I spend a fair bit of time discussing the differences between the Violet Evergarden anime and light novel here, mostly because I’ve read the LN and that’s my perspective. Can never have enough material around here and the first rule of writing is, ‘write what you know’. A point I always need to repeat, though, is that different is not necessarily the same as wrong and an adaptation should not aim to be simply a transliteration of the source. A lot of anime fans and even some anime producers seem to look to adaptations to reproduce the same experience as the source when mediums and subjectivity make that practically impossible. For example, when I was reading the LN my internal voice for Gilbert was more German and stoic (and I may have overlapped him with Hilscher from Gunslinger Girls at some point), and I was surprised by his portrayal in the anime. But that’s okay. Adaptations should change between mediums. The Greek myth of Pygmalion, Pygmalion the play, the musical My Fair Lady, and the rom-com Pretty Woman are all very different experiences, and we are all richer for it. Or perhaps consider the comic book hero movies that are popular in Hollywood right now; rather than adapt one particular issue, they work best when they work to establish a separate movie continuity of their very own. Actually, these comic books are a great example in general; each comic writer brings their own interpretation of a hero, and each artist will bring their own style and aesthetic. Rather than quibble about a ‘source’ Batman or Spiderman, discussion is better spent on being true to the ‘spirit’ of those heroes instead.
With that in mind, let’s talk about this week’s Violet Evergarden. Finally, we’re given an extensive view of Violet’s past and it’s quite a stark difference from what we’ve been accustomed to in this setting. This is the kind of juxtaposition that anime does well. Violet Evergarden has always been visually stunning in all respects, with a setting filled with scenic cities and grand vistas, this episode was, in contrast, dark, violent and claustrophobic. We have this juxtaposition within the episode, too; Gilbert wanted to keep Violet at his idyllic country estate, far from the fiery fields of war. Such is the strength of a visual medium compared to a novel, being able to create such powerful imagery even within a single shot.
A good portion of this episode — more or less all the flashbacks to Violet’s time in the army — are based on the final chapter of the first volume of the LN. It serves something of a different purpose there. In the LN, the entire chapter was devoted to Violet’s past. It was, in essence, a pay-off chapter where, after lots of little clues about Violet’s circumstances scattered in previous chapters, the full drama is unfolded before us. This reflects the approach of the LN, where the character of Violet was played largely as a mystery, making the pay-off chapter the ‘reveal’. In the anime, though, Violet’s past has mostly been revealed to us in pieces already, and in this episode it’s more a matter of putting those pieces together. Therefore, there is a greater emphasis on drama. Either way, though, this focus on Violet’s past, as well as Violet’s confrontation of it, marks a turning point in both the plot and for Violet. Thus far, even though Violet has been making leaps and bounds in the development of emotional range, she has still been — I don’t want to say one-dimensional, that’s the wrong way to put it. No, she’s not one-dimensional, but she is narrow, even stunted, having imprinted on Gilbert and making him her sole obsession. Even all her work as a Doll — what lead her to all her development — revolved around her obsession with the major. So despite some doubt, it’s perhaps for the best that she comes to terms with Gilbert’s death sooner rather than later. How else is she going to leave the nest? Yes, I know Gilbert is technically only MIA, but let us put him to rest. This parting is something Violet needed, and we shouldn’t cheapen it.
It’s this turning point, I think, that will put all the episodic adventures of Violet Evergarden into perspective, as well as justify all the shuffling the anime has done to the LN. Before, Gilbert was Violet’s entire world. But travelling around the continent, meeting and helping other people as an Auto-Memoirs Doll, will hopefully expand that world. We’ve had many stories both about parental relationships and loss thus far, and I can say that we will have even more. Violet helps a lot of people. And I’m sure that, in a way, they helped her as well.