After having to sit idly by and watch Cattleya get all of the personal requests, one finally comes Iris’s way. It’s from her hometown of Kazaly, too. Needless to say, the girl is beyond ecstatic. After all, she’s been trying to make her mark as a career woman, and this is her first big opportunity. Unfortunately, things quickly turn south for the Auto Memoir Doll. First, she trips and hurts her right hand, so Violet has to ghostwrite for the ghostwriter. Then, it turns out Sara Florent, Iris’s client, doesn’t actually exist… kinda. Sara Florent is her great-grandmother’s name; Iris’s own family had placed the personal request, but they knew she wouldn’t accept it if it had come from them. Why did they want her to travel all the way home from the big city? Why, it’s to celebrate her birthday! What’s so bad about birthdays? Birthdays are fun, right? Well, when Iris takes a look at the list of invites, it’s full of bachelors. Yes, her parents would like their daughter to give up her life in Leiden and settle down. Why not marry one of these strapping, young lads! To add insult to injury, her first love will be attending the party, but he admitted long ago that he could only ever see her as a friend. In fact, the rejection hurt so bad that it made Iris decide to leave Kazaly behind.
Ah, now we understand why Iris always seems to have a chip on her shoulder. I mean, we kinda knew right from the get-go that the girl had a bit of an inferiority complex, but this episode pretty much lays bare her insecurities. First, she’s no sophisticated city girl. Instead, she comes from a mud ball of a village. The instant she steps foot in Kazaly, she instantly dirties one of her shoes. Her idyllic hometown is a rather new settlement, and despite her snark and sarcasm, even Iris has to admit that she doesn’t come from anywhere special: “Well, excuse us for having nothing going on.” Iris’s family is likely full of blue collar laborers; perhaps some of them are even farmers. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but the girl might find them and their way of life embarrassing. After all, the entire family rolls up to the train station in an ox-drawn wagon, which is rather quaint. Also, notice how Iris isn’t dressed like them, and yet, they don’t remark on her appearance. On the other hand, Violet steals their breath away: “I guess that’s a city Doll for you.” Iris is trying so hard to distinguish herself, and it doesn’t even matter to her own family.
Things come to a head when Iris starts questioning her parents’ intentions. Why do they want her to settle down? What’s wrong with her continuing her work as an Auto Memoir Doll in Leiden? Well, she knows perfectly why. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been lying to them all this time. She’s been telling her family that she’s the most popular doll in the city. Of course, who wouldn’t want their family to be proud of them? Who wouldn’t want their family to not have to worry about them? But Iris’s insecurities go deeper than that. Because she has such pastoral roots, even her own family has doubts as to whether or not a simple country girl can make it in the big city: “We know you’re not ‘Leiden’s most popular Doll.'” This part hurts. It really, really hurts. Because think about it: how would they actually know that? Knowledge, baring exceptions, essentially comprises of justified, true beliefs. Did her family really poll Leiden’s inhabitants to verify whether or not their daughter is in fact the most popular Doll? Of course they didn’t. They “know” she’s lying partly they know their daughter well, so they can probably tell when she’s not being truthful. But more importantly — and this is what hits Iris the hardest — they don’t really believe in her, do they?
Parents always have our best intentions — most of them, anyways. And oftentimes, they see it like this: “Even if our advice hurts you in the short-term, like medicine, you’ll thank us in the end.” Iris might take a blow to her pride if she gives up her aspirations to be an Auto Memoir Doll, but they truly believe she can be happy if she moves home and marries a good man. After all, they’re happy with their lives. They’re happy with Kazaly, and they don’t see a reason to live a pretentious city life in Leiden. And now we understand the other side of the problem — why Iris’s mother looked so hurt when the girl said, “I never should’ve come back!” They had to lie to get their daughter to come home for her own birthday. Hell, she forgot her own birthday. Moreover, she doesn’t want to live in Kazaly. She doesn’t want to settle down. She doesn’t want… well… to be like them. The mother doesn’t come out and say it, because she probably feels that the situation between them is as bad enough as it is, but she can’t help but feel as though her own daughter is rejecting her and her way of life. And of course, how could they not worry about their daughter? If things were actually going well for Iris, the girl wouldn’t have to lie to them. By not telling her parents the truth, she’s just exacerbating their fears.
At the end of the day, what smooths everything over isn’t really just a letter. It’s more than that. It’s Iris finally having the courage to tell her parents the truth. It’s Iris finally having the courage to start a conversation with her parents even if it remains largely one-sided for now. The letter allows the girl to properly convey her thoughts. When we talk in person, it can be difficult to collect our feelings and translate them properly into words. It can be difficult to say what we truly want to say in the heat of the moment. In her letter, Iris takes responsibility for her part in ruining her birthday party. She also takes responsibility for lying to her parents and thereby making them worry. She admits that she has been struggling in Leiden, but nevertheless, she needs to create her own path in life. Ultimately, she isn’t ready to give up, but that doesn’t mean she’s rejecting her parents. Rather, she’ll always need them to look over her. At the end of the episode, as Iris prepares to leave Kazaly with Violet, she inadvertently steps once more into a puddle of mud right outside the train station. But this time, it doesn’t ruin her mood. Like her family, this mud ball of a village can be annoying, but she loves it nonetheless.
It took a while for this episode to emotionally engage me, but I eventually got there. I finally found myself empathizing with Iris as her parents read her letter. Most of us have been in her same exact position. Most of us have had that difficult struggle of balancing our own independence with honoring our family’s traditions and where we come from. Iris isn’t the most lovable character by far, and I won’t say that I’ve turned the corner on her just yet, but I get where she’s coming from. Yes, this anime has a penchant for resolving every issue within a single episode. It can feel a little hokey to sweep every serious problem under the rug with one well-written letter no matter how heartfelt it is. And yet, I can’t find it in myself to dislike Violet Evergarden. For all its limitations, the show strikingly resembles its heroine: there’s a crystal-clear honesty in its actions. The show has a charming earnestness. Like a child that’s trying its best, the anime manages to endear itself to me despite its flaws.
Misc. notes & observations:
— I know they’re struggling for work, but is it really economically prudent for the company to take a house call that requires an overnight train ride? Unless, of course, the client is willing to pay a lot of money just for a ghostwriter…
— I also can’t help but wonder if Cattleya’s celebratory lunch is also on the company’s dime.
— Nice framing, KyoAni.
— Lords and Commons, huh? So this is similar to UK’s Parliament?
— Apparently, the war started over iron and copper reserves.
— Iris apologizes for Violet’s hands, but of course, the latter doesn’t understand why the former would say sorry. I feel like we’ve all had a similar conversation before with some obstinate individual.
— Violet: “I’m used to temperature swings.” Uh, can you actually train your body not to sweat?
— What a convenient time for a breeze to show up and make Violet’s introduction look and feel so magical. I think KyoAni is overdoing it a bit here.
— I love Violet just walking away after learning that Iris’s family had made an invalid request.
— Violet certainly responds to picturesque landscapes. If she doesn’t make it as an Auto Memoir Doll, she can always be a painter.
— Man, Iris still hasn’t gotten over this Emonn guy. When was the last time they spoke? It’s hard to imagine being this hung up over someone after all these years unless it hasn’t really been that long. I get that part of the hurt comes from both her mother and Violet ignoring her wishes — and on her own birthday, no less — but it still feels like an overreaction on Iris’s part.
— Violet: “I won’t understand unless you give a reason.” Always communicate, guys. We shouldn’t expect others to read our minds.
— It’s also kinda insensitive for her mother to try to console her so soon. People need their space, too.
— Every episode seems to come from a specific character’s perspective. In order, we’ve had Claudia, Erica, and Luculia. This week, it’s Iris’s turn. Violet means something to all of them, and likewise, our heroine sees a bit of herself in the people around her. This week, Violet learns how the words “I love you” can take tremendous courage to say. I imagine we’ll eventually loop back to Claudia at some point to wrap up this series. Or maybe we’ll even get Violet’s inner monologue to show her growth.
— During the scene where Violet tells Iris about Gilbert, I didn’t think the song fit the mood at all.