takako kobuchizawa

[Five] Hope and Darkness — A Place Further Than the Universe

In my most chuunibyou moments of college, I clung to quick phrases and quotes from a variety of media that I consumed at the time. One of these series was Grey’s Anatomy, which I watched with my suite-mates and friends as a fun exercise in procrastinating rather than doing the mountain of homework we had saved up for that Sunday evening. I don’t think Meredith Grey’s “But as human beings, sometimes it’s better to stay in the dark, because in the dark there may be fear, but there’s also hope” is as profound as I initially thought when I was much younger, but there’s a lot of raw honesty and nuance to this statement.

Sometimes, we keep ourselves in the dark because, deep down, we are aware of an awful truth and unwilling or unready to accept it.

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“Loved ones will always watch over you” — letters in Violet Evergarden and A Place Further than the Universe

“Is this emotionally manipulative?” is a question frequently asked regarding Japanese animation. I first heard it regarding Clannad — particularly in relation to Kotomi Ichinose’s narrative arc, but also about the series as a whole — but this query dogs certain anime, even if the series in question is completely upfront about these goals, like Clannad. The floating teddy bear in the ocean, the empty, overgrown garden, the musical cues, they’re all in service of eliciting tears from the audience. It’s the equivalent of Russell Crowe’s Maximus screaming, “Are you not entertained?” only the unspoken scream is “Cry, damn you!” to the affected viewer.

In the current anime season, two series have fallen into this category according to the community: Violet Evergarden and A Place Further than the Universe. Within the past week, both shows told similar but diverging stories regarding mothers, daughters, and letters that play with ideas of time and transience. These stories offer an easy point of comparison between each other while also pushing carefully constructed emotional buttons.

However, the question shouldn’t be whether something is emotionally manipulative, but whether it works, strings and all. Do these feelings still feel genuine despite obvious cues and pre-existing narrative structures? My definitely-not-dry eyes say yes, but whatever personal conclusion you come to, Violet Evergarden and A Place Further than the Universe offer parallel case studies — nearly a week apart in airtime — in what make letters and messages such emotional sucker-punches.

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