A young girl wakes up in a hospital bed, and it’s clear she’s been through a lot. This is our main character Violet, and she is a doll. Dolls were originally created by a man to help his blind wife write her novels, but over time, they were re-purposed for other nefarious tasks. Violet was apparently built for war, and that’s all she’s ever known. Well, the war is now over, and she no longer needs to fight. Nevertheless, it won’t be easy reintegrating into civilian life. Hodgins, a man who served with Violet’s superior in the army, heads out to meet her. On his trip, he thinks about the public perception of dolls: “…a wannabe human that fought whenever ordered, a tool without a mind of her own.” I mean, you can say the same about a lot of actual humans right now. A lot of of us can hardly demonstrate that we have minds of our own. The show’s thesis is probably “She’s more human than you think,” but maybe it should really be this instead: “We humans are not as great as we think we are.”
In any case, I can’t tell at all that Violet’s not human. If I had gone into this show completely blind, I wouldn’t know I was looking at a doll at all. I’d just have Hodgins’ odd “wannabe human” comment to work off of. If anything, Violet’s very child-like in her impulsiveness, and that’s probably the point of her early characterization. She’s very fixated on Gilbert even though it’s clear that this man is no longer alive. It’s similar to how a child might yearn for their parent(s). Maybe she even knows he’s no longer alive somewhere in the back of her mind, but she’s just not ready to admit it to herself yet. Still, one can easily tell that the girl hasn’t had much emotional development. Who’s got time for that when you’re forced to be a soldier at war?
Eventually, Hodgins takes Violet to the house of the Evergardens. Supposedly, they’re willing to take the girl in and raise her as one of their own. Violet meets Tiffany Evergarden, an old woman who seems nice enough. It’s clear, however, that our heroine doesn’t feel comfortable in this idyllic, domestic environment. What exactly is she supposed to do here? Tiffany tries to soothe the girl’s worries: “You can talk to us about anything, all right?” But in truth, that’s just a platitude. Unless you know someone intimately, you can’t talk to them about anything. You might counter, of course, that Tiffany’s just trying to be nice, but that’s the problem. It can breed confusion and possibly resentment when you’re told one thing, but you’re expected to do something very different.
In response, Violet is very… blunt. Mrs. Evergarden assures the girl that she can think of the Evergardens as her new family. Violet, however, responds that she’s never had a family so she doesn’t need one now. Mrs. Evergarden then adds that she lost her son in the war. It’s a bit of a random thing to bring up, I’ll admit. It almost feels as though she’s implying that the family is missing a young person to have around, so Violet should just plop herself in the middle of everything. Our heroine can’t help but immediately reply that she can’t replace the poor woman’s late son. Obviously, she lacks social graces. If she weren’t a doll, one would wonder if she was somewhere on the autism spectrum. Still, not everyone wants to play that social game — the small talk, the back-and-forth repartee, the fake congeniality.
More importantly, however, Violet’s rudeness actually reveals a lot about how she views herself. Remember, people think of her as a “tool without a mind of her own.” And she’s not dumb; she’s more than likely aware of how she’s seen and perceived. She’s come to terms with it in her own way. So now she’s here, in this completely new environment, and she can’t help but wonder what tool is she supposed to turn into? What tool does this old woman want me to be? She wants to return to Gilbert. She wants to return to battle. She views herself as a tool of war, and now, she’s being asked to fulfill a different purpose. Naturally, she rejects that purpose, and she’s merely trying to be as direct about it as she can. After all, they said she could talk to them about anything, didn’t they? To put it another way, if a knife can no longer cut — and let’s assume we can’t sharpen it for whatever reason — would you try and turn it into a different tool? Or just throw it away?
Again, the criticism is that dolls don’t have a mind of their own, and yet, nobody’s asked Violet for her input. Do you want to go live with these people whom you’ve never met? Do you want to live a civilian life? She’s merely told that Gilbert’s wish is for her to live a happy life. Hodgins even says, “…be a good girl and listen to Tiffany, okay?” This paints his opening monologue in a new light. When he says “anyone,” he’s also referring to himself, isn’t he? For now, he’s also prejudiced against these dolls, isn’t he? In any case, Violet ends up offending the poor woman, and although the Evergardens are still willing to be the girl’s guarantors, she can no longer live under their roof. Hodgins has no choice but to house her instead. As a result, he takes her to his delivery company and puts her to work.
At first, Hodgins puts Violet in the back where she can sort and organize all the mail that comes through. She eventually encounters a client who needs a ghostwriter, however, and that’s when a change is sparked inside her. He appears to be a simple, blue-collar worker. Nevertheless, he is desperate to convey his love to a woman who is possibly betrothed to another man. As a ghostwriter attends to the man’s needs, Violet can’t help but listen in. As she does so, she begins to empathize with both his situation and his feelings. In doing so, she comes a little closer to understanding her own feelings. She was created for war, and she served that purpose well. Up until now, however, she hadn’t had the chance to undergo any sort of emotional development. This is thus Violet’s first opportunity to explore those feelings she was never able to identify with words before. Gilbert had told her that he loved her. What is love anyway? And did she ever love Gilbert? Does she love him now? Nothing is resolved yet — nothing has been answered yet — which is why Violet suddenly puts in a transfer request. She asks Hodgins if she could instead work as a ghostwriter. By listening to others, hopefully she’ll be able to answer those burning questions.
Notes & observations:
— I’m human and I don’t even know what that feeling is called.
— I wouldn’t mind this turning into a horror anime, but alas…
— Something something about how war never changes…
— Hodgins is clearly hiding something. You can always tell a liar when you see one. Most of us aren’t naturally good liars. Most of us can’t lie with our body language. The only reason we can deceive others is because they don’t want to know the truth, but the signs are always there.
— Speaking of child-like, Hodgins sure does treat her like one. He offers her one of three stuffed animals. I’d pick the cat, obviously.
— “The major’s older brother once said I was ‘Gilbert’s dog.'” Well, that’s just rude.
— After accepting the stuffed puppy, she goes and bites its ears. Uh, why…?
— That’s not Gilbert, is it? There’s definitely no way Gilbert is still alive, then. I mean, I already suspected that, but…
— He told her to run away and live free, but the freedom of choice can also be a curse. Even if we know what our hearts desire, we run into limits constantly — our status, our wealth, our gender, etc.
— When Violet tries to lift up her teacup, her injured hand trembles and she accidentally spills hot tea on herself. She assures her host, however, that she cannot feel heat so she is not in any pain. Huh. These dolls can’t feel heat, but they’ve been given the capacity to feel emotional pain and shed tears. That’s rather cruel. It’s hard to put into words why I feel that way. It’s like… being able to feel absolutely devastated because your crush rejected you, but at the same time, not being able to pick up basic social cues, y’know? If you’re going to build something from the ground up, you want to lay a solid foundation before adding the flourishes.
— She unwraps her bandages to reveal an adamantium hand. She says she’s not used to it yet, so it must be a new addition. Naturally, I can’t help but wonder about the “skin” that’s currently covering her face. What is it made of? Is it organic?
— Huh, she also bites her new gloves.
— Violet can’t help but wonder if Gilbert no longer needs her. Tell her the truth, man. I’d argue that it’s cruel to hide it from her, but then again, who knows how badly she might react to it. She could very well give up on life if she accepted the fact that Gilbert is dead.
— Are these girls also dolls?
— He then tells Violet that her new purpose is to work, but I wonder if that will suffice. Even for us humans, simply telling us to work is hardly enough. What exactly are we working for? Hell, I don’t even know what I’m working for. I just know I’m not ready to die yet. Is that something Violet worries about? She seems ready to discard herself already.
— When Violet is told to get changed into her work uniform, she immediately tries to get changed in front of her mentor. Um, did she not have to change into her military outfit during the war? And was she not told to do that in a designated area? I get it, it’s a joke. Haha, the doll doesn’t realize it’s inappropriate to get naked in front of the opposite sex. But this sort of gag is overdone by this point, and it kinda detracts from the show’s believability.
— Violet didn’t bother to take a break. I don’t think anyone in the audience is surprised. Seems like the sort of cliche you might encounter in any story about robots.
— I look the same after eight hours of work.
— Mmm, delicious anime food. Looks expensive. It doesn’t look like something that an unkempt guy like Hodgins would be able to afford, but eh, what do I know?
— Apparently, Violet ruined her chances of living with the Evergardens for now. Oh well. That place felt too stuffy for her anyways.
— Hodgins, why are you speaking in metaphors? It feels like this is his way to tell her the truth without really telling her the truth.
— Ah, so the other women at the company are dolls. Were they created for the specific purpose of being “Auto Memoir Dolls,” though? I wonder if this means they’ll have a hard time relating to Violet in later episodes.
— So far, I like it. I hope KyoAni can keep it up. Seriously.