I have no idea if I’ll do Kyoto Animation justice after all that happened this year, so here goes nothing.
This is a repost of Notes on Hyouka as an Exploration of Detective Fiction as published on Altair & Vega on July 5, 2012. As the post’s original author, I have reposted it here for preservation purposes since that blog is no longer fully functioning. It has not been edited or revised in any way.
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of Naoko Yamada that flowers and flower language have their place in her latest film: Liz and the Blue Bird. For Yamada, flowers take the place of things left unsaid when people are unable to express their feelings for each other due to a physical disability (A Silent Voice), mental illnesses or internal fear (also A Silent Voice), societal expectations (her episode of Violet Evergarden), or myriad other reasons. When important context goes unsaid, Yamada frequently turns to flower language to do the emotional heavy lifting.
Her usage of flowers in Liz and the Blue Bird has a defter touch than A Silent Voice and Violet Evergarden‘s camellia princess. Many things go unsaid or unspoken between leads Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki and Yamada wisely uses what unites them — music — to express most of them. Flowers create a secondary, background context, featured more prominently in the Liz and the Blue Bird storybook — used as another framing device for Mizore and Nozomi’s relationship — with a few flashes to real-life flowers at key moments between the two.
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.
Minato Narumiya’s initial introduction is as a wide-eyed child at a kyuudou (the Japanese martial art of archery) event. He asks his mother about the sound that a bowstring makes when an arrow is released. After she answers, the series focuses on his back, turned towards the kyuudou tournament. It then cuts immediately to the broader back of an older Narumiya, rising to take his position in a kyuudou event. He solemnly goes through a series of motions before drawing his bow. Cut to the title screen. The visual transition seems clear. Narumiya, inspired by watching kyuudou with his mother when he was much younger, grew up to become a formidable archer himself.
Yet it was at this very event where Narumiya first failed. After he draws back that bowstring, he misses the target. Since that day, he has continued to suffer from target panic. When we meet him at the start of Tsurune: Kazemai Koukou Kyuudoubu he hasn’t left kyuudou entirely, but is instead torn between leaving entirely due to his target anxiety, and inevitably being drawn back to the art of kyuudou. This opening visual sequence sets up Narumiya’s plight perfectly, slightly subverting expectations while also making his emotional connection clear and strong.