Violet Evergarden: A Story About How to Love
What is love? Many people have a hard time understanding this emotion in the real world. In Violet Evergarden, the titular character, an orphan and child soldier, doesn't have a sense of purpose after the war she fought ends. Her commander, a man she looked up to, is now gone. Before dying, Violet heard him say that he loved her. But she was confused about what this meant, having never heard the word 'love' before.
In search of the meaning of love, she begins to work as a typist, for a small company that composes letters of sentimental value for clients. Through learning how the "Automatic Memory Dolls" or other typists make letters that express clients' feelings, she hopes to come to a better understanding of her own feelings, as well as those of others.
At first, Violet doesn't seem qualified to be a Memory Doll. She's a whiz at typing, but it takes more than that to write letters that express feeling. It's hard for Violet to "read between the lines" because she interprets whatever anyone says very literally. She also begins with a soldier-like mentality in the way she approaches her job. This means she's used to thinking in terms of direct orders, and not used to doing things because she wants to. This helps as well as harms her. On the one hand, it makes her a diligent worker, but on the other hand, she lacks many of the soft skills necessary for work that is emotionally sensitive in nature.
She goes to a school for "Automatic Memory Dolls", and while she's an excellent transcriptionist, she realizes that's not enough to make her a great Doll. A Doll's job involves understanding nuances of expressing emotion. At the school, Violet helps her friend write a letter that will get through to the friend's brother. That's how Violet writes her first letter that can express a person's feelings.
A few more episodes proceed as Violet becomes a more confident Doll. One episode is devoted to Iris, a coworker of Violet's. We get to see Iris return to her family home in the country for her birthday, and Violet helps her convey her feelings to her family more honestly. But mostly, the series focuses on Violet and once-an-episode side characters she helps as clients.
Over time, the series explores Violet's haunting memories of the war, and her past continuously becomes more of an impediment to her happiness in the present. The series culminates with Violet defending peace from a terrorist faction who wants to revive the war. By the end of the series, Violet has not only learned to understand other people's emotions, but also her own. She has also become more confident, and made peace with her violent past.
Light Novel by Kana Akatsuki, illustrated by Akiko Takase
Movie in 2020, OVA Episode
Violet Evergarden is a sweet anime that sometimes gets boring, with certain specific episodes definitely being much stronger than others. Overall, it's a good series, but it's mainly best for people who already like historical romance as a genre. The alternate history setting is a little awkward. For no reason, an imaginary alphabet is used instead of Roman letters. But other than that, the culture resembles that of Germany around World War One, similar to the setting of Fullmetal Alchemist. In the absence of magic, one wonders why the author even bothered creating a fantasy world. You're not going to see elves or magical swords here.
Women's roles are an important theme in the story. The country is on the cusp of modernization. Many women wear traditional, formal, Victorian style dresses and have the formal manners to match. Women are not seen as equal to men, as painfully evidenced by the episode in which some Automatic Memory Dolls are hired to assist some schoolboys, but they have to show deference to their male colleagues. Women like Cattleya, their boss, a former dancer turned Memory Doll and manager of other Dolls, represents a more modern, libertine sense of womanhood. But her being the only woman wearing sexually provocative clothing, while also being the only non-white woman, is a bit problematic.
This series is sweet, romantic, and emotionally evocative. I hope that the second season, which has been confirmed, gives us more back story for more of the side characters.