Friday, 12 January 2018

First Impressions: Violet Evergarden

Violet Evergarden
Violet Evergarden is streaming in selected territories on Netflix

There are a number of extremely strong offerings amongst the 2018 winter anime season, but undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated shows kicking off this new year of anime is Violet Evergarden – based on the light novel series by Kana Akatsuki. As well as being the latest show from acclaimed studio Kyoto Animation (Haruhi, K-On! and more recently A Silent Voice), the first episode has also been premiered across a number of anime conventions last year to drum up anticipation. Now with Netflix simulcasting the series across a number of different territories (but surprisingly not the US), the streaming service properly enters the anime game on the same playing field as its genre-specific competitors.


What’s a soldier who only knows combat to do once the war has been won? This is the question for Violet, a young girl known simply as “the weapon” for her prowess on the battlefield. After spending several months in hospital following the loss of both arms, Violet now finds a new life for herself as part of the wealthy Evergarden family. Following a brief spell working for the postal service, Violet takes an interest in becoming an “Auto Memory Doll” – people who take people’s feelings and convey them into words. With the knowledge she’d gain from this, Violet hopes to learn the meaning behind the last words left to her by her superior officer.

In a similar way to how Ancient Magus Bride dazzled audiences when it started back in October and continues to do so now, it’s immediately clear the Violet Evergarden is going to be all about immersion. While the episode packs plenty of exposition and back story to keep the viewer interested for the coming weeks, it takes a generally relaxed pace which allows you to fully soak in both the setting and the characters themselves as Violet acclimatises to her new life. It isn't all bright skies and picturesque towns though, as the flashbacks to Violet's wartime life are pretty harrowing (and graphic). War is hell, and Violet Evergarden has no qualms about showing it right from the get-go. But despite all these dark undertones the overall episode has a very warm feel to it, which is fitting for the peaceful post-war setting.


The focus here is entirely on the titular Violet Evergarden, who is brilliantly established as a tragic character both a tragic and strong-willed character. The episode is able to completely sell her as this seemingly unstoppable war machine through her general demeanour and selective flashbacks, but that spark of humanity under her regimented personality shines through even before the main plot of the series fully takes hold at the episode’s end. Despite her PTSD, prosthetic limbs and the implication that she might not be able to handle the news that Gilbert (her superior officer) might not have made it out the war alive, Violet is far from having any sort of victim complex. She’s headstrong, motivated and never lets her newfound disability get in the way even when tasks are difficult. The episode is also interestingly vague about Violet’s “inhuman” origins – sometimes referencing it simply in regards to her prowess on the battlefield but other times hinting that there may be something more to it as well.

The episode also briefly introduces a number of other characters, most specifically former army captain Claudia who introduces Violet to her new life. There's not a whole lot to say about these peripheral characters just yet, other than that it's nice to see how understanding and encouraging they are of Violet.

But even if the relaxed pace of this episode doesn’t immediately grab you, Violet Evergarden is worth sticking with for the visuals alone. KyoAni have always excelled at the detail and accuracy they bring to real-life settings (as a UK native my personal favourite is just how perfectly they nailed London in the K-On! movie), but here they also have a fictional setting and time period to play around with as well. The studio are making excellent use of that Netflix budget, and the fact that this episode was completed months before its airdate (a extreme rarity in the anime world) just goes to show the level of care going into this show. The European-esque architecture combined with a steampunk aesthetic isn’t particularly original, but combined with KyoAni’s level of care it becomes something truly captivating. Even the brief snippets of CGI (such as the boat in the opening sequence) are flawlessly ingrained into the 2D animation. Violet Evergarden also makes a strong first impression with its character designs, which are notably more detailed than KyoAni’s usual moe fare but at the same time immediately recognisable as the studio’s handiwork.


With stunning visuals, an interesting main character and a gorgeous setting that you can really immerse yourself into, Violet Evergarden is off to an excellent start. On an aesthetic level this is Kyoto Animation at its very best, so much that the show feels like a real contender for anime of the year in terms of production values after a mere one episode. With Netflix simulcasting a real rarity amongst their binge-watching business model, Violet Evergarden needs all the support it can get to encourage the platform that this is how anime fans prefer to enjoy their media. Just as well they’ve picked a top-tier show to kick things off with.