Despite the calamity that happened upon them last year, Kyoto Animation’s latest silver screen outing still holds to their standard. After having the chance to witness Violet Evergarden: Eien to Jidoushuki Ningyou (English: Violet Evergarden: the Automatic Memory Doll with Eternity) last weekend, it still left a fragrant aftertaste even days later.
The Japanese have a knack to make any mundane profession or activity into philosophical raison d’être—just take a look at last years’s Gaikotsu Shoten’in Honda-san, and in this film they do basically that, but to the postal industry as a whole—and by proxy to the ghostwriting industry.
As a background, Violet Evergarden tells the story of the eponymous character who were discharged from the military after her job being a
Fortnite participantmilitary war elite field soldier is over due to the war is over and her losing her arms. During the event that resulted in her injury, she also lost her trainer who told her that he loves her. Since her military training made her detached from humane emotions—even to the point of her unable to comprehend her feelings towards her supposedly dead superior—her choice is to become a Automatic Memory Doll, a profession which basically is ghostwriters for the illiterate which is a lot in what seems to be post-world-war Victorian age. This film tells her story working in a private postal company named Claudia Hodgins Postal Company, shortened CH Postal Company.
In this film, Violet was tasked to a reluctant heir of a noble family named Isabella York. Isabella was a student in a prestigious lady school who was having a difficulty adjusting to the suffocating noble lady life; Unable to go where she want, unable to do as she wants, and unable to befriend whoever she wants. Such lifestyle made her bitter to Violet who in her eyes is the polar opposite of her; a free woman. Despite so, Violet still act professionally towards her which gradually made the lonely Isabella to open up and even slide into the forbidden love territory—which many would deny but was strongly hinted with the lily flowers blooming imagery when they started to became closer and lily flowers withering when they had to separate, also one of the screening memento was literally a postcard with Violet holding violet lilies—but we’re not going to talk about that m’kay? Okay.
The first half of the film is the process of making Isabella accept her new way of life and integrate into it. While doing so, make her open up about her past to Violet which revealed that Isabella didn’t originally born with a pure noble blood. Prior to becoming a noble, her name was Amy Bartlett; a struggling proletarian and victim of the war. The bitter life she had made her unable to reject an unwanted daughter who she met outside a junk shop. Amy adopted the girl as her sister, named her Taylor Bartlett and the two started living together happily. Although one day, the Count York who had an affair with Bartlett family was in need of an heiress found her and readopt Amy into the York family. Despite living happily with Taylor, she knew that not accepting the offer is not beneficial to her and Taylor’s life since the Count also offered to take care of Taylor to an orphanage. Albeit doing so requires her to separate with Taylor.
The weight of that separation still carried to Amy’s—now Isabella—new life. Understanding her new friend’s feeling, Violet offered to put her feelings into a letter and send it to Taylor anonymously. Isabella’s feeling reached Taylor and leads to the second half of the story.
3 years later, a grown up—but still a kid—Taylor visited the CH Postal Company wanted to meet Violet Evergarden due to along with Isabella’s letter, Violet also sent Taylor a letter on her own stating that if Taylor ever in need of help to meet her. Taylor and Violet met and she stated that she wishes to become a postman, since to her a postman’s job is to deliver happiness. The early part of Taylor’s new life is to adjust to CH Postal Company’s inner machinery and learning the skills to do so. But the later part is how she wanted to send a letter to Isabella who has disappeared post her graduation from the school 3 years ago.
Some time was spent into locating Isabella’s whereabout using the postal network of the company and in the end, resulted in the pareidolic reunion between Taylor and Amy Bartlett.
In terms of storytelling, the film achieved the knack I mentioned earlier and adhered to the sentimental style that Kyoto Animation has done with Liz & Aoi Tori, and Koe no Katachi—and perhaps reminiscent to the early days of Clannad. It was atmospheric and solemn but also light. Personally I’d say it’s a balance of Studio Ghibli’s renaissance and the modern Makoto Shinkai’s storytelling, and made it mature. Mileages may vary, but despite it having tearjerking moments, it was just emotional at its own and I don’t think it was forced.
I wouldn’t say the story is perfect, but it worked so well that it made the impression that it is. It’s a good self-contained story that doesn’t require deep dive into the whole world of Violet Evergarden and can be enjoyed by wide audience.
And lastly, the art. Despite not as grand as Makoto Shinkai films, this film as its own charm. It portrayed the victorian aesthetics of the world quite exquisitely may it be the environment, fashion, and lifestyle.
At some times it tried to blend CGI in and most of the time it doesn’t look weird, the only scene that I feel lacking was an overhead shot of Isabella. It has a noticeably skewed background. Keen watchers may also find the logo of Kyoto Animation blended into some backgrounds, which was a bit sly.
In my opinion, Violet Evergarden was geared to be in the line of list of timeless anime due to how contrast it is compared to current mainstream taste, look, and story of the industry and it’s doing good doing that. But again, only time will tell.