Title: Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song
Length: 13 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Sci-fi, thriller, drama, action
Year of release: 2021
Vivy is another anime in a long line of sci-fi romps using music to fight against the (unusually sympathetic) forces of evil and inspire communication when words can’t. Macross did it 30 years ago, and has kept going even when space opera fell out of favour, but these anime kept coming – most recently, notably, in the Symphogear franchise. But Vivy’s got a few things that these anime don’t such as far stronger character development – and a loose-ends-tied-up ending! Hurrah! Maybe?
Like all good anime about singers saving the world, Vivy is a hodgepodge of sci-fi flavours. Not only is it utilising a good bit of cynerpunkish futuristic backdropping, but it’s a think-piece on AI consciousness – relating to our titular Vivy, who is in fact a singer AI – and it’s got a dash of time-travel for plotting. Specifically, a fan of Vivy from 100 years in the year future sends back data in the form of the AI Matsumumoto, who explains to Vivy that the AI of the future are going to turn on humanity and slaughter them to extinction, and expects her to take part in the ‘Singularity Project’ to prevent this. Terminator vibes, except if Arnold Schwarzenegger’s development was put front-and-centre – and, also, that the muscle junky was in fact a cute girl.
I do draw issue with the lipservice of the time-travel nonsense. Even by the end, it’s not clear how the different timelines are supposed to intersect and feels like plot-holes were dug for convenience, but all that nonsense takes second stage to Vivy’s development herself. What is, honestly, very similar to ground and execution that Violet Evergarden trod just a couple years ago (or, for some of us in the world, where it’s movie conclusion screened just a few hours ago), with Vivy being an almost perfect robotic individual, dead-set on her ‘mission’ (to touch the hearts of everybody with her singing), but being unsure of what emotions really are. Her journey is plotted around several idioms where she asks herself, every other episode it seems, what putting your ‘heart into something’ really means.
Along the 100 year journey through time, she sees key points in history that would lead to the war, and works to prevent them while exploring her own consciousness and existence. Along the way, she spends time with the key AI and humans at the centre of specific conflicts – such as the terrorist attack that catalysed a breakthrough for AI rights, the first AI lead terrorist attack, the first AI-to-human marriage, the first AI suicide etc, and it spends 2-3 episodes exploring the conflict. The parallels to Violet Evergarden are therefore pretty apt, in that Vivy spends time with these people and learns more about emotion, but these parallels are very favourable to Vivy; it’s script is not perfect (with a little too much focus on airy sci-fi exposition) but is well equipped to handle the personal musings of its characters; it also doesn’t force the juxtaposition of Vivy’s emotional beats towards her ongoing development, and instead allows them to form naturally until near the end where they come together.
On the back of 100 years of worldbuilding and constant back-and-forths in Vivy’s development across time, the sheer content that Vivy managed to stuff into 13 episodes should have been mindblowing, but it never felt rushed or imbalanced in developments. It feels like Vivy achieved the golden standard for pacing an action show.
Like Violet Evergarden, it’s also got a heavy action subplot, and is particularly good at lining up the emotional beats of episodes with solid action. In fact, some of these action scenes are incredible, with Studio Wit (of Attack on Titan fame) really flexing their stuff on scenes of Vivy charging through AI battles with an inhuman grace. When she rides a hovering motorbike-thing into the heart of a tower, the soundtrack’s incredible hype-tune blares and pumps the blood with sheer adrenaline. If it wasn’t for my temporomandibular joint dysfunction, my jaw would have been somewhere on the floor. There were a good handful of great looking anime this season, but Vivy easily takes the cake, and its hyper realistic stills (that took 3 days to render from start-to-finish!) were a unique bit of flair on top of an already confident production. The focus on intricate motion and life-like detail emphasise the parallels between Vivy and living human beings, alongside Vivy grappling with this in the narrative.
Oh. OH. OH!!! This anime does hype so well. It can create whirlwind of emotions easily, sending you to the brink of your seat and bring you back with a sharp pang of feeling, tragedy, and relief – all at once.
Unlike it’s obvious contemporaries in Symphogear and Macross, singing doesn’t (tend to) accompany the action scenes, relying on its epic OST to carry the score. Vivy is a performer, but she becomes an action hero on the side along Matsumoto, and her struggling to fit this humanity saving side-gig into her schedul is half the battle. In fact, she wants to save the world without committing battle programming. She wants to remain a singer until the end, but all the experience she gains, all the little progress she makes as a character, is actually making her a much more engaging singer. This feeds into the well written tragedy underpinning the season because this is delivered ironically… her increasing humanity is turning her into a catalyst for the AI War. She is inspiring other AI to be more human which, Vivy as an anime argues alongside its imagery of human terrorism and sympathetic AI, is perhaps the problem as much as it is the solution.
Vivy might struggle a little as a sci-fi with a handful of gaping plot-holes, but it is tremendous at exploring her and other AI’s humanity. As she series expands, and she meets all these colourful faces, her journey towards humanity is both tragic and inspiring. The series isn’t blunt enough to ask us what the difference is between us and them, but is shows us eloquently that all that matters is our experiences, our connections, our memories and our feelings that make us human. I loved watching Vivy connect with others, and fight against her instincts to be an AI and opt to be a better person instead. When she began to think for herself near the end, and understand that, it was triumphant personal change, and the anime was excellent at extrapolating such moments. So, yes, Vivy is the kind of anime that you’ll cry to, but it’s good natured enough to have you crying at deeply personal tragedies as well as uplifting moments of catharsis.
This anime’s ability to humanise even the less-cute AI was particularly strong. Nier fans found a certain middle arc of the series reminiscent of ‘This Cannot Continue’, and that’s a fantastic compliment to give to the series.
Unfortunately, the sci-fi plot has to resolve everything. Though… that is one thing Vivy has over its contemporaries, anyway. An ending. Unlike many of these music-battle anime that preempt it, Vivy has seemingly no intention of a second series where its songwriters can keep dishing out anthems to the developments and world-building – and franchising – it already laid out. It’s quite keen to finish, in fact, with an ending that ties everything up tightly. Perhaps a little too tightly, in a way that’s tragic without good reason.
Be wary Re:Zero fans, because this is what it looks like when the same author finishes his shows. We had a similar issue with Sigrdrifa that he also penned just a little while ago, abruptly finishing when it really could have gone on. Vivy’s finale was, honestly, what it was building up to all along and the climax was a great scene, so I can’t be too harsh on its foundation – it only appeared bad at the ending note’s discordant tone. The tragic underpinning felt tacked on, and I’m not convinced it had to be as dour as it was. That post-credit stinger, too, felt like a genre underpinning more than a necessity – a clever ‘a-ha!’ because that’s what all AI fiction like to do, but it didn’t feel earned. The final episode even felt a little rushed, glazing over plot-holes with more shallow sci-fi lipservice than it ever had done.
As a Re:Zero fan and hardcore Emilia stan… panic!!!
But!… but up until this hurdle, Vivy raced towards the finale with epic hype and beautiful grace. With impressive craft, all around, Vivy cements itself at a level above its peers – it’s not a one-hit-wonder, at all; it has feeling that will continue to resonate on and on. Just, don’t come into Vivy looking for high-brow sci-fi nonsense. It doesn’t have that. It tries, it fails, but it does succeed where most of its peers missed the mark – for the highbrow sci-fis, it one-upped them by being really, really, really heartfelt, and to fellow Music Battle Anime, it beat them by matching its epic action with strong character climaxes. The ending left me sour, but despite my tone… it wasn’t enough of a kick to really downmark the impactful impression Vivy left all series long as a popcorn munching bit of AI fiction with heart.