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This Week in Anime
How Does Vivy Reinvigorate the AI vs Humanity Trope?

by Steve Jones & Jean-Karlo Lemus,

The future of virtual idols looks bleak in Wit Studio's new original series Vivy -Fluorite Eye's Song-. Diva dreams to live up to her namesake but a weird time-traveling teddybear has other ideas for her. Like preventing an impending war between AI and humans.

This series is streaming on Funimation

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

Spoiler Warning for discussion of the movie ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Jean-Karlo
EARLY IN 2021, WIT STUDIO EXPANDED INTO ROBOTIC SCI-FI WITH VIVY -FLUORITE EYE'S SONG-. THE SHOW EXPLORED TIME TRAVEL, EMERGENT AI, AND ONE'S SEARCH FOR IDENTITY.

VIVY WAS STREAMED ON FUNIMATION. SPECIAL WRITERS— ANN WRITERS—HAD ORDERS TO WATCH, OPINE, AND REVIEW VIVY.

THIS WAS NOT CALLED WORK.

IT WAS CALLED 'THIS WEEK IN ANIME'.

Steve
Beep boop my name is Steve and I am a robot with one mission: making bad jokes at the expense of a different anime each week. It's a pleasure.
Steve, I say this about a lot of shows I cover, and I never stop meaning it: Vivy came out of nowhere for me, and it definitely was my pleasure to watch this show.
Yeah same! I had no expectations going in, but turns out Vivy is basically the Greatest Hits version of AI stories from anime, games, and films over the past several decades. And since I love a lot of those, there's a lot to love here.
Likewise. I legit tear up at hearing Vangelis's score for Blade Runner, and I am that basic bitch that will actively seek out Asimov's Caves of Steel for fun. (Oh yeah, and I legit love Astro Boy.) Robot fiction is a thing that can go so, so badly when it's handled clumsily (see: Detroit: Become Human). But when it goes right? You get Vivy.

Oh man, do you ever get Vivy.

It's got a lot of wiry appendages to chew on, that's for sure! But stop me if you've heard this one before: war breaks out between androids and humans 100 years in the future, ending disastrously for the side not made out of titanium. Thus, humans send a messenger back in time to change history and prevent AIs from uprising in the first place.

Only instead of a ruggedly handsome resistance fighter doing the time traveling, we have to put up with shitty Wheatley over here.

This is Matsumoto, and I hate him too.

Matsumoto is sent back in time to Diva, a gynoid who performs at a theme park. At the outset of the series, Diva's shows are barely a footnote—she entertains an audience of maybe a handful of people. But according to Matsumoto, Diva is destined to become a great singer beloved by many, and also the model for many other singing gynoids made in her wake.

Too bad Matsumoto also needs her to carry out wetwork meant to help prevent the robot uprising set to occur in one century.

Oh yeah, Vivy's opening scene is great: it contrasts all this gory carnage with the bubbly pop song being sung by one of Diva's digital protégés. It's critical mass irony right out the gate. Vivy is rarely a subtle show, but it manages to make that work for it.
This is basically Ian Malcolm's joke in Jurassic Park about the Pirates of the Caribbean-eating tourists come to life.

Now, here's the thing: Matsumoto is super-sketchy, because everything he has Vivy do is only on his word, and covers stuff that doesn't sensibly lead to a robot apocalypse. Vivy's first mission involves preventing a certain politician from being assassinated. His death would have increased public support for a new bill that would allow for all AI to adopt legal names. With his survival and trauma from having almost been killed by anti-AI terrorists from the Toak group, the bill is put on the backburner.
The other thing is, Matsumoto is not above getting physical to get Diva to do what he wants. For example, when Diva accidentally finds out that a plane crash is set to kill a friend of hers, Matsumoto pulls a Ripley and beats her around with a power loader to keep her from preventing the crash.

It's not easy to watch.

It's also worth noting that Matsumoto spends the first two arcs as a tiny wisecracking teddy bear, which automatically triggers my fight or flight response thanks to Danganronpa. He's nothing but bad news.

But yeah, the specific mechanics of Matsumoto's mission are one of the more interesting conflicts in the show. His goal is to stop the war by halting the progression of AI technology, so they never achieve enough sentience and willpower to revolt against their masters. But intentionally robbing AI of their chance to evolve and become full-fledged people is, in its own way, a pretty awful thing to do. Especially given how we've seen people treat AI both in the doomed timeline and their current jumbled up one.
And because of the time-travel angle, the consequences of Diva's actions can be wholly unpredictable. For example, in the original timeline a robot crashes an orbiting hotel into the ocean, leading to an uprise of distrust against AI. Because of Diva's actions, the hotel is simply burnt up upon re-entry, and the gynoid who steered the hotel until its final moments was marked as a hero and inspired a massive rise of support for robots—leading to the development of a robot-run factory for other robots about 20 years before it was supposed to happen.

The show is nice enough to show us the timeline diverging with every action Diva takes.

Or there's the delicious irony of their first target—the sponsor of a landmark AI rights bill that gets passed in honor of his death—revealing himself to be just a small-time self-serving politician.

However, Diva's heroic actions instead spur him to fight for AI rights for real, which leads to an even better bill.

In other words, Matsumoto is hilariously bad at his job. All they've done so far is accelerate the war. It's wonderful.
But that's the thing—see, it's early enough in Vivy that we wouldn't know if Matsumoto was just full of crap and instead pushing Diva to take actions that would ensure the war in an attempt at a stable time loop. After all, Diva in Matsumoto's timeline is just a museum piece locked in a gilded cage...

Also fittingly, most of the gynoids that Diva encounters and wind up being historically relevant are "sister" models of hers.
Yeah, he tells her this week not to worry about that little detail, but I trust that about as far as I could throw his tiny teddy bear body. Which is probably pretty far, now that I think about it, but regardless. That twist is definitely something I have my eyes on, as loathe as I would be to root for Matsumoto. But if the other option is Diva collecting dust for eternity, I do have to admit I prefer the timeline where she becomes a badass action hero.

Big Major Motoko Kusanagi energy here.
A detail I appreciate Wit Studio taking effort into embellishing is how artificial the robots look up close. Zoomed-in face shots of Diva or any of her "sisters" take great pains to make their skin look too perfect or doll-like. This also means damage looks particularly jarring.

Not quite Osamu Dezaki's pastel freeze-frames, but a damn good artistic decision.

Also, robots bleed blue.

Just a heads up.

I believe this is Studio Wit deploying their special makeup team again. I remember them from Kabaneri, and it's nice to see those talents applied to make the androids look even more uncanny. It's jarring, but in a good way.

By the way, if this is the kind of stuff we can expect more of from Wit now that they're free of their Titanic yoke, count me happy.
We should also talk about Toak, the anti-robot terrorist cell. See, Vivy takes place over a period of years—the second pair of episodes take place fifteen years after the first two, and the next two take place about another five years after that. Toak's methods are all the same, but one guy keeps popping back up. We first see him when Diva saves him from dying in an attempt on a politician's life, and every arc since has him show up and get summarily trounced and rescued by Diva.
We still haven't gotten a good look inside his head, but I mean, if I were an anti-robot terrorist who kept getting his life saved by a hot and super strong robot lady, I'd probably have some complicated feelings boiling in there.

Also, her saving his life multiple times is likely another factor that contributes to the acceleration of the AI war, for better or worse.
He probably learned somewhere that 2B weighs over 300 lbs (148 kg). And that's a dangerous weight for a robot waifu who's only a little over 5'5''. Totally dangerous. It has to be restricted and controlled. Before it falls into the wrong hands.

I mean, imagine the impact of 148 kgs on a poor guy's hips. Helluva way to go. Or so I hear.

Incidentally, that space hotel being colony-dropped there is named Sunrise, because Vivy likes to have a little fun in between all the sad robot pontificating.

And speaking of 2B and sad robots, I hope you're ready for some familiarly spherical faces this week, because I sure wasn't.

Can't wait for this guy and his buddies to start chanting about how they will BECOME AS GOD, BECOME AS GOD.

But seriously, M there—as well as his factory coworkers—are part of the current arc, and also part of why I distrust Matsumoto so much. An "employee" of the robot-run factory that supplies robot parts following their increased demand, M and his family—as well as the Mother Computer that directs them—are actually quite genteel and hospitable. Their greatest dream is that someday, their island can play host to humans and maybe serve as a daycare for children.

God, and they even make all the little Nier Automata robots sing one of Diva's songs back to her in the middle of their ramshackle and unintentionally creepy approximation of a surprise party. It's disgustingly adorable and melancholic.

This cannot continue...continue breaking my heart, that is.
Courtesy of Diva's intervention, the factory is infected with new operatives that are supposed to shut it all down—and instead turn the robots into self-sacrificing torpedoes to keep humans away.

We see M's dream literally dissolve before his very eyes before he and his brethren fend off a wave of attacks from Toak.

Look, I know what red eyes mean in the Drakengard/Nier universe, and it's not good, trust me.
Is this the face of a robot that will contribute to the armed uprising against the human race, leading to a new world order?

Nuts to that. Again, it's too early to tell, but there are so many holes in what Matsumoto tells us that there's bound to be a massive twist somewhere.

The Metal Float also seems way too prepared not only for the terrorist attack but for the virus as well. Like, they know they're advancing too fast, so they're scrambling to invite humans to the island so they can argue emotionally for their continued existence. However, they're also clearly prepared to ensure their survival with more drastic measures. And who's to blame them? They're just trying to fulfill the missions they were given by humanity.
That's another thing. As the years wheel past, Diva herself questions her purpose between missions. She loves singing and performing for humans, it's what she was made for. All throughout the series, she asks her fellow robots what they think it means to put their heart into something.
And of course part of the point is that humans can't give a straightforward answer either, because questions of purpose like that are a fundamental part of humanity. That Diva is questioning the same thing herself is proof enough that she's her own person.
Robots trying to understand hearts and emotions isn't new—but Vivy really does make it work. That's the real linchpin here. So much of this is stuff you've seen before, but it feels fresh and sometimes that's all you need. Like, a later arc involves a scientist who becomes famous for having married a gynoid (who, surprise surprise, is a "sister" of Diva's). It's still fascinating, because he's involved with shutting down the Metal Float—essentially putting an end date to his wife's existence.
It's very sad, yes, but I also can't deny I got a good chuckle out of the cycloptic side-eye Matsumoto gives the couple upon meeting them.
Jealousy is a worse look for you than the raggedy teddy bear, Matsumoto.
They're renowned in the original timeline as the first marriage between a human and AI, but this is one case where it's difficult for me to suspend my disbelief. Knowing what I know about people, there had to have been some percentage of the population that was horny for the robots even back when they looked like creepy mannequins.
Yoko Taro's probably got that zip file lying around still...
BTW if anyone has a zip file of concept art for action OL-mode Diva, please feel free to send it my way.
Excuse me, that's clearly Vivy. Diva is a singer.

...It just hit me that Vivy's penchant for disguises might be a very roundabout Cutie Honey reference and I am not prepared for that eventuality.
You know what, you've got a point there! But they're also some pretty bad disguises if you can be recognized by a girl who only knows you via her long-dead sister. Vivy has many strong qualities, but subterfuge ain't one of them.

Now if she disguises herself as Hatsune Miku one episode, that might be a different story...

Also, to clarify, because we've really glossed over this: Diva adopts the alias "Vivy" when she's on her missions.
It's a convenient way of separating her two lives: one as an idol, and one as a moonlighting secret agent every decade or so. Diva/Vivy is also legit a compelling character, which is no small feat for an emotionally-restrained soft spoken robot girl.
I appreciate that this show isn't forcing some weird tragic torture-porn angle where the gist of Diva's growth is emotional suffering masked as meaningful storytelling, or some emotionally manipulative bit where she can't grasp basic concepts. Again, Vivy covers a lot of well-tread ground, but so far has handled it quite expertly.

At the time of writing, Vivy -Fluorite Eye's Song- has only aired five episodes. It's definitely a good time to jump in because when the shoe drops I expect it'll land, hard.

Yeah it's been a consistently entertaining watch so far—embracing its many influences, while adding its own flavor to the blend. It's also just a solid sci-fi yarn co-written by Re:Zero's author Tappei Nagatsuki, so if that does anything for you, welcome to the fold.

And if you just want to see some robot ladies beat the shit out of each other, also welcome.

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