Violet Evergarden is unlike any other Kyoto Animation production before it.
Their previous works took place specifically in the Japan of our world or a very similar one (like the one where Myriad Colors Phantom World takes place in), but the setting for Violet required an entire new world to be created.
Though the original novels offered portions of backstory and tone, they didn’t cover extensive details of the world. That required the anime staff to build upon those novel portions and create their own world that the anime would exist in from the very beginning of production. Not only did the staff create background locations from scratch, but they went beyond that to create a backstory of events in that world to justify why certain portions of the continent differed as they appeared in the show.
Above all else, according to many staff members, director Taichi Ishidate desired a “fictional” world, not a “fantasy” world, so there had to be logical reasons to explain how Violet’s mechanical hands could co-exist in a world that felt similar to early 19th century Europe.
Let’s delve into how the staff designed the world of Violet Evergarden. The information in this piece comes from the Violet Evergarden Chronicle fanbook and “This is Who We Are!! 2019” interview book published by Kyoto Animation.
A century of feelings
The stories that Kana Akatsuki submitted to the Kyoto Animation awards, which later became the two Violet Evergarden novels, featured a world tinted with 19th century European feelings throughout.
The continent had recently fought itself in a civil war, and Violet herself was a combatant on one side. There were various places like giant cities and mountains located throughout that setting.
To further design the world, Ishidate and series composer Reiko Yoshida specifically asked scriptwriter Takaaki Suzuki, who has been involved in creating worlds of shows like Last Exile, Gun X Sword, Girls und Panzer, Date A Live and most notably the Strike Witches franchise, to help them design their world.
One example of his impact on Violet is how Suzuki molded the city of Leiden from the 19th century London city he said he imagined while reading the novels into what was shown in the anime.
The city was made to look more brilliant with brighter colors, plants growing around the buildings and crowds of people walking around the city. Instead of the London he first pictured, it was similar to an Italian city.
Suzuki worked with the staff to design the areas of the city that the story would involve in great detail (even naming those streets) while giving a less detailed portion of the rest of the city to be adapted by the background staff.
To give reasons why Asian dishes like yakisoba would be served in Episode 1 in Leiden, Suzuki wrote that Kazalli, where Iris grew up, would cultivate rice, thus altering Leidenschaftlich by having a farming city located outside the capital to support the people living inside the city.
Suzuki began developing the world by thinking about what would not be included in it. Would electricity be easily available? Not in this title, as gas lamps are shown in Episode 1. Would easy long-distance transportation be available? Yes, we see steam trains going across the continent several times. Would there be rivers available? Not equally distributed across the continent.
By thinking of these aspects of the continent of Telesis, Suzuki established reasons why different countries would fight each other in the Great War. Resources would be abundant in one country, but not another; that would be an easy way to justify why people would want to place other areas under their control. Through his designs, Suzuki laid the groundwork for the rest of the staff to follow.
Appeal to authenticity
As part of director Ishidate’s appeal for “authenticity,” the main staff chose to use real-life sources for building the various elements of the world that impacted the characters.
Character designer Akiko Takase reviewed over several different countries’ military uniforms, and once she chose a specific country’s uniform for a specific army, prop designers Hiroyuki Takahashi and Minoru Ota would reference that country’s weapons and vehicles from previous wars in their prop designs for these and other military equipment so that the designs would match authentically.
Despite not being interested in military history, even Takase herself was impressed by how technology like wristwatches were first designed for military purposes. Each portion of a design is important for functionality, so they wanted to stay based in reality as much as possible.
The three had assistance from other Kyoto Animation staff members as well; background designer Joji Unoguchi (art director for Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu and The Second Raid, and the Free! series) and director Tatsuya Ishihara (director for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Nichijou – My Ordinary Life and Myriad Colors Phantom World) both assisted in providing information regarding weapons due to their knowledge of guns. Unoguchi himself would also bring in plastic weapon models for the designers to use as references.
Suzuki’s world detailed how different regions of the continent had different resources, so the staff also elaborated that each area of the world had its own style of fashion and accessories. Leiden, being a major city, had people dressed in extravagant attire alongside people dressed in heavily worn clothing and others in ones designed for physical labor like suspenders.
Iris’ home area of Kazalli had people dressed in clothing designed to cool off someone as they worked in the fields. People working at the Shahar Observatory had thick coverings to protect against the heavy cold. Each type of region required its own designs based upon the history Suzuki and the writers came up with.
Inspirations from reality
Kyoto Animation’s background staff are known for using real-life locations for references for their backgrounds, and that was no different in Violet Evergarden.
Mikiko Watanabe and her team not only used the same location references that Suzuki used when designing the world when creating their backgrounds, but they further sought out various locations throughout the world to combine together. Italian references for Leiden, German references for the school in Violet Evergarden – I: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll –, and even a Western-designed museum in Kyoto for the Postal Company building itself.
The goal was to have areas that felt lived-in to achieve that “authenticity” director Ishidate sought.
Fans who’ve seen a fair amount of anime know that some series use dynamic and vibrant colors to distinguish characters and props. Violet went the opposite direction in its color design.
Since our world doesn’t use those bright colors in our everyday life, color designer Yuuka Yoneda focused on unifying the colors to feel like a Western painting or TV series rather than an anime-ish approach. This suited Ishidate, who has a background in film production and used several Western films as influence in his direction style.
Their approach even impacted how light appeared in the show; instead of dimming colors all across areas that were meant to be shadowed, Violet would have portions covered in darkness to maintain “authenticity.” Light reflecting onto characters would blend in colors from the background to make the characters blend into the scenery.
It was an enormous amount of work, but Violet’s visuals are not like any other anime series because of this unique production pipeline.
While every anime production has to have a large amount of design work in order to have all the elements drawn consistently, the staff who designed Violet Evergarden went above and beyond in order to convey an entirely new world that feels so very similar to ours yet remains fictional.
It’s a made-up world, but not one that’s built upon a fantasy setting. Instead, the team worked together to make sure that each decision made sense in the Violet world so all the viewers could appreciate and understand why the story unfolded like it does.
As you rewatch the series now that it’s out on home video from Funimation, be sure to look behind the characters and see the fleshed-out world that the staff worked tirelessly to create. I’m sure that you’ll enjoy going into the world as much as the staff enjoyed making it!