「「ヴァイオレット・エヴァーガーデン」」 (‘Vuaioretto Evuaagaaden’)
After all the dramatics in last week’s Violet Evergarden it’s only natural to expect a powerful follow-up. Sure enough, this one’s a doozy. It’s the title episode, which in an anime named after its central character means that it’s finally time to put Violet Evergarden to the test, to answer the fundamental dramatic question underpinning that character. All the darkness and violence of this arc serve a purpose, so that we may ask if Violet manages to emerge out of it.
The assumed death of the major is a breaking point for Violet, and we can debate the wisdom in keeping the truth from her and stringing her along for so long. In hindsight, though, I think it was for the best. Maybe it was done out of pity, or maybe out of cowardice, but it’s hard to blame Hodgins too much for his lie. Violet was wholly dependent on Gilbert. She followed only his orders. He was the only person she was capable of feeling emotion over. Who could so bravely gamble on what would happen if this young girl lost her existential crutch? And it turns out, it’s exactly as Hodgins feared. Violet more or less shuts down. And this is after all her work as an Auto-Memoir Doll, all that time building a sense of self, experiencing the world, and making friends. Her time at Hodgin’s company was basically one long rehabilitation for Violet, developing an emotional core that can support the loss of the only thing she ever cared about. And even then, she almost didn’t make it.
I’ve talked much about how Violet started off as a metaphorical robot before, and that much of her journey was to turn that robot into a true human. But, in ways, it’s much easier to be a robot than to be a human. Robots are just tools, they do not have a conscience. There is no need to have a robot feel responsible for their own actions. Being able to kill without remorse, as Violet did for most of her life, is the ability of a robot. A human, though, has to suffer the consequences of their actions. When we train soldiers, we’re doing things the other way around, aiming turn them more robot and less human, to make pulling the trigger more an autonomic function and less a conscious decision. But if it were so easy to turn soldiers into robots, they wouldn’t come home with survivor’s guilt and PTSD. And perhaps Violet may have rested easier when she was still ignorant of the weight of death — both GIlbert’s and the people she killed — without having to deal with her trauma. It’s like original sin; she would not feel shame if she does not eat the forbidden fruit. But she has knowledge now, specifically empathy, which is for both good and ill. But here the other rehabilitating effect of her Doll work comes into play. With empathy, Violet has to accept that she has the power to affect other people. Killing is just a horrific extreme. But the good that she has done should have weight as well. I found the positive ending of this episode quite effective as a contrast to the fear, anger, and grief of the war we opened with. It felt good to finally see the sun again.
This is the kind of thing a finale episode should be made of, right? If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that Violet Evergarden ended right here. Resolving Gilbert’s death, reflecting on Violet’s journey; it’s the kind of introspective finish to send off a show like this. It’s even the title episode, and Kyoto Animation brought out the big guns for it: Takemoto Yasuhiro was the episode director, and he’s arguably the best of KyoAni’s roster. Yet, despite everything, we’ve still got, what, five more episodes to go. Well, there’s still light novel material I can see being brought in at this point, and this episode had some potential plot hooks itself. But even without, I think Violet Evergarden can still give more. Too often do stories involving trauma have its victims just have a big epiphany and then get over it. But it’s never really so easy, is it? Trauma is a wound. Trauma scars. Violet may have found her answer this episode. Now, we test it.