After the long delay that is typical for most anime movies that premiere in the US, the new Violet Evergarden side story, Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, has finally reached US Netflix. As the Violet Evergarden series might be my favorite anime of all time, you can imagine my excitement to see that it was finally released. So of course, I had to watch it immediately. Did it hold up to my impossibly high expectations? Read on to find out. Spoilers ahead.
For those of you not already familiar with the premise, Violet Evergarden is the story of a child soldier turned letter writer; she goes from an important tool of war to an important tool of peace and recovery. She’s the gateway through which we experience the lives of a healing nation.
This movie picks off where the series ended…kind of. It’s hard to go completely into why without a few major plot spoilers, but all you need to know is that this movie is a true sequel to the series; we’re still in a post-war era and have zero of the flashbacks to combat that we saw in the series.
In true KyoAni fashion, the world of Violet Evergarden is as vibrant and beautiful as ever. The set pieces are large and ornate and the cinematography has true Hollywood blockbuster attention to detail. It is easy to get lost in the captivating art created by some of the industries’ best.
The first half of the movie follows the same formula as the series in an almost exact fashion. Violet is whisked away to a far off place to help someone in their time of need. Ultimately, through her unique blend of emotionless observations and curt but polite honesty, Violet is able to “heal” another broken heart (at least temporarily). It’s a formula that has worked for the series so far so I can see why they wouldn’t really change it up.
Admittedly, this particular version was a little dry. There is a lot to unpack in the life of Violet’s new charge, Isabella York. We get to see small glimpses of her life during the war that led her to her current location, a prestigious girls only academy for the high class. Unfortunately, very little of it seems to really grab and take hold. In fact, most of the flashbacks serve to build up a character from the second half named Taylor than they do Isabella. In the end, I felt pretty neutral about Isabella’s character.
I think another major contributing factor to this feeling is the fact that Isabella is simply “along for the ride.” By that I mean, she takes very little action. While the story revolves around Isabella, she seems content to simply exist and go along with everything in front of her, taking almost no steps to help herself along the way. Again, her biggest moment of action seems to revolve more around the second half character, Taylor Bartlett.
As Isabella was deemed important enough to be prominently displayed on the poster, I honestly expected more.
The most important development that seemed to come out of the first half was the fact that Violet found what she considers to be her very first true friend. While the importance of this can’t be discounted, it does feel like a small victory in the absence of a large one.
For me, the second half of the movie is when it really became interesting, and that might just be because it didn’t follow the conventional Violet Evergarden formula. First, we time skip ahead a full four years after the events of the first half of the movie. Our focus shifts from Isabella York to someone she shares a wartime connection with, a young girl named Taylor Bartlett.
Taylor is almost the opposite of Isabella in every way. Even at a young age, she knows what she wants and is determined to have it, even if it must be taken by force. She gives up what little she has at an orphanage to strike out into the world and accomplish two things: become a postal delivery worker like her hero, and find Isabella.
It feels like we get to know Taylor even more than we do Isabella. Her scenes in the wartime flashbacks were more meaningful, and her personality positively radiates when she makes her full debut. She’s a little simple minded and shows an obvious lack of real street smarts, but she doesn’t let that hinder her. Instead, she relies heavily on her positive attitude to sustain her in what many would consider a herculean effort for someone her age.
And surprisingly, her main companion isn’t Violet. Violet isn’t completely absent, but she takes a more passive role than she typically does. Instead, Taylor’s major growth and excitement revolves around one of my most unlikely characters, Benedict Blue, the blonde delivery worker with a touch of tsundere and a thing for big heels.
Taylor’s connection to Benedict runs deep, and he ultimately helps to set her on the right path to help her reach her goals. Initially, he’s reluctant, much like he was with Violet. But Taylor’s passion (and pleading eyes, which would be hard for anyone to resist) break him down and move him to action.
Taylor’s story is singular and beautiful. It won’t necessarily move you to tears, but it does plant a gigantic seed of hope in your heart by the end. Is everything fully satisfied and complete? I can tell you now, no it isn’t; but by the end you know with full confidence that Taylor will fight for her desires and stare defeat boldly in the face, unwavering and unimpeachable.
Had the movie been entirely about Taylor, it might have felt a lot more consistent and, for lack of a better term, wonderful. The past connection between Isabella and Taylor is meant to be a glue that helps meld these stories into two sides of the same coin, but for the most part, it doesn’t even feel like the same currency.
While neither story really felt like they left anything out, they didn’t feel fully told; a little more substance could have gone a long way to help endear characters like Isabella to the audience. Instead, her story made her feel like a side character masquerading as main cast.
Taylor was a treat to behold, so much so that in the end it made me wish we had spent the entire movie with her rather than so much time with Isabella. And while Taylor’s story wasn’t perfect, it was a lot more interesting than Isabella’s. In a way, it was almost a mirror of Violet’s own story of longing and seeking, with just enough ignorance and innocence to help her succeed.
Ultimately, this one did not live up to my gargantuan expectations, but I am willing to admit that most of that is definitely my fault. Lightning rarely strikes twice, even in the same series. But I can say with confidence that I don’t regret watching this movie by any means. I think it’s a worthy addition to the series, but it definitely isn’t the high point. I can confidently recommend it to anyone who was a fan of the series, and hopefully this review tapered your expectations a little to help you enjoy it that much more.