(There will be some spoilers in this review. Most of them will be from the original anime series. When it comes to any major spoilers for the 2020 film, I’ll siphon them off with spoiler tags. Avoid reading beyond those indicators if you want to avoid major plot points and developments from the film.)
The original anime series of Violet Evergarden was a memorable experience. It was thoroughly compelling for many viewers, judging by how well it’s been received since its original 2018 airing. While illustrating issues such as coping with loss, the nature of love, the meaning of life, and self-forgiveness; Violet Evergarden’s ability to capture the tragic experiences of daily life is almost second to none. The story is written in a way that allows for depth of character, not only in its protagonist, but in the rest of its cast as well. The beauty in its storytelling is demonstrated in how so many people, regardless of their position in life, are able to resonate with its themes. As the cool kids often say, Violet’s story honestly just hits different.
Although I did enjoy the original series quite a bit, I must say that I wasn’t exactly gleaming with anticipation to watch the film. Me watching it, more-or-less, happened because I saw that it was showing at a movie theater close to me. Naturally, I decided that it was far too convenient for me not to make the trip to watch it. I’m glad that I made this decision. I had faith that the movie would be solid, but it exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. Kyoto Animation did an outstanding job with Violet Evergarden: The Movie. It executes its job as a sequel very well; its status as a theatrical motion picture does not deter its validity as a sequel in the slightest.
The way the film opens up is beyond what I would have imagined. As the screen lights up and the movie begins, there is a teenage girl sitting in the midst of a living room. She’s an unfamiliar face accompanied by her parents, whose conversing provides context on what exactly is taking place. The girl’s maternal grandmother has just passed away. After attending her funeral, the immediate family is gathered together in the living room of the deceased.
There is some conflict in this scene. The young girl begins to lash into her mother about how she should’ve been there for her grandma. The daughter refuses to slow down, as she hits her with another massive blow by stating that the mother’s work takes priority over everything else–especially family. Everyone begins to get emotional, and the young girl continues to cut into her mother’s heart and talks about how much her grandmother missed her, “She loved you so much, Mom.” As a heavy-hearted mood develops within this opening scene, the mother replies to her daughter: “I know. She was always like that because she lost her mother at a young age.”
Something about the aforementioned scene is peculiar. Seeing as how Violet Evergarden’s life takes place some time during the late 19th-early 20th century, the girl and her surroundings denote a different time entirely. The characters in this opening scene seem to be from the present-day and are most likely living in the 21st century. This is clarified when the young girl’s identity becomes known to the audience. Her mother calls her by name: “Daisy.”
Daisy notices a box above her grandmother’s fireplace. She opens the box to find that it is filled with numerous letters. Her mother explains that they were for Daisy’s grandmother, Ann. Ann’s mother, Clara, hired an Auto Memory Doll to inscribe 50 letters, with the intention of Ann opening one on her birthday every year after she had passed away. As Daisy presses for more information, the narrative divulges into a different era—one that is more familiar to Violet Evergarden fans.
When Violet shows up on screen for the first time, she is standing before an ocean dictating a speech she wrote for a local oceanic ceremony in Leiden. Her speech is as eloquent as can be; everyone in attendance is in complete awe of the beauty that emanates from her appearance and manner of speech. This time period of her life, the moment this scene takes place, is really close to where the original anime series departs during its final episode. In this respect, there is solid continual congruity.
Not long after the ceremony, Violet makes a visit to the cemetery. She leaves a bouquet on a grave, one which belongs to the mother of Gilbert, the man who taught her about “love.” After a talk with Gilbert’s brother Gottfried, and being told by him that she needs to “move on,” she resolves within herself to make it known that she cannot and will never move on. No matter how long she lives, she’ll never reach that point.
Forgetting is the hardest part” -Violet
This is the state of affairs Violet’s life is in. She’s caught at a stand-still, continually wondering how to come to terms with her life after losing Gilbert–regardless of the years that have passed since that day. The catalyst for the story, one of the key plot points that helps get the film’s ball rolling, takes place when a postal customer specifically requests Violet to come out to their address for an appointment. An atypical customer helps kindle the fire of the story. This is how Violet Evergarden: The Movie begins to unfold.
Well No, but Actually Yes
An interesting thing about the film is that it is not necessary to have prior knowledge to enjoy it. When it comes to sequels, especially ones that have stories of this caliber, it’s basically a given that the viewer needs some context in order for there to be a fulfilling watching experience. Although I would say that watching the original Violet Evergarden series first is preferable, it’s not vital. Honestly, Violet Evergarden: The Movie will be effective with audiences regardless of how familiar people are with the original work. I thought it was cool how the film maintained a sense of independence, despite being a faithful sequel that built upon the foundation of the original storyline.
Throughout the movie, there are two or three transitions between the Violet narrative and the Daisy narrative. The titular character is the obvious focus for the film; the movie is a record of her journey of self-discovery, as she continues to grow and learn how to conduct herself in a world that is void of the man who taught her about love. Violet’s various attempts to cope with her life, in spite of what she has lost, has the potential to be a comfort and hope to many.
The titular protagonist is a phenomenally written character. From day one, it was as though the forces of the universe teamed up against Violet Evergarden. Orphaned from a young age, left all alone, she had no one to turn to. No one…that is…until she was taken in under the wing of Gilbert Bougainville, an army major who was one of the first people to ever express compassion toward her. Having endured almost an entire war by her companion’s side, the universe struck its gong again. With Gilbert being taken away from her while she became an amputee, tragedy after tragedy befalls her. Violet Evergarden: The Movie illustrates Violet’s attempts to cope with these various misfortunes, with flashbacks and nods back to her past, the movie constantly begs the question of when and how she’ll ever be able to accept the “freedom” she now has after escaping the circumstances that were responsible for these fateful events.
The way that Violet’s childlike innocence and genuine kindness remains intact, even in the face of the disasters that have taken place in her life, is mesmerizing. Whereas the original anime series deals with Violet’s successful attempts to break free from her self-inflicting slave-master relationship with the deceased Gilbert (i.e. her status as his “weapon”), this movie goes above and beyond that. By the conclusion of Violet Evergarden, the MC makes progress that is palpable for all of her peers.
This movie properly fulfills Violet’s character arc in a timely manner. It demonstrates the progress she has made, in terms of emotional maturity and mental fortitude. She is no longer limited to the labeled box that those from her past tried to lump her into. This story shows how much Violet has grown as a person. She truly breaks away from the tendency to base her life on what others “command” her to do.
”I am doing this because I want to….” -Violet
Dietfried Bougainville gets the proper day in court that he deserves. His portrayal in the original series is not a favorable one. So I was glad to see some character development in this movie, even if he is a bit of a tsundere. The film did a good job at exploring the different sides of his character, while also providing background on the circumstances that surrounded Dietfried and Gilbert’s family–specifically how they were treated by their father growing up. Although he doesn’t play a huge role in the film, he plays an integral one. I appreciated his arc.
Claudia Hodgins and the rest of Violet’s coworkers are as faithful as ever. They are an incredible support system. The film doesn’t create very many opportunities for Cattelya, Iris, Benedict, etc. to contribute to the main progression of the plot. When those chances do arise within the story though, they prove to be reliable friends, as they selflessly lend a helping hand to Violet in a time of need. On the other hand, Hodgins gets more screen time. His and Violet’s familial relationship is incredibly wholesome. It’s funny to see how basically all of Hodgins’s anxieties stem from his paternal affection for Violet. It’s one of the main sources of comedic relief within the film. He genuinely cares for her and always seems to be worrying about her, regardless of how capable and mature she has become.
Daisy and her family play an important role in this film. Those that are familiar with the original anime series will recognize their relevance immediately once their identity becomes clear. Daisy’s great-grandmother was one of the pivotal moments in Violet’s career as an Auto Memory Doll. Violet learned a lot from that experience; it helped her to shape and prepare for what was to come later during her life. At any rate, Daisy’s insight and perspective enrichens the story by showing the impact one life can have on another. This side plot with her struggling to accurately display her affection for her parents acts as a microcosmic depiction of the overarching story. Daisy and her family’s existence within the narrative help further develop the themes of Violet Evergarden: The Movie.
(The rest of this section contains spoilers)
As I stated earlier, there is a character that makes for a drastic progression with the plot. Yurith phones the post office in order to get in touch with Violet. He’s a young kid, who’s sick and doesn’t have much time left to live. He wants her to write three letters that his mother, father, and brother may open after his passing. This is a nod back to the job that Violet did for Daisy’s great-grandmother, Clara, back in the original anime series.
Yurith finds interactions with others tedious, as everyone around him seems to “hold back” and treat him a certain way due to his illness. He soon recognizes that Violet is different. Though she still maintains the same stoic approach, her emotional maturity is on a completely different level. No longer being the stone-cold “weapon” that others made her out to be as a child, Violet has a better grasp upon the feelings of the human heart. The two meet each other and exchange interactions that leave a deep impression upon one another. A pinky promise between the two has more of an impact upon their lives than one would imagine.
Who would’ve thought that the “Major” himself would make an appearance? After Hodgins stumbles upon a return-to-sender letter with familiar handwriting, he takes it to Dietfried who does some digging. Long story short, it turns out that the handwriting does indeed belong to Gilbert. Violet and Hodgins travel out of the country to go see him.
The reason Gilbert hasn’t contacted anyone and has refrained from returning home is due to his own sense of guilt. He feels guilty and indebted to the people who nursed him back to health. He feels guilt toward his family and friends who he has yet to return to or contact. And he definitely feels guilty when it comes to Violet–whom he feels that he has wronged most of all.
Gilbert blames himself for everything that has gone wrong in the lives of those that he cares about. As a result of this self-deprecation, he is unable to see the world properly. Instead of opening up to Violet and Hodgins, he tells Hodgins to leave and refuses to allow Violet to interact with him. Due to his own warped hypothesis, Gilbert decides of his own accord that he is not good for her and that “she is better off without me.”
Due to the guilt and trauma he maintains from his time in the war, he feels as though he is beyond the realm of forgiveness. This position is fundamentally flawed. Through these actions he takes, Gilbert accomplishes the exact opposite of what he wants to do. Instead of protecting those he cares about through isolating himself, he straight up hurts them–them being Violet. It takes an old man from the village talking to Gilbert for him to begin to realize just how wrong his approach was:
”You don’t have to bear those burdens on your own. In war, in life, everyone is a victim.”
I can empathize with him to a certain extent, even though I have not gone through anything remotely similar as Gilbert. That’s what makes this film so great is that the characters are human. We can all relate to them and are able to see ourselves in them.
What This Film Means to Me
I honestly cried pretty hard while watching this. There are some intense scenes, ones which assaulted my tear ducts with haymakers. I saw someone say that this film “hits you right in the cry muscles.” That’s a great and fitting way to put it.
I’m repeating what I stated earlier, but this movie completely exceeded my expectations. I don’t consider myself the most emotionally stable person, but this movie wrecked me. Although so many stories take similar creative liberties, in terms of developing similar themes, Violet Evergarden: The Movie hit way harder than most.
If I were to attempt to capture the film’s thesis, I’d say that it’s a cliche: Carpe Diem. In layman’s terms, the story communicates a message of grabbing hold of the opportunities that we have in our lives. Although it is a cliche, it’s a cliche done right. This movie extends beyond the one-dimensional facades and shows us that, regardless of who we are or where we come from, “we are all victims in some way.” Each and every one of us has a past, but that does not mean we are not entitled to a future. We do not get to decide how others feel about us; we do not have the right to close ourselves off from those who love us, regardless of the circumstances.
“No man is an island…”
If there is anything to be learned from this movie, it’s that we must use our time wisely and express our feelings while we still have the ability to do so.
The quality of the sound and picture for Violet Evergarden: The Movie was insane. I don’t consider myself the best judge when it comes to matters like this; mostly because I have very little idea about the logistics of animation. I’d call myself a caveman when it comes to matters like this. My conviction is something like, if it looks good, it looks good! And trust me, this movie looks damn good.
There were some stellar landscape shots throughout the course of the film. Two scenes come to mind when I think about it: one at the beginning and one at the end. Both of these scenes in question featured a letter being carried away by the wind. The scenery depicted in the midst of the lone piece(s) of paper gliding through the air is enough to make me pinch myself. The dichotomy between the 19th Century architecture and the 21st Century design between the scenes was well done. The KyoAni team did an amazing job.
The music and sound was fantastic. There was a scene that stuck out for me where Violet stood outside the sensei’s house with Hodgins. A dog barked rather loud, and Violet sort of raised her head slightly in that direction. Directly after that, the kids in the yard began to laugh. I don’t know why, but this scene stook out for me. I was in awe of how natural it seemed. Also, the OST was explosive, in the sense that it completely reinforced the dramatic tone of relevant scenes.
I also liked how they employed the original ED in the movie. I don’t know if nostalgic is the right word to use, but it was nostalgic.
Kyoto Animation deserves every ounce of praise that they get for Violet Evergarden: The Movie. They have my gratitude.
Final Thoughts & TL;DR
Violet Evergarden: The Movie is a fantastic extension of the series that features a fulfilling conclusion to the titular protagonist’s character arc. This film builds upon the foundation that was laid by the original anime series, and it illustrates how far Violet has come. Her journey to becoming a complete individual with complex feelings, as she receives assistance by those who care for her along the way, is a memorable one. It helps that the film is acoustically and visually stunning. There is intent and purpose within every frame. Emotionally compelling, in every sense of the term. This movie will make you want to believe in love, if you don’t; and it will make you hold more firmly to love, if you do.
Originally published on AniList; 31 March, 2021