The first film completed by Kyoto Animation after the arson attack in 2019, this carries a lot of emotional weight both on and off-screen. Starting out as a “light novel”, Violet Evergarden was later adapted into an anime series; a side story, Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memories Doll, was also made into film, all by Kyoto Animation. The return of Violet Evergarden and a message of overcoming trauma is not only an act of closure for the character but also a moving return for one of Japan’s most beloved animation studios.
A sequel to the anime series, the film quickly recaps Violet Evergarden’s painful origin story. The story takes place in Leidenschaftlich, an imaginary country with old-school western European influences, as evident in the romantic, Victorian flavour of the architecture and costumes. Thrown into battle as a child soldier, Violet loses both of her hands as well as her mentor Major Gilbert, who leaves her with the three words before disappearing: “I love you.” Traumatised, Violet finds solace as a Doll, a ghostwriter who helps people express their feelings to others via letters. After encountering Yurith, a terminally ill boy who shuns his family but beckons her service, Violet is forced to confront her suppressed memories and her love for Gilbert.
True to form, the animation here is simply breathtaking. The sensitivity in the detail is wide-ranging, from purple flowers slowly opening their bulbs to greet the sunshine to morning dew sliding down freshly cut blades of grass. They attest to Violet’s own maturity, as she learns to unlatch her wounded heart. A mist of melancholy subsumes the film as well: like Violet’s mechanical hands, new technologies such as telephone lines threaten to render her line of work obsolete. Without giving anything away, the bittersweet sentimentality at several crucial sequences will leave the audience scrambling for hankies. While the intense emotion and slow pace are not everyone’s cup of tea, especially those unfamiliar with the series, the romanticism is done exceptionally well, and with unabashed sincerity.