taichi ishidate

[Four] The meta opulence of Violet Evergarden — Violet Evergarden

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.

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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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