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While, I was on vacation, I got the opportunity to watch two different series on Netflix: Violet Evergarden and A.I.C.O Incarnation. There were a lot of good parts to both, but I would only consider one of them to be particularly good overall, that being Violet Evergarden. However, the reason why I consider Evergarden to be significantly better than Incarnation is because of the way each show handles the journey of each of its main Heroines.
For those who don’t know, Violet Evergarden tells the story of, well, Violet Evergarden, and her reintegration into society after the end of a civil war between the northern and southern factions of her country. Violet, being an emotionless child soldier, is unsure what to do initially, as she only ever took commands from her Major. She does, however, decide to become a Doll, someone who writes letters for those who can’t so that she can understand what the Major meant when he said “I love you” to Violet.
By contrast, A.I.C.O. Incarnation stars a fairly normal High School girl named Aiko, who, after losing her father to a car crash and her mother and brother in an accident known as “the burst,” relocates to a hospital/high school so that she can be looked after. Still, it is not long before things get weird for her. One day, a transfer student named Yuuya shows up only kidnap Aiko and tell her that the body she inhabits is fake, that her mother and brother are still alive, and that there is a way to get both her body and family back.
What most separates the two shows in terms of quality is A.I.C.O.’s failings, so I will start there. The most apparent problem with the show is how it front-loads a lot of information at the beginning, particularly near the end of episode one and the start of episode two, and because of this it feels confusing to try and fully understand the story. For instance, even the “burst,” the main event that is the catalyst for the show’s entire story, is only explained in vague terms at the beginning, and does not get properly explained until about episode three or four.
Another problem that the A.I.C.O suffers from which is a direct result the first problem is that because of a lack of understanding of the circumstances, it becomes a lot harder to feel invested in Aiko as a character. The rushed nature of the first couple of episodes makes it to where there is no real reason to pay attention and as a result the opening feels sluggish and boring.
However, Aiko herself is actually a fairly compelling main character. When it does finally become apparent whats going on, it feels like a high pressure situation and even when the truth of the situation is revealed at the end, the show still makes the audience want to root for Aiko.
Violet Evergarden, meanwhile, supports its main character in ways that make the show much more enjoyable. For instance, in contrast with A.I.C.O., Violet Evergarden takes its time in establishing and developing Violet as a character, not wasting a single bit of screen time. The show always makes it feel as if something new is being learned about Violet or as though she is continuing towards her goal and becoming more human. A good example of this is the episode where her new found friend Luculia’s brother is struggling to get his life back together. It is in this episode that Violet finally begins to understand how to write a letter, and in the process gives Luculia’s brother the strength to finally start over. Even over the course of just one ten minute interaction, Violet has a subtle yet immensely powerful transformation.
Another good example of this is near the end of the show, when after the climax of the series, Violet visits the Major’s brother, Gietfried, who has resented Violet since her brother’s death during the war. After realizing that there was not point in resent her, Gietfried says that the Major’s final order was to live free and happy, and that he knows that what his brother would have wanted. Up until this point, Violet had repeated the idea that she does not need to take orders from anyone, but did so rather unconvincingly. This time, however, as Violet turns to Gietfried and ends her visit, she says “I don’t need to take orders anymore,” and does so with a determined and reassured smile.
Violet also takes many other journeys because of her job as a Doll, and to be honest it would take a lot of time to go through all of them, but it is clear that the show makes a point to make sure that each of the journeys mean something. Whether it be a mom writing letters to her daughter before she dies, or unintentionally helping a young astronomer understand what he wants to do with his life, Violet’s episodic journeys not only help those that she visits, but are the reason she can be confident in herself by the end.
While I definitely enjoyed watching both shows, there is an important storytelling distinction that separates the two: A journey only is only as important and powerful as the character who takes it. Even more importantly, a great journey can redeem even the most uninteresting of characters, and Violet Evergarden seems to understand that a lot more.
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