A few months ago we published a comprehensive look at the core staff of The [email protected] SideM, and since people found that helpful we decided to put up something similar for another upcoming series with an interesting lineup. This is essentially what we do on seasonal previews with some more focus: a look at the key creators in the project as well as the circumstances surrounding the production. Let’s see what’s up with Violet Evergarden.
Director: Taichi Ishidate
Ishidate arrived at Kyoto Animation around 15 years ago and has spent his entire career over there, despite joining quite literally on a whim. Over time he’s become one of the most influential figures within the studio, especially as far as animation is concerned. He’s the natural heir to Yoshiji Kigami’s spectacular approach to 2D effects, to which he’s given his personal spin, and just about as proficient at passionate character acting. His action mastery puts him in a special place within the studio; there aren’t that many creators who specialize on that surrounding him, so it makes quite the difference when people like Shinpei Sawa or himself are involved in a fight scene.
As interesting as his animation work is – not just in a pure movement sense, but also how he constructs it when storyboarding – his ability as a director is more relevant here. His series directional debut Kyoukai no Kanata earned him the scorn of western critics, who blamed him for the trite material he had been tasked with. The idea that it’s more sensible to judge directors by their approach than by what they work on is something that I keep on hammering about, though I’m aware that it’s probably too nebulous of a concept for most fans. It’s particularly funny in Ishidate’s case though, since many of the episodes he’s been in charge of (particularly in shows like Hyouka and Euphonium) are critically lauded work. He was the studio’s de facto finale director for good reason! Mind you, it’s important to understand that the skillset as episode director and series director is quite different, so you can be an ace as the former while stumbling at the latter. There are some notable cases within KyoAniDo itself, where sensational episode directors like Hiroko Utsumi and Kigami have shown to lack the vision required to be a good project leader. However, this doesn’t seem to apply to Ishidate, who actually had plenty of good ideas that were simply insufficient to salvage the uninspired light novel he was first entrusted with. With blatantly more unique material like Violet Evergarden and the extra experience he now has as series director, chances are that he’ll amaze people who had written him off.
Character Designer: Akiko Takase
Takase’s career has been a joy to follow. After graduating from university in 2012-2013, she joined Kyoto Animation and was immediately promoted to key animator. Her student work makes it obvious that she had been influenced by them to begin with, so it’s not that much of a surprise that she fit in immediately – especially considering that she turned out to be incredibly talented. Her obscenely detailed art and even eye for fashion was quickly noticed by fans, but even the most optimistic ones couldn’t have expected how fast she moved up. The studio regularly allows young animators to handle the art for the company’s novels, but Violet Evergarden remaining on her hands when getting animated wasn’t a given. And not only was she allowed to supervise its commercials, she even got promoted to animation director way faster than usual. Her astonishing solo debut on Euphonium S2 #9 (alongside Ishidate, since they’ve been working as a unit for a while) went far beyond what you would expect from a newbie; her intricate drawings moved with a liveliness you wouldn’t expect from something that detailed, proving that she was more than an exceptional illustrator.
The standard move would have still been to replace her for the series, but as it turns out her talent has convinced the studio that she’s already prepared to handle an entire series. Evergarden will always remain her project, so it’s interesting to see how she’s been gradually tweaking the art: the transition from novel to commercial required some stylization, and after the first one she went on to alter the forms to make them softer and more suited to movement. The first key visual for the series serves as a declaration of intent that she still wants to keep an outlandish level of detail in the designs, but if anyone can pull that off it’s her. She even gets teased by her seniors at work because of how many hair lines she likes to draw! I get the feeling that someone else will assist her on the chief animation direction duties due to the scale of the project and her lack of experience, but her feats are amazing nonetheless. Takase is easily KyoAni’s most promising up-and-coming animator and this is her first big chance. Exciting times!
Series Composition: Reiko Yoshida
Now this was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Yoshida has a solid relationship with the studio, but it had always been linked to her friendship with Naoko Yamada – she had been the main writer for all of Yamada’s projects, but never led another director’s series. When it comes to adaptations in particular, writers have less room for expression than fans seem to believe, and most people working in the industry don’t have much of a distinct personal voice to begin with. Don’t take this as a way to discredit them, if anything I wish they got yelled at less for things they’re not at fault about! Yoshida has managed to stand out amongst her peers due to her excellent ability to humanize the characters, so I’m always glad to see her attached to any project. I don’t think she necessarily has the same goals as Ishidate, but I hope that means they get to complement each other. Even in her collaborations with Yamada they clearly pursue different objectives and yet often achieve superb results, which is what I’m hoping for here. According to the few people who have actually read the novels, their potential is high but some heavy reworks are required. A talented series composer is the first step towards that.
Art Director: Mikiko Watanabe?
At this point we’re speculating, since the new Evergarden website doesn’t actually list its art director. We do have the staff for the commercials though, and that has so far remained the same. It’s obvious that there has been a big change in how they approach the backgrounds between those and the series proper: from a beautiful but clean look to this striking rougher painting. The drawings themselves resemble the world she crafted for Maidragon, so despite this notorious evolution she might have kept her role. Since the key visual even gives off Euphonium vibes, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had taken cues from Mutsuo Shinohara and even replaced the color designer.
Production and general thoughts
The most surprising news aren’t those related to the creators themselves, but the way they’re operating. The announcement that they will prescreen the first episode of Violet Evergarden at Anime Expo in about 3 weeks, thus effectively 6 months before its broadcast, is by all means extraordinary. Its main staff was suspiciously missing from recent projects (effectively making just about half an episode of Maidragon), which now makes more sense. At this point you’re likely aware of how last-minute TV anime production tends to be. And even though KyoAni is known for their stronger planning, this is outside the norm for them as well. While I get the feeling that they’re going to rush this first episode to make it to this deadline, that will still let them to comfortably finish the rest in a way TV projects aren’t allowed to. And that’s the thing: this isn’t quite a TV series, despite receiving a normal broadcast. Disclaimers about its worldwide reach have been attached to the project ever since the beginning, and still are featured prominently in its website. KyoAni is moving away from the TV space faster than the industry as a whole, which might have positive effects…but also limits their ability to immediately reach international fans, just as the overseas market keeps on booming. It seems like they’re aware of this rare opportunity to connect with international fandom, with a work that is perhaps tonally closer to what those people tend to seek to begin with. The studio might even be holding international rights themselves, but I’ll leave that talk for my colleague megax who will come to discuss international distribution of anime once again.
I’ll be honest and say that I’m personally more curious about the project than excited about this story, since it just doesn’t seem like my kind of thing. But the project as a whole, and what it represents for these creators, really interest me. Perhaps this time I’ll really get to be the nerd who geeks out about behind the scenes moves while not being all that invested in the series itself, which is what our lovely detractors accuse this site of being. Ooops!
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