Violet Evergarden and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Violet Evergarden AnimeI’ve never received a letter. Most likely, you haven’t either. Our digital age killed letter writing with email and social media. Is it odd that I feel nostalgic toward letters? I spent a good bit of my teen years hanging out with WWII veterans. They told me of their excitement when they received letters from their girlfriends (most married and stayed together for 50+ years). Most still had the letters with the elegant penmanship of the time.

Seriously, it seemed everyone in the 1930s and 1940s had elegant handwriting. Of course, some letters weren’t for my gaze. Where else do you think the Internet got some of it’s raunchiness?

I remember the wives’ grins as they spoke of the anticipation and worry. They spoke of elation when the letter finally arrived, and how letter writing helped them fall in love over distance and time.

So when I saw the anime Violet Evergarden, I was all in. The story takes place in an alternative world during their World War I. The country falls into such dire need for manpower that they take to training war orphans. Violet is one such orphan. She becomes attached to her commanding office, who is a father to her. But during a mission he is wounded and she loses both her arms. When an artillery shell strikes the building they are in, they become separated. Violet survives and wants to find him.

One of the Major’s war buddies takes her in and arranges for her to have prosthetic arms. The arms work much like Fullmetal Alchemist’s automail. They are beyond the technology of the time, but I didn’t find it any more jarring than automail. Well, she begins work as an Auto-memory doll, women who write letters for people.

The new job requires Violet to travel around the country (setting up the anime’s episodic structure), and it requires her to face her brutality and suppressed emotions about herself and the war.

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew
Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

As you can guess, letters shape the main structure of the anime. Much is said about the power of letters in people’s lives. And from what I’ve seen with my now-passed friends, it’s true. Perhaps the Internet and the proliferation of immediate writing has blinded us to the power of writing.

When you think about writing, it is a miracle. I can write or type squiggles that put at least a portion of my thoughts into your mind. It’s like telepathy or mind-melding. But immediacy is the problem. As Violet Evergarden suggests, it takes time to perfect a letter. My friends admitted to taking time to draft a letter. It wasn’t something they dashed off. Even when it was, the act of writing with a pen on paper forced them to sort their thoughts in ways we can’t do with our keyboards.

You’ve seen how some of my blog posts here are garbled. That’s even after I re-read and revise. Good writing takes delay, and most of our problems online would dissolve if publish buttons didn’t immediately publish. We need a time delay–like the time it takes to write a letter with pen and paper–for online writing.

Most of my articles here wait in the queue for at least a few weeks before you see them. Some wait for months. This bit of time lets me approach them with a fresh look and gives me time to reconsider some of my touchier topics. Likewise, I believe social media posts, tweets, shares, whatever should have a delay timer. Perhaps 15 minutes. After you hit the publish button, the system will wait 15 minutes before asking you if you are certain you want to publish the post. This gives emotions a chance to cool, such as waiting for a letter gives some distance between replies.

The world Violet Evergarden paints unfolds slower than ours. I don’t want to cast the past in an ideal light–it had problems we do not have now–but the slower pace would do us well. We cannot slow down and savor in our instant world. I’ve written about how anticipating can help us enjoy anime better. Well, anticipation can help us enjoy our relationships better too. Letter writing and the waiting it requires allows us to slow down. In my own life, I find absence does make the heart fonder.

Violet from Violet EvergardenAbsence allows us to overlook people’s foibles easier. They aren’t so grating. In fact, we see this a bit in Violet Evergarden. Some of Violet’s coworkers chafe with her presence, but as she travels more, they begin to miss her. They also see her internal changes more clearly. That’s the rub. When you live around people daily, you become blind to them. It’s much like how you can drive the same street for years and never notice that small book shop.

While I’m a technologist in addition to be a librarian, I believe we need to unplug and slow down more. At least, I know that I need to do so. But it takes effort. Unlike Violet’s world, we have instant choices for communication. They are not wrong of themselves, but if you are like me, you don’t use them in healthy ways. I’ve mindlessly lost many hours in Facebook, Tumblr, and the Internet at large.

Letters have an intimacy that social media lacks. Handwritten letters are human. You can see handshakes in the writing, tears staining the page, excitement in the way the pen gouges the paper. Typed letters, particularly on a typewriter (Do you know how to use one? I had to write reports on mechanical typewriters) are a little less human, but they are still friendlier than a computer-printed page. Computer-generated text is just too perfect, too sterile. It lacks many of the human errors that give items life and character.

Of course, I’m waxing nostalgic here. Typing on a mechanical or even an electric typewriter can be a pain, especially if you are a poor typist like me. But the tactile feedback is wonderful.

Violet Evergarden is a great anime you should watch. It’s not without problems. Sometimes it lays the emotions on too heavily. Violet’s relationship with the Major sometimes feels more like a relationship with a lover than a father, leaving you feeling uncertain which the story wants to show.  But on the whole, I enjoyed the story, but I’m a sucker for Data-like (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) characters. You should also consider writing letters or, at the least, writing a journal. A journal is just a letter to the future you. Consider ways to slow down and unplug, even if it means watching less anime online.