Art is an almost indefinable concept, as it is one of the broadest categorizations known to man. Art traverses genre, medium, and our very own human senses, which makes it very difficult to find common threads between its many forms. What defines “great art”, however, is subjective yet universal. “Great art” makes us feel something valuable that resonates with our temperament and feels deeply meaningful—even if we are unable to rearticulate the meaning ourselves.
With this definition of “great art” comes common grounds of emotional value and meaning that are born from the average concerns of human existence. Death, loss, and love are three particularly well-tread pathways of storytelling to elicit emotional reaction. When handled intelligently and earnestly, these fictional moments of emotional profoundness can carry the same weight as the moments of beauty and tragedy that we all experience in real life. When handled without proper care, however, these stories can sometimes feel too contrived, if not almost offensive in how transparent the writing can be in its tearjerking.
This makes for a conflicting circumstance, considering the very nature of fiction calls for stories to be calculated—because they are invented by someone, for some purpose. So, we find ourselves in the dilemma of judging a story based on that purpose, but in what regard? Should we judge based on the merit of the purpose itself? Or perhaps the effectiveness of the execution towards the purpose? And is that effectiveness determined at least in part by whether we can see the purpose for what it really is? For example, if the purpose of a given narrative is for merely to feel saddened by it, is it better for us to understand that this is indeed the purpose? Or would it be better for us to just feel sad, as intended by the purpose of the story?
This is the strange, convoluted conundrum I find myself in when thinking about Violet Evergarden because, and pardon my slightly poetic language, with tear-filled eyes I still see through the veil. In most episodes, I know exactly what is going to happen. In most episodes, I end up crying anyway. As for why that is, I have not yet reached a sound conclusion—but I have my theories.
The episodes of Violet Evergarden are not only exceptionally heartwarming and gut-wrenching, but also brilliantly written to make fantastic use of its unique protagonist. Violet Evergarden the character fits well into the show’s “problem of the week” structure, as her Auto Memory Doll career serves to put her in all sorts of scenarios dealing with love and conflict in various types of relationships—be it brother & sister, father & daughter, prince & princess, and so on. Violet’s job as an Auto Memory Doll is to type and articulate the feelings of her clients into letters to be sent to others (typically loved ones). The interesting catch to this set up is that Violet starts out as quite inept in this line of work.
This is because she has a rare personality trait, one that is not given a name in the show itself but is most similar to the trait in real life known as alexithymia. Alexithymia is defined by the having extreme difficulty, if not total inability, to identify, distinguish, or describe feelings and emotions. Obviously, this doesn’t appear to be the best career choice for one with such a condition, yet Violet perseveres because she wishes to learn what love truly is, a confusing feeling imparted on her by her Major back in the military—a much more suitable field for someone as emotionless as her. The Major wanted more for her than that, however, which is how she ended up working as an Auto Memory Doll for a former lieutenant after the war.
Violet searches for answers about love by trying to transcribe the feelings of others into words. By entering the lives of clients for brief periods, she begins to understand. Not only that, after she starts getting good at it, all her work exchanges become mutually beneficial. Her emotional density and militaristically blunt approaches allow for her to pass through any social queues and anxieties that would hold average beings back and cut straight to the heart—speaking the truth that everyone else is afraid to touch. Only later does Violet learn when it is appropriate to hold back, which ends up leaving her in tears.
This is quite the turning point in the series, considering every emotional event prior, Violet was always the only one not sobbing in moments of deep sentimentality. It shows an immense growth in her character that she can finally feel the things she never knew as an emotionless tool of the military. What’s even more gratifying is that this grants the Major’s last wish, that Violet become more than just a weapon for death and destruction. She’s finally the sweet, normal girl that he always saw inside of her.
Violet Evergarden is a series of setups to emotional payoffs within one grand, overarching narrative: The harrowing story of Violet’s life. A story that blends the lives she’s taken in the past, the people she’s brought closer together in her present, and the frightening but exceedingly bright future ahead of her into something magnificent. It is awe-inspiring to watch Violet struggle with her history as she learns all about human love and life in all of its forms. Being with her throughout her daily work as an Auto Memory Doll builds up, eventually to immense satisfaction in the mere growth of a kind, strong, fascinating character.
Even if we see the resolutions to these day-to-day events coming, it does not seem to matter because Violet’s purpose is to witness and learn from life itself. There are many parts of life that are completely predictable because we all live and/or will live it. Death, loss, and love are things we all know are coming for us. We may not know when, how, or why, but these moments in life are inevitable. While we may become jaded by the fictitious representations of these moments, they’ll manage to impact us anyway because they remind of what is important in life—and it’s a wonderful feeling to see that through the fresh eyes of characters like Violet Evergarden.
Thanks for reading.