Welcome to my first ever series, “My Friend Steven Recommends Me Anime”! Since I decided to start a new section on my blog for anime reviews, I thought, who better to ask for some anime recommendations than my friend Steven. In this series, I will be watching and reviewing five different anime shows that he has kindly suggested in no particular order whatsoever. Please note because I am a wimp who can’t stand blood or gore, highly rated (but extremely violent!) animes like Attack on Titan won’t be on this list. Still, I hope you enjoy this series despite the handicap 🙂

With stunningly beautiful animations and a touching story at its core, Violet Evergarden is an anime that will surely tug at your heart strings. Taking place right after the events of a terrible war, the show follows a young orphan girl (Violet) who struggles to rehabilitate into society after being used as a weapon of war. As she tries to discover her life’s true purpose, she takes on the role of an Auto Memory Doll in hopes of understanding the meaning behind her guardian’s final words: “I love you”. This show consists of 13 episodes and can be streamed on Netflix worldwide.

[Please note this review will contain spoilers; read at your own discretion]

Violet Evergarden holding a beautiful emerald brooch.

The show starts off incredibly slow, so be prepared for an uneventful and dull first five or so episodes. I would even argue the beginning verges on being confusing because not much gets explained at all. You get very little insight into Violet’s backstory, her relationship with the Major (or who the Major even is), and what happened during the war. Don’t worry though, all of this will be answered as you progress through the show, you just have to be patient. Once you meet all the main characters and get past Violet’s training arc as an Auto Memory Doll, things become much more interesting.

But I will say, when you first meet Violet, you’re probably going to find her very unlikable (I sure did). She appears extremely robotic, formal, and displays a strange obsession with the Major. I’m pretty sure every single sentence of hers in the first episode contains the word “Major” (joking, but also not really). I even remember thinking to myself, “there’s no way I’m going to enjoy this if the protagonist is this bland and one-dimensional”. So here’s my advice to you on how to get past this: in the beginning, just think of Violet as a child learning to talk for the first time except in her case, she’s learning how to feel emotions for the first time.

Hodgins walking down a path.

If you’re concerned the other characters share similar traits, let’s just say they’re pretty normal. While they don’t get much focus or development, they service the story well as supporting characters. There’s nothing problematic about them and I enjoyed seeing how kind and encouraging they were towards Violet throughout the entire show (I personally loved Hodgins the most). Honestly, they’re all mainly there to serve as Violet’s caretakers, but I still appreciated what they had to offer (except for Iris, she was kind of whiny and annoying).

For a majority of the show, you just follow Violet around as she travels to meet with different customers. Although the concept of being an Auto Memory Doll (essentially someone who helps others write letters) initially sounded pretty lame to me, it quickly became my favourite concept. I loved how it allowed the show to be split up into several mini stories all with the overarching goal of helping Violet discover what “I love you” means. It was heartwarming to see Violet become more human and experience emotions through absorbing other peoples’ experiences and I thought it was a clever way of having her character develop without anything really happening. If you’re thinking right now that this sounds awfully boring, just following some girl around and listening to different stories, trust me when I say, each story is a beautiful emotional bomb.

Violet Evergarden reading to a child.

Within the span of a single episode, this anime continuously managed to amaze me by unpacking a thoroughly executed story that is simultaneously heartbreaking, sweet, and hopeful. While of course some episodes are a lot more impactful than others (episodes 6, 7, 9-11), each one still offers a unique experience and expresses a different type of love from the previous. I became really invested in the show because every episode was fresh and explored an entirely new topic told by a different person. You might want to grab a box of tissues though because I definitely ended up crying at the end of 3 episodes back to back (episodes 9-11 if you’re wondering).

As each episode peeled back another one of Violet’s hardened layers, she’s revealed to be a much more intriguing and complex character than you might’ve thought. When you finally hit episode 8, everything starts piecing together. Learning about her traumatic history as an orphan who was taken advantage of by the army, you’ll feel a little more forgiving for her initial personality. How a child (about 10 years old?) manages to become a deadly killing machine is beyond me, but I guess that’s the power of anime. You also finally get flashbacks that show Violet’s relationship with the Major; in seeing how he was basically her guardian and was the only one who genuinely cared for her wellbeing, it makes sense why his death had such a big impact on her. Now did I particularly like or care for the Major? No – given that he still used a young child as a tool to fight in the war, it’s a little difficult to give him pity.

Violet Evergarden and her friends at the Auto Memory Doll office.

But the most heartbreaking moment of this series (in my opinion) actually comes after this revelation about her past: in summoning all her newfound emotions, Violet finally experiences the guilt of her past actions and asks Hodgins whether she deserves to live when she took away so many lives. I loved how deep this anime got and how it was unafraid to explore sensitive topics like this. While it was difficult watching Violet contemplate her worth, it was definitely a necessary arc that led to an immediate shift in her character.

Which is why the ending of this anime felt extremely satisfying to me. Not only do we witness Violet becoming an entirely new person, one who is capable of feeling and understanding, we get to hear her explicitly say she knows what “I love you” now means. In hearing her say that, I reflected on each letter she helped write and the impact it had on her growth. Knowing that it was the culmination of those encounters that guided her towards finally understanding what love is, it felt incredibly rewarding.

Photo of Violet Evergarden

While I’m positive this anime won’t be for everyone, I sincerely hope more people give it a shot anyway. The show has thoughtful storytelling, a well developed protagonist, and a gratifying ending. If anything, watch it for the beautiful animation alone! Although I’m not extremely well versed in anime, from what I have seen, Violet Evergarden has one of the most remarkable and dazzling art styles. I’m surprised I enjoyed this show as much as I did, but now I’m just really content that I’ve seen it (thanks Steven). After much difficult consideration, my final rating for Violet Evergarden is a solid 8.5/10. Though I did bump the score down because the beginning was a little less than interesting, it’s still a notably high rating from me (that’s how much I enjoyed it!). For those of you who have never dabbled in anime but love a good show focused more on playing into feelings and emotions rather than flashy spectacles, I’d happily recommend this one for you.