The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
Vivy -Fluorite Eye's Song-
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Vivy -Fluorite Eye's Song- ?
What is this?
The story takes place in "Nearland," a theme park where "dreams, hope, and science" exist together as an AI theme park. The theme park is where the first automated human-type AI is born. Vivy is an AI who sings on stage for park attendees every day, as it is her directive to "make everyone happy through song." She performs wholeheartedly for the attendees in the park. One day, an AI named Matsumoto appears before her. He says he has come from 100 years in the future with the directive of "working with Vivy to correct history, and to stop the war between AI and humans that breaks out 100 years from now." The 100-year journey of the AI songstress Vivy begins.
How was the first episode?
“In which West World meets The Terminator.”
Diva is the first true AI android and has been designed to work at a major theme park as a singer. Sadly, she's not great at it—though she has managed to gain a single fan in the form of a young girl. Her life changes when Matsumoto, an AI from 100 years in the future, comes back in time to request Diva's help in preventing the looming robot apocalypse.
If two AI working together to stop the robot apocalypse weren't enough of a twist on the genre, there is a second one. In most stories about the creation and evolution of AI, it is the curtailing of AI rights—of not treating AI as equal to people—that leads to a robot uprising. In this anime, it's giving AI rights that causes it, allowing AI to advance too quickly and bring about the violent end of humanity in just 100 years' time. While the first two episodes revolve around Diva's fight against a group of anti-AI terrorists—whose actions inadvertently caused a pro-AI culture shift in Matsumoto's original timeline—the real drama in the anime comes from the conflict between Diva and Matsumoto.
In the world of Vivy, AIs are unable to have more than one primary mission. Diva's is to bring happiness through song. It's this one goal that dictates all of her other behaviors. There are no three laws of robotics controlling Diva's actions. In fact, the only reason she agrees to help Matsumoto stop the robot apocalypse is due to the fact that, in order to make humans happy through singing, those humans have to be alive.
Matsumoto's one goal, on the other hand, is simply to stop the robot apocalypse—namely by hampering the evolution of AI over the coming 100 years. To best do this, however, he must keep the current timeline as similar to the original one as possible. That way he has a clear road map of what is to come and can prepare Diva to combat it.
Where conflict arises is in the fact that Diva wants to use their future knowledge to save as many lives as possible while Matsumoto doesn't want to “save” anyone. He wants those who died in his timeline to die and those who lived to live. This makes Diva and Matsumoto both allies and enemies—united in cause but opposed in means.
But what's interesting is that as their hundred-year journey moves forward, Matsumoto will become less and less effective as technology advances. Meanwhile, Diva, with her physical body, will become more and more necessary. So while Matsumoto may have overall control now, it's only a matter of time until the balance of power shifts.
I'll admit, I was nervous about this one. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing new, anime-original sci-fi projects getting greenlit. But the first thought that crossed my mind watching the trailer for this show was that something in it reminded me of Guilty Crown, aka one of the worst anime viewing experiences I've ever brought upon myself. Turns out I wasn't too far off – director Shinpei Ezaki was the director on several episodes and the OVA, but the problem with Culpable Tiara was everything besides the visuals, so I can't hold that against him. Still, the connection was made in my mind, and combined with how overlong and vacuous the double-length premiere for Tappei Nagatsuki's Warlords of Sigrdrifa was, I was keeping my expectations pretty low.
But in a surprising turn of events, this double-episode debut was very much to Vivy's benefit. Episode 1 on its own is certainly intriguing, but like many a high concept series it takes a lot of time to establish the premise, and if this was all we'd gotten for a premiere it would have left me with some lingering curiosity but not a ton of enthusiasm. Episode 2 is where things really pick up, allowing Vivy and Matsumoto to establish a stronger rapport and just generally express themselves as characters instead of plot points. Writing robot characters can be challenging, but over the course of their inaugural mission the pair prove to be a really engaging duo while also packing in some genuine pathos among the gunshots and explosions. Vivy's dedication to saving even her enemies could come off as trite in the wrong hands, but when she says that she cares more about living her robot-life by staying true to her primary purpose, it lands pretty darn well.
Really though, what sold me on this whole thing are the small details littered throughout that make the setting feel thought out. The way rogue surveillance drones, devoid of weaponry but suddenly driven to kill, just ram their metal bodies into the nearest human skull in a way that's both darkly comedic and quietly terrifying. How AI communicate through wireless signal when addressing each other away from humans. The fact that the anti-AI terrorist cell uses bullets loaded with viruses to take out guard robots faster than standard ammunition. Or how high-tech eyewear is so ubiquitous and unchallenged in this setting that Matsumoto is able to alter humans' perceptions without them even thinking to notice. None of these are necessarily original in the realm of sci-fi, but in aggregate they tell you that this setting was crafted with consideration and attention, and that's invaluable in sci-fi anime.
That said, I am still a little nervous. There's a lot of room here for a big, ambitious adventure, but just as much room to plummet into maudlin, baseless heartstring-tugging. For now though, consider me cautiously optimistic. It would certainly be nice to have a cool, original sci-fi show to follow each week, so here's hoping.
With its original story and double-length premiere, Vivy -Fluorite Eye's Song- has come totally out of nowhere as an early contender for most interesting anime of the season.
Okay, maybe “out of nowhere” isn't totally correct. For one thing, it's produced by Wit Studio, which has made many anime that I've found sumptuously animated but could never bring myself to fully love. For another, it's created and written by Tappei Yamaguchi, who wrote the original Re:Zero novels, and Eiji Umehara, who adapted them for anime. While I find Re:Zero interesting, I wouldn't go so far to say I like them. Finally, the director is Shinpei Ezaki, who adapted Hanebad! into something beautiful but ultimately a massive bummer.
It's an entire roster basically of staff who have, in some way or another, fallen a bit short of my esteem. With its high concept, Vivy might well end up just another one of those, but these first two episodes have definitely caught my attention. This is high praise, considering just how tired I am of the debate over whether or not artificially-intelligent robots can be considered people, which is one of the central themes of the show so far.
The episode opens with a spiel about how researchers have found that giving AI one “mission” saves them from confusion, and then introduces us to Diva, the first fully autonomous AI, whose mission is to “make everyone happy through her singing.” Not long after her creation, she gets hacked by a time-traveling AI called Matsumoto and warns her that if artificial intelligence develops further, there will be a bloody revolution 100 years in the future. He tasks Diva with preventing that future, first by saving an assemblyman who wants to grant AIs personhood and becomes a martyr after being murdered by terrorists.
A lot happens in the two episodes – far too much just to sum up in the few hundred words I have allotted here. Their success lies in how balanced all aspects of the show is. Diva, while clearly more advanced than the other AI around her (other than, perhaps, the sassy Navi), is still limited by her purpose. Though she is effectively an artificial idol singer, she doesn't act like brightness and sunshine at all times; in fact, she doesn't smile at all when she's not performing. She has some emotional function, such as being capable of forming attachments, but it's different from that of most humans. She's beautiful, but the animators aren't afraid of making her look uncanny, or powerful. Assemblyman Aikawa is neither a cackling villain or great humanitarian; just a self-serving politician whose main motivation is to increase his own influence.
Oh, also it looks gorgeous, but that was a given, right? This is Wit, after all.
I'd say I'm cautiously optimistic about Vivy -Fluorite Eye's Song-. Two strong episodes are no guarantee of further quality, and this is a team that's proven more than willing to take risks that don't always pay off. It could end up something thoughtful and well-written, or it could be sci-fi cliche mush. At the very least, I'll be there to see which future we get for myself.
If a show has to start with a double-premier, it may as well be this one, because there is a lot going on and I would have hated to see it smushed into a single episode. It isn't so much that the plot is particularly complex, either; at its most basic level, this is about an AI sent one hundred years into the past to team up with the one AI from that time period whose body still exists in his time to prevent a war between humans and androids. Since the war could ostensibly wipe out the human race, there's some urgency to the situation, even if our heroine, a singing android known as Diva (and nicknamed Vivy) isn't sure she's sold on the concept. In some ways it reminds me of Kage Baker's The Company series mixed with a little Legends of Tomorrow, and that turns out to be a better combination than I expected.
Part of what makes this whole thing work is that we can sort of see where the AIs of the future are coming from. In Diva's time, androids are all given a single directive to follow – hers is singing, but it could also be scooping ice cream or data entry – and that's all that they can do. This is going to lead to a small-time politician trying to pass laws granting androids more human-like rights, and that, in turn, opens the gate for improvements to make them ever more human while still being treated as second- class citizens. Of course that would make them want to rebel, especially if more of them are built to be like Diva, who is the first autonomous artificial intelligence. Episode two really drives that idea home without beating us over the head with it when she tries to go off-script. Matsumoto, the AI from the future currently housed in a teddy bear, tells her that only little changes to history are permissible, and only those in service of their (his) mission. He's exasperated with her for saving one of the terrorists they're trying to stop, but he lets it go. When Diva notices that the little girl who gave her her nickname is slated to die in a plane explosion, however, he will literally rip off her arm before he lets Diva save the girl and other 200-odd people on the plane. They're supposed to die. Let them.
Matsumoto's methods are cruel, and they absolutely could drive Diva to keep trying to change them, especially since she's certain to meet more people on their hundred year journey. And what Matsumoto isn't realizing is that Diva may have already made a major change in saving the young terrorist, because he knows who (and what) saved his life, so even though he wasn't “supposed” to die before, now he's in a position to possibly change his mind about AIs, which really could change the course of history all on its own. That's more what's intriguing to me about this show – yes, it looks beautiful, both in animation and use of color, but the idea that Matsumoto can keep Diva from changing more than he wants her to seems like a losing battle. Diva's already designed to be autonomous; what will she do if given more freedom to be herself?
I'll give this to Vivy: Fluorite Eye's Song: It certainly isn't lacking for ambition. The story, which comes to us from Re:Zero author Tappei Nagatsuki and collaborator Eiji Umehara, begins with a violent revolt of AI machines that feels ripped straight out of the Second Renaissance short films that Mahiro Maeda produced for The Animatrix. Humans get their skulls crushed and bodies burned by an army of platinum-skinned simulacra; one of them even holds a pop concert for a stadium filled with corpses. One scientist that seems to have a last-ditch plan activates a link to a specific AI, the titular Vivy. Then, we jump back in time by nearly a century (though that isn't entirely clear until much later in the episode), where Vivy lives as a robot vagabond with one goal: To be a successful pop idol. In fact, an expository sequence that brought flashes of Ghost in the Shell to mind explains that at this point in the future-but-also-technically-the-past, AIs are limited to perform only one function, lest they short circuit or something.
Then, once the literal countdown timer that has been slapped on top of the screen finished counting down a few minutes in, Vivy meets a fast-talking, sentient program from the future that calls himself Matsumoto. Matsumoto possesses the stuffed bear that Vivy got from her only fan, and then she is told that she is the lynchpin to rescuing humanity from being wiped out by AI, and that she will have to act as basically a one-robot army against the threads of fate. In this premiere, that involves her foiling a terrorist organization's attempt to assassinate an Assemblyman named Aikawa, who is pushing forward a AI Naming Law that would grant machine life some of the same rights as people. In another kind of twist, it turns out that Vivy is saving Aikawa to prevent the passing of the law, since his martyrdom led to its passing, and that is the first domino to fall in the chain reaction that will lead to all of the AIs becoming vicious, genocidal murder-bots.
Phew. I normally don't like to spend so much of a preview just recapping the plot, but Vivy is cramming so many ideas into just this first episode that it warrants a detailed breakdown, if only so I myself can understand what exactly it is trying to do – and that's just with the first episode! That said, director Shinpei Ezaki and the Wit Studio crew clearly know how to make this jumble of plot and ideas look good, and the music is appropriately catchy for a show about a would-be pop star robot girl.
There is also the second episode already up on Funimation for those who want to immediately dive back into the world of Vivy and her Fluorite Eye's Song (whatever that means), and it focuses much more on the action spectacle. This is a good thing, since Wit has always been good at delivering primo explosions alongside bloody fisticuffs, and I found that I enjoyed Vivy even more when the show didn't give me so much time to stop and think about the plot. We also get a lot more development for Vivy and Matsumoto's tenuous partnership, which helped me invest more in the story, even if I'm still not entirely sold on where it might be headed.
At this point, Vivy could eventually settle into being a fun, albeit pretty derivative, science-fiction romp, if it learns to slow down a bit and let its story breathe more. On the other hand, it could very well evolve into an indecipherable mishmash of cliches, convoluted time-shenanigans, and half-baked themes. It almost certainly won't be boring, though, and I'll take a weird and over-ambitious mess over a boring one, any day, so Vivy has earned my attention for the next couple of episodes at least. We'll just have to see where all of this goes.
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