In the first episode of Violet Evergarden, Violet is visually and verbally presented as a doll. She wears no expression on her face, fumbles for a teacup with her beautiful but artificial limbs, and desperately asks for commands, not kind sentences. This is a Violet Evergarden that is part alien, part stranger. She’s beautiful, but preserved. No flaw glistens from her face, no emotion filters through her glass eyes. She’s too perfect.
By the end of this episode, we come to understand two things: a war is over, and with it, the necessity for battle and turmoil. Second, the person who ‘raised’ Violet Evergarden is dead. In this context, it is somewhat understandable then, that yet another post-war veteran commander takes up Gilbert Bougainvillea’s place. His paternalistic behavior towards Violet serves a purpose of slowly transitioning her out of a life built by blood and loss, into something more positive and comforting. But therein lies the problem: in being paternal, Hodgins assumes that Violet cannot make any choices for herself. He hides the fact that Gilbert is dead, glosses over the war and its reprieve, and thrusts Violet into a job. He does this in the only way he knows how: through commands. Violet, not knowing anything else in her life, accepts again and again with the stoic response: “It’s not a problem.”
If Violet Evergarden ended there, it would be sentenced to become a criminally poor story about a girl understanding compassion and humanity through the decisions of older men around her. Luckily, it steps back, and Violet Evergarden‘s first episode ends on an incredibly important note. The twist isn’t that Gilbert loves Violet; we already knew that. It’s about Violet trying to understand it herself, and coming to the conscious decision to become an Auto Memoir doll. From here on out, Violet Evergarden splits into two very different but integral parts. One half is unfortunately about Violet’s interactions with Hodgins and overcoming his parental behavior. The other half, however, is about Violet’s travels across the world, meeting various people and emulating their experiences through writing letters. It’s this half that comes out as the most emotionally striking and resonant part of the series as well as becoming the body for the story’s main message and Violet’s growth.
It originally starts with a brother. It then shifts into a daughter avoiding obligations, a princess departing from her loved ones, a soldier who can’t come home, a father missing his daughter, an astrologer seeking his long lost family, and a daughter who will never be able to feel her mother’s warm embrace. As Violet takes on her missions to spread letters, she comes into contact with various individuals, female and male. The thread that connects all of these experiences however, is one of grief through a familial bond. Whether that’s triggered by loss, departures, or misunderstandings, is for both Violet and the audience to discover.
There are several things that are important about these expeditions and Violet’s learnings. For starters, very few of the relationships are bound by one type of love. Episode 5, for instance, features Charlotte’s relationship not only with her suitor, but her family maid, who has been there to see her grow from an impetuous child to a full fledged princess. Episode 7 is about a playwright’s relationship not only with his deceased daughter, but his love for writing as well. And episode 9 hits the bittersweet spot of a soldier who misses the love of his life, but also, a family that grieves for his death. This is especially important for Violet, who not only wants to discover the meaning behind Gilbert’s words, but the idea of ‘love’ itself; that it can be found in friendships, in parental figures, and lastly, in strangers. Love isn’t just a bond that is formed between two people – it’s an expression that leads to one of humanity’s most vulnerable, but powerful emotions: empathy. And it is especially important that Violet sees these forms of love from various people (mainly women) whom she considers on equal footing, not above her.
Of course, as someone as emotionally stunted or repressed as Violet, it’s not easy to empathize. Violet Evergarden is unique in that like Mushishi or Natsume Yuujinchou, can separate Violet as the main protagonist and center on other characters. It is very much a story about stories, and how stories encourage a two way relationship of refraction, self insert, and understanding others’ experiences. Ghostwriting allows Violet to not only organically ‘experience’ other people’s emotions and their context, but to become painfully aware of her own internalized feelings during the war. This isn’t just isolated to love, but of loss, grief, guilt and most importantly, self awareness.
This all culminates in two of the most important moments of the series. The first is Violent confronting the mass of self loathing, criticism, and bitterness that has wound up inside of her, all in the form of Dietfried, who cannot forgive her for Gilbert’s death. It’s necessary however, that in gaining Dietfried’s pardon and respect by choosing to save him while also preventing herself from killing enemies, Violet still hasn’t broken free from her own internal prison. It’s allows her to counterattack much of the predominant ideas of ‘power’ and ‘agency’ – words that fell on deaf ears earlier in the series, as Violet had no issues being commanded around men – but there is one last step in moving on from loss: finding pardon within oneself.
This leads to the second moment, where Violet meets Gilbert’s mother – a critical period, considering that at the time, Violet is asked to write her own letter to Gilbert as a means of closure. Despite everything she has learned on her journeys and internalizing them through her own tragic experiences of loss, Violet cannot bring herself to sit down and add permanence to them. To do so would to make it in stone; to accept it, to let it fade away. Violet cannot forgive herself; she must have someone forgive her. Interestingly enough, it’s not Hodgins or Dietfried whom provide the words she has to hear. It’s Gilbert’s mother – a woman encompassed by much of the same love, grief, and loss that fills Violet’s heart.
Up until now, ‘love’ was a word Violet came to understand in many forms: familial, platonic, romantic. Through this, she gained self awareness, empathy, and ultimately, self preservation. But in hearing the words she needed to hear most, Violet allows herself to move on. She does not need consent or validation for the things she’s felt and has gone through. In writing a letter to both Gilbert and herself, Violet performs the final action of embracing her humanity: acceptance.
She’s far less perfect than episode 1, but no longer alien, no longer stranger, and just as beautiful, albeit a different, vulnerable way.
I’ll proceed to tomorrow
In the cradle of tenderness I’ve been weaving
So I can protect you
On clear days, and rainy days too.