「自動手記人形と「愛してる」」 (Jidou Shuki Ningyou to `Itoshiteru’)
“Auto-Memoir Doll and ‘I Love You'”
Gilbert Bougainvillea is both alive and dead at the same time. He is assumed dead, but we haven’t seen the body. On the one hand, it is the way of mentor-characters to die dramatically to spur the growth of the protagonist, but on the other hand this is anime and nobody can be presumed dead until we cremate the corpse. Thus it is equally possible that Gilbert is alive or dead depending on the whims of the narrative, and until habeas corpus allows proper observation he exists in a quantum superposition where he can be considered to be in both states at once.
In seriousness, there is little reason to float a character in Limbo like that except to keep open the possibility of bringing him back. Here I will very deliberately only talk abou the anime, because I consider it to be its own thing at this point. I am very glad that the anime did not go all the way to bring Gilbert back. Sure, we already know that there’s going to be more Violet Evergarden in some form or another at some point, so the possibility is still open, but I think at this juncture I think we can consider the story we have on our hands ‘complete’. And it is a better story with Gilbert dead. No, I don’t wish for Violet to be sad. I enjoy happy endings. But narrative resurrection is serious business. For an anime in large part about coming to terms with loss, to simply undo that loss at the last moment trivialises the conflict. Losing Gilbert made Violet what she is today. The grief was real. It forged her into a stronger person. If Gilbert turned out to have been alive all along, it could cheapen his memory and his sacrifice. Contrast this with, say, CLANNAD (and if there are still those who still need to avoid CLANNAD spoilers, skip to the next paragraph). CLANNAD did not reach its ‘Good End’ lightly. It required a supernatural intervention that moved heaven and earth, set up over the course of the entire story, to reach the happily ever after. All of the protagonist’s experiences and struggles with the entire cast lead to that point. CLANNAD was fundamentally about earning that happy ending. Violet Evergarden is about finding catharsis after a sad one.
I also appreciate this ending because it, for the most part, wraps things up. The climax was actually mostly last week, and save for a bout of action-postman spectacle this final episode is mostly here to bring us down gently and tie off loose ends. That’s what makes the story feel complete. Violet Evergarden is arguably a coming of age story, and I think we can safetly say that Violet has come into her own. Meeting the Bougainvillea matriarch, being implicitly accepted into the family, proving herself worthy of her name, is as fine a way to do it as any. And we’re invited to bask in just how far Violet has come. Life may have been simpler for her when she was just taking orders from Gilbert, still childish and dependent. But after being violently forced from the nest, she makes something more of herself. Her world expands to be larger than her fixation with Gilbert, and in a neat bookend she finds a cause for which she was willing to sacrifice her arms again. She is not Gilbert’s tool, she’s his legacy. And that’s the story of Violet Evergarden.
Final impressions ~ Anime in the age of Netflix
It does seem that episodic anime are getting less popular these days, but it used to be that episodic anime were actually more the norm. While modern anime is known for its set length and disciplined narrative, it wasn’t too long ago that making a series less cohesive was actually acceptable, even encouraged. Even back in the 90s and early 00s there were still adaptations that deliberately dismantled their source’s narrative to create a more episodic sort of show, and did pretty well out of it. ‘Filler’ episodes weren’t just there to fill airtime and while waiting for more manga to be drawn, but also to make an anime less oppressive for viewers who jump in mid-way as part of their channel surfing. But that was the past, and times have changed. Now, anime profits are driven strongly by BD purchases, and have a cohesive narrative that ties the entire show together further entices the hardcore otaku to buy the entire set; no one wants to have a hole in their collection that is also a hole in the story. And now we have Netflix and the like, also changing viewing habits. Instead of casually tuning in week by week, the Netflix format encourages shows to be binged; or rather, the format works better with shows that can be binged. The simple urge to see what happens next in a story and then just reaching the end for the sake of completion can be a powerful one. The viewer becomes more likely to spend their hours on that one show, which in turn makes the show more valuable for Netflix.
Enter Violet Evergarden, a show that happily thanks Netflix for its money in its credits every week. Now, I don’t have any inside scoop on the production of Violet Evergarden, but I think it’s a safe bet that it was made at least with Netflix on the mind. I’ve talked about this at length before, but the source Violet Evergarden was a much more episodic affair than the anime. It was fairly good like that, and normally the rule should be that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Yet the anime made significant changes to the structure, even writing original segments, in order to turn Violet Evergarden into more of a linear narrative. And I would hazard a guess that the Netflix format played a part in the decision to do this.
Kyoto Animation has been traditionally associated with terrible original anime, and their best shows tended to be those more faithful to the an adaptation source. These days, though, they are more willing to fiddle with the knobs and dials on their in-house properties, sometimes to… undesirable results (the less we say about Musaigen no Phantom World the better). I think Violet Evergarden ended up rather well, and I should at least partially credit the involvement of a veteran writer. Say what you want about Yoshida Reiko, but she’s been in this business for a long time and she understands structure. If you want a story told in 13 episodes she will tell it in 13 episodes, planned out all the way. But whether it turned out well or not, it’s a big deal that there was a plan at all. Playing it safe is always easier, but an adaptation must be tailored to the medium. And the medium of anime is always, subtly changing. Today’s it’s influenced by internet streaming. In the future it will be influenced by some other business model or technological advance. Therefore any effort to do something different, to wander out of the comfort zone, should be commended. So while Violet Evergarden did start off rather slow, and was still the strongest when it stuck to its episodic roots (notably episode 05 about Charlotte and episode 10 about Anne), I look at the series as the whole and I’m satisfied with the result. I see what you were trying to do, Violet Evergarden. Good on you for trying it.