The second episode of Violet Evergarden offers a different flavor, in a way that’s very representative of the duo of directors handling the show; after the bombastic premiere by Taichi Ishidate, it’s the turn of young series director Haruka Fujita and her much more delicate, understated, and always very thoughtful approach to making anime. Let’s explore the countless details she filled the episode with, as well as more general points regarding this spectacular production. Enjoy!
Key Animation: Seiichi Akitake, Taira Yamaguchi, Kohei Okamura, Sayaka Watanabe, Chiharu Kuroda, Rie Sezaki
─ Series director Haruka Fujita arrived with a fully original episode meant to flesh out characters added by this adaptation, make the workplace more of an entity, and even get some comedic mileage out of Violet’s emotional immaturity. It lacks the grandeur of Taichi Ishidate‘s introduction to some degree ─ though the climactic conversation under the rain fits the bombastic tone he’s going for, both in the unsubtle approach and gorgeous look ─ but is much more rewarding on a personal level. Fujita infuses her episodes with a myriad of details and purposeful shots, giving a much more pragmatic spin to her Yamada influences; understated details like the difference between Violet and Hodgins’s treatment of the plushies and the space left for a friend who’s now gone, composition tricks like the reflections used in scenes dealing with the subterfuges in communication, and even exploiting the fact that it’s animation to change the river’s current to capture the protagonist’s mindset. Making everything count isn’t the only valid approach for anime directors, but Haruka Fujita is becoming quite good at that nonetheless. If you’re not particularly concerned with tangible milestones, chances are that you’ll have enjoyed this episode much more than the flashier premiere.
─ And beyond preferences, there’s no denying that Fujita is the kind of director that inspires writers, no matter where they’re from and the angle they prefer to take. I always have a hard time keeping up with my peers, but I know Emily Rand was delighted to see Fujita approach her personal interest with more nuance than Ishidate did, and took the episode as an opportunity to dig into the setting some more. On the other side of the pond I’d like to highlight the work of sirooo, who runs a blog and twitter account with goals similar to ours. One of his points that stood out to me the most was how much care Fujita put into the storyboard in relation to Erika. For the most part, the surroundings dwarf and point her downwards, imprison her. Whenever there’s a succession of cuts featuring Violet and her, the former has a tendency to occupy straightforward, perpendicular positions towards the camera, whereas Erika clearly feels uncomfortable under the spotlight and actively tries to move away from it. Some shots are very explicit about how she’s overwhelmed by a coworker who’s similar yet very different from her. It’s not until the end, after talking with Violet, that she’s ready to face her life. That’s all overtly stated, but it’s wonderful how it’s presented in such a coherent way. Fujita’s technical aptitude is beyond her age.
─ KyoAni decided to share footage of the in-betweening process this time around, which is a good chance to rep a wildly underrated task. Keep in mind that this is work without much room for personal expression as it’s essentially filling the blanks on a sequence that’s already been defined, meaning that obvious success is almost impossible to achieve and yet failure can be devastating; we all have scenes we remember where it’s obvious the original keys were good, but the final sequence ends up looking awkward due to poor or straight up lacking in-betweens. And while those are admittedly extreme cases, the core issue has become the norm: almost every episode of anime nowadays features scenes that don’t live up to their potential, because the final step in the animation process is done in the most crude ways possible. Outsourced en masse, paid like absolute crap, given no time, and perhaps most worryingly, treated as a training step that newcomer animators must quickly grow up from. How are we supposed to receive good work from professionals who are treated this poorly even by the industry’s low standards? What’s the incentive to polish up the specific skills an in-betweener needs when you start charging them for your desk if they don’t pass your key animation exam fast enough? One of the many reasons why Ghibli’s output was consistently outstanding was because they had an excellent in-betweening crew which they respected, to the point they had renowned individuals in that regard ─ something essentially impossible when it comes to anime as a whole. With them sort of gone, KyoAni’s the one lone survivor in this regard. While it’s often the starting point for newcomers, staying there is an option as long as they find the post fulfilling. Nowadays they’ve got career in-betweeners who have been working on that field for decades, and are understandably quite good at their job. It’s no coincidence that this exception happens to be at the studio consistently putting out immensely high quality work. So yeah, respect in-betweeners!
─ Since I’m already talking about aspects that aren’t valued enough, let me dedicate another nod to the beautiful sceneries and how they come to be. The background art in Kyoto Animation series mostly comes from 3 sources: their art department in the Kyoto buildings handles the vast majority of it, then comes their Korean subsidiary ST BLUE, and finally Anime Kobo Basara; the company led by the fantastic art director Seiki Tamura, whose warm world you might currently be enjoying in March comes in like a lion, had a lot of influence on Violet Evergarden‘s art director Mikiko Watanabe in particular. This episode was handled by a long time painter in their Kyoto headquarters alongside 3 artists from ST BLUE ─ a relatively weak lineup all things considered, but they still got to illustrate beautiful surroundings and even bring to life previously seen artboards in a more striking way. The reason I mention the studio’s usual production cycle is because this project actually has the chance to have all backgrounds painted by KyoAni and their substudios, which would take them to the absolute self-sufficiency no anime studio has. I’m not convinced it’ll happen since as I said Watanabe really appreciates Anime Kobo Basara’s work, but the ample schedule and small groups of staff per episode would allow it. That’s another aspect to keep an eye on.
─ Moving onto the animation: supervisor Chiyoko Ueno encompasses the range of the studio’s crew very well, while managing to be one of the most notable figures on both ends of the stylized cartoon vs detailed reality spectrum… which I think is a bit of a false dichotomy, but let’s leave that for another day. The main point is that when she supervises episodes in shows with more simple designs ─ the likes of K-ON!, Nichijou, Maidragon ─ she has a tendency to guide the staff towards fun, cartoony animation as the number one priority, whereas in projects like this she takes the already very detailed designs and brings it to frankly ridiculous levels. The entire episode manages to move freely in spite of the tremendous linecount that should act as its chains, peaking with an epilogue that will leave you speechless; Violet’s new look packs the punch it needed, but props to the scene at the bar as well for sporting nothing but excellent drawings. And while we’re on that, congratulations to the photography department for getting their chance to show off as well with those shots of his drink.
─ Only 6 key animators were credited this time around, and 4 of them already worked on the first episode. If you get the feeling that it’s crazy, let me ensure you that it absolutely is. It’s mostly Ueno’s personality that stands out when it comes to the animation, but Seiichi Akitake‘s clothing folds return in strong form as well. Ex-animation director Rie Sezaki was in charge of the clean-up, following the trend of experienced supervisors who make sure the quality of the drawings even after stepping down from the role with more responsibility. It feels weird to call an episode like this energy conservation, but considering the production, it technically is.