, a terminally ill boy hoping to write letters to his family that can be delivered after he passes away. Violet, having a surprising amount of experience in this regard (wink, wink Ann), bonds with Yurith and helps him put into words everything he is feeling, even things he is unaware of himself. This sequence has everything; it’s thoughtful and well-executed, managing to be equally as sad as it is charming. This scene got genuine laughs out of the theater audience, a scene about writing letters for a dying boy. Leave it to Violet Evergarden to put us on an emotional roller coaster that truly never stops.

Yurith’s story overlaps with Violet’s own, as Hodgins finds a clue that could lead to information on what happened to the Major. The contrast between these two stories is as wonderful as it is overbearing; Violet is able to perfectly put into words Yurith’s feelings, yet struggles with summarizing her own. How can she sum up years of trauma, longing, and growth all at once? Dietfried says, “Sometimes it is hard to say what you feel in your heart.” That statement is never more true for Violet than in this moment.

I mention overbearing because it is a lot. These two plotlines come to a climax simultaneously and are a lot to handle. So many sad things happening at the same time. Violet can’t handle it. The cast can’t handle it. And absolutely the audience couldn’t handle it. A beautiful rippling of sniffles and hiccups cascaded through the theater. Watching anime movies in theaters is an adventure in and of itself. Every person in that theater sought out the showing and made arrangements to make sure they were there; that energy and passion for the material heightens the viewing experience. Shout out to the weebdom for making everything so great.

Execution wise, everything in the film is wonderful. At first glance, the animation could come off as underwhelming; there are not many enhancements between the film and the show, but that’s just because the anime was already at such a detailed, cinematic level. It has some of the best water CGI I’ve seen in anime, as well as some really provocative and fun camera angles that use its setting to the fullest. And those settings are beautiful— they sweep off your feet along with Evan Call’s awe-inspiring score and bring you to Leiden and Eclat, to Violet’s small attic room and to coastal harvesting fields in an island town. Each technical aspect of this film is so immersive and well done— as we now expect of Kyoto Animation’s high bar it constantly sets in all their productions.

I did have some complaints, but they are minor and do not take away from the message or impact of the film. The truth about the Major could’ve been handled better and revealed in a more satisfying way, with its final moments being a little too melodramatic for my taste. The scene at the beach (being vague to keep this spoiler-free) could’ve been edited down a bit and infused with more meaningful dialogue, but I understand the choices that were made. I can live out all my little details in my head-canon which I am completely OK with.

After the scene at the end of the credits (please stay till the end), I said out loud in the theater, “10 out of 10.” The guy two rows back corrected me: “No way, 11 out of 10!” Violet Evergarden in its entirety is a spectacular experience and, although I do think the show exceeds the film in some aspects, The Movie is a must-watch for fans of the series, fans of anime, and anyone who can appreciate beautiful, heartfelt pieces of art.

The saddest part of the Violet Evergarden: The Movie is that it is the end of Violet Evergarden. Everything— its animation, music, voice talent, writing, and execution— is phenomenal. I wish I could bottle up the way this show makes me feel. It is truly a splendid piece of media that I look forward to rewatching for years to come. It’s a crime that the original light novels have not been officially published in English yet; the world needs more of this impactful and beautiful story.

God bless the staff of Kyoto Animation who worked through so much pain and trauma to create a film filled with so much love. We are thinking of you always and will never forget what you have lost, just like how we will never forget Violet’s wonderful story of love, loss and redemption.


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