“Bender? Are you crying?”
“Uh, no! Never!”
–Fry and Bender, Futurama
When the Drossel Royal Family makes the request for Violet to help Isabella York, a student at a renowned boarding school, in preparation for a début, Violet spends three months at the academy. Isabella is initially cold towards Violet, and Violet observes that Isabella is distant from the other students, as well as appearing quite unfamiliar with the formalities and conventions of higher society. Violet’s patience and understanding allows her to assist Isabella, impressing her classmates, and over time, Isabella begins to open up to Violet. One evening, when Isabella suffers from a coughing fit, Violet spends the night by her side to ensure her well-being, and Isabella sees that Violet is someone who genuinely cares for her. Bit by bit, Isabella and Violet become friends, sharing their backgrounds with one another. It turns out that Isabella was born Amy Bartlett, an illegitimate child of an aristocratic family, but was sent off to live in poverty. Here, she took in a small child, Taylor, and cared for Taylor as her sister. When the war ended, the York family found her and invited her to join their family, as well as assuring Taylor’s well-being. Thus, the two became separated. After Violet takes Isabella to the debutante ball, Isabella asks Violet to write a letter to Taylor. With her work done, Violet returns to Leden, and Benedict delivers Isabella’s letter to Taylor, who is at an orphanage. Three years later, Taylor’s run away from her orphanage and heads to Leden, where she finds the CH Postal Company and asks to become a courier. Benedict is reluctant to take on Taylor as an apprentice, but Hodgins, recalling Violet’s starts with CH Postal, asks Benedict to give her a chance, and also has Violet teach Taylor the fundamentals of reading and writing. While out on a delivery route with Taylor, Violet learns that Taylor’s come to believe that a courier delivers happiness, and agrees to help Taylor write a letter to Isabella. Benedict agrees to find Isabella’s address and deliver this letter after acquiring a new motorcycle, and takes Taylor with him to deliver the letter. When Benedict reaches Isabella’s estate, he delivers the letter, but Taylor decides to meet her another time, once she’s become a full-fledged courier. Later, Taylor is adopted into the Evergarden family. This is Violet Evergarden‘s Side Story, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll; originally premièring in September 2019, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is a film that expands on Kyoto Animation’s portrayal of the Violet Evergarden universe, which follows the titular Violet Evergarden and her journey to understand the meaning of the phrase “I love you”.
Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of Violet Evergarden differs from the themes of the original light novels: in choosing to focus exclusively in Violet’s growth as a person, from a war machine to someone with feelings and empathy acute enough to perform an excellent job as a ghost writer, the Violet Evergarden of Kyoto Animation is not subtle in its themes, which speak to the strength of words and how letters can carry feelings that transcend space and time. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll continues on in this tradition, but appends to the theme that, through befriending Isabella, Violet’s become one step closer to understanding love. Through Violet’s time with Isabella, the latter comes to appreciate that Violet is always genuinely concerned for her, and moreover, because Violet’s experienced her own loss, both of Gilbert and her own arms, she is able to empathise with Isabella, who regrets her separation from Taylor every day. The Violet we see in Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is someone who’s made considerable strides in understanding others, having seen love in its many forms, and also how intangibles are communicated. With Isabella, her task might not involve ghost-writing, but similar skills in empathy and understanding the environment allow Violet to do her best; when Isabella wonders why Violet is so perfect (to the point that the academy’s other students praise her devotion and character), Violet responds that this is the job asked of her, and that Violet acts precisely as a girl from a background of privilege does exemplifies that she is very attuned to her surroundings. As such, when Isabella begins counting Violet as a friend, Violet feels the sincerity behind her actions and reciprocates; in being able to make friends without any external guidance, Violet has shown herself as being able to continuously form more meaningful connections with others, which in turn sets the groundwork for her to find a way towards the strongest kind of love of all.
While Violet Evergarden had typically focused on the magical ability of letters to convey complex emotions, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll also touches lightly on the ideas of technological progress, specifically, how the world around Violet is changing rapidly even as she continues to do her best each and every day. Throughout the film, characters comment on the changes in the world around them. From Taylor being impressed with electric lamps, which replace older gas lamps, to the inclusion of elevators in newer buildings and the construction of a radio tower, the world of Violet Evergarden is pushing forwards in the same manner the real world has. These changes create new conveniences for the world’s inhabitants, but they can also be a hindrance; upon using an elevator for the first time, Violet remarks that a lift would’ve been faster, and Benedict does not initially appear too fond of the radio tower in representing a new form of communication. However, as he succinctly puts it, progress waits for no one, and it’s a matter of adapting. The arrival of radio in the real world had far-reaching implications on how people communicated: from the personalised touch of words written onto paper and hand-delivered, to the ability to reach more people than was ever thought possible, radio fundamentally changed the way people communicated, increasing the speed and efficiency things could be done at the expense of a more human touch. In the present day, the advancements arising from these early steps have made it possible to carry out things like algorithmic management, in which complex subroutines can autonomously direct human workers. While efficient, such systems are also described as incredibly impersonal and cold, having their own sets of challenges for those they manage. The arrival of increasingly familiar technologies in Violet Evergarden, then, show that even Violet’s world is not immune to progress. However, although technology may one day render the courier an obsolete function, and similarly, letters an obsolete mode of communication, there remains a charm and romance in being able to convey one’s emotions by hand and then delivering feelings, having been captured onto a more tangible medium, to its intended recipient. In this way, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll makes a wonderful case in that, even if technology does render some forms of communication irrelevant, the older forms persist because there are some things that new technology cannot capture.
Screenshots and Commentary
- It’s been about a year and a half since Violet grace this blog with her visage: the last time I wrote about Violet Evergarden, I was writing about the OVA where Violet was sent to help an opera singer write a song, and while she’d initially had her struggles, she rose to the occasion magnificently and succeeded. When I first heard of Violet Evergarden, it was 2016: I was a few weeks before starting my graduate defense, and a friend had shown me a trailer, asking if I’d known about the series. Aside from a cursory remark that Violet looked like Your Lie in April‘s Kaori Miyazono, I had nothing more to say.
- By the time Violet Evergarden had come out, my friend had forgotten about the series, but I decided to pick it up, and I was not disappointed. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll continues on in the same vein as its predecessor, featuring a moving story, stunning visuals and excellent voice work. Violet is voiced by Yui Ishikawa (Azur Lane‘s very own Enterprise, Eromanga Sensei‘s Tomoe Takasago and China Kousaka of Gundam Build Fighers), while Minako Kotobuki (K-On!‘s Tsumugi Kotobuki and Asuka Tanaka of Hibike! Euphonium) plays Isabella.
- It would seem that Isabella is a relatively recent student of the girls’ academy: she’s shown as being quite unable to become comfortable with the customs and ways of the upper classes, and even eating with the right utensils comes as a challenge to her. Personally, I’m used to eating with chopsticks (which commands an entirely different set of etiquette), although I am familiar with more formal, multi-course dinners where forks and knives are laid out: the way is to eat using the utensils on the outside first and work one’s way inwards as courses are served. The scene brings to mind a moment from Titanic, where Jack Dawson is given a crash course on this when dining with the first class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukaterr.
- Isabella’s feeling of isolation is apparent: compared to the other girls, she projects a different atmosphere and isn’t at home with putting on airs. This creates a bit of distance with her classmates, who, despite their backgrounds, seem friendly enough. However, when Violet demonstrates her patience and willingness to help Isabella out, the distance melts away, and slowly but surely, a friendship blossoms. One touch I particularly liked was that, after spending an entire night awake to ensure Isabella was tended to, Isabella wondered if Violet was tired, and Violet attempts to reassure Isabella she’s fine, having been accustomed to staying up at night, but then fails to stifle a yawn.
- In flashbacks, Isabella’s previous life is shown. She lived in abject poverty and sold flowers for a meagre living, but her world changed after she met Taylor. Deciding to look after Taylor, Isabella resolved to make Taylor’s life as happy as possible. Even if it was tough, Taylor and Isabella, then Amy Bartlett, shared many a happy memory together. Taylor had been the one person Isabella had been close to, and it isn’t until Violet’s arrival that her outlook on the world begins to change.
- After Violet does Isabella’s hair in preparation for the day ahead, Isabella returns the favour, and like Ena Saitou of Yuru Camp△, opens by messing with Violet’s hair before setting it in a style Violet is okay with. While Violet now is as human as everyone else, she still retrains traces of her old training and habits; she remarks that hair covering her eyes could be a hazard after Isabella styles her hair a certain way. Afterwards, Isabella attempts to convince Violet to skip class, but Violet remains steadfast that Isabella must remain true to her obligations.
- Having long been plagued by dreams of Taylor, Isabella would often awaken with tears in her eyes. Violet’s presence helps her to relax a little, and reduces the intensity of the feelings of longing that Isabella has. Further helping her, Violet occasionally swaps stories with Isabella, which puts her own experiences in perspective and serves to show her that there are others with similar backgrounds.
- Three months pass in the blink of an eye, and soon, it is the day of Isabella’s début. CH Postal also sends Violet a special suit for the occasion. With both Isabella and Violet sporting a brooch of different colours, this is a subtle way of juxtaposing the similarities and differences between the two.
- The formal ball is a great success, and aside from capturing the admiration of all those in attendance, Isabella also has a spectacular time, as well. It is here that Isabella’s progress is shown; despite struggling with activities and customs expected of society’s upper echelons, she makes strides with Violet’s help, and during the ball, dances with grace. Because social dancing is a part of the upper class’ activities, and is a rather involved skill, that Isabella’s cultivated her skills to this level in three months shows that under Violet’s tutelage, she’s learned well.
- Prior to her being asked to join the York family, Isabella had barely scratch a living off selling flowers. The user of winter imagery, and the warm lighting in Isabella’s old residence after she’d met Taylor, served to illustrate the stark contrast that she saw the world in: even though she remained quite poor after taking Taylor in, her world had changed. She now had someone to look after, someone whose happiness mattered, and this made everything worthwhile. Thus, when the York family arrived and promised both a better life, even though Isabella’s conditions have improved, she still sorely misses Taylor, who was her one light.
- Because she’s now accepted Violet in full, Isabella has one final request for Violet – to write a letter to Taylor. Violet complies, and finishes the letter prior to leaving. She promises that this letter will be delivered to Taylor. As a side story rather than a continuation, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll does not have an all-new soundtrack. Instead, a selection of Evan Call’s best pieces from Violet Evergarden‘s soundtrack are used.
- It speaks volumes to the original series’ soundtrack that the music, with a few minor adjustments to fit the scene, remain immensely effective in Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll. While Isabella is more than willing to pay for the letter, Violet waives this, saying that it was a favour between friends, and the two depart. Violet and Isabella will not cross paths again in this film, but the assignment, and the resulting experiences, leave a tangible impact on both Isabella and Violet.
- To leave viewers on the note that Isabella is going to be alright, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll has another classmate approach her and expressing a desire to speak freely, to learn more about one another. The old Isabella would’ve been taken aback, but as she is now, Isabella is able to reply and begin opening up to her other classmates, as well. Thus, Isabella’s story has concluded for the present, and the film can shift its focus to Taylor.
- Benedict arrives at the orphanage where Taylor currently lives to deliver her letter. Taylor is illiterate, having never learnt to read and write, and she asks Benedict to read her the letter. The contents of the letter are simple but moving: in times of difficulty, Taylor should recall Isabella’s old name, “Amy”, to find strength to endure and overcome. For Benedict, this was a simple enough delivery, but for Taylor, her world changes. She’d had fond memories of Isabella, and while her living conditions have improved since, she still desires to meet up with her once more.
- Three years later, an older Taylor arrives at Leden and CH Postal’s headquarters with the sole intent of meeting Benedict, who’d delivered her letter. It turns out that Violet had also written a second letter, from her personally to Taylor, saying to find her if anything should happen. While Benedict is completely taken aback, having long forgotten the delivery, Hodgins decides to have Taylor shadow as an apprentice under Benedict and Violet, seeing the same determination in Taylor that he saw in Violet.
- Taylor’s illiteracy initially proves to be a problem: she’s unable to read addresses, only knowing numbers. However, Benedict still has her help with deliveries, leaving her impressed with how well he knows Leden. This in turn inspires her further, and Violet takes on the task of helping Taylor learn the basics. The language of the Violet Evergarden universe is a fictional one, but because this is an anime, Taylor starts to learn Japanese hiragana. In an English dub, these would doubtlessly be switched out for the alphabet.
- Violet also takes Taylor on a few deliveries, helping her to get used to routing and also give her field experience in reading the addresses from a letter, then matching that to a destination. While making a delivery to an apartment, Violet and Taylor enter an elevator, and Violet is initially confused at how it works: elevators have been around since ancient times, but powered elevators began appearing in the mid-1800s as a result of development in mining technology. With Elisha Otis’ developing a safety elevator in 1854, elevators became more popular, and automated elevators became commonplace by the 1900s, although like Violet, most customers found them cumbersome and were therefore unwilling to operate them.
- Thus, dedicated staff were hired to operate elevators until 1945, when features of modern elevators began appearing, prompted by an elevator operator strike in the United States. Technology goes through similar phases, and phones were the same way, with users finding them convenient when they worked, but were otherwise complex systems that required staff to make the connection. Automation has since taken over, making phones an indispensable form of communication that, like a letter, can carry feelings and emotion over space and time to its recipient in the form of sound.
- As time wears on, Taylor becomes better versed in written language, being able to read and write to a limited extent. One evening, Violet takes her to the CH Postal’s rooftop to stargaze after speaking with her, and the conversation turns towards Taylor’s wish to write a letter to Isabella. With assistance from Violet, Taylor writes out a letter, demonstrating her progress in learning how to write, but also showing her determination. There is, however, a caveat: after Isabella graduated, she married an aristocrat of sorts but never left an address at the behest of the York family. Thus, finding Isabella would be a challenge.
- Between Benedict’s resourcefulness and determination, with a bit of luck, CH Postal does end up finding Isabella’s current address: it’s a stately stone mansion in the countryside. Knowing how much this means to Taylor, CH Postal decides to have her accompany Benedict on the delivery. Benedict agreed to the assignment on one condition: that CH Postal procure a new motorcycle to replace his aging one, which had been so ancient that neighbourhood kids poked fun at it. The new motorcycle puts a genuine smile on Benedict’s face, and after Violet wishes them a safe journey, they head off.
- It turns out that Isabella’s been living a quieter life since she became married, and despite her husband, Count Neville, frequently hosting events at his estate, few people have seen Isabella. This is understandable, given that Isabella’s always been frail, but in spite of this, Count Neville also is shown to care about Isabella, constructing a beautiful garden in the estate’s back that overlooks an area of unspoiled natural beauty for Isabella to enjoy.
- Knowing this, Benedict manages to find Isabella while she’s on her afternoon walk. The scenery here is breathtaking, and the estate’s garden opens to a forested park beside a pond. The presence of nature conveys a sense of utter tranquility that suits Isabella. When she’s seen taken her stroll, she is at peace; Violet would be happy to know that her friend had made it and is doing well.
- In Taylor’s letter, she expresses gratitude for all Isabella had done for her, and understanding towards why Isabella ended up making the choices that she did. Even after everything that’s happened, Taylor feels nothing but happiness and counts Isabella as her sister. The strength of these emotions reach Isabella, who dissolves in tears. At this time, Isabella has no idea just how close Taylor is, and a part of me had been hoping that Taylor would be seized with a desire to reveal herself.
- Taylor, however, feels it to be more appropriate and reunite properly after she’s become a proper courier, to show Isabella that she’s made it. Thus, she decides to remain hidden for the present. With the letter delivered at the film’s climax, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll enters its denouement. During the six-and-a-half month gap between when the film was screened in Japan and when its home release became available, I’ve done my utmost to avoid spoilers for it. Now, with the movie in the books, looking back at the materials out there, it turns out discussion on this film’s been limited.
- However, par the course for every anime movie, there were some who flew to Japan with the express purpose of watching Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll and then tear down the film to have their opinion of things be the established one. In the well-heeded Anime News Network review, it is argued that then film is disjointed and the themes are entirely with “classism and heteronormativity” but are explored in “a resigned way, as if they are obstacles that can never be overcome”. In a different series, were Violet not the protagonist of Violet Evergarden, such a remark may have some merit, but the reviewer here fails to understand that Violet Evergarden isn’t about class struggles or social issues. The series is about Violet and her discoveries, with the assignments she takes, and the people she encounter, being a part of her experiences, some of which give insight into a world with older values and customs.
- It is evident that Anime News Network is ill-suited for writing about Kyoto Animation’s works: their review on Chikai no Finale and Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll demonstrates a lack of appreciation for the individual perspective on things, and in general, folks looking to gain a better measure of things would find it much more meaningful to watch both movies for themselves: going in blind yields the superior experience to having any prior expectations or misconceptions that any review (including mine) have created. Back in Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, with the day over, Benedict and Taylor prepare to head back to Leden under a sunset that reminds me of the journey from Paris to Laval that I took four years ago for a conference.
- Now adopted into the Evergarden family, Taylor and Violet are technically sisters, too. She’s seen studying writing and reading with ardour, pursing her dream of becoming a courier in earnest. One final remark I have as this talk draws to a close is the matter of literacy: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll gives a glimpse into how difficult illiteracy can make things for people, especially considering the prevalence of written communication in contemporary society is. It was therefore especially heartwarming to see Taylor take up her studies with such honest effort, which would in turn better her future. and help her in realising her aspirations.
- Because this weekend is the Easter weekend, I’ve had an opportunity to unwind a bit more than usual. Besides watching Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, I also began my journey into GoldenEye: Rogue Agent for the classic GameCube and enjoyed a simple, but delicious Easter dinner of turkey with stuffing and homemade turkey gravy, ham with Dijon-Honey mustard, Shrimp Cocktail and garlic-seasoned Cauliflower. Turkey is a bit of a treat, and I recall previous years where preparations could take upwards of eight hours, but thanks to a solid recipe, we’ve figured out how to get tender and juicy turkey every time now. While festive dinners tend to be very ornate, they can be stressful, so one approach we’ve embraced is to keep it simple, focusing on making a few simple dishes very well, rather than doing complex dishes.
- Of course, the leftover turkey bones and meat that were not carved will be great in a turkey congee in the near future, and I return to Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll: as the film draws to a close, Violet sets off for her next assignment with a light smile on her face as she enjoys the beautiful country air. Smiles from Violet are about as rare as smiles from The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi‘s Yuki Nagato and therefore, are moments to be enjoyed. While I’ve been calling it a film throughout this discussion, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is actually just a side story (albeit an incredibly well-done one); there is a continuation to Violet Evergarden that was originally set to release earlier this year, but the current world health crisis has understandably pushed the release date back. I still have plans to write about this continuation and will do so once the opportunity presents itself.
- The film wraps up with Taylor smiling broadly, with a bright future to work towards. Because the film hits all of the emotional chords well, tears were never really too far off while I was watching Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, and recalling my modus operandi of awarding the masterpiece designation to anything that can make me cry (this explains the page quote, as well), Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll scores an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, ten of ten) for me. In retrospect, Violet Evergarden itself is a masterpiece because it so viscerally conveys emotions, and few other series (save CLANNAD and Angel Beats!) have so convincingly allowed me to feel what the characters were feeling.
Violet Evergarden‘s side story thus ends up being a technically and narratively excellent piece: as a standalone story given additional runtime to truly flesh out its messages, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is a spectacular work where the sum of its components, from its natural but logical character growth, to the visual and aural aspects, all come together to deliver a work that captivates its viewers. Having come to see how far Violet’s come, viewers are inclined to follow her experiences and whole-heartedly support her actions, which are firmly established to be helping her client to the greatest extent possible. While viewers have no doubt that Violet will succeed, the meaning comes from watching how Violet accomplishes this. Through nurture, care and attention paid to detail, Violet’s stoic but meticulous methods yield definitive results, and watching both Isabella and Taylor find their paths again proves to be immensely rewarding. It typifies Kyoto Animation’s ability to bring out the emotions of every scene as effectively as they do, and their talents for compelling viewers to feel precisely what the characters feel. Kyoto Animation is a powerhouse studio that has honed their craft to mastery, and even in spite of last year’s unfortunate arson incident, that their works continue to remain of such a high calibre speaks volumes to the commitment and dedication of their staff. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, dedicated to those who lost their lives in the arson attack in 2019, continues on Kyoto Animation’s best in their honour and shows that people, through resilience and support for one another, can endure crisis to come out stronger on the other side. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is therefore, a veritable masterpiece to watch; whether one has familiarity with Violet Evergarden or not is irrelevant, since this film is able to stand on its own merits and capture emotions in a way few others can.