Disorder Reviews: Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song (2021)

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Mister Disorder
Apr 3, 2020
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I have recently released two Shin Megami Tensei mashup albums. Instead of posting reviews on the Disorder Reviews blog, I generally upload playthrough videos on the Mr. Disorder YouTube channel. I'm doing better in regards to the stroke and the debt, thank you for your concern.



Director: Shinpei Ezaki
Script: Tappei Nagatsuki, Eiji Umehara
Music: Satoru Kōsaki
Wit Studio
Initial Airing Date: 3 April 2021 – 19 June 2021
# of Episodes:

This review contains spoilers.


Stories where an AI discovers what it means to be human are kind of like Disney movies with an openly gay character: they always act like it’s the first time someone’s ever done it. Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is one of those shows. Produced by the same studio that had adapted Vinland Saga, it has been subject to plenty of acclaim, but perhaps the viewers who sing its praises are as robotic as the subjects depicted therein. In the same way that an AI can store every word in the dictionary and yet be incapable of putting together a coherent sentence, this show possesses many storytelling ideas without knowing how to make a compelling narrative with them.

As do plenty of anime, Vivy lives and dies with its story. In the distant future, artificial intelligence has advanced to such a point that autonomous AIs are now being created. To ensure they work optimally, they are assigned a single mission to fulfill through their existence. Among these creations is the songstress Diva — also named Vivy — who, as she loves to bring up each episode, has the mission of “making everyone happy with her singing”. One day, an AI known as Matsumoto arrives from the future and warns her that humanity will become extinct due to an AI uprising 100 years from now. There is only one solution: they must prevent multiple key events that will shape the history of artificial intelligence, in hopes that the rights of AI will not progress enough for this war to take place.

Since the show tries to revolve around its eponymous character, she is a good place to start discussing the story. Before that, however, I want to give a preemptive example of a compelling AI. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation may be the gold standard for television: he is a character that seems to have all the ingredients to be human, but is quite literally missing that emotional core that allows the pieces to click together. Even so, Brent Spiner and the writers were able to use his analytical and artificial nature as the basis for a distinct personality. He is a curious individual who is eager to learn about the human(oid) experience by engaging with others, even if certain nuances elude him. He grows not only by learning about himself and his creator, but also through the bonds he forms with people in and out of the Enterprise.

Vivy isn’t like that. Compared to other androids and AIs in fiction, she is a flat and unconvincing vessel — a “character” only in the most nominal sense of the term. Even by the standards of other AIs in the same anime, she is flat, which you could actually consider a plot hole. For half of its duration, she is purposefully depicted as emotionless when she is not singing or performing certain services, only for other AIs to have the emotional range of a typical human. After a particular event, she reboots and subsequently boasts a completely different, more arrogant personality that only stands out in contrast to her prior behavior. This lasts for all of three episodes, and the existence of this “alter ego” is never explored in any meaningful capacity. After that, it’s back to the flat-toned AI voice.

Arguably, this is the point. Vivy is discovering her humanity by coming in contact with other people, whether human or AI. To use the words of the show itself, she wants to learn what it means to “put your heart into something”. Beyond what I assume is wonky translation, the intent is for her to develop a sense of personal agency: by the end, she learns to sing not just because she is designed to do so, but because she is compelled to do so. It would make sense for her to start off like that and evolve as she experiences various events. Unfortunately, the characters around her are just as problematic. She spends a huge chunk of the anime interacting with Matsumoto, who, unlike her, loves to talk. His entire personality boils down to being the one that talks up a storm at the drop of a hat. He speaks very fast on purpose, in fact, and it’s not even remotely endearing. Imagine a “red oni, blue oni” situation where the blue oni does nothing and the red oni is a perpetual motion machine of inane bullshit.

Now, here’s the thing: Vivy and Matsumoto, neither of whom are fun to watch, are the ones that get most of the screen time. You actually have a few characters that are interesting conceptually, but since the show spends two or three episodes tops on a given subplot, they are used and discarded too fast to make an impact. In episodes 3 and 4, Vivy approaches a caretaker AI named Estella, who crashes a space hotel into the Earth in Matsumoto’s future. It’s revealed through flashbacks that she was one of two AIs who were designed with a shared consciousness as part of an experiment. The other one, Elizabeth, was disposed of, found by an anti-AI terrorist group, and tasked with causing the crash. On paper, a conflict between android twins has a lot of potential. In the anime itself, the flashbacks and Elizabeth’s entire arc are shoved into a single episode. By the way, a lot of the setup for this arc is done by having Matsumoto exposition dump every couple of minutes, just to make sure the viewer has a hard time actually getting invested.

Here’s a second example: the last major event Vivy has to retcon is the suicide of Ophelia, who is a singer AI as well. Sparing you the details, this is another case of a strong hook ruined by adding a bunch of twists rather than just having characters talk and share experiences with each other. In addition, we get to see a member of the anti-AI terrorist group cover 70% of his character arc in the span of half an episode. Have I mentioned that, in the middle of all this, you have multiple action sequences? Have I also mentioned that you have no reason to care about them, since the direction isn’t interesting and you’re not invested in the characters? It feels like they’ve put a lot of things in this show just because, but the action scenes in particular have the distinct aroma of a formality.

This tendency to shove ten kilos of ideas in a five-kilo bag (sorry about the mangled saying, I just don’t acknowledge the imperial system) is by far the biggest issue with Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song. As you make your way through it, questions such as “Wait, what’s the deal with this? Are they going to explain this?” will make way for a sort of viewer’s ego death. The notion of “narrative” soon becomes lost in an aether of unintentional surrealism. With a mere 13 episodes, it seems content with ticking every box in the check-list of its story without thinking about the implications of its own concepts. It may have plot holes, but it never establishes a coherent enough story for them to specifically detract from it. The premise fundamentally involves time travel, and yet it adds nothing to the story beyond allowing for Matsumoto’s existence and invalidating the dramatic tension in the last episode — we’ll go back to that in a moment.

The worst part is that the show acts like all those underused story elements play an integral role in a grand character study. After having recovered her “personality”, Vivy is unable to sing, and she wonders once more what it means to “put her heart into something” — she loves to repeat this line as well. This is the subject of episode 10, the best one by a country mile. With Vivy in an AI museum and no events to change, the show cuts the bullshit and, heaven forbid, explores its themes. She discovers that no AI has ever written a song of its own volition, and so she begins to write one. To have her make her own music, rather than perform that of other people, is a legitimately good way to demonstrate the growth of her agency. In the process, she also befriends a child by the name of Osamu. In a montage, we see her work on this song as Osamu grows up, gets married, and has a child. This is the only compelling moment in the whole narrative, with no exposition dumping and no action sequences to dilute things. The focus is entirely on the back-and-forth between Osamu’s growth and Vivy’s attempt to synthesize her life experiences.

And even then, it’s predicated on a mountain of lies.

Vivy is meant to consider what she has learned from the people she’s met over the years, but at no moment has it felt like she connected with Matsumoto, Estella, Ophelia, or anyone else. She is a bystander to most of the emotional narrative of her own show. It’s as if she was sloppily grafted on top of better story concepts that were then sewn together into a full series. It’s not like she actually changed anything by intervening in these incidents: they still happen, and the AI uprising takes place anyway. The only difference is that she ends up writing a song based on her memories, and the AI collective goes up to tell her “Hey, if you can sing this, I’m willing to shut down and let the humans live” — something that could have happened without the need for any time travel, mind you.

Remember when I said the time travel invalidates the dramatic tension? The reason for this is that Vivy is unable to sing this song before the AIs crash satellites into the Earth and wipe out humanity. All seems to be lost, only for Osamu — who grew up to become the scientist that made Matsumoto, I thought you should know — to give her the opportunity to go back in time and repeat events we saw in the last episode. They could have added an emotional moment where she regains the will to sing at the climax; instead, they decided that the best way to raise the stakes was to have her fail and try again immediately afterwards like it’s nothing. Adding insult to injury, Matsumoto has this inspirational rant where he tells her that if it weren’t for her stubbornness and determination, the mission wouldn’t have worked out. You know, the mission that didn’t actually succeed and through which Vivy did little on her own. If the point of all this is to make the viewer feel as emotionally detached as an android, it’s a resounding success.

I have not even covered half of all the baffling storytelling decisions in here, but there is only so much I can heap onto you with a clear conscience. In terms of presentation, there is very little that redeems Vivy either. I’ve seen a lot of people praise the animation: the musical performances, for one, can be fairly elaborate. However, the visuals, whether it’s character or environment design, are not all that different from what you would describe as the “generic anime style”. The same can be said for the direction, which plays things very safe beyond the ineptitude of the plot. It doesn’t matter how well you can animate if you have nothing interesting to show and no creative way to animate it. (Some of the running animations are hilariously janky, though.) Also, for a show where music plays a major role, it’s peculiar that the soundtrack is half generic orchestral music, half generic J-Pop, all courtesy of MONACA (the Nier music team). Then again, it makes perfect sense that a song written by an AI would sound like a machine-generated anime opener.

Here’s an aside to close things out: every single notable AI character with a human appearance is a woman designed like a waifu. Most of them occupy positions commonly associated with women, such as singers and caretakers. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the problematic implications of that. I also don’t need to tell you how questionable it is that the female lead constantly needs a male AI to tell her what’s going on, not to mention he has to rescue her half the time when she goes her own way. I do have to compliment one thing: by forcing the viewer through Matsumoto’s endless talking, this anime perfectly captures the awkward feeling of being a woman and having to hear a guy ramble on and on about the lore of his favorite fantasy series. That’s about the only praise I can give to Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song. Sure, it has a few interesting ideas, but if we gave people credit for “interesting ideas”, the Catholic Church wouldn’t have put all those Gnostics in the dirt where they belong.