We are often taught that our wholeness as human beings must come from a sense of perfection. We say things like “You complete me,” “All’s well that ends well,” or “Health is wealth.” Does having or not having something determine the worth of our existence? That’s what Violet Evergarden is all about.
Based on the light novel series by Kana Akatsuki and adapted by Netflix, Violet Evergarden follows fourteen-year-old Violet, a former child soldier trained to be an efficient “weapon” and survivor of the now-ended war. Violet is distressed over the whereabouts of her superior, Major Gilbert, whose status is unknown. During the final battle (in which she loses both arms) the Major declares his love for her. There’s only one problem with this: Violet, devoid of emotional intelligence, doesn’t know what “I love you” means.
Violet unravels the meaning of love by first learning to understand feelings. She observes the reactions to her metal arms and her lack of facial expressions, as well as the ways in which people interact with one another, and then she responds. Auto Memory Dolls are beautiful women who essentially act as ghostwriters, translating thoughts and feelings of clients into the best of letters. Violet puts her observations into practice by joining their ranks. She meets Cattelya, Erica, Iris, and more Dolls who help her understand others’ emotions as well as her own.
The artist’s style of the animation matches well with the theme of the writing in the show. Art Noveau, originating from Alphonse Mucha in the 1800’s, is presented in various posters throughout the series. Art Noveau embodies the feeling art gives us, rather than presenting images as they truly are. It’s a nice juxtaposition for the Auto Memories Dolls as they work to present the truth in writing without capturing their clients’ words verbatim.
This is not a series about Violet deciding that the Major was her “one true love” or that her life is incomplete without him. On the contrary, this series is about a girl who is able to self-actualize by connecting with other people. Most of the episodes are standalone snapshots of Violet interacting with others. Erica doubts Violet’s ability to be an admirable Doll. Erica comes to understand she, too, is trying to achieve her own dream of writing words that will touch people’s hearts. Iris also has reservations about Violet; but eventually, Iris realizes that they share similar struggles with expressing emotions. There’s the playwright who helps Violet understand grief when she assists him with his writer’s block; the princess whose story reminds viewers that there are more kinds of love than just romantic; the archivist who is inspired by Violet to challenge his own fears, and many more.
Character development often takes place through Violet- characters are changed by her, or not at all. Some of the characters would have been great subjects for their own episodes, such as the veteran Cattelya, or the delivery man Benedict, who has a penchant for high-heeled boots. However, their backstories are never explained in depth, which is a small loss for the series. The test of Violet’s development comes through Major Gilbert’s older brother, Dietfried, who has always resented Violet and considers her nothing more than “a tool.” Each time Dietfried appears, we see the growth that has taken place since each of Violet’s writing assignments. Violet proves that she does not wish to be a tool, and she wishes to atone for her actions during the war through her writing.
In the beginning of the series, the former Lieutenant Hodgins (now the head of a postal company) tells Violet that she’s “burned” from the things she’s done. But Violet doesn’t magically get over these “burns.” She learns to live with them, and she takes pride in the new opportunities she has received in life.
Throughout the series, there are uncomfortable changes made up of both joyful and devastating moments. There are very few resolutions; problems are not solved in a half-hour time slot. Instead, characters are challenged to work through their problems, and they find ways to live through their successes and their losses. How do we live without the things we thought determined our worth? According to Violet Evergarden, we decide on our worth for ourselves, and we learn to live without the things and people we miss. Becoming a whole person is a process of accepting the characteristics that make us who we are. We get new things, we find new people, we have new experiences, and life…?
Well, it goes on.