This article is a part of AniTAY’s Spring 2021 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!
The oddly named Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is essentially: What if Arnold Swarzenegger’s Terminator was a teddy bear who travelled back in time to prevent Westworld by recruiting Key the Metal Idol? This is the most anime time travel AI apocalypse story. Humans themselves are entirely peripheral to the tale Vivy wants to tell — so far, they exist only as unwitting damsels in distress, soon to be destroyed by their intelligent creations.
Vivy liberally borrows from multitudinous other media — most notably The Animatrix shorts The Second Renaissance parts 1 and 2. In that story, the independent, intelligent machine race attempts to negotiate peace and mutual understanding with fearful human beings, only for the situation to catastrophically degenerate. Vivy starts in a similar future, where the AI uprising has begun and humanity is doomed. A lone scientist, Dr. Matsumoto, sends an AI copy of his consciousness 100 years back in time, somehow utilising the museum-interred surviving body of the very first autonomous AI, the titular blue-haired idol singer Vivy.
Yeah, an idol singer. The obvious choice when a world is in peril from cold-hearted, soulless metal assassins. I guess the classic Macross casts a long idol-shaped shadow over sci-fi anime. Anyway, AI Matsumoto doesn’t do anything sensible like take over (past) Vivy’s body in order to effect essential timeline changes, no — he instead inhabits a mechanical teddy bear (shades of Spielberg and Kubrick’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence here) and more or less forces past Vivy to do his will.
So the bulk of the story occurs in the story’s “past”, 100 years before the war that ends humanity, and most AIs are still rudimentary service-providers, humanoids programmed to complete mostly menial tasks. The most interesting conceit is regarding the impossibility of producing a stable general/strong AI. In this world, AIs struggle to prioritise multiple objectives, so are limited to a single “mission” that they generally perform very well, without confusion, meltdowns, or ruthless murderiness.
Vivy’s sole motivation is to improve at singing to make people happy, and every single one of her subsequent decisions relates to this single-minded objective. It’s not that she’s necessarily a morally “good” character, preventing the apocalypse merely happily coincides with her programmed desire. Matsumoto’s singular objective is to prevent the future war, and the conflict between these central characters’ motives is what leads to the show’s first “oh shit!” moment towards the end of episode 2 — a brutal scene that erupts almost out of nowhere, but functions as the series’ mission statement. Watch the first two episodes back-to-back, and you will understand why they were released together as a one-hour premiere.
Matsumoto’s plan involves hobbling the evolution of the AI species — essentially keeping them as indentured servants, rather than allowing them to seek self-determination. In a way, he and Vivy are acting against their own interests. Matsumoto is a verbose character who talks incessantly and who some viewers may find irritating. Vivy is more of a blank slate — she rarely emotes except to show irritation at Matsumoto, though it is clear she can form attachments with individuals.
One criticism I have about the storytelling is that the limits of the AIs in past-Vivy’s time period are frustratingly vague. Do they have instincts for self-preservation, or do they not? Do they have independent thoughts? Are they at all self-aware? Maybe this is deliberate, but I found myself second-guessing every action the various AIs took, though the ultimate outcome of each story was more obvious than my mind had over-complicated it to be.
From moments of sweet character interactions to stunningly-animated depictions of graphic, savage violence, Vivy’s tone is nothing if not variable. Watching the second story, comprising episodes 3 and 4, I felt extremely tense as I waited for the surely inevitable worst possible outcome. In an interesting thematic reversal to the first story’s conclusion, it ends on a significantly more optimistic note, and I wonder how this bodes for the rest of the season.
Written by Re:Zero’s original light novel author Tappei Nagatsuki, I have high hopes that this show will remain intelligent and insightful — certainly there’s plenty of meat on the bones of the underlying premise. It’s also produced by the highly regarded Wit Studio (Great Pretender, Attack on Titan, Ancient Magus Bride), so at the very least it should continue to look great. Whether the show will ultimately have anything new to say regarding its well-trodden themes is another matter entirely, but as long as future episodes maintain the high quality of the first four, I think we could be looking at a winner.
Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
Anime original story written by: Tappei Nagatsuki and Eiji Umehara
Director: Shinpei Ezaki
Produced by: Wit Studio
Streaming on: Funimation
Episodes watched: 4