If Violet Evergarden were a Hollywood film, it’d be one of those movies gunning for the Academy Awards. Everything about Kyoto Animation’s light novel adaptation screams cinematic ambition, but does the final product come together in a way that meets its lofty goals?
In short—yes. The direction is excellent, the music is captivating, and the animation is superb. I’m getting ahead of myself, though; that hardly qualifies as a review.
Kyoto Animation is no stranger to dramas, having produced shows like Clannad and A Silent Voice/Koe no Katachi. The studio calls upon director Taichi Ishidate (Beyond the Boundary), and series composer/writer Reiko Yoshida (Bakuman, Yowamushi Pedal, A Silent Voice) to adapt the series to the television medium. They’re joined by art director Mikiko Watanabe (Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid), chief animation director Akiko Takase (Sound! Euphonium 2, assistant director for Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid) and sound director Yota Tsuruoka (A Silent Voice, Sound! Euphonium, lots of Monogatari stuff).
The series primarily follows former super-soldier Violet Evergarden in her attempt to adjust to life following The Great War. Conditioned to do virtually nothing but fight since she was a child, Violet has never known life beyond the battlefield. Upon recovering from her injuries incurred in one of the war’s final conflicts, she’s left with some shiny new metal arms and a strong desire to understand the meaning of a few words spoken by someone very close to her.
After taking a couple episodes to set things up, we shift to an episodic series of accounts of Violet’s time as an “Auto Memory Doll”. Similar to what you’ll see in something Death Parade, each episode pretty much has its own independent conflict introduction and resolution, but in one way or another it contributes to the development of a much larger story arc spanning the entirety of the series. The concluding arc then revisits the more linear, continuous style of narration to wrap things up. Despite the fact that I tore through all 13 episodes in three nights, I actually think the episodic format is better suited to be watched on a weekly-release basis because each episode feels complete. This is to say you’re not getting strung along by an annoying chain of last-minute cliffhangers every week, yet in each episode our protagonist is coming to understand her own emotions in addition to everyone else’s—which is what the main story is actually about.
There are a couple minor issues with the narrative itself. Like with many dramas, there’s a certain coincidental convenience that occurs at key plot points. For instance, particular characters showing up in particular places at just the right times to meet just the right people. These moments require a little willingness to go along, but in exchange for some added emotional effect. That’s a trade I’m willing to make. The bigger issue is that the series conclusion wasn’t as strong as it probably could have been. The last couple of episodes were fun to watch, but felt a little out of place relative to the feel and flow of everything prior.
We can debate over whether or not the story and characters themselves were written in the best ways possible, but one thing that cannot be refuted (fight me) is the high quality of production. The shot selections and scene construction are brilliant. The animation is stunningly beautiful. The orchestral soundtrack is grandiose and inspiring when it needs to be. It’s intense when it needs to be. It’s sentimental when it needs to be. The sound design was very good as well. There were only one or two times in which I felt that the music did not entirely compliment the imagery or dialogue, and virtually none in which I felt Tsuruoka cut corners on overall sound direction.
Violet Evergarden is a human interest story. It’s not trying to comment on some moral or philosophical dilemma, nor is it trying to keep you on the edge of your seat from week to week with gratuitous bouts of action or suspense. If that’s what you’re looking for, look elsewhere. BUT, if you’re even remotely interested in the idea of a fantastical drama with themes of war, love, loss, empathy, or personal growth, consider giving this one a watch.
Story/Characters – 8
Art/Animation – 9.5
Music/Sound Design – 9
Enjoyment – 9.5
Overall – 9/10
Violet Evergarden is currently available to stream in the U.S. via Netflix. I hope I can one day get my hands on a physical Blu-Ray copy.
We’ll be taking more in-depth look at the series on this week’s Podcast. When I last talked to Shawn he was maybe a third of the way through, but wasn’t really feeling it. It’ll be interesting to hear what his final take on it is.
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