Wow, this week’s Violet Evergarden did a lot. I rarely get emotional watching anything, and I honestly wasn’t expecting Violet Evergarden to be the show to deliver such feels. It makes me wonder though – why such a different effect compared to the previous episodes? The storyline for this episode is equally as predictable as those in previous ones, I think. It can even be called “emotionally manipulative” – a term I’ve seen thrown around. I’ll save my thoughts on that for a bit later, and let’s get into the episode instead.
- I really liked how we’re introduced to Ann’s mom. So much information was conveyed just through facial expressions. We first see her relative smiling at Ann while the mom gives her a harsh look until she greets everyone properly. In retrospect, you realize that it’s because her mom was preparing Ann for a world without her guidance… KyoAni doesn’t give us any reason to assume who the “good” or “bad” party is as we enter the room with Ann. We end up perceiving things for ourselves alongside Ann, and can better relate to how she is excluded from the adult world.
- The motif of motherly love is strong in this episode. Perhaps Ann transfers the love she feels for her mom to the doll when her mom’s not available. In truth though, Ann wants to be the one who’s loved, which is why she eventually gets frustrated by the unresponsive Violet and her own one-sided game.
- Point well made, Ann. Even playing with a doll would be an exercise of free will, which is still hard for Violet to do. Hmm…maybe playing with dolls is essentially an act of self-love, because you project a part of yourself into the doll while acting as the figure nurturing it at the same time. I must be reading too deeply into things again.
- It’s adorable how Ann bonds with Violet. I’ve mentioned liking montages before. I guess I just really like it when a visual medium illustrates the passing of time in a condensed collection of scenes/images/lines. It’s essentially a sped-up, more dramatic slice-of-life depiction that illustrates both consistency and change, and whatever emotion you’re meant to feel just keeps crescendo-ing as it goes on. And of course, this isn’t the only part where it’s done in this episode…
- Ann is quite a realistic child. Her love-hate relationship with Violet feels believable, and I love how she admits to Violet that she’s “pretty good” at reading. With the nuanced feelings that Violet’s presence induces in her, Ann may be one of the most realistic anime kid I’ve seen in a long time.
- Despite her young age, Ann is quite perceptive in regards to her mom’s condition. She’s afraid to put her fears into words, but they plague her more than anything. In the end, Violet is only a substitute mom that’s just not the same. In truth, any child should feel insecure when something this unfortunate is happening, but I guess it’s surprises me to see this level of depth in an anime child.
- Ann cries because Mom cried. I know that feeling of panic – it’s always overwhelming to see a parent cry as a child, and that feeling is amplified when Ann herself understands that she is a part of the cause.
- Violet totally isn’t the best person to comfort Ann at the moment, but she’s not the worst either. She stands straight while Ann punches her in the stomach for a very long time, speaking only harsh truths. In a sense, I almost feel like Violet is accepting punishment for the harm she caused during the war in this scene. I still don’t really think any of her past is Violet’s fault, but with her guilt, she probably believes she’s deserving of punishment.
- And the expected happens. Empty room; silence speaks more than words.
- And it turns out that Ann’s mom hired Violet to write a birthday letter for Ann for fifty years to come. The time skip is quite interesting. We essentially get a glimpse into the future beyond the time frame of Violet’s narrative.
- I predicted this much as soon as I saw the mom raise her own death flag in the first screenshot I included, and I’m sure most viewers did as well. Still, it didn’t prepare me for how emotion the letter scenes are. Is it because of the condensed time that shows Ann’s growth, struggles, and joys? Is it because the subject of a parent’s early death is fundamentally depressing to anybody? Is it because the mom tried so hard to be cheerful and put a lot of effort into imagining a future that doesn’t involve her?
- Violet feels the same about everything. Apparently, she was holding back her tears over the 7 days. This is definitely the first time we see Violet having to consciously repress emotions, which says a lot about her growth.
So why is it that this episode worked for me while the previous ones with similar themes of love didn’t quite do the same? Luculia’s feelings for her brother, Oscar’s feelings for his dead daughter, even Violet’s own overarching arc that involves Gilbert… Why is it that this story, with a plot I predicted within the first few minutes, is such a moving one?
Maybe it’s because I see myself in Ann, as I was once the type of kid who starts bawling whenever my mom leaves me for longer than an hour. I remember that my favourite make-belief game as a 5-year-old was “Mom’s funeral,” where I asked my mom to pretend she was dead and I would hold a funeral for her and pretend to cry over her dead body. The beautiful feeling of dread fictional tragedies had on me was something I’ve been drawn to since I was a child (I was a weird one, I know), and the death of my mom was the worst tragedy I could picture at the time to act out.
Maybe it’s because something about the way this story is told feels more subtle than the previous ones. The previous ones relied on flashbacks to get the feels through, and while I have nothing against flashbacks, I think it’s worth noting that this one simply has no such need. We don’t need any more background info (like how Ann’s dad died or how her mom first got sick) to add to the story. We see how much Ann and her mom treasure each other, as well as all the barriers laid out between them (communication, constraints of time, etc.).
Now, as for the question of emotional manipulation…I first have to wonder whether every show does not set out to manipulate its audience’s emotions to some extent? According to Aristotle, a successful tragedy’s ultimate goal is to arouse pity and fear so that catharsis can be achieved. Is this approach too outdated for the present day? Comedic shows should think about how to make the audience laugh, mystery shows about how to create suspense, and horror shows about how to inspire shock and discomfort. Maybe it’s wrong to prioritize the emotional effect over the message/theme of a story? To add scenes that plaster to a specific emotional effect instead of using them to build a solid story. Quite a tangent I went on there…
Back to Violet Evergarden. I think it’s inherently impossible to separate the generating of emotional impact from its storyline, it being a story about emotional healing. The episode sets out to explore and ultimately heal someone’s feelings (in this case, Ann’s coming to terms with her mom’s terminal illness), and to impact Violet emotionally in some way. With its subtle storytelling, I certainly don’t think anything was done too artificially here.
So these are my thoughts. Sorry for the long-ish post! I’m super curious about how everyone else felt about the episode, or perhaps about emotional manipulation in general.