「「愛してる」と自動手記人形」 (‘Aishiteru’ to Jidou Shuki Ningyou)
“‘I Love You’ and Auto-Memories Dolls”
When I first heard about Violet Evergarden and ‘Auto-Memories Dolls’ (Auto Memoir Dolls? Whatever.) I thought it was a story about robots. When I had to do research to write the preview for this anime, I found out that it wasn’t really about robots at all. But, as I read more of the light novel that is the source of this adaptation, I realised that it totally was about robots after all.
Before we dive deeper into the high concept (…that doesn’t sound quite right), let us first have a look at this pilot itself, because I think Violet Evergarden is certainly one of the most hyped anime to grace our weekly schedule for some time. And for a show like this, the question we always ask, consciously or not, is whether it lives up to that hype. That’s a heavy, and arguably unnecessary, burden for any work. It’s a big reason why I usually try to avoid the anime hype machine every season, because as far as I’m concerned nothing good can come out of it. Well, it’s good for marketing, but little else. For the show, it creates expectations and preconceptions that are probably unwarranted. For us, the audience, it saps our energy in advance to generate that hype, and then taints our entire experience of the show as we watch it. When we’re only imagining a great anime, it is perfect. An idea is formless and flawless. Reality can never match it, and it is very difficult for any show to match the hype rollercoaster. But damn, Violet Evergarden sure does try. It comes out the gate with guns blazing (in more ways than one). Not only is it, as everyone already knew, unreasonably pretty, we also jump straight into the drama of the titular Violet Evergarden (Ishikawa Yui), broken soldier, basically immediately. As far as character introductions go, this is the hard sell, hitting us point blank with Violet’s violent backstory, her action-girl credentials, her triumph, her tragedy, and of course, just enough fanservice that can be disguised as a character moment. The entire episode carried a high-strung emotional curve throughout that only occasionally allows some slack (c.f. everything I said about the three-act structure just recently). violent Evergarden wants you to know loud and clear why it has her name in the title: this is her story, and look at how much of it she has!
Curiously, this is not how the light novel starts at all. The LN started slow and episodic, with Violet further in the background, with her clients taking the upstage roles. We learnt about Violet’s character and her past piecemeal, until she finally comes into her own at the end of the first volume with a full chapter about her dark past. In fact, most of the material we saw in this anime pilot are kept out of the first volume entirely, with Hodgins (Koyasu Takehito) and his company strictly off-stage until the second. We can’t really judge the full effects of this directorial decision until the series finishes proper, but it is important to note that one was made. Some fans are purists and consider adherence to the source the height of all virtues, but more often adapting a story to a different medium requires a degree of… adaptation. So when an anime team decides to do something a bit different, it’s at least a sign that they’ve put some thought into it. So, for example, I personally feel that character development needs to be slow-rolled and question pushing Violet onto us so strongly, but I still approve of the attempt to bespoke the story to anime.
The important thing is that the adaptation team understands the spirit of the story they are adapting, and considering that we open with Violet writing a letter, I think they do. Letters are going to be a common motif in Violet Evergarden, being a story about words, emotions, and communicating emotions. You may recall that I said that Violet Evergarden really is a story about robots, and this is why. Stories about robots, in the Asimov tradition, are really stories about being human. Robots are merely somewhat deficient people, a juxtaposition for us to examine human concepts like ethics, emotions, and society. And thus we have Violet, a girl who has somehow been wired wrong, and deep down knows it. Is that not the story of every robot wishing to be human? And so, like many in science fiction before her, Violet asks: what is this thing called love?