Wednesday, December 23, 2020

REVIEW: Violet Evergarden: The Complete Series (anime TV series)

Violet Evergarden is a slice-of-life series set in a historical-ish fantasy world (no magic, but the main character has highly functional prosthetic arms and the locations are all fictional). I bought my copy brand new.


When Violet Evergarden awakens in a hospital, her sole focus is on learning how to use her new prosthetic arms so that she can rejoin Major Gilbert Bougainvillea and be useful to him. However, the war is now over, and although everyone keeps saying that the Major is fine, no one will tell her where he is. All his friend Claudia Hodgins will say is that the Major left her in his care.

As Violet helps out at Claudia's postal company, she realizes she wants to become one of the company's Auto Memory Dolls. Auto Memory Dolls deal with clients who either can't write or who want to put difficult emotions into words - they write the letters their clients can't, communicating their clients' emotions to the letter recipients. Violet's hope is that becoming an Auto Memory Doll will help her understand the last words the Major ever said to her, "I love you."

I first watched this show on Netflix about a year or so ago. It was a beautiful and bittersweet series, and I was disappointed that, at the time, it wasn't possible to buy a DVD or Blu-ray copy. When it was announced the Funimation would be releasing it, I jumped at the chance to own it (and said a silent "thank you" that it was a Funimation release, rather than Aniplex of America, so I wouldn't have to spend at least $200 on it). I'd hoped to get the Limited Edition version, with its nice array of extras, but sadly I waited a bit too long to pre-order.

Violet Evergarden is on my short list of series that are nearly perfect. The visuals, story, characters, audio - everything holds together really well, for the most part.

Although there are a few episodes that deal more directly with the war, most of the focus is on the war's aftermath. Nearly everyone in the series has been affected by the war in some way and has to figure out how to continue on despite their emotional scars, although sometimes Violet deals with clients who have some other weight to process. It's a very emotionally difficult series - lots of characters grieving deeply over the loss of a loved one - but its focus on healing means it isn't as exhausting as one might expect. Tissues are a must, though.

That said, I should mention that there are some aspects (beyond the "grieving for a dead spouse/child/etc." stuff) that might be deal-breakers for some folks. First, there's Violet's age, which makes certain things difficult to believe and may add a squick factor for some folks. Despite having been one of the deadliest soldiers in the war, during the bulk of the series Violet is only 14 years old - I know she was raised to be a deadly weapon, but even all the training in the world shouldn't have been enough to overcome the fact that a child is physically weaker and smaller than an adult soldier. There was never any mention that she had physically been augmented in some way. Combine her age with the possibility that the Major's feelings for Violet might have been romantic rather than just paternal (along with the series' other age gap romance involving a princess and prince), and there you have the slight squick factor. I have to admit, I found myself mentally adding a few years to Violet's age, which probably helped me accept the story better than some other viewers might.

Second, there's the slight unfinished feeling. During the bulk of the series, it seems as though the story is working towards a particular revelation which never actually happens. It bothered me so much that I googled what happened in the light novels this series was based on, just to see if the writers had changed it. From the sounds of things, the anime didn't necessarily change things, but rather ended earlier than the novels. The revelation I'd been waiting for could happen...if the series ever gets a second season, or a movie designed to wrap things up.

I originally watched the series in Japanese with English subtitles, which I find is usually the best way to go, but this time around I tried the English dub and really liked it. Erika Harlacher was perfect as Violet, and Kyle McCarley as Claudia Hodgins added a completely unexpected level of enjoyment - he was also the narrator of one of my all-time favorite audiobooks, Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor. The only thing that irked me about the English dub was Funimation's insistence on calling the Auto Memory Dolls "Auto Memories Dolls." I don't understand why they chose to do that when the subtitles and even the description on the Blu-ray box call them "Auto Memory Dolls."

All in all, I'm very happy to have a copy of this in my anime collection. 


The selection of extras in the regular edition is incredibly skimpy: just a textless opening and closing, a Japanese trailer, and an English trailer. Oh, the OVA is also included, but it's just plopped after the last episode of the series - an unfortunate choice, because if you hit "play all" and fail to notice that you're now watching an OVA, it messes with the emotional and possibly also chronological flow of the series.

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