Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed with having to put out two moderately sized essays or reviews a week and maintain a substantial backlog, but then I think about Tappei Nagatsuki and I feel better. The author of Re:Zero manages to write a web novel, a series of light novels, commentaries on each episode of the anime based on those light novels, and apparently had enough time left over to co-create and pen the script for another anime. And if the first four episodes have anything to say about it, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is just as interested in big ideas and compelling characters as Nagatsuki’s magnum opus.
Vivy is the big new science fiction series from the writer of Re:Zero and…the writer of Re:Zero. It was co-created by Eiji Umehara, who wrote ten episodes of the second season, and follows Vivy, also known as Diva, the first autonomous artificial intelligence. That big achievement does not belie her true intention, as Vivy’s sole programmed purpose in life is to bring happiness to people through her singing. To that end, she runs an unsuccessful idol show in a technologically advanced theme park.
Her life of obscurity and empty seats at her shows is interrupted by the arrival of Matsumoto, an AI sent from 100 years in the future to prevent a war between machines and humans that would wipe the latter from the earth. To do this, they must target Singularity Points, or moments in history where they will be capable of changing the course of the future. What ensues is a story that jumps around different periods for the next century, changing casts and types of stories with each being the kind of character-driven drama and thrilling action you could expect from Nagatsuki’s work.
You might think that I love this show, from everything I just told you, and that’s because this is a masterpiece in the making on paper. I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words praising Re:Zero’s masterful storytelling, and yet I can’t find anywhere near that level of passion for a show that in theory deserves it. Today I find out why Vivy has failed to stir me in the way that its older brother has always managed to.
Wit Studio made their name on Attack on Titan’s first three seasons, and quickly followed it up with Vinland Saga and Great Pretender; it’s the kind of prestigious pedigree you rarely see in anime. However, Vivy is not the same type of action joint as its predecessors. It has its moments of action, particularly after Vivy receives the combat training program and becomes a force of nature in a fight, but that’s not where the animators really toiled. The backgrounds, the fights, and the big climaxes where planes torch and skyscrapers tumble down don’t get half the attention as a single shot of Vivy’s face.
The level of detail in one simple character shot is stunning and awesome, and I mean both of those in the sense that I am dumbfounded. I am floored that this work of art was created to be seen in a TV show for a second in one episode and quickly forgotten. The lighting, shading, and compositing on all of these shots is so lovingly rendered to give Vivy this otherworldly ethereal mystique, usually depicting her with the same general benevolence you might see in one of the angels on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
I’m always honest that I’m not a music guy; when you’re trying to analyze a show’s characters, story, animation, all while not knowing enough Japanese to skip the subtitles, it makes it incredibly difficult to focus on the music. However, that always means I’m more impressed when a track manages to break through that ironclad concentration, and Vivy has pulled it off repeatedly in its short run. It consistently blows me away with its music whenever it aims for an emotional climax.
There’s plenty of examples, but the earliest and thus most spoiler-safe moment comes when Vivy and Matsumoto are circumventing the assassination of a pro-AI politician in a building rigged with explosives in its foundation. Vivy watches as a piece of rubble collapses, hurtling towards the helpless body of one of the terrorists who had tried to kill her moments earlier. Vivy dashes towards him, taking the hit effortlessly, simply because he wouldn’t be able to be made happy through her singing if he were to die.
The music is every bit as raw and emotional as this synopsis would suggest, yet it is undercut throughout with a quiet strength that so clearly lies in Vivy, and creates this beautiful synthesis in one of those extensively detailed shots I just mentioned. This portrait of Vivy, broken down and bleeding, protecting a man who hates her, is just surreal in its execution.
That’s pretty high praise, though now I have to follow it up with my main issue concerning Vivy’s presentation; its character design. None of these characters particularly stand out, though Vivy comes halfway close. Compared to Re:Zero, which has universally excellent designs, it just fails to impress. Character design is integral to an anime, as a medium so focused on the over the top and the visual. It’s not even that Vivy’s designs are bad, but they’re just so underwhelming and inoffensive that they lessen my opinion of the show.
In contrast to their aesthetics, the characters themselves are written competently. Truthfully, I can only talk about Vivy and Matsumoto, because no other cast member has had enough screen time to analyze. That’s not a problem, though, because these two characters and their relationship are the most interesting parts of the entire series.
Vivy is the quintessential android: single-minded and goal-oriented, socially inept and inexperienced, and a simple and rigid grasp of morality. Her motivations are hardwired into her being, and it gives her the charm of characters who stand up for what is right because it’s all she knows. That piece of character writing is what makes the first season of The Promised Neverland so enjoyable, because Emma was simply unwilling to accept anything except total victory and saving every one of her siblings. Not the most complex character, but Vivy’s straight-laced persona works excellently in contrast to her partner.
Matsumoto is as clear cut a foil as you can get to Vivy’s basic philosophy; he’s a pragmatist, a utilitarian, willing to sacrifice people in service of his greater goal of preventing humanity’s annihilation. Voice actor Jun Fukuyuma really brings it to this performance, giving life to this kinetic, mile-a-minute teddy bear you’d expect from a highly intelligent AI on a strict deadline. This character could easily come across as grating and ruin the show, but he plays so well as a counterpart to Vivy that neither overwhelms the audience.
The chemistry between this blank-faced android idol and ends justifying the means stuffed animal is what has kept me watching more than anything else. It’s effective writing when your hero and villain are two people with diametrically opposed beliefs, it’s dangerously compelling when they’re forced to work together. And as long as both of them are present and at odds in how they save humanity, Vivy is worth watching.
Stories pertaining to time travel, especially those seeking to change the future, need to have an impeccable sense of cause and effect. Tappei Nagatsuki has had that in droves since the beginning of Re:Zero, but it is equally apparent in how he writes Vivy and its Singularity Points.
In Vivy’s conception of time and fate, events are set in stone, though not from the beginning of time at the behest of a deity or clock maker. The flow of time is set in intervals, where individuals have the power to make decisions that will ripple throughout the course of history, and it’s fascinating. It’s explored in Re:Zero, but only through Subaru’s eyes and actions; he is the only one aware of how his actions will affect the future and only for the next few days or weeks. Here, we have two people striving towards the same goal in radically different ways which will inevitably produce two rapidly different results. Thus, it’s possible that Vivy and Matsumoto’s different successes and failures will result ina completely new future that neither of them can foresee.
Vivy’s story format follows Vivy and Matsumoto going to new locations and exploring a new facet of this technologically advanced world. It allows for shorter stories to play out under the larger umbrella of Vivy’s narrative, with characters having entire arcs in only one or two episodes. The space hotel arc contains the tragic tale of two AI “siblings” separated by their creators and circumstances that manages to tie just a bit more emotional resonance into an episode already packed with it. Nagatsuki’s writing is nothing if not efficient, and his dedication to crafting painfully real characters in fantastical settings always shines through in his work.
I won’t spoil much, although there’s not much to spoil as of writing this, but if you think Re:Zero’s storylines are too long and convoluted to be easily understood and digested, this is a different approach that should work better for you.
Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song bears many similarities to the story that precedes it, but I cannot find it in myself to find anywhere near the same enthusiasm for it. I might be proven wrong; Nagatsuki’s writing style favors burying emotional moments and big story beats far into the future, but right now I am merely underwhelmed. I would not recommend Vivy on the grounds that you enjoy Re:Zero, but if you’re a fan of high concept science fiction and smartly written drama sexploring the human condition, Vivy will be more than sufficient to scratch that cerebral itch this season.
Unfortunately, spring is shaping up to be a fantastic season, especially for original anime, and I need something with more of a personal and humanistic touch. It’s why I’ve been enjoying Higehiro so much, and why I’ve been getting a real kick out of our next review, but that will have to wait. Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is Boring Fantastic, and I just hope they don’t pull out some amazing plot twists just to prove me wrong.
Regardless, I hope you’re enjoying Vivy if you’re already watching it, or maybe this gave you the push to start it. If you’re looking for my analysis on any other shows coming out now, or maybe needing a few recommendations, more of those will be coming soon, and you can follow the Otaku Exhibition to get updates for when those go live. If that’s not your preference, there’s a notification for every new review over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where you can also pick up my stray thoughts on anime and tasteful Matsumoto lewds. Until next time, thanks for reading.