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Toonzone @ MCM London Comic Con October 2017 – “Violet Evergarden” Episode One UK Premiere Review

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Part of the reason I hold so much respect for Anime Limited as a company is that as someone who was an anime fan during the post-Pokemon 21st century anime boom I know what it’s like to live in the UK and miss out on the opportunities fans elsewhere get. Sure it’s great to have stuff licensed for home media and streaming but who wouldn’t want cool stuff like guest panels and cinema screenings? Anime Limited have worked to consistently bring exactly that kind of experience to fans over here, linking the UK and Japan in a new way. For this past MCM London one example of this was the first episode premiere of Kyoto Animation’s new adaption Violet Evergarden.

Not due to premiere fully until January and be streamed outside Japan via Netflix, Violet Evergarden has been receiving some advance premieres at anime conventions across the globe. While Anime Limited have highlighted this screening is not officially part of that tour it’s none the less a great opportunity.

Describing the story of Violet Evergarden is a bit tricky, as the opening episode gives us a basic character introduction over the specific lore and English sources for further information are few.

The series is set in a pseudo European industrial revolution setting (think Fullmetal Alchemist or similar). The titular Violet was a child soldier in a brutal war, but was seriously injured shortly before the conflict’s eventual end.  Once healed the military places her in the care of Claudia Hodgins, a now retired commander from the war who runs a fledgling postal delivery service.  He attempts to rehome Violet with the prestigious Evergarden family but she remains fixated on Gilbert, her absent commanding officer during the war. Seeing that she will not settle into a relaxed life, Hodgins offers her work at his company.

Now stories of war and child soldiers are nothing new to anime and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by Violet’s fixation on Gilbert. I’ve never really cared for these kind of characters in anime, the ‘I live only for the sake of another and will die without a second thought for them’. It doesn’t help that she’s voiced by Yui Ishikawa, who made her name in the industry playing similar character Mikasa in Attack on Titan. However, the show seems aware of just how much a cliché this kind of character can be and she herself is not unaware of the fact that she is effectively an incomplete human. Hodgins has private thoughts of her being a merciless living weapon but it is Violet by the episode’s end who makes  a key choice to move the plot and her own development along.

Across the episode we get brief flashbacks to Violet’s time under Gilbert’s command during the war but there’s also some comedy, primarily between Hodgins and his lazy and tactless young employee Benedict. There’s also some comedy moments derived from Violet herself, venturing into moe as her military mind-set leads her to tackle a nine-to-five like it was a military mission.

Coming from Kyoto Animation you know you’re in for some impressive visuals and this premiere really does not disappoint. The pseudo historical setting results in lush greenery, sunny skies and steampunk metropolises. But even beyond that the composition of shots is superb. In one scene, Hodgins attempts to warn Violet that she is metaphorically burning up with the way she is handling life and the angle shifts to just behind one of the street lights, the flames within imposed over her form to grant a visual to match the point. It would have been easy to have scene with metaphorical flames surrounding Violet but staging like this is much more clever and impactful.

I’ve already mentioned Yui Ishikawa in the lead role and she’s perfectly cast as Violet, delivering a performance that fits someone who has only ever known war as a way of life but with a layer of deeper humanity waiting to be explored. Takehito Koyasu plays Hodgins and it’s a likewise subdued role, compared to some of his bolder characters viewers will know him as. There’s a sincerity to the performance helped by the script making it clear his character carries shame for the fact his faction allowed child soldiers to be used. These and other performances are connected to the fact the show is handled like a period drama. It’s entirely possible the show might put a focus on action later (especially via the war flashbacks) but the focus here is on life outside the battlefield and indeed the reasons people go to war to begin with. The polite, safe lives people want to live.

From this first episode I’m looking forward to the full series of Violet Evergarden. If you’re tired of cheaply animated comedies or fanservice shows trying to push merchandising this is a perfect reminder of that exotic appeal anime can hold that is still beloved the world over. Keep an eye out for it when it arrives on Netflix early next year.

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