THE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT OF VIOLET EVERGARDEN
Violet Evergarden is an anime series that premiered in early 2018 by Kyoto Animation. It’s based off the Japanese light novel series of the same name by Kana Akatsuki and Akiko Takase that won the grand prize in the fifth Kyoto Animation Awards.
This article will be looking at the details of Violet’s story, so a spoiler warning is in full effect. There is also a trigger warning, for mentions of suicidal thoughts and actions.
When we first meet Violet she is in a military hospital, as she has just lost her arms in the Battle of Intense. A final fight in a war between the Garderik and Liedenshaftlich forces that have stretched the better half of a decade. Her commander, Major Gilbert, is missing in action and has left her to the care of his friend, former Lieutenant Colonel Hodgins.
Violet is only 14-years-old and has been used as a weapon for what we can assume is her whole life. She is aged beyond her years, with little to no social awareness. She is obsessed with “The Major” as she calls him, and we later discover that this is probably because he was the first person to treat her like a human and not a machine.
Hence due to Violet's lack of social consciousness, when Hodgins tells her that she is burning, she takes it literally, not understanding the implications of his words. “No,” he said to her. “You are burning. I saw you like that and left you alone. That’s why when Gilbert left you with me, it was my chance of redemption. Someday you’ll realize what I said, and then you’ll realize for the first time that you have many burns.”
It isn’t until several episodes later, as Violet interacts with other people more and gains a deeper sense of empathy, that she understands that the burns are the actions of her past.
As the series unfolds, we see these actions. Violet is used as a tool for war. Orphaned because of the war, or the events before the war, she is raised as a killing machine, with no regard for human life. A child soldier from at least the age of 10, she kills several people on screen during flashbacks.
Major Gilbert receives her as a gift from his brother, Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea, along with the words, “She’s no child, she’s just a weapon. A tool, for the purpose of war,” as we see at the beginning of episode 8. Under Major Gilbert’s command, she gained a reputation as “The Maiden Soldier of Liedenshaftlich,” personally heading several operations, and always leaving a trail of blood in her wake.
After Major Gilberts supposed death, Dietfried treats her with resentment on the rare occasion that he sees her, at one point telling a distraught Violet, “Why are you acting this way? After all, you know you were nothing more than a tool to him. That’s all you ever were just an emotionless tool in the end, so how could you be sad?”
Episode 9 is where we see Violet start to spiral. As she begins to understand her past actions, she has her first nightmare, seeing Major Gilbert in what looked like the moments before his death, and he tells her, “Letters, you say? With the same hands that took all those lives?”
As she wakes from her nightmare, she gets upset, swiping everything from her desk and pausing before harming a stuffed dog given to her by Hodgins at the beginning of the series. She crouches to the floor, and for a short period of time starts to strangle herself, before dropping her arms and sobbing for the Majors orders.
It's at this point when the series takes a turn. Violet is involved in much more high stakes situations, at one point travelling deep into what used to be enemy territory. There she is recognized by rebel forces who want to continue the war. Yet they back down quickly, as they are unwilling to tangle with “Liedenshaftlich’s Battle Maiden” even when she states her unwillingness to kill them.
What I believe is her second pivotal moment in the series happens at the end of episode 12 and the beginning of episode 13, the final two episodes. While Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea is escorting a special envoy to a peace treaty signing, Violet sneaks aboard the train after seeing signs of sabotage along the tracks. The rebel forces mentioned before, had snuck aboard the train and were attempting to stop the peace treaty signing.
As the episodes came to a peak, Violet faces what is assumed to be the entirety of the remaining rebel army on the top of the train. She tries desperately to fight all of them, and would have easily succeeded, if it weren’t for the fact that she was now committed to not killing. In an attempt to save one of the enemy soldiers, she is brought down by the others. Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea comes to her rescue, but is in turned saved by Violet just as she had saved his brother in the past.
Violet Evergarden, despite being used as a weapon of war for most of her life, is a pure soul. And regardless of her being a fictional character, she is realistic in her trauma and imperfections. The entire series is from an outsider’s perspective, rarely do we see things from Violet’s point of view, and that is the brilliance of her character and the writing of the series.
I don’t think there was a scene from Violet’s viewpoint that I didn’t wind up crying at least a little bit, and I’m sure others who have watched the series will know what I mean.
In most of the episodes, we see the people around Violet as they view her, and while they recognize that she is a strange and almost mechanical girl, not many of them realize what she’s been through and what could possibly be going on in her head. Yet, those that do, such as Captain Dietfried and Hodgins either treat her with disgust or treat her like she’s an old war veteran and not a vulnerable 14-year-old with poor societal understanding.
The character development written into Violet Evergarden is stunning. It finds a way to be relatable, especially the way that childhood trauma often sneaks up on those who suffer from it. Upon my second viewing of the series, I found myself extremely sad for Violet and angry with those who put her in that position. I often pondered, how any adult could be so heartless as to put a child in that position.
Yet, I also feel as if that was the focal point of her character, and that the audience was meant to feel that way. If we aren’t outraged at the thought of adults exploiting children, then are we any better than those adults that would exploit children? If we don’t speak out against the injustices around us, are we not allowing them to continue happening?