This week’s episode of Violet Evergarden is a chance to highlight all the detail and care put into the background elements, to make it feel like we’re only experiencing one of the many stories going on in this world. And as usual, it’s time for some notes about the production itself too, like the unbelievably small group of staff members who have contributed to the series so far.
Key Animation: Yoshinori Urata, Fumie Okano, Sana Suzuki, Aoi Okuno, Aoi Matsumoto, Kyohei Ando
─ After the impactful Taichi Ishidate and delicate Haruka Fujita, the work of Noriyuki Kitanohara inevitably comes off as a bit plain; he can’t pull off the grandeur of the former nor the nuance of the latter, and his undeniable mastery of exaggerated animation doesn’t quite fit this kind of material. Were it not for his management skills gained over time – he’s a veteran who’s handled close to 60 episodes at this point – and the fact that he does shine in comedic situations, I wouldn’t be surprised if he stepped off directorial duties, leaving more room to the talented youngsters who have matured at the studio as they’ve changed priorities over the last decade. There still were some nice touches, like his understated efforts to include sequences that bring attention to the brother’s injury, but the major points of interest this week lay elsewhere. Despite being yet another fully original episode, this sweet self-contained tale gradually pushing Violet forward should be more representative of the series going forward. I was a fan of how smartly woven into the setting it was, making the post-war element that’s always been one of the most interesting details about the series into a major point. Since they’ve insisted so much on accentuating Violet’s lack of emotional intelligence early on, the show kinda relies on one-off characters and the world itself to be compelling for now. Far from my favorite approach, but I have to acknowledge that I really do appreciate those aspects.
─ And speaking of one-off characters, if there’s something that stood out about Violet attending class it’s got to be the diversity of designs and the care put into all of them. Many character designers who have worked at the studio, pushed by the series directors themselves, have made it a tradition to draft multitudes of charming background individuals; the work of Yukiko Horiguchi on K-ON! and Tamako Market, alongside Futoshi Nishiya’s Hyouka designs, stands at the very top of the industry in this regard, making the recurring appearance of those classmates and neighbors into a secret delight. And when it comes to this, Violet Evergarden had a couple of notable hurdles to get over: Akiko Takase’s lack of experience, and the obscene level of detail she’d equipped the main characters with – coming up with enough unique designs that stand on equal terms to such intricate main cast is no easy feat, especially on your first gig as designer… unless you’re Takase, by the looks of it. Diverse facial structures and outfits, and beyond everything else, immense care put into the depiction of one-off characters whose names we’ll never known but who pass off as the protagonists of their own stories. Every episode makes it clearer why Violet Evergarden’s designer is the kind of newbie capable of leaving her talented coworkers speechless.
— 「ヴァイオレット・エヴァーガーデン」公式 (@Violet_Letter) January 25, 2018
─ If we’re speaking about careful depiction of usually minor elements, there’s something that I’ve been meaning to talk about and that you’ve likely already noticed. All the food, various objects, and of course the typewriters themselves are obscenely detailed, essentially taking the same approach for the world and the characters. The culprits in this case are the two prop designers: Hiroyuki Takahashi and Minoru Ota. The latter is a younger animator from Osaka who is beginning to get entrusted with minor design tasks, but Takahashi is clearly the star here. His style has always been a bit dry compared to his peers, which he made into one of his strengths by honing his skills handling solid objects. He was, alongside Kitanohara, one of the mecha animation directors when the studio handled projects like FMP, and nowadays he keeps drafting and supervising the props on many shows. His magnum opus is obviously the Euphonium series, where he designed the instruments and served as supervisor for their animation on every single episode of the series. A single look at Violet’s arms and her typing shows the expertise he’s gained in this regard. Since mechanical work is something Takase has no interest in, they complement each other quite well.
─ Following all this talk about the depiction of Violet Evergarden’s world, let me add the mandatory mention to the background art. Last week I speculated that all of the show may be painted at KyoAni and their subsidiaries, and so far so good, since this episode was also fully handled in Kyoto. Though yes, I admit, I’m saying this mostly as an excuse to share more screenshots of the BGs. Entirely deserved as far as I’m concerned.
─ As a final note about the episode’s staff, it’s worth noting just how small the crew who has handled this show so far is. Counting the people who contributed this week we’re only up to 15 different key animators for 3 episodes, and even the animation director Yuko Myouken had already worked on the first one. The wonders of having time and talent.
─ Much like the show itself, the intro and outro also required almost no staff at all. The opening was storyboarded, directed and partly animated by series director Ishidate, only assisted by character designer Takase – exactly the same approach he took for Beyond the Boundary, though the difference in intensity between the song and footage this time around make the result less impressive. The ending is much more interesting, having been penned almost in its entirety by Haruka Fujita. It’s a pleasant mix of her own quirks with indications that seem to come from Ishidate, giving beautiful form to Violet’s journey. I appreciate the chance to look at Fujita’s actual animation, since she’s understandably gained recognition as a director but that comes at the cost of her having less chances to handle cuts herself. Considering only the still shot around the end feels strongly filtered through Takase’s lens, this sequence is a great showcase of Fujita’s own skills.