There’s a sense of familiarity and estrangement when you read the words Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song. Separately their meaning is vaguely recognisable, axiomatic if you really think about them as a sentence but, even so, tremendously confounding. What do these words even mean?

Such enigmatically worded titles are a novelty of anime (Japanese animation; don’t dare call them cartoons as they’re far more intelligent), where the correct utilisation of English grammar and sentence structure is both a trifling concern and an ingenious plaything bursting with inferences.

For Vivy, the title juxtaposes several facets of the plot into a sentence: Vivy is the self-adopted name of Diva, the world’s first autonomous A.I. designed to be a songstress, and tasked with a vague mission: to sing from her heart.

Fluorite optics are used for lenses. The ones in her eyes, tinted azure to match her hair and shimmering with fluorescence (an attribute of fluorite) are deep, with visible optical machinery (animes don’t often draw such detailed eyes). Since eyes are the doorway to the soul, no matter how much she smiles, how human-like she sounds, or how much emotion she emulates into her pitch-perfect songs, they bring an immediate disconnect to the illusion, and raise questions about the inexact nature of her mission.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is an anomaly in the world of anime. Reversing the usual order, it is an original anime series that has been adapted into a manga and subsequent novels

How can she sing from the heart, she ponders through most of the 13-episode series?

Vivy’s journey is tempestuous. When the series opens, hundreds of years into the future, the A.I.s, whose reason for existence is a lifelong single-objective mission to serve humanity, have had enough of humanity — taking cue from The Terminator, The Matrix, Wall-E, or thousands of pieces of entertainment and literature where the prospect of human-less Earth — free from our inherent penchant for plundering, destruction and general inhumanities — sounds serene.

The retribution is brutal and hands-on. Nurse droids that were assisting wheelchair-bound patients a minute back are now severing their heads. Automated cars and merry-go-round rides crash into people who are trying to make a break from the city. The leftover droids move about, prying out survivors; their eyes blank and dazed, their robotic voices still thanking people or asking to be of service.

Soon satellites fall to Earth, eradicating people and machines — parallel Hiroshima’s cataclysm from the Second World War; the imagery and aftermath forever embedded in Japanese psyche and reflected through the eyes of this anime is hard to dismiss.

Worse yet, the robots are humming a song in a collective monotone voice. A song, whose variations — happy, melancholic, galvanising — has yet to make its way into the series. It is the song Vivy is meant to sing, but can’t.

The data of the revolt and Earth’s demise is sent 100 years into Diva’s consciousness in the past in a sentient program called Matsumoto. At this point of time, Diva is still a struggling upstart with a limited audience, who is running her solo show from a shanty corner in the A.I.-run theme park called NiaLand.

Her new additional mission, should she choose to accept it — and she has the choice — is to change key documented events of terrorism, law and constitution in the following 100 years, leading to robo-calypse.

Diva takes the job after looking at the issue from a logical perspective: with no one left alive in the future, who will hear her sing, she reckons?

A child she saved from getting lost in the park earlier names her Vivy. That’s another play on words: ‘vivacious’ — she is modelled after your typical Japanese pop idol, and ‘viva’ — i.e. to live long, alluding to her coming 100-year journey. ‘Viva’ also alludes to the oral exam, given that her vocal prowess fails to convey the “heart” she has yet to find (the prospect leads to the big climax of the series).

Technically the same person, it will take seven episodes until we see distinctions between Diva and Vivy’s characteristics.

Matsumoto, who installs his consciousness into a walking, talking teddy bear, is a cohort and an unreliable narrator. Cute-looking, shrewd, capricious, more human-sounding than Diva, he shares crumbs of information on a need-to-know basis, goes into sleep mode for tens of years, and stops Diva from going out of her way to save people — at one time by breaking her limbs.

For Vivy, who has been augmented with the knowledge of unparalleled fighting powers by Matsumoto (this is an action series after all), the choice of saving humans is a no-brainer: it’s a programmed emotional response that plays into her mission to sing to everyone in the world. For Matsumoto, changing a trivial event that doesn’t directly alter the future would have been a superfluous exercise.

Their relationship is fickle and, if either were human, it could lead to life-long hostility. Predisposition to logic and farsightedness, though, overcomes anger.

This difference in perspectives is Vivy’s authors’ Tappei Nagatsuki and Eiji Umehara’s trump card — in fact, it may well be the very notion behind the concept of the series.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is an anomaly in the world of anime. It is an original anime that has been adapted into a manga (Japanese comics) and a subsequent novel series. This is the reverse way of doing things, and perhaps this is also why the series feels fresh, original, and without narrative constraints one routinely sees in adapted works.

Every episode jumps years into the future, as Vivy scuffles with anti-A.I. terrorists whose attempts will usher in bigger changes than the ones they mean to stop. It’s a time-travel story, where the future is always a step away from reach. But it’s also a musical. And an action-thriller.

Astonishingly though, the episodes never overindulge in the music, the action, or the cliché...until the brink of robo-calypse.

Produced by Wit Studio, the powerhouse animation company that made the first three seasons of Attack on Titan, The Great Pretender and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Vivy has top-notch animation. The details are uncanny, from the reflection in Vivy’s eyes, the semi-robotic rigidness of her stance, the swiftness of her movement during the brilliantly choreographed action scenes (the action is better than Hollywood stunts), and the dynamic manoeuvring of the ever-zipping camera.

Despite the gloss and fluidity of the presentation, however, the story still takes precedence.

Nagatsuki and Umehara’s stories, episodic by design with an overarching plot, invite and then side-step conventions. The premises of the episodes are simplistic, perhaps even predictable, but the twists are novel and — dare I say — emotional.

Vivy, as a character, inherits two of humanity’s pervasive traits: lack of self-belief and susceptibility to desperation and despair.

The parting image of episode six shatters Vivy’s psyche: after a devastating action sequence, she liberates a robot’s soul by plunging her hand through its heart (another profound subtext weaved in by the writers: do androids even need hearts to live?). When the episode ends, one hand is soaked from the robot’s blue blood and the other is wet with red from the blood of a man who has taken his own life.

Since both robots and humans think and act of their own accord, bleed and die, perhaps even entertain different notions of love (the robot and the man loved each other), is there really a difference between the two?

Vivy is a machine who can mimic the façade of humanity and unwittingly live through our failings. Her story is more human than one thinks. It is of infantile wish-fulfilment, of seeking better tomorrows, and finding one’s value and validity as an individual soul who has succeeded in its sole mission: to bring happiness to mankind and, in turn, perhaps finding some for one’s own self.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is available to watch via Funimation and Aniplus Asia

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 7th, 2021

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