June, 2018. I’m sitting in my cozy little apartment in the Pacific Northwest. Keeping in tradition with the nickname of “June-uary,” it’s cool and drizzling rain outside much like it does early in the year in the PNW. There are two things I can do on a Saturday with weather like this: I can take my dog to a park somewhere and stand in the rain while he plays (not a horrible option; you get used to this kind of weather living here), or, I can take the opportunity to binge five or six episodes of a new show on Netflix. I choose the latter, and begin to scroll through my recommendations. First on the list is an anime recommendation called Violet Evergarden (ヴァイオレット・エヴァーガーデン). This is a strange recommendation because I have never watched an anime before. It turns out, this would just be the beginning. Spoilers ahead.
This anime is special to me because it is the one that started it all. Prior to watching Violet Evergarden, anime to me represented children’s entertainment and entertainment for those people who couldn’t accept that they weren’t children (I know, I know, it was ignorant but I had no way of knowing better). But, I was feeling fairly whimsical that day, so I decided to give it a shot and see what anime is really about. I was not ready.
It took me all of one day to burn through the entire 13 episode series (again, something I wasn’t used to doing). I was hooked. The art was captivating (incidentally, this kicked off my love for KyoAni); the score did a perfect job pulling me into the world and guiding my experience. Most of all, the story (or stories) were, for lack of a better term, so human. At the end of the series, I could not believe what I had just seen, and I immediately wanted more.
Violet Evergarden can be accurately described as the story of an orphaned girl turned war machine trying to figure out what life means when the fighting stops. That is much of the core of who Violet is as a person; she was raised as a weapon and it severely stunted her emotional development, resulting in a person who has a hard time understanding what emotions are and how to convey them. She must learn to recognize even the most basic emotions of loneliness and love, along with more complex feelings such as empathy and regret.
But even more than that, Violet Evergarden is a compendium of stories of an entire nation mending the scars of conflict. Much of the time, Violet almost acts as a vehicle to tell the stories of others, using lessons from those people to help her understand herself. She recognizes early on a desire to know and understand emotions, specifically the emotion of “love,” hoping to grasp the full meaning of the final words that her commanding officer spoke to her. To do this, she sets her sights on becoming what is known as an “Auto Memory Doll,” women trained in the art of letter writing and conveying both the obvious and subtle feelings of their clients.
It is a painful growth for Violet, full of realizations that push her almost to a breaking point. As she interacts with the people around her and helps tell their stories, she realizes how many “tomorrows” she stole from the people she killed. She begins to feel pain from the invisible scars on her body left by prolonged conflict. In one of the most powerful episodes of television I’ve ever seen (period), she experiences the incredible love of a dying mother for her young daughter. She writes the final letter of a mortally wounded soldier to his loved ones as she comforts him in his loneliness. Through this and many more stories, Violet learns what it means to be truly human.
Since beginning my anime journey less than a year ago, I’ve watched what feels like a ton of anime for such a short period of time. But few have compared to Violet Evergarden. Maybe it was because it was the first one I watched and made me truly fall in love with anime. I can’t sit here and claim it’s the most groundbreaking story ever written. But it is beautiful and special to me, and I won’t ever forget it.
I haven’t come across a ton of anime that can be enjoyed equally by fans and non-fans. However, I can confidently say that, if you are looking for an anime that maybe you can watch with someone who doesn’t typically enjoy anime, Violet Evergarden will probably fit the bill (I say “probably” because, let’s face it, some people will just never enjoy anime as a medium and that’s OK). But for those people who typically enjoy stories that focus more on the character development than the outside plot, this would be a good choice. Maybe, like myself, it will be fondly remembered as “only the beginning.”