We continue our Holy Week series on anime and disability with an article about two recent popular shows featuring characters with disabilities—Violet Evergarden and In/Spectre.
If there’s one series in recent years that expertly pulls at the heartstrings, it’s Violet Evergarden. But as stirring as the show is and despite how beloved it’s become, Violet Evergarden isn’t anything complex; it’s structured very simply. In most episodes, Violet works on an assignment that’s emotionally involving for her client, all the while drawing closer to her personal goal of untangling her relationship with Gilbert. By the episode’s end, the client has reached some sort of realization via a developing relationship with Violet; though he or she is closed off at the beginning of the episode, and particularly towards Violet due in part to her beauty and elegance, that wall begins to break down by same means nearly every time, by the simple act of Violet removing her gloves, revealing artificial limbs and a complexity of character and background that throws the client’s entire concept of who Violet is into disorder.
More recently, the series In/Spectre featured another character with a missing appendage (and a glass eye in addition), and has a couple such revealing moments as well. Though Iwanaga’s disability is hidden more than Violet’s, and is sometimes played for laughs rather than drama (as when she is joyously resting on a bed with her prosthetic removed), the point seems to be made that not is all as it seems, both in how we ascertain a situation through our senses, and in how we deem a person’s worth.
Violet and Iwanaga both have disabilities that aren’t readily apparent, otherwise known as invisible disabilities. Such conditions can be wide ranging, from sight issues that require contact lenses to lupus or bipolar disorder. Despite being hidden, these disabilities make it a challenge for individuals with them to interact with their environment. Iwanaga, for instance, must walk with a cane and isn’t agile enough to escape the dangerous situations in which she engages. Violet must train herself to use her new fingers and hands, a particular challenge when she learns how to use a typewriter.
Have you ever encountered someone whose disability becomes suddenly visible to you, like the clients who see Violet’s hands after she removes her gloves? Although it’s cringey sometimes to see how the characters react in these anime series, some sort of reaction is usual in real life as well. One might feel the urge to assist a person who realize is blind, for instance, or silently judge someone who mentions they have an anxiety disorder. While there’s so much at work within our minds in these strange eureka moments, one thing is certain: whether in a positive, negative, or neutral way, these situations move us closer toward seeing individuals as actual people, rather than as some sort of NPCs we walk by or only quickly interact with in the game of life. I think that’s critical, not so much for those we’re seeing with open eyes, but for our own selves, which so easily fall into tunnel vision regarding the people and world around us.
But realization doesn’t have to be the end game—could we take these opportunities to actually engage others in some sort of meaningful conversation? Violet and Iwanaga present curious but helpful cases in doing so. Violet is described as a weapon in the series and is indeed very robotic in her movement, feelings, and thought processes. And yet this sort of naivete is helpful in encouraging her clients to see their situations from ground zero, or to witness how an innocent would deal with difficult experiences. Violet’s presence changes their worldviews. Iwanaga, on the other hand, is incredibly talkative and, according to the series, quite brilliant. To judge her on her youthful appearance, giddy attitude, or disability would be unwise, as she proves time and time again, particularly to her boyfriend, who by the time of the the series’ time leap has come to adjust to Iwanaga’s needs, working with her disabilities as he would with any of her other characteristics.
What Violet and Iwanaga demonstrate is that individuals with disabilities, and the people around us regardless, are full of unexpected, admirable, and good qualities. While that’s a lesson we all accepted in preschool, it’s worth examining to see if we really live up to its altruistic model. Do we treat anyone with contempt? Do we silently judge those around us? Do we look at those with disabilities or challenges with pity, or with a fuller set of eyes that humanize them?
If I’m to be a person of character, one whose words and grand thoughts match my inner monologue and deeds, it begins by how I treat people, both actively and in the recesses of my mind. And perhaps the Violets and Iwanagas can encourage me to become more the man I want to be, while at the same time I might be given a chance to do something meaningful in return by restoring to them a bit of the humanity my lack of consideration has taken, whether I could see it or not.