Sacrifice in the name of love is something that is decisive, and shapes lives like nothing else. If not for love, acceptance of dramatic changes in circumstances would not be tolerated quite the same way. Leave it to an anime like Kyoto Animation’s Violet Evergarden to understand this like very few can. The first film the series generated, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, explores sacrifices and the bond of siblings right in line with the many other reflections the TV show brought regarding what love means and how it is shown between people.
While this film came out in 2019 (and there is the much-hyped Violet Evergarden: The Movie storming through Japan’s box offices at the time of writing this), Netflix did not have the dubbed film until roughly the spring of 2020. I enjoyed the first viewing, but never got around to writing about it. When I visited my parents for the New Year holiday, I showed the film to my mother, who considers Violet Evergarden to be her favorite anime. Comparing notes between viewings, I am glad I held off on writing.
From a technical viewpoint, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is, essentially, two longer episodes of the original show with connecting stories. The art is as stunning as before (it is hard to top the quality that was already there), and the OST is the same Evan Call tracks used previously. Nothing about the film stands out as shinier or bigger budget, but this is hardly an issue when compared to something like Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl, which felt like a full-length film on a TV budget. Indeed, there was not a whole lot more Violet Evergarden could improve on in the technical department.
Something obviously unique to the structure of having an hour and a half to work with is that the writing is challenged to hit a sweet-spot between “not enough content/ideas to warrant an hour and a half” and “it tried to cover way too much in this short period.” I think of that aforementioned Rascal film and its terrible pacing for the former, and the Code Geass spin-off/alternate universe film series for the latter. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll keeps things interesting by connecting two tonally different halves with a shared narrative. The first half sees Violet assisting a young woman who is learning how to be more cordial, while the second half follows a bright and cheerful young girl who tracks down Violet and her co-workers. Despite having different paces entirely, they rally around the same search for proper expression of sisterly love.
While the first half is more of the “slow-burn” that Violet Evergarden is superb at building before undoubtably making audiences cry (and oooh boy does it give a haymaker to make you cry at the end of the half), the second half has an energy that felt exciting while maintaining that wholesome and heartwarming bedrock. Having some pacing that is unlike the original show is not only unique and refreshing, but it helps separate the film as its own. Following the little sister around town is such an interesting narrative choice because it shows just how much the world has changed and it makes it clear that both Violet and the others at her work have grown over the past three years.
Speaking of the little sister, her introduction allowed for a character who did not previously get much attention their own moment. Indeed, Benedict, the eccentrically dressed mail carrier, did not get much focus in the original Violet Evergarden. This was surprising because most of the cast had their moments/scenes, but Benedict was always just complaining and being broody. There is a nice narrative arc here where he learns to appreciate his job because of the wonderment a small girl has for delivering letters.
Overall, I loved this film, and found it to be plenty to hold its own as a stand-alone entry into the masterpiece that is Violet Evergarden. While I think the ensemble of the many stories combined make the original superior and a definite “10/10” in my book, this film stands tall at a 9. Everything it does is fantastic, and I enjoyed re-watching it, but it feels like it is just shy of that perfect score. It is interesting how Violet Evergarden can have a budget comparable to films and is so stunning that when we get a film, it just feels normal. I digress though- the tale of two sisters and their love is wonderful and well worth your time.