Violet Evergarden

“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.

(more…)

Advertisements

The White Camellia Princess and the Red Rose Prince (and Violet Evergarden)

From Episode 1, Violet Evergarden has relished in Victorian-era trappings. Its concern with flower language, and Victorian floriography began in earnest during Episode 2 thanks to Haruka Fujita’s careful direction and continued through Episode 4 with Iris Cannary talking about the iris fields near her childhood home that became her namesake.

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.

(more…)

A person worthy of that name: Violet Evergarden (and more Victorian flower language)

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.

(more…)

The written word and more Victorian-era trappings in Violet Evergarden

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.

(more…)

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).

(more…)