I like pretty things.
This isn’t a confession or revelation or even a caveat to couch my words. It’s just a statement to preface talking about Violet Evergarden, since I’m still unsure as to how much I actually enjoyed the series. In some moments, I think back on how pretty it was. In other moments I think of narrative gaps and melodrama. If I’m comparing Kyoto Animation series of 2018, Tsurune has already been more emotionally resonant than Violet Evergarden ever was, and it’s not even finished yet with a few production issues.
I was never invested in Violet herself — which is probably why the episodes dedicated to her backstory seemed so sluggish and boring — but I loved the stories of the people she helped, either directly or indirectly, through letter-writing. This series was a test of how much I value aesthetics and animation even when the central storyline doesn’t interest me personally.
The visual opulence and melodramatic vignettes of Violet Evergarden — the meta of the production itself — are resonant with the Victorian-era trappings in which the series revels. This, above all else, is what kept me watching week after week.
For example, this local teahouse where Cattleya Baudelaire has tea with Violet in Violet Evergarden‘s second episode. It in and of itself is an aesthetic (or as we said in 2018, a mood).
What purpose do the myriad plants serve? They’re too well-placed to be overgrown, and yet the owner of this establishment has seen fit to create their own carefully-curated “abandoned place” using as many non-native (based on what the rest of the series shows us of local flora) flowering plants and vines as possible. This means that the chimneys on either side of the rooftop have no purpose — they can’t function without burning the plants growing in them, never mind potentially starting a fire that could take the entire place down — and arguably neither do some of the windows because the amount of light they would let in would be minimal and blocked by plants. The banners placed seemingly at random to the left also give the house an incredibly unbalanced look, as if they’re there to be gaudy, because someone could put them there at all.
This is a fascinating interpretation of Victorian-era — or, broadening our scope, La Belle Époque — with similar in-universe reasoning. The world of Violet Evergarden is a western-styled postwar time period where new goods (possibly from recently-established trade routes) seem to be flooding into the region. Former officers like Claudia Hodgins are now becoming businessmen and founding enterprises like C.H. Postal Company. Such a house could only exist in a time like this, with a burgeoning middle class and industrialization coinciding with an influx of foreign goods. It’s a symbol of status and wealth, plants uncommon to the region bursting out at every possible angle sometimes to the detriment of original function in a celebration of possibility (at least, for the new middle classes).
Naoko Yamada’s Episode 5 storyboards indulge in Victorian-era flower language — a complex and occasionally conflicting web of floral meanings to express deep emotions simmering beneath the surface. Outward displays of emotion were still frowned upon so people turned to flowers for signaling anything from affection to resentment. Violet’s job as an auto memoir doll, a letter-writer and transcription service, is also a mark of the changing times. It’s slowly becoming more acceptable to express these feelings in public, as we see from the letters that Violet and Cattleya organize between Charlotte Abelfreyja Drossel and Damian Baldur Fluegel prior to their impending nuptials. Nothing resonates more than the soldiers enjoying and facepalming at the idiocy of these two once they’re actually writing their true feelings without prose aid from Violet or Cattleya.
Then we reach Episode 7, which I maintain is the series at its most ostentatious. It wasn’t the most emotionally-resonant episode for me personally, but it had everything that a Violet Evergarden episode wants: gorgeous attention to detail and technical animation execution that goes hand-in-hand with the drama du jour. Also known as the Violet-walks-on-water episode, it stretches the boundaries of what was thought possible for an animated television series. It didn’t have to be that beautiful, but it was.