Content Considerations: Violence (somewhat graphic).
What’s it about? To stop an A.I. uprising, a scientist sends a computer program back 100 years into the past to aid the first autonomous A.I., a singer called “Diva” (nicknamed “Vivy” by her first fan), who works at a local amusement park. Together, they’ll work to change key events in history and ensure this bloody future never comes to pass.
The first two episodes of Vivy dropped today, but these reviews are only supposed to be for the first episode and, dagnabbit, somebody on this staff of plucky hardworking overachievers needs to set an example of a healthy work-life balance. So, as my contract stipulates, I’m only covering episode 1. Let this be a valuable lesson for all the kids at home.
Anyway, Vivy. It’s not bad! Although if you were expecting this to be (as Vrai called it) “A.I.dol,” you might be a bit disappointed by this premiere. Vivy barely sings at all. She’s way too busy saving politicians from assassination attempts. It’s a busy first episode, is what I’m saying.
This is a tricky review because, while the premiere throws a lot at you, it also doesn’t give you much to hang on to beyond the plot/premise (which I already summarized). It looks quite nice, that’s for sure. Director Ezaki Shinpei (Hanebado) and Studio Wit have created a believably shiny not-too-distant future with an unsettling amusement park setting and color palettes that shift beautifully between interior virtual worlds and exterior reality. The opening sequences are particularly harrowing (and perhaps a wee bit pointed in their commentary), as an android idol cheerfully sings pop tunes while robots bludgeon humans to death.
Most viewers of Vivy are probably more interested in its writing credits, though, as Re:Zero light novelist Nagatsuki Tappei is credited as one of the scriptwriters, along with Umehara Eiji (who also penned the legitimately excellent Pokemon film, The Power of Us). Whether that will translate to an engaging full-length story has yet to be seen, but it suggests plenty of twists and turns in future weeks and a story that likely won’t be so straightforward as “just do what the robot from the future tells you and everything will be fine.”
As with basically every series about artificial intelligence, Vivy is engaging with ideas about identity and individuality. The AIs in this world couldn’t handle multiple tasks at once, so they were all given a single “mission” that forms the driving force of their existence. None of them have names or anything resembling basic human rights, but there’s a growing movement to change that.
This premiere claims that the “AI Naming Law” is the first catalyst for the eventual uprising, which is harmless enough within the moment (“names and rights are a key part of individuality and self-fulfillment”) but becomes deeply concerning if we take it to the story’s alleged conclusion (“if you give someone basic rights, they’ll rise up and destroy the world!”). How Vivy settles on the whole question of AI Rights will likely have a big impact on whether the series ultimately works as effective commentary, mindless popcorn thriller, or straight-up bigoted allegory.
The other potential issue with Vivy is its titular protagonist, whose personality centers around her “mission” to “make everyone happy by singing.” Unfortunately, nobody’s coming to her shows because her performances are stiff imitations of human idols rather than songs “from the heart.” She shows less emotion than a pizza place animatronic (and doesn’t get down nearly as hard) and spends most of the episode either singing to an empty theater or going out of her way to save humans.
It’s unclear yet if the rescuing is built into her coding or a part of her alleged autonomy—i.e., she’s choosing to help rather than being compelled to do so. Still, I’m not sure “is altruistic” is enough to build an entire character around, especially when “the self-sacrificing martyr woman” is such a well-worn (and potentially harmful) archetype in fiction. She could develop layers, discover her own artistic voice, and become a dynamic protagonist, but she’s not there yet.
Thankfully, she’s joined by a pair of AIs with a bit more personality: a snarkily self-aware Navi and the future-bot Matsumoto, who has inhabited a teddy bear that squeaks adorably when he jumps off things. They inject some much-needed energy (and cynicism) into the story. It seems like Vivi’s young fan Momoka will be the heart of the tale, but right now she’s just your standard cutesy kid. I half-expect her to tragically die every time she’s on screen. Good luck surviving the next century, kiddo!
Like a lot of the Spring premieres thus far, Vivy has style, panache, and potential, but it’s just too early to know if that’s gonna go anywhere substantial or just be a big glitzy mess. I’m admittedly not the world’s biggest fan of AI-centric sci-fi, but the “change the future” premise (along with the sassy sidekicks) has me just intrigued enough to stick around. I’m not sold on it, but I’m willing to see how the next episode goes.