In this latest series of interview translations, ATMA & Funomena will be presenting comments and observations of three prominent voices from the production of Violet Evergarden, starting with director Taichi Ishidate.
These translations are offered to fans of the series as material supplements for the upcoming making-of documentary-style video by the YouTube channel Under the Scope.
The original interviews were conducted and published in the Violet Evergarden Official Fanbook.
Other interview translations in the series:
* * *
The CM That Drew Worldwide Attention
Did you first read the novel when it was submitted for the Kyoto Animation Awards?
Ishidate: Yes. I first read the novel as a judge for the competition, and I found it to be a real page-turner. To show just how much I personally recommended the novel, I remember giving it a rating of ◎, which was higher than the top score. At the time, I hadn’t yet analysed the novel in detail, but I felt something quite captivating about the protagonist; the girl named Violet Evergarden. And since Akiko Takase’s illustrations were slightly different in style to KyoAni’s works at the time, I also felt that Violet Evergarden could provide a new challenge for the studio.
At the time, the idea that I would be the one directing the adaptation never crossed my mind, but… when was it? One day, I was told by a senior colleague, who still helps me a lot to this day, “Wouldn’t you be suited to direct this series?”. It wasn’t like I had any clear ideas for the adaptation, but upon hearing this, a part of me hoped that I could direct the series.
The first CM for the novel marked the beginning for Violet Evergarden’s anime adaptation. What was it like having Violet move for the first time?
Ishidate: I could see that this CM would be a very important milestone for the future of the anime adaptation. So going into production, I was determined to pull out all the stops! It was around this time that I had started to get a more concrete idea of how it might look. The first thing I thought about was how I could make something appealing within the CM’s short run-time of 30 seconds. For example, I could have shown off a single story from the novel by cutting it down. However, this would have been difficult due to how lyrical the novel is. In the end I decided to make a digest of the stories featured in the first half of the novel, thus focusing on creating more of an impact through its visuals. I also wanted some of Violet’s character to show through in the CM, so we added the scene where Violet bites the broach. This idea was something Takase proposed when I said that my image of Violet was like that of a baby.
It was during production for the first CM that the members who would go on to be the main staff for Violet Evergarden took their first step forwards.
It wasn’t just the animation, the music also appears to have reached the hearts of many as well.
Ishidate: Well, with regards to the music, the music producer was very passionate about Violet Evergarden right from the start. My image for the music was for something slightly off-centre, rather than something classical that gave off a sense of history. That’s what I told the music producer, and what came back was ‘Violet Snow’.
We managed to deliver a CM with fantastic music to many people. Thanks to this, we were able to move onto the next stage of the project.
(Editor’s note: you can read the interview with composer Evan Call here.)
For the second CM, Yui Ishikawa was chosen to voice Violet. What did you think of Ishikawa’s performance during the auditions?
Ishidate: Rather than Ishikawa’s acting voice, I felt there was something attractive about her normal voice. There’s this CM she appears in where she narrates in a rather down to earth manner that’s close to her natural voice, and I really liked it. Ishikawa was one of the voice actors I had high hopes for during the auditions. In the end, we offered her the role. Despite her voice not perfectly matching Violet’s at the time, I decided that we would build Violet up together, using this voice as a starting point. Sound director Yota Tsuruoka was also satisfied with this.
Ishikawa was very intuitive, so when voicing Violet, she would have a firm understanding of what we wanted and would express that in her performance. To voice Violet was by no means a straightforward task, but I think she did well expressing the subtleties in the delicate feelings the character held. When animating Violet, we paid a lot of attention to the subtle changes in her character. I could sense that Ishikawa was putting in just as much thought as we were towards these subtleties when voicing Violet.
At the end of episode 7, Violet wonders aloud to herself saying, “I am burning. I am not burning.” In this scene, you can hear side-by-side the Violet who didn’t have feelings saying, “I am not burning,” and the Violet in episode 7, who had started to understand emotions saying, “I am burning.” I thought that Ishikawa’s voice acting here was very impressive as you could clearly hear the change in Violet when comparing these two lines.
After you finished the CM, work began in earnest for the TV series. It was at this point that Reiko Yoshida came in as the person responsible for series composition. What did you think of Yoshida’s proposed structure for the series?
Ishidate: As I had really enjoyed reading the novel the first time, I thought the series would be just as enjoyable if we adapted it as it was. So when Yoshida proposed that we change the structure for the adaptation, I would be lying if I said that I had not doubts about it. Violet Evergarden is a fantasy, so it was important for the viewers to have some way of entering its world. Some people also thought that the impact of showing Violet killing people was too strong, so a happy ending with a reunion with Gilbert felt too convenient. For these reasons, we decided to start the story with Violet becoming an Auto Memories Doll.
I was slightly worried about diving in to start the series with anime original stories. However, as the story progressed, I could really feel that what we had built up in the first half was slowly taking effect. Phrases like “I want to put a stop to your tears” and “There is no such thing as a letter that shouldn’t be delivered” hold all the more depth because of the stories where Violet, a girl who knew nothing about the world, had to grow and develop to face the challenges presented to her. By the end, Violet, who became an Auto Memories Doll in order to understand “I love you,” actually says, “I even understand, a little, the words ‘I love you’.”
The expression “a little” is so like Violet, so straight and honest; I think these words are wonderful. It’s a line (of dialogue) that’s true to her growth. It’s a line she can say precisely because she was able to grow in a straight and honest manner. As the script meetings proceeded, I increasingly felt that going with this structure had been the correct decision.
Besides Yoshida, we also had Takaaki Suzuki and veteran screenwriter Tatsuhiko Urahata, who was very knowledgeable about the military side of things. Blessed with such a privileged environment, we were able to get moving on the writing.
What was it like working with Yoshida?
Ishidate: This was the first time I’ve had the privilege of working with Yoshida. Before working together on this series, I’d had a chance to speak with her briefly at another studio, and she seemed rather calm and collected as a person. And now, even after we’ve finished working on this series, my impression hasn’t changed. Yoshida was able to understand exactly what I wanted to do, and just kept making the story more and more enjoyable. On my side, what I wanted was for me to say “I want to do this!,” conveying to her my vision of the novel and any requests I had, and for Yoshida to fully utilise her experience and ability in response to this. And it wasn’t just her work on series composition; it was also Yoshida who introduced me to Takaaki Suzuki when she figured that we needed someone to handle the detailed setting of the world of Violet Evergarden. So having Yoshida work with us was very reassuring.
Serious, Straight and Simple
In regard to creating the story and visuals for the series, the concept of ‘serious, straight and simple’ is maintained throughout. I’ll ask frankly, why did you decide to take the series in this direction?
Ishidate: This is just my personal opinion, but I feel that late night anime these days are always competing for attention, wanting to leave the biggest impact. It’s not that I dislike or reject this approach, but I think there should at least be one anime series taking a slightly different direction from the rest.
For example, we could have made the series much more flashy by increasing the fantastical elements of the novel, offering viewers a world they had never seen before. We could have had something with steampunk-like action and a plot that twists and turns. But if we did this, whilst the series may gain attention, this attention may be short-lived. We wouldn’t be able to express the appeal of the novel to its fullest.
What lies at the centre of this work is, as the title suggests, the story of the girl, Violet Evergarden. As such, I thought it would be best to adapt the story of this down-to-earth girl in a careful manner, honestly, without running away. This may be going against the current trend, but I thought that by breaking through this, going in the opposite direction, we could make something that was different. If we were able to depict emotions and a sense of earnestness that are universally felt, then perhaps Violet Evergarden could become a much beloved work.
This sense of honesty seems to fit well with Violet’s way of living. As Violet grows with experience, will her peculiarity, a rather fundamental part of her character, change with this?
Ishidate: Well, I don’t think Violet will ever be able to become what you might call a ‘normal girl’ (laughs). I think Violet’s honest way of living is really nice and personally wish I could live in such a way too.
In carefully depicting the story of someone with a slightly different sensibility to that of the normal person, I wanted to depict a character that would make people think that being different from others is fine, that her way of living is plausible.
What were you particularly careful with when it came to character acting?
Ishidate: With the acting, I paid attention to Violet’s gaze and the movement of her eyes. Blinking can make Violet look stupid due to her being typically expressionless. So where a character would usually blink, like when turning around, for Violet I decided to not add any.
I also tried to make sure that, wherever possible, Violet would look at people face-on rather than to the side, so I tried to ensure that her body was always facing the person she was speaking to. Each of Violet’s mannerisms are different to that of the normal person, so even for casual gestures, I would stop and think about how I could allow Violet’s more unique characteristics to show through. However, it was a lot of work to convey this to the animators. Sometimes even I would get confused, so I’d have to reorganise my thoughts on how much I understood about the current state of Violet’s emotions by writing it all down and putting it into something visual.
Finally, how do you feel now that production is over?
Ishidate: Whilst the anime series is made up of episodic stories, the series itself is a larger tale starting with Violet becoming an Auto Memories Doll, and ending with her finally coming to understand the words “I love you.” I think you’d be able to further immerse yourself in the series’ world and story if you watch it straight through, from the 1st to the 13th episode. So I’d be very happy if you could watch it like this, many times.
The funding of this interview translation was a collaborative effort between me and seven prominent anime content creators.
Commissioned by: Under the Scope
Translated by: @why1758
Checked by: @karice67
I aim to organise more collaborations and solo commissions like this in the future, and all the fruits bore from these efforts will never be locked behind paywalls. However, that does mean I will need help. Passion projects with no intentions of profit doesn’t mean producing them is free of charge.
Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can continue pushing this blog into more grander heights.