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 finale of Violet Evergarden is superfluous to the emotional narrative of the series. Violet’s personal journey towards understanding what love means — and learning empathy in the process — ends in the tenth episode, “A Loved One Will Always Watch Over You.” The moment Violet bursts into tears and admits to fellow auto memoir doll Cattleya Baudelaire the difficulty of remaining emotionally detached from Anne Magnolia is the perfect bookend to her first disastrous letter attempt. Not only is she then one of the best in her field at CH Postal Company, but she is a more introspective, aware person — a person who not only recognizes her own emotions, but wields them to help others overcome their own personal problems.
Yet, the series doesn’t end with Episode 10, and continues for three more episodes that include extraneous action and fight sequences in addition to a somewhat hilarious festival that involves dropping letters from airplanes. Violet Evergarden wants to say something about the value of the written word and it’s rarely subtle in its emotional machinations, regardless of how affecting they are to a viewer (yes, I cried at various points throughout the series too) so perhaps the letter festival is, in its own way, a fitting end as well. The series doesn’t need to be subtle to tell its story, but some of Violet Evergarden‘s background subtleties and details tell their own story at the periphery of Violet’s.
In the series’ fifth episode, we see floral messages put into literal action through Naoko Yamada’s storyboards. Yamada previously employed floriography as another, unspoken form of communication throughout the film A Silent Voice. In her episode of Violet Evergarden, flowers are exchanged along with love letters between the heads of two kingdoms. Each kingdom is also represented by a specific flower.
From the Roman name, Aemilia, latin word aemulus meaning rival. Industrious, hard-working, stubborn, obstinate.
When I first looked up my given name, I found something similar to the etymology and list of adjectives above. Yet, none of these explained why my parents decided to name me Emily. After all, they had no way of knowing that this ugly, squalling baby would be a diligent worker, at all stubborn, or competitive in any way. (I assert that I am some, if not all of these things at times.) So, I was named after my great-grandmother whom I never knew. My mother was close with her despite speaking no Italian — my great-grandmother was from Sicily — and my great-grandmother speaking little to no English.
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.