This review contains spoilers for the reviewed material. This is your only warning.
“….Goodbye, shattered dreams….”
To evaluate art, you must first understand what it is trying to do. This is a simple maxim of modern criticism and is one applied by myself and many thousands of other writers up and down the length of the medium and beyond. It borders on a truism.
So, then, the question practically asks itself. What do you do when “what it’s trying to do” turns out to be “not very much”? This is a conundrum I struggled with throughout Vivy – Flourite Eye’s Song as it neared its conclusion. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First, the craftsmanship side of things. It’s a Wit Studio production, and looks it. Vivy joins last year’s The Great Pretender as a resoundingly stylish visual affair. The series looks and sounds great and is extremely well-directed. In particular, if all you’re looking for is a fun brain-teaser plot that you don’t intend to take too seriously, and some excellent action pieces and fun character animation, there’s enough to love here to keep you happy.
But what’s it about?
That is a surprisingly tough question.
Vivy is a sci-fi series. In a purely literal sense, it’s about AI, meaning generally androids with artificial intelligence here. It joins a long lineage of anime that tackle this topic, going back to the dawn of the medium.
Vivy herself, the title character, also called Diva, is a singing AI, whose “life mission” (all AI here get one, and only one) is to make people happy with her songs. She’s also the agent chosen by Matsumoto, a cube-shaped automaton who somewhat resembles a cubified version of Wheatley from Portal 2, for a seemingly-impossible task. A century in the future, a war will break out between AIs and humankind. The AIs will decidedly win.
Matsumoto has been sent back in time by his own creator to prevent this, and Diva essentially must help him, or else the future will be doomed. Across a baker’s dozen episodes, she does so. Vivy is the very image of a reluctant adventure protagonist. She rescues politicians, evacuates satellite-hotels as they fall out of orbit, confronts super-factories of autonomous drones, and so on. As a pure spectacle, it’s easy to make a case for Vivy.
The unfortunate, if perhaps predictable, rejoinder to that then, is that despite this Vivy still falls well short of its goal of being a truly new spin on the AI-focused part of the sci-fi genre. Unlike a lot of fiction that tackles this topic, Vivy is keenly uninterested in asking any hard questions of itself, or of its audience. No thought is given to the AIs as their own characters, except in service to their human masters. For Vivy herself the problem is slightly more abstract, but still present.
The series has what I can only call a perspective problem; while Vivy‘s literal plot is tightly-written, at least until it falls on its face in the series’ final third, the actual ideas it presents often come up short. Thinking you have something to say, and actually having such, are, after all, different things.
At the series’ two-thirds mark, it is established that Diva and Vivy are, in fact, different people. What is still often incorrectly referred to as a “split personality” situation but is more properly called plurality. We spend most of the series with Vivy, but starting at episode eight we spend a significant amount of time with Diva, too. Just an episode and a half later, at the climax of episode nine, she dies, done in by a virus that deletes her “personality construct” from the shared body.
On its own, there is nothing inherently wrong with killing a character as the take-a-bow moment to finish out a story arc. In certain genres, and in the proper context, it can work very well. When I say Vivy‘s problem is one of perspective, what I mean is that the trope as used here resoundingly doesn’t. The narrative wrings her for pathos, and when it can no longer think of a way to do that, she gets the proverbial gun to the temple.
The actual scene itself–where Diva and Vivy briefly meet for the first time as the former sings her heart out even as her code unravels by the second–is an audio-visual triumph, one might go so far as to say it’s powerful. But when the songs fade and you catch your breath, you are left with the fact that you’ve just watched a character die because the story could not see fit to let her live. It feels pointless, offensive even, with the benefit of even a few minutes of hindsight.
The scene I outline above is certainly the worst of these that punctuates Vivy, but it’s not the only one, and the series’ habit of killing characters willy-nilly for no good reason is a bad Achilles’ Heel for an anime to have. It doesn’t tank Vivy entirely, as that production aspect is still there, but it completely neuters the series as a narrative piece. It’s genuinely impressive how irrelevant to the current moment it feels in a world overrun with algorithms, deepfakes, and machine learning.
In general, the broadness of Vivy‘s view is tied directly to its success. In the rare moments when it remembers to actually humanize all of its characters, not just the ones who are literally human, it sings.
When it does not, it feels crushingly lonely in the worst way possible. It never finds a real core in any of this death and twisted metal. It’s all story beats run through with impressive, but mechanical precision. In a somewhat grim irony, given its subject matter, it feels like a facsimile of a better anime. It has no soul.
In the end, Vivy‘s narrowness is its undoing. In its final few episodes even the previously solid plot begins to unravel, and the ending escapes being worth detailed analysis. It’s a hodge-podge of garden variety time-loop nonsense, the series’ audacious but completely unearned attempt to transmute flashbacks into an AMV of itself, and finally, of course, the death of Vivy herself. I will leave the issue of whether her resurrection, with amnesia, in a post-credits scene makes this slightly better or even worse to you, the reader.
When Vivy began some naysayers made a called shot about what the problem would be; that Vivy would be a slickly produced series with nothing at all interesting to actually say. With the further note that the series lacks warmth or empathy, I’d now say those people were unfortunately correct, regardless of if they were actually foreseeing potential issues or simply guessing and being right by happenstance. The series has enough merits to avoid being a total waste of time, but conversely I cannot imagine it enduring the march of history for long. Nor does it deserve to.
It is a shame. Speaking only for myself, I go into every anime I watch with the assumption that it will become the best version of itself. That decidedly did not happen with Vivy – Flourite Eye’s Song. Perhaps, someone, someday, will extract its worthy elements and build a better AI anime out of them. But Vivy is not, and can not be, that series of the future. Only just concluded, it is already long obsolete.
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