As Violet Evergarden progresses, and especially into episode nine, which seems to be the climax of the series, we discover more and more about Violet’s background, especially as it pertains to her time in the military under Gilbert’s direction. And while her earlier years are left blank (How did she come into Dietfried’s possession? Is she an enhanced human? How did she become orphaned?), the series is able to demonstrate over just a few years time how a dehumanized person can gain her humanity once again.
Violet is treated very much like a commodity at first. Dietfried presents her to his brother, Gilbert, as if she’s a rare sidearm, and tells him that he is her new owner. It’s a scene we’ve seen before in anime, and maybe because of that is doesn’t feel so troublesome at first, especially since Violet seems very robotic (I wondered if she was an android during the first several episodes of the series), but it’s clear that Dietfried, who later speaks down to her in disgust at her wartime actions, is trading in flesh, and a child’s no less.
Gilbert, of course, doesn’t treat her as a slave or weapon, but Violet acts that way at first. Actually, she acts as something lesser. Having been relegated to something subhuman, she bites Gilbert’s maid and otherwise plays the role more of an animal than a person. She communicates poorly, too, unable to speak in Gilbert’s language. And she has no name.
The way Violet is treated may be the stuff of anime, but it closely resembles what happens in the worst of situations around the globe, historically and even today. Atrocities occur when people are stripped of their voice and their identity (Koreans, for instance, lost their names and language during Japanese colonization), when they are treated as inhuman. One of the first signs of genocide, for instance, is when the “others” are described in terms of being animals or insects—it is after all easier to squash a roach than to kill a human.
In another measure, Violet is treated as more than what she is, as an adult, as a soldier. Gilbert, in his short time of training her, is able to turn Violet from an animal into a sort of doll, one who only does what her ventriloquist makes her do, and what Gilbert ultimately must do is prepare her for war and send her out to kill the enemy. She is a child soldier, and only Gilbert seems to see the injustice in that.
In war, atrocities are the norm. Violet’s story, in the real world, would be one of many and nothing particular special (outside of her mutant strength). The way she’s treated by the military shows the institution’s feelings toward Violet (and others like her?) to be a systemic problem, like antisemitism in Europe or racism in the American deep south. As with both, change takes root when it happens at the individual level.
Although I directed an agency that educated our state regarding genocide issues, these bigger, global events aren’t what came to mind personally when I thought of Violet and her treatment. I thought more immediately, instead, about how I treat my staff. I care about them, and that it mostly shows, but I do have one employee that I struggle with. And as the challenge of managing her takes hold and develops and grows, I begin seeing her less as a human than as a persona in my mind, one that I seem to have figured out and who has become the enemy. Instead of managing her like Gilbert does Violet, trying my best to serve her and help her grow, I act like the military, picturing her as a weapon (for she is a good worker), but one that’s potentially more danger than it’s worth.
The results, however, of being a Gilbert are clearly better, demonstrated by Violet’s growth. By the time the two part ways, Violet has transitioned from a being mere weapon to becoming a doll, both in action an in name, and is on the cusp of being human once again. She has a name now, an identity, and dignity.
And even after they part, Gilbert’s treatment of Violet continues to influence her. His final words to her, combined with his other teachings, guide Violet into learning what love means, and thus, into learning what it means to be human, for all the pain and goodness that entails, and further, to embrace it. I realize that even in my workplace, in the position of authority I have, I can take someone’s dignity away and I can restore it. I can be that manager who, like Gilbert, guides gently and patiently, or I can be dictatorial, adversarial, or simply uncaring, like Dietrich. And not just in the workplace—I can do the same in places where I might not even have the position of power, like at school, home, or church.
Violet blooms under Gilbert’s care and almost impossibly completes the transition from animal to weapon to doll to human, a proof that at the very least, love is the power to change lives for a literal weapon of war, but also for me—a regular guy who has the power to lift people up or tear people down.