「「もう、誰も死なせたくない」」 (‘Mou, Dare mo Shina Setakuni)
“‘I Don’t Want Anyone Else to Die'”
These days, most of the anime in any given season are adaptations. There are cross-promotional monetisation benefits to this: if you’ve read the manga, you might watch the anime, and if you watch the anime you might go read the manga. I get that; we’ve been writing the preview for the next season here on RandomC, and when I see a, say, Persona 5 adaptation I get hyped because I’ve played and I liked it. Now, I’m probably going to watch that show. As an anime blogger, though, I much prefer blogging shows where I’m not familiar with the source material at all. Any story is best when the experience is fresh, and writing about those fresh emotions is more fun than retreading old ground. So while ardent fans of a work may frown when an adaptation makes significant changes, I actually encourage adaptations to play around with their source. Not only does tailoring a story to the medium usually make for a better story, it’s also simply more interesting for me.
I talk about the ways Violet Evergarden has adapted the original light novel to its current form basically every now, but this episode may be the greatest change we’ve had so far. The general thrust is the same: Violet drops into a war-zone to write a letter for a dying soldier, delivers it, heartbreak ensues. But the devil is in the details. Even if you haven’t read the LN, you may perhaps have already had a taste of how this chapter goes there. Remember back to the earliest promotional materials; I’m sure they’re on Youtube somewhere if you want to look for them. Remember to a small but eyecatching scene that the first commercial showed off. A young girl, carrying a body out of a towering fire. Dramatic, no? In the LN, Violet’s rescue of Aiden was definitely much more theatrical. The young soldier had gone down, trapped in a forest aflame, surrounded by enemies. From the heavens descends Violet Evergarden, inexplicable poleaxe in hand. She is challenged by the hostile soldiers, and in Aiden’s defence slaughters them all. Whipping out pen and paper from her bag, she writes a letter for the dying boy on the spot, the trees burning around them, and when his final words are said she nobly carries his body away like a Valkyrie beckoning to Valhalla. Aaand scene. While the LN chapter was still ultimately sad and tragic, much more so than in the anime Violet got to swoop in like the big damn hero. This was one of the earlier chapters, meant to reveal that Violet was indeed a super-soldier. She got to kick a lot of butt, and was an impeccable professional while doing so. It was pretty cool. The way the LN did it would have made for the better spectacle. But would it have made for the better story?
While part of me was disappointed that we didn’t get to see that level of action animated, a larger part of me has concluded that, in hindsight, this was the right way to go about it. Violet is a different character at this point in the anime compared to at that point in the LN, and thus demands a different dynamic. She’s not a big damn hero. She has internalised the death of Gilbert. She understands grief. She had managed to, with the help of her friends, extricate herself from war, but now she voluntarily throws herself back in. This was another test. Violet is now a civilian. A Doll. She manages to avoid killing. She writes the letters. She delivers Aiden’s farewells. But, not Aiden himself. Having lost Gilbert, Violet understands that no pretty words can substitute for returning the boy alive. She did all she could as Doll, and is thanked for it, but what comfort is there in that? If anything, it is a testament to her own powerlessness in the face of death. What salvation can she offer? What warmth is in her hands? To Violet, she has failed again. There can be no heroism here.
In the first commercial, we saw Violet in the fire. We saw her improbable and frankly somewhat silly fantasy weapon. Someone in the animation production had, in the project’s most infant stages, put their mind to those things. And equally, someone had made the decision to cut them. That’s bold. No matter what one might think of any changes an adaptation makes, I think we need to respect a deliberate and considered decision to make them. It is not made lightly. Adaptation requires a clear image of the story you’re telling, an ambition to make it better, and the courage to walk an untrodden road. Many anime do not receive that level of care, so we should celebrate the hints of ambition when we see them. There has been a lot of thought put into Violet Evergarden. Thought is not always a common resource, and it is worth appreciating.