kyoto animation

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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[Six] Talkin’ ’bout my generation (A Silent Voice)

“While I was location-hunting in Gifu I started wondering what Shoya was like at that point: a kid who feels invincible but also deals with perhaps unfounded frustration. This song appeared in my mind with a bang.”

Naoko Yamada on the use of The Who’s “My Generation” in A Silent Voice

Naoko Yamada makes many precise directorial choices in her film adaptation of A Silent Voice, including but not limited to the use of flower language and other non-verbal forms of communication to form emotional snapshots of the lead characters.

The most polarizing choice was her insistence that the film lead off with The Who’s “My Generation.” This naturally created a licensing nightmare, for which Yamada took full responsibility according to multiple interviews prior to the film’s release. “My Generation” also became the primary citation of the movie’s detractors, who said that the use of the song indicated a misunderstanding of the original manga’s meaning.

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[Twelve] Little Boxes . . . Desu (High Speed! — Free! Starting Days)

My personal junior high experience was an awkward one. Among other things, I cut my hair short (just like Mary Anne in The Baby-Sitters Club!) and missed approximately two months of school due to pneumonia, neither of which endeared me to the popular groups. However, I’ve since learned that it’s a rare person who wasn’t awkward between the ages of 11 to 13 years-old or so. While you’re trying to figure out who you are as a person, there are so many authorities of varying merit telling you who you should be as a person. This includes outside influences like media as well as parents, guardians, acquaintances, and friends.

The opening of High Speed! — Free! Starting Days immediately — pun intended — immediately dives into this messy stew of confusion, opening with Haruka Nanase and Makoto Tachibana’s first day of junior high school. Haruka struggles with the collar of his new school uniform while Makoto blithely complains and tells him to button it properly. Later, Makoto admonishes Haruka for failing to use polite speech, to which Haruka applies an awkward, mocking “-desu” to every sentence he says to an upperclassman.

These are scenes all too familiar to a Free! viewer, but Haruka and Makoto aren’t quite comfortable with what will later become their roles in Free!. The movie visually packs them away in boxes, as if to show how they’re testing out their own developing personalities. We know what people they will become in their future — Haruka the disaffected genius and Makoto the doting team dad — but in the opening scenes of High Speed!, and many other exchanges throughout the series, it feels like they’re roleplaying to fit specific parts, still uncomfortable and unsure of who they are.

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The Flower Language of A Silent Voice Part 3: Cherry blossoms and the transient nature of all things

“People who know flower language will be able to interpret each one’s message and that’s great, but I made it so that even if you don’t you can feel something because of the shot’s layout or the flower’s color. I’m happy to let that audience have their own interpretation.”

A Silent Voice director Naoko Yamada on the usage of flowers in her film

This is the third and final post on Naoko Yamada’s use of flower language in her anime adaptation of A Silent Voice. It will focus on the movie’s specific usage of cherry blossom, or sakura, trees. A look at the use of daisies and cyclamen, and other miscellaneous flowers like azaleas, marigolds, and anemones have been covered in previous posts.

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The Flower Language of A Silent Voice Part 2: Marigolds and Miscellany

“People who know flower language will be able to interpret each one’s message and that’s great, but I made it so that even if you don’t you can feel something because of the shot’s layout or the flower’s color. I’m happy to let that audience have their own interpretation.”

A Silent Voice director Naoko Yamada on the usage of flowers in her film

This is the second of two posts on Naoko Yamada’s use of floriography or hanakotoba (flower language) in her movie adaptation of A Silent Voice. The first post, The Flower Language of A Silent Voice Part 1: Fireworks and Daisies, can be found here. It covers daisies, cosmos, and cyclamen, which frame the film’s two leads, Shoya Ishida and Shoko Nishimiya.

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