A Beautiful Reminder of Tragedy in Life

“Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memories Doll” Review

Coral CwmCwlamare, Art Director

Tragedy hurts. It can come at the most unexpected of times, and at the worst of times. These tragedies could be the loss of family, abandonment, abuse, war, or even misplaced guilt. People could be stuck in that single moment not being able to move on. They can become distant, apathetic, self loathing, or angry. 

     The film “Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memories Doll” was completed shortly before the arson attack on Kyoto Animation on July 18, 2019, which left 33 of the animation studio’s employees dead and dozens injured. It was a tragedy.

     Kyoto Animation is an anime studio that has released two primary works that remain popular among people in many communities. “A Silent Voice”, is an animated film about the long-lasting effects of bullying on both the victim and the bully while also discussing depression. The film was nominated at many international film festivals for various awards. 

      Their most famous and popular work is “Violet Evergarden”, an animated series based on two light novels about the main character, Violet Evergarden, overcoming PTSD from the war and learning about her feelings. In order to help herself understand the words “I love you” after her fellow officer in the war said them to her, she becomes an auto memories doll, a typist which travels to help people write letters and record events. Each episode focuses on a different person with a gut-wrenching backstory, and as Violet travels to assist, both she and the person grow from their interactions. At the core of the show is a story about tragedy, whether it be one of an everyday person or a soldier on the frontlines. 

      The movie’s plot is from the book “Violet Evergarden Gaiden”, a collection of additional stories that flesh out the lore of the world and the supporting cast, all of which are set after the events of the main series.

      The plot of the movie is broken down into two acts. The first act, and the admittedly stronger act, focuses on Isabella York, a girl attempting to adapt to noble life and her relationship with Violet. The main focus is classism — the massive divide between the rich and the poor. Another keynote is that the relationship between Violet and Isabella borders on romantic, with Violet acting like her butler or “princess knight.” This act is very bittersweet and viewers are left with the realization that Isabella will forever be stuck in a life she never wanted.

     This act reminded me of “Rose of Versailles”, a historical drama faithfully exploring French society during the French Revolution, which also had a female romantic relationship and deep discussions about classism. It would not be a stretch of the imagination for it to have been an influence when writing “Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memories Doll” given that “Rose of Versailles” is considered one of the most influential works of modern Japanese literature.

      The second act tells the story of Taylor Bartlett, an orphaned child who was raised by Isabella, arriving at the post office wanting to become a postwoman and so Violet and Benedict Blue begin to train her. The role of the protagonist falls upon both Taylor and Benedict in this act, while Violet falls to the background, but still has an important presence in the story.

     The character who steals the show and serves as the backbone of the second act is Benedict. His role in the series was less prominent than in the novels, with him just getting one action scene with Violet in the last few episodes. He gets the spotlight here and becomes a three-dimensional character because of his interactions with the other characters. Taylor views Benedict as a big brother, which is adorable and develops his character a lot through the pair’s interactions. This causes the second act to have an overall lighter tone than the first, but still manages to retain the bittersweet feelings of the first act’s ending.

     The transition between the two acts is a bit jarring with the tonal shift, likely due to the fact the story was originally going to be a two-part special, yet the story still retains the powerful emotions that made “Violet Evergarden” so popular.

     Animation wise, it looks absolutely stunning, as per expectations of Kyoto Animation, who are also famous for valuing quality of animation over quantity of releases. The whole movie looks beautiful, but worth highlighting is the use of shading in the movie. Much like Kyoto Animation’s previous works, “Violet Evergarden” relies heavily on visual storytelling and symbolism, but here they use lighting to convey the tone of each scene, which works brilliantly.

     One of the most debated topics when it comes to anime is which version to watch. There is the subtitled version where it uses the original voice acting with translated subtitles. The other way to watch it is dubbed where there are new voice actors of a different language then the original. A common problem with dubbed versions is aspects of the show can be lost in translation, giving it a different meaning. Both the subtitled and English dubbed versions are satisfying, in both conveying the story and emotions, and so it is up to the viewer’s choice which one to watch. The music was composed by Evan Call and, like his previous work in the series, is fantastic.

     “Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memories Doll” holds up to the high bar set by its predecessor in both storytelling, visuals, and audio. 

     The story also matches the key idea of tragedy. Like most of the stories in the show, this side story explores the tragedies that people do not often see. Where the show explored tragedy caused by social standards, war, and death, this explores the social divide between the rich and poor, something that still impacts modern day society. Beyond even that it is a story about trauma caused by tragedy. Trauma is something that many people struggle with, whether they realize it or not, and moving on can be extremely difficult. 

     This work was chosen as Kyoto Animation’s return to the world of anime after the attack, which was likely deliberated due to it being the story of someone recovering from trauma. Many of the staff may have lost friends in the attack on the studio and experienced trauma related to it. This movie is a reminder of tragedy and the trauma connected to it, but, at the same time, a hopeful reminder that there is life beyond the event.

     “Violet Evergarden” and “Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memories Doll” are available for streaming on Netflix.