Review for Violet Evergarden - Collector's Edition
It’s been a long and hard road for this title to get its UK release, but it’s finally here. Initially some people were lucky enough to get their copies if they pre-ordered it, but delays in the production of packaging meant that others had to wait past its release date for their copies. It should be all good at this point though. All the Anime announced Violet Evergarden over two years ago, and given that it’s a Netflix show, that was just the first hurdle to be cleared in getting a physical release. Then the Kyoto Animation fire tragedy occurred, which quite understandably turned focus elsewhere when it came to contracts and clearances.
Yet the US and Australia had seemingly already beaten us to the punch, getting their Violet Evergarden releases out as far back as 2019. But it subsequently turned out that they were based on the broadcast masters, simply used the Netflix subtitles as is, and were missing additional content. All the Anime had secured the roadshow movies, which retold the series in four features, they had the OVA episode, and the extended episode 13, as well as the versions tweaked for home video release (There is a sequel movie and a side-story movie to also look forward to, aside from this collection). Late last year, All the Anime finally gave Violet Evergarden the Collector’s Edition treatment in Europe, presaging the UK release a few weeks thereafter, and immediately discovered a snag with the transfer. It was so flawed that they effectively scrapped those discs, and re-authored them from scratch, which explains why I finally got the Violet Evergarden Collector’s Edition this Easter just gone.
Violet Evergarden was an orphan who was raised with just one purpose, to be a weapon. She wasn’t permitted the luxury of emotions, wasn’t expected to display humanity, and during the four years of the Great War, she performed as expected. Yet she managed to form a human connection of sorts with her ‘handler’ Major Gilbert. Towards the end of the war, they got into an extreme situation, and Violet was horribly maimed. Six months later with the war over, she’s alone in hospital, with prosthetics where her arms used to be, and left with the perplexing, final message from Major Gilbert.
She wants to see him again, but he’s nowhere to be found. Instead, one of his friends, Claudia Hodgins offers her a job in his postal service. She’s instantly drawn to the position of the Auto Memory Doll, women employed to write letters, interpreting the feelings of clients, for a largely illiterate populace. Given that she spent most of her life as an emotionless weapon, Violet seems ill-suited for the role, but she feels that if she can learn to understand emotions, she’ll understand why “I love you” was the last thing that Major Gilbert said to her.
13 episodes of Violet Evergarden, plus the OVA are presented across two discs. The four Roadshow movie digests of the series are presented across a further two discs.
1. “I Love You” and the Auto Memory Doll
2. Not Coming Back
3. I Wish You All the Best to Become an Optimal Doll
4. Don’t Be a Tool, Become Someone Just Like Your Name
5. You Write Letters to Bring People Together?
6. Somewhere Under the Stars
7. “ ”
9. Violet Evergarden
10. Your Loved One Will Always Watch Over You
11. I Don’t Want Anyone Else to Die
13. The Auto Memory Doll and “I Love You”
14. OVA: You Will Know What Love Is
At the cutting edge of the anime enthusiast lie those people for whom the finest gradation in image quality determines where they buy their Blu-rays from, where terms like ‘gamma’ and ‘RGB colorspace’ are used like weapons. I tend to avoid such arguments, firstly because I only really need the image quality to be really good, not necessarily perfect, and secondly, I never have the frame of reference to make a definitive determination as to how good a transfer is; you really need to have to see them all.
But my first instinct with Violet Evergarden, which had been through the mill of broadcast version to home video version, having its first release scrapped to be re-authored from scratch, was to panic, and scream that something was wrong. Instead I adjourned to Netflix to take a look at the show’s promo, just to check, and yes indeed, Violet Evergarden is supposed to look like this, with its hazy, washed out interiors, and with blacks fading to grey. It seems to be a deliberate, creative choice, designed to make those cutting edge, anime enthusiasts scream in frustration.
Violet Evergarden gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs, the image is presented well, with clarity and strong detail, albeit with that creative choice I mentioned earlier, which on many occasions results in washed out colours and a hazy feel. The animation is excellent, typically gorgeous artistic KyoAni, smooth and detailed, while the characters are realised with imagination and a sense of reality. The world design is excellent, creating a post war European feel that is very well thought out, feeling lived in. There is also a time-lapse conceit for the scene transitions that really holds the attention. The only slight niggle might be a hint of digital banding in darker scenes, especially around firelight.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese with optional English and French translated subtitles, and a signs only track. I stuck with the Japanese as always, and was very happy with the experience. The audio is excellent, making the most of the action filled flashbacks, and the subtler present day moments. The music is wonderful, grand and theatrical in quality, wonderfully composed and emotive, and the actor performances match all this. I love the show’s theme songs, but there are no song subtitles for them.
The series is presented on two discs, one on each inner face of a Blu-ray Amaray. The 4 movie digests are presented on another two discs, also presented in a BD Amaray case. Both cases get reversible sleeves. Everything comes in a thick card artbox with the approximate dimensions of 5x14x17.5 cm.
Also in the case is the following.
A 152 page artbook in landscape orientation
A folder containing 5 artcards and 2 booklets of stamps
The artbook takes a look at the characters, settings, props, storyboards, worldviews, and unlike many artbooks that take up space in boxes, this one has plenty of text and commentary from the production team to read. Even the storyboards have been translated, and there is a production team roundtable to read as well.
The discs boot to animated menus.
As well as the OVA, disc 2 also offers the Episode 13 Extended Edition (26:50). This is nothing to get excited about; there’s no new footage. What’s happened is that the end credits, which originally played over the final scenes of the show, now get a scroll like the rest of the episodes. You get to see the conclusion of the show now without credits over the image. There’s no reason except for licensing for the absence of the dub; all you get is Japanese with English or French subtitles.
Disc 3 has the first two films (74:43) and (92:35).
Disc 4 has the final two films (74:34) and (73:00).
Again, nothing to get excited about... If you’ve seen the Marathon Mode on shows like Dragonball Z and One Piece, you’ll understand what has happened here. The thirteen episodes are split into 3,4,3, and 3 chunks, all but one of the opening and end credits are taken out, and the episodes put together, with the title card for each episode still there. Once again, there’s no reason other than licensing, and avoiding a minor editing headache for the dub not to be on here, and other than a few minor tweaks to the animation, the only real reasons to watch these films is if you’re in a mini-binge mood, and want the audio in 5.1 Surround as opposed to the stereo of the series. The 2.0 audio is on the films too, but not advertised. English and French subtitles are offered.
Disc 4 has the rest of the extras.
Violet Evergarden in 5 minutes lasts 11:23, meaning there are two of these extended trailers introducing fans to the world of the show and the characters.
The textless credits lasts 3:02, and there are 6:14 of Previews for the show.
Violet Evergarden is brilliant, something which I totally expected from Studio Kyoto Animation. It’s also somewhat uneven in execution, which I wasn’t really expecting. Fortunately, it doesn’t really detract from the overall experience, it just adds a little jarring discontinuity when it comes to the show’s concluding episodes. If I were judging with my brain and not my heart, this would be an 8/10 show, but Violet Evergarden is all about heart, and I appreciate what this show wants to do too much to want to mark it down for a narrative bump in the road. If you’re looking for a touchstone for comparison, I’d say that Violet Evergarden and Anohana are in the same kind of area, when it comes to characters coming to terms with tragedy, loss and grief.
Violet Evergarden comes from a harsher starting point. The title character is introduces as a child soldier, recuperating from the ravages of a great war in hospital, her arms replaced by mechanical prosthetics. It quickly becomes clear that she was raised as an emotionless killing machine, and only formed a connection with her ‘handler’ Major Gilbert, the only one to treat her as a human. Her sole purpose was to follow his orders, which caused the Major no little guilt. Their final mission went badly, both maimed, the building they were in collapsing, and the last thing the Major does is confess his love for her.
The war ends, the Major is missing, yet all Violet wants to do is get back to him. Instead, she is ‘bequeathed’ to Claudia Hodgins, Gilbert’s friend, who has opened a private postal service. She’ll work there now, but her attention is drawn to the Auto Memory Dolls, the women that are hired to write letters for clients, interpreting their feelings to get them across to the recipients of the letters. The emotionless killing machine Violet seems ill-suited for this role, but in a country recovering from the ravages of war, she may have a better understanding of certain things, and as she learns her duties, she continues to get closer to understand what the Major was trying to tell her.
The first couple of episodes set things up, introducing the characters, developing the world, as Violet starts work at the postal service, and once her determination becomes clear, she takes a course on how to be the perfect Auto Memory Doll. Thereafter she starts work, going off on assignment as a scribe, with more than just letter writing among her duties. Her initial ineptitude with emotions actually helps at first, as she blunders her way into getting to her client’s true feelings. Her first two tests come with fellow Dolls at her workplace, but once she starts writing for clients the challenges get harder, and she starts to learn more about feelings and emotions, and gets closer and closer to understanding the Major’s confession.
The first couple of challenges are pretty light, helping with a courtship by mail for a princess and a prince from neighbouring countries, trying to find the feelings to make their forthcoming marriage more than just a diplomatic one. Helping a group of astronomers preserve some ancient texts, she meets a boy with which she has something in common. Things gets more difficult thereafter, when she has to help a grieving playwright with his new work, but all through these episodes, the shadow of Violet’s relationship with Major Gilbert simmers in the background, with Violet longing to be reunited with her commander. This comes to a head in the next two episodes, where she’s confronted with a painful truth, coloured by a flashback to her life with the Major, and that ultimately disastrous mission.
Episode 10 is probably the best episode in the collection, as Violet meets a little girl, while writing a series of letters for her mother. The girl wants a friend, but also is frustrated by the time Violet spends with her mother, time that the girl wants instead. This episode is utterly predictable, but it in no way lessens the impact, or its ability to break your heart. The final three episodes in the series shift focus, with a peace treaty about to be signed, and a war faction wanting to derail it and plunge the continent back into war. Violet gets drawn into the middle of this, as the dolls have been employed to document this momentous moment. This could have been a genre switch too far for the show, but thankfully even at its most action oriented, it’s still couched in the emotion of the piece, coloured by a potential reconciliation with the Major’s older brother, a man who blames Violet for what happened to Gilbert.
Thankfully, the OVA episode leaves the series on just the right note, with Violet hired to write the lyrics to a song, a job which once again needs her to connect with feelings that she didn’t know she had.
Violet Evergarden is all about coming to terms with loss and grief, and it is spectacularly effective in how it does this. Many anime shows that do this are deliberately manipulative, and Violet Evergarden is no different, but what is different is that you won’t care about its emotional contrivances, so good is the storytelling, so effective is the animation. Best of all is the character development. Many shows establish the characters and leave them as is, but Violet really goes on a journey here, dealing with her own grief, and experiences an increasing self-realisation, slowly recognising her feelings reflected in the people that she helps.
The show gets great treatment from All the Anime, when it comes to excellent image and audio quality. The package itself is an exercise in padding in a way. While they are nice to have for aesthetic reasons, the extended episode 13 and the movies really add nothing to the experience you’ll get from the series. But it’s all nice to have. Violet Evergarden is a show that is well worth watching, and well worth owning as well, and this UK release is probably the best English territory option.