Editorials/Essays

The written word and more Victorian-era trappings in Violet Evergarden

The Victorian-era trappings of Violet Evergarden are no accident. Victorian Great Britain has, retroactively, become a divergence point in fiction where, if industry had advanced along this particular timeline rather than another, things would have been different. This, along with rich aesthetic trappings that accompany any economic boom in history, make it a much-desired setting, begetting the entire steampunk genre.

A key factor to keep in mind when evaluating steampunk as a fiction genre is the boom of 19th-century novelists — and the novel as a leisure activity in and of itself — that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, William Thackeray, and Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot) are all products of this time period. After them came Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and the scientific romance (later called scientific fiction, or sci-fi). Many works that are considered great or integral to understanding the development of western culture were written in or around the time of Queen Victoria. Since they are taught so often in schools, it’s easy to see how aspiring writers would want to take elements of these lush environments and somehow port them into a more modern era.

Not everyone can write in Violet Evergarden. This is an understated but important aspect of where Victorian culture and the novel frame the series’ narrative. It creates a barrier between those who can write, or even have access to someone writing for them, and those who cannot.

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“Parasites” in Darling in the Franxx (and robot name flower meanings)

Darling in the Franxx is not a subtle series. Child pilots take on the roles of either a pistil (female pilot) or stamen (male pilot) named after the reproductive parts of a flower. They are paired off and each assigned a FRANXX robot, named after various flowers. Their home is called Mistilteinn, which means “mistletoe.” They are called parasites.

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Victorian Flower Language and Violet Evergarden

Outside of the gift of a red rose — which has been commercialized and commodified extensively — there are few flowers today whose meanings are widely recognized outside of hobbyist circles or florists. Now, the language of flowers, or floriography, has primarily been relegated to a secondary visual language used (both deftly and clumsily) in art.

In Victorian England, myriad factors led to the development of flowers as a way to send emotionally-charged messages meaning everything from love to sexual desire to hatred. The Victorian Era was one of industrial progress, leading to a rising middle class and more widely-available leisure activities. Victorian morality is commonly described as draconian or puritanical. The reality is a bit more complex. For example, alongside the rise of the novel came the rise of erotica and the expression of sexual desire in written letters. Floriography accompanied this. Through flowers, people could send coded messages to each other — some that they could even wear as fashion accessories — that said what they could not speak aloud due to the morality of the time. As western floriography developed through the Victorian era, so did the varied meanings that could be expressed. One flower could mean something when paired with another flower, and carry an opposing meaning when paired with a different flower. Floriography and the written word also merged together well, with novels of the time period referencing flower language with the expectation that readers would parse their meanings.

Violet Evergarden plays with a Victorian aesthetic and steampunk-like anachronism (which is why discussing Victorian floriography is more appropriate in this case than the iconography or different meanings of Japanese hanakotoba, prevalent in other anime).

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What The Idolm@ster SideM gets more than any other entry in the franchise (and how we talk about idol shows)

The opening moments of The Idolm@ster: SideM‘s seventh episode involve high school light music club turned idol group High x Joker’s Shiki Iseya trying to convince his fellow bandmates to film a promotional video. Jun Fuyumi reminds him that they have to request permission first. Haruna Wakazato and Hayato Akiyama quickly chime in.

“Because we are—”

“Idols~”

Cue disbelieving laughter.

Although the scene is a setup for what’s to come  — High x Joker fumbling through the making of their own PV — it’s also buoyant, guileless in a way that few idol shows are. By nature, anime idol television there to sell you the product of the idols themselves and their accompanying game or merchandise. This requires toeing the line between artifice and marketability. Err too heavily on the artificial in order to promote your idols, and would-be fans will walk away.

Fortunately, SideM is here to remind us that an idol show can be both genuine and marketable. SideM is just in time too, with all of the criticism that’s been heaped on idol shows —more specifically, male idol shows — as of late. Where The Idolm@ster (Anim@s) is now heralded as a surprising critical darling and The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls (Derem@s) gained traction in its second half, SideM has failed to catch on in the west like its Idolm@ster brethren. SideM is easily accessible, but rarely discussed. It didn’t earn enough traction to be featured weekly on Anime News Network. Reddit and Twitter discussion have been well below what even the maligned first half of Derem@s mustered.

There are myriad reasons for this, and one glaringly obvious one, but it’s certainly not due to a lack of quality. Consider this my case for watching SideM.

Watching someone do something that they love is always a special treat, and an unfortunately rarer occasion in real life than it is in anime idol series. SideM gets this more than any other entry in the franchise. Nothing is more charming than watching people realize that they’re really really good at what they do. 

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