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‘Violet Evergarden’ Gets Lost In The Details

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The importance of human communication and the flaws therein. The struggles and conflicts those suffering from PTSD grapple with, both internal and external. Coming to terms with loss and becoming stronger for it. These are all themes and topics that Kyoto Animation’s latest visual spectacle, Violet Evergarden, attempts to address. It does so through the eyes of the young war veteran Violet Evergarden herself as she stumbles through a society reminiscent of post-war Europe when war is all she knows.

Violet Evergarden tries to tackle this through a presentation that is nothing short of a visual masterpiece. Beyond the stunning vistas and sceneries, Kyoto Animation eschewed many of the “shortcuts” normally employed among other studios such as still face conversations, camera pans to mimic character movement, and the ever-increasing usage of CGI. When a show is almost, if not completely, without these techniques it makes a very noticeable difference in the end result that can only be described as stunning.

violet evergarden townThis extends to the audio design where every door that creaks, every pitter-patter across a floorboard, every clack of the typewriter; they’re all so meticulously executed that they alone are capable of enveloping and pulling the viewer into their world.

Notice a very deliberate choice of words so far, though. Kyoto Animation “attempts to address,” Violet Evergarden “tries to tackle.” That is because despite the blood, sweat, and tears that clearly went into creating this marvel of the animation medium, Violet Evergarden does not achieve the goals it sets out to accomplish. For all the pride Kyoto Animation had in setting its plot points out, they fail to connect them in any meaningful or impactful ways that resonate on a deeper level.

More Than Just Learning a Lesson

Violet Evergarden is a series of vignettes. Each episode is a self-contained short story that often contains new characters for Violet to interact with and fresh facets of life for her to confront in her new role as an Auto Memories Doll, an occupation that translates the emotions of others into the written word as deliverable letters.

violet evergardenThe episodic nature of the show isn’t a detriment in and of itself. After all, other anime such as Kino’s Journey that sport an episodic structure manage to pose intriguing moral and societal questions with each short-story that stimulate the audience’s own thoughts. While Violet Evergarden adopts the same style, the main difference is that it has an overarching story, while Kino’s Journey does not. But herein lies one of the fundamental problems with the show, as these tales aren’t contextualized to the greater story that is meant to give them purpose.

Each episode is meant to be a lesson for Violet to learn, a moral for her to gain. The issue is that we rarely see Violet internalize and compartmentalize these lessons. We are left to assume that she has taken these experiences into her heart, but Violet herself shows no indication of having done so. The moments when Violet does show progress are reserved for what are supposed to be pivotal points of the story, but without any evidence that she was developing prior these moments often come across as more disjointed than powerful.

violet evergarden typewriterThis is compounded by the fact that Violet is supposedly developing off-screen. Months can pass in between episodes and characters will comment on how far Violet’s communication and writing skills have come in that time. However, we don’t see that manifest in the young veteran herself.

It’s not a matter of it being a subtle difference, either. There just isn’t any difference between the Violet from one episode and the Violet of the next, despite what other characters are saying, and that creates this weird disconnect. How did Violet go from barely being able to write a functional letter to a distraught brother to being sought after by the princess of a country to write a love letter of all things? Important progress is supposedly happening in between episodes, but we don’t see that progress manifest in believable ways, not to mention the faulty reasoning behind what little strides are made.

A Major Discrepancy

Violet’s primary motivation is to understand the meaning of her superior’s, often just referred to as “The Major,” dying last words, “I love you.” Many of the lessons Violet learns tend to relate back to that singular moment. The story puts The Major on a pedestal as the only person during the war to think of Violet as a person, rather than just a tool. That’s all well and good, but throughout the many flashbacks during the show we hardly see him actually treat her as a person.

violet evergardenHe constantly reminds Violet that she is not a tool; that’s nice. He yells at her that she has feelings; that’s actually kind of mean. Actions speak louder than words, though, and beyond those surface-level interactions, the only action we see him take is the opening scene for the entire show where he buys a brooch that catches Violet’s eye. He doesn’t make any real attempts to save the fourteen-year-old girl from herself. Without that, their connection with each other comes across as weak at best. That, in turn, results in a faulty anchor point for Violet to base her emotions on.

Violet’s fixation on The Major is understandable. He was literally all she had, after all. The show’s fixation on him, however, is not. The Major provides almost nothing of value for Violet to take with her in the future, and that’s ok. They were in the middle of a war after all, and The Major still had an obligation to win it. Don’t raise him to be more than he was then, because he doesn’t deserve it! It trivializes any growth Violet does have in the present as it’s attributed as a result of The Major’s presence in her life, when in actuality he had little to nothing to do with it.

violet evergarden majorThe Major’s last words may be the impetus that drives the whole narrative forward, but as the show progresses it becomes apparent just how weak an impetus it really is. Violet only took them to heart because he was her entire world, the one person who gave her orders and a purpose. Replace The Major with any other superior that treated her in any number of ways and if he said “I love you,” to Violet while on death’s doorstep, the result would arguably be exactly the same.

Quality Materials, Weak Construction

The most frustrating part about Violet Evergarden, however, is that all the building blocks for a truly memorable story are there. The swelling of the music, the animation, the cinematography, the script, the voice acting, the way all of these are presented in pivotal moments is a surefire recipe for tears. Indeed, there are conclusions to some of the individual stories that do resonate on that deep, emotional level. It’s nearly impossible not to shed a tear in the face of a father’s grief over the loss of his daughter, or a mother’s literal undying love for her’s.

When those same elements are applied to the turning points of Violet’s own story, however, they fall flat. They don’t feel earned because they feel sudden and out of place since the sentimental steps to reach that point weren’t conveyed properly. Without that merit, these scenes lack that all-important emotional resonance, despite their execution being near flawless.

violet evergardenNumerous episodes that didn’t relate to Violet in meaningful ways could have been shortened or cut altogether in order to give her more space to grow. Even a simple rearranging of the order of certain episodes would have done wonders for the story’s flow and continuity, particularly after The Major’s brother makes a reappearance. It’s as if Kyoto Animation was suffering from tunnel vision. They were so proud and excited about the emotional payoffs they thought they were going to have that they failed to realize that they weren’t paving a path to those payoffs.

It’s such a shame, because Violet Evergarden had the potential to be a deeply personal story that touches on the many aspects of flawed human interaction and the importance of it despite those flaws. Instead, Violet Evergarden is a lesson in flawed communication with its viewers, its story, its characters, and its morals all suffering for it.

 

You can watch Violet Evergarden on Netflix.

Heralding from the rustic, old town of Los Angeles, California; Matthew now resides in Boston where he diligently researches the cure for cancer. In reality, though, he just wants to play games and watch anime, and likes talking about them way too much. A Nintendo/Sony hybrid fan with a soft-spot for RPG’s, he finds little beats sinking hours into an immersive game world. You can follow more of his work at his blog and budding YouTube channel below.

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1 Comment

  1. Jacey

    August 15, 2019 at 2:49 am

    Looking at what had been brought to the table rather than what wasn’t, I refuse to complain about Violet Evergarden in any way—it is great enough.

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Anime Ichiban 24: Forecasting the Anime Awards

Matt and Kyle have some fresh hottakes on Makoto Shinkai’s newest film, Weathering With You.

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Weathering With you

Matt and Kyle have some fresh hottakes on Makoto Shinkai’s newest film, Weathering With You. The Crunchyroll Anime Awards are also a thing happening which means it’s time for the crew to demonstrate once again how off their tastes are.

TIMESTAMPS

13:41 – Satoshi Konposthumously honored
18:14 – TRIGGER’s Brand New Animal project
28:20 – Netflix adds the entire Ghibli library to their catalog!… in some places
31-37 – Weathering With You impressions and thoughts
1:02:33 – Crunchyroll Anime Award Predictions
1:38:36 – Closing remarks

TRACKS

Intro – “Kiss Me” by Vo.Nai BrXX&Celeina Ann (Carole & Tuesday opening theme)
Outro – “Drown” by milet (Vinland Saga ending theme 2)

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‘Weathering With You’ Isn’t Quite the Storm It Wanted to Be

Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You delivers a gorgeous film that doesn’t quite resonate as much as it wanted to.

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Weathering With You Hina

Climate change and global warming have been topics of concern and discussion for years now, with melting ice caps and rising ocean temperatures being some of many signs. Director Makoto Shinkai — acclaimed the world over for his 2016 work Your Name — aims to show just how at the mercy humans are to the weather with his newest animated film, Weathering With You. Although he presents a visually stunning depiction of Mother Nature in all her various moods, Weathering With You ultimately lacks the storming power it seeks to bear upon its audience.

Tokyo has been having a particularly rainy year, seeing precipitation almost every day and nary a sight of the sun or clear blue skies. It’s during this unusual time that high school boy Hodaka arrives in the metropolis seeking escape from the suffocating life he had on his island. The young teenager naturally has trouble finding his bearings on his own in the oftentimes unforgiving hustle and bustle of the city. It’s in these early scenes that Weathering With You has some of its strongest moments, depicting the uglier side of Japanese society not often seen in anime, while also highlighting Hodaka’s strength of character to make it on his own. 

Weathering With You Hodaka and Hina

As Hodaka gradually carves out his own place in the city, he eventually has an encounter with a young girl named Hina. Matching her sunny and cheerful disposition, Hina has the ability to make it stop raining and have the sunshine in very localized spots by praying to the sky. In a place where the rain never ceases, it’s easy to see why Hodaka latches onto Hina to use for the greater good (while also making a little pocket change along the way).

“The hand-drawn rain is downright mesmerizing in all its forms — fierce and calm — while the sunshine that follows seems to hang in the air caught by the leftover humidity.”

Gloomy skies and damp grounds can take their toll on one’s mood and psyche, which someone who lives in such a climate can surely relate to. Even the briefest moments of sunshine revitalize us and give a glimpse of the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Hodaka and Hina’s “100% Sunshine Girl” services to those in need of that light boldly underscore that fact, and make for a strong argument for how the weather affects us all beyond its objective physicality, along with providing some much-appreciated levity to the story. 

That power of weather is beautifully illustrated by CoMix Wave Films’ stupendous animation efforts. The hand-drawn rain is downright mesmerizing in all its forms — fierce and calm — while the sunshine that follows seems to hang in the air, caught by the leftover humidity. Tokyo itself isn’t to be outdone either, with its streets running the gamut between peaceful neighborhoods to grimy and dark back alleys with dilapidated buildings. The animation is punctuated by the return of Japanese band RADWIMPS, who create numerous memorable tracks to complement the wild swings in mood that weather can elicit.

That makes it all the more unfortunate, however, that the greater narrative is so weak.

The progression of Weathering With You is made painfully obvious right from the outset of the story — so much so that it’s hard to wonder if it’s actually the set-up for a bait-and-switch. As a result, much of the first half of the film is simply waiting for the other shoe to drop, making it difficult to really settle in and become intimate with its characters. 

Weathering With you Hodaka and Hina

This would be less of an issue if the cast had smaller interactions that were a delight to watch, but they fall short in that regard as well. All of the characters have a charm to them for sure — with Hina’s younger elementary school brother, Nagi, putting modern playboys to shame being a particular standout — but the story never quite makes a compelling case as to why they are as close as they are, especially Hina and Hodaka. They’re fun enough to watch be together, but don’t quite make that emotional attachment with the viewer that the story wants to create.

That lack of an emotional connection is distinctly felt in Weathering With You’s second act, when unnecessary confrontations and bizarre plot directions converge to create an artificial sense of stakes amidst a central conflict that would have been fine on its own. What’s meant to strengthen the impression of the characters’ bonds instead cheapens it, undermining the already faulty progress the first half did make. The result is a narrative that’s hard to care about, although its ending does leave the viewer with some potentially interesting questions to ponder.

Weathering With You is far from a bad movie, however. It has a clear direction and vision with a message to say about our climate crisis. The characters are endearing enough, and there are a handful of heartfelt scenes because of that. It also cannot be understated just how drop-dead gorgeous the animation is. The story, however, is simply too straightforward for its own good, resulting in an experience that is at times enjoyable, and at others plain boring.

And that’s only when being judged in a vacuum on the movie’s own merits. When compared to Shinkai’s recent masterpiece that is Your Name, it’s hard to see Weathering With You as anything but a disappointing follow-up. That’s perhaps the film’s greatest weakness, but fortunately, it’s one that Shinkai’s next work won’t have, and we can still look forward to it because of that fact.

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How Rimuru Tempest Changed the Game for Isekai Protagonists

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime shines within the vast sea of generic isekai thanks in no small part to protagonist Rimuru Tempest.

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that time i got reincarnated as a slime

The core premise of the isekai genre–a character being transported from their everyday life on Earth to a parallel universe–has become wildly popular for a reason: it’s an immensely appealing fantasy. Just as audiences everywhere fell in love with the seminal Spirited Away in the early 2000s, it’s still exciting to fantasize about discovering a new world and going on all manner of crazy adventures. However, the incessant flood of new isekai every season to capitalize on this trend has resulted in some of the most generic, overly-manufactured protagonists in any genre.

Though this sea of formulaic main characters is vast, it makes it all the easier to recognize when one bucks the typical conventions and actually proves that there’s room for unique takes on the genre. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime adheres to a few cliches, but it also manages to set a new bar for what a captivating isekai protagonist can be.

Rimuru in That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

Breaking the Mold

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is as wholesome and optimistic an anime as they come. The tone can be deceptive at first; when Satoru Mikami is suddenly stabbed when trying to protect his junior, his dying wish is for his computer’s hard drive to be destroyed. But after being reincarnated as a slime–and gaining the new name Rimuru Tempest–his true desires become clear: world peace and a simple, comfortable life with friends.

What’s immediately striking about Rimuru as the main character is that he starts off as an average 37-year-old man. He spent his life working hard and appeasing his higher-ups to climb the corporate ladder. Shady hard drive aside, he lived a respectable and long life compared to the vast majority of protagonists in the genre. This significant age difference is evident in nearly every action and major decision Rimuru makes; he looks at situations practically before jumping headfirst into conflict.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

When Rimuru gets a drink poured on him by a noble in a bar, for instance, he quells his anger in consideration of the bar and the friends around him. When someone asks for his aid in an impending battle, he pauses to go over all the available information and reaches a consensus among everyone before agreeing. And when protecting a goblin village from a pack of wolves, he doesn’t just mindlessly slaughter all the wolves; he looks for the way of least resistance (killing the leader of the pack) before ultimately integrating them with the goblins as equals. Though his human form looks young, it’s the wisdom behind his actions that makes those around him respect his leadership.

This is especially impressive considering just how overpowered Rimuru is. His transformation into a slime came with resistances to fire, cold, electric currents, pain, paralysis, and the ability to absorb, analyze, and take the form of anything he wants. In other words, he could go down the path of the typical shounen protagonist and solve his problems with his fists, but he never lets his overwhelming power dictate his decision-making process.

Rimuru meeting with his commanders.

Leading a Nation

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is as much about Rimuru’s adventures as it is about the rise of the independent monster nation he helps establish. Instead of running off in search of adventure, the little slime decides to nurture the goblin village he protected at the outset. He helps the goblins and wolves “level up” by naming them, shows them sustainable ways to gather food and build makeshift defenses, and even brings back dwarves to introduce blacksmithing and carpentry.

Through expansion, industrialization, and conflict, Rimuru manages to orchestrate the creation of his country in a way that’s genuinely believable. His ambitions for a peaceful and integrated world play out in his willingness to accept other goblin tribes, ogres, lizardmen, and even friendly humans in his country. Being able to rationally read situations makes forging alliances and negotiating with neighboring nations possible. When a major calamity threatens all life in the forest, Rimuru wastes no time in holding a summit and allying with other forest dwellers over a common interest.

None of this would be possible without the uncanny, Luffy-like ability to inspire a sense of trust and reliability in those he comes across. Just like the members of the Straw Hat Pirates follow Luffy out of respect and loyalty, Rimuru’s commanders follow him because of his sound judgment and dedication to seeing everyone in his nation be happy. It’s satisfying seeing members of Rimuru’s guard take personal offense when others talk poorly of him because it’s clear that he’s earned the respect he’s given.

If isekai is to continue growing in popularity and thriving long-term, room must be made for different types of protagonists. Be they depraved, refreshingly honest characters like Kazuma or upstanding yet easygoing leaders like Rimuru, both demonstrate how valuable it is to shake up the formula and try new approaches to the genre. If the constant barrage of isekai has bittered your tolerance to it as a whole, That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime is well worth giving a shot.

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