The Conclusion to KyoAni’s 2018 Tearjerker Is Sure To Satisfy Fans
DIRECTED BY TAICHI ISHIDATE/2020
“I love you” is perhaps the perfect statement to sum up the spirit of the Violet Evergarden series. A direct, simple expression that strikes right at the heart. Yet, despite this apparent simplicity, it holds incredible versatility and weight. It can be platonic, familial, and – of course – romantic. It can be a simple comment, a cause for mild discomfort, or a life changing revelation. Communication and all its nuances, brief sentences that mean more than entire novels, these are the ideas at the heart of the Violet Evergarden.
Violet Evergarden the Movie, the finale to Kyoto Animation’s Violet Evergarden series, continues this trend. In typical KyoAni fashion, Violet Evergarden the Movie is beautifully rendered, a wonderful romantic melodrama with elements of the fantastical. Its handful of fairly minor deficiencies are more than outshone by its positive elements and the feature serves as an ideal send-off to the series that is sure to satisfy fans.
The film continues from where the television series left off. Set in the aftermath of a conflict analogous to the first World War, the series follows the former child soldier Violet Evergarden as she seeks to better understand the final words uttered to her by her commander and guardian, Major Gilbert; “I love you.” In her pursuit of the meaning behind his words, she is employed at a post-office, working as an “Auto Memory Doll”; a ghostwriter for those who need assistance rendering their feelings in print. Violet assists all those she is hired by, often helping them to become better people themselves, and in the process learns more about herself and gains a greater understanding of her own emotions.
A similar structure is used in Violet Evergarden the Movie, combining the episodic story with the overarching narrative, with one notable new addition. The episodic narrative comes from Yuris, a young boy with a terminal illness who requests Violet’s services in writing letters for his family, and eventually helping him to reconcile with a friend. While he’s childish and coarse to them directly, he makes it clear to Violet that he simply doesn’t want to be pitied, and hopes his letters will allow him to be more open. .
This story ties back to the overarching plot, as Violet grapples with her own conflicting emotions and her memories of Major Gilbert. Her position as a Doll too is becoming precarious, with the advent of the telephone and installation of phone lines throughout the city. The comfortable if precarious cycle Violet has built for herself is interrupted when a letter is found. A letter that will lead Violet to a small island village where she will confront her past.
It’s all wrapped up with the new addition of book-end segments set several generations in the future, featuring the granddaughter of Anne, a little girl when Violet helped her during the series. These brief snippets, despite not contributing substantially, offer a greater look at the world of Violet Evergarden, one shaped by the legacy of the eponymous Doll. While it is perhaps the weakest element of the film, its intrusions at times hurting the pace of main two stories, it’s still an enjoyable addition for fans of the setting.
Violet Evergarden the Movie is an excellent finale for the television series, but aside from a few bits at the opening does little to catch those unfamiliar up to speed. Which is fine, really, it doesn’t present itself as a stand-alone story set in the world of Violet Evergarden, but rather as a conclusion to the narrative. I suspect any attempts to provide more context would be of little benefit, not doing enough for those unfamiliar while being redundant for those who are.
Its narrative is mostly quite strong, particularly the interplay between the episodic narrative and the overarching one. They don’t feel wholly isolated from one another, and frequently interact and contribute to the melodrama of the film as a whole. Which is quite effective, Violet Evergarden the Movie is just as likely to make the viewer tear up as many episodes of the series. Its drama is simple, and often stated in very frank, honest terms, but that’s what makes it so effective. The romantic elements too are pulled off quite well, “love” in both the series and this film is presented as romantic, but asexual in a way that makes elements like the age difference between Gilbert and Violet much more palatable. Again, the only substantial misstep is perhaps the book-end segments, but its intrusions are so few and far between that it’s a minor complaint.
Its presentation is, as is typical for KyoAni, exceptional. The backgrounds are painterly and set the scenes well, shining when depicting vast cityscapes. The actual assembly of background elements isn’t always perfect, compositing can be a bit rough in some spots, usually where computer generated water effects are combined with hand-painted backgrounds, but it’s not too distracting. Character design is detailed and elegant if not entirely to my tastes, with much attention given to highlights and combining the fashion of the early 1900s with the more fantastical elements like mechanical arms.
Animation is not substantially compromised to maintain this visual fidelity; the film instead employs a great deal of clever cinematography to mitigate costs of more extensive animation while enhancing the visual language employed. Focusing on small details in a room, honing in on individual parts of a character, presenting panning scenes of the gorgeous backgrounds, all these serve to improve the film and never feel like penny pinching. The detailed animation of tears especially is clearly a favorite of the folks at KyoAni, and the always manage to make sobbing look gorgeous. While the animation and cinematography isn’t incredibly stylish or creative with its timing and spacing, the KyoAni artists compensate with expressive characters that manage a lot with minimal exaggeration. While Violet Evergarden the Movie isn’t a notable step up from the visual quality of the television series, that’s more a compliment to the excellence of the series’ animation than an indictment of the film.
Having not been familiar with Violet Evergarden before receiving the opportunity to review this film– I admit somewhat sheepishly that, as of writing, it’s the newest anime series I’ve seen by a decent margin – I quite enjoyed it. A gripping romantic tear-jerker full to the brim with gorgeous visuals, Violet Evergarden the Movie carries on the high quality of the series and concludes its narrative wonderfully. I highly recommend that those unfamiliar but interested seek out the series, and am certain that fans will love this finale.