At first, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song looks like a mashup of every other popular AI themed media, including Terminator, AI: Artificial Intelligence, I, Robot, and Westworld. However, the similarities stop there. The 2021 anime series follows familiar storylines and themes about AI, but at the same time explores them in new and intriguing ways, specifically the meaning of purpose and its cultural context.
At one point during Vivy’s narrative arc, she loses her ability to sing. She asks the AI database, The Archive, whether there had been songs written by AI themselves. She’d like to know if she could write a song without human assistance. This scene, along with several other significant moments in this series, propels the story’s central question: How do we live with the time we have?
Reader Warning: This post contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling or having suicide ideations, please know that there is help. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For international readers, you can look up your country or region’s suicide hotline here.
This post also includes mild to heavy spoilers for Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song.
Anyone familiar with fictional depictions of AI across media would recognize common themes like the purpose of creation, relationships between humans and AI, and questioning our existence. The general definition of purpose involves the reasoning behind existence. Vivy takes this definition up a notch, navigating the question of how we fulfill our purpose while we’re alive. Vivy (called Diva, her songstress persona), a songstress and the first autonomous AI in history, strives to live up to her purpose: to make people happy with her singing.
However, Matsumoto’s appearance disrupts Vivy’s routine from episode one. A super AI from the future, Matsumoto warns her of a war between AI and humans that will occur one hundred years later. She eventually accepts his offer to join the Singularity project, an initiative to stop the evolution of AI. Her mission involves averting future singularity points – pending events that affect relationships between humans and AI – in hopes of preventing the war.
Vivy’s unprecedented mission complicates the purpose her creators have set upon her. In her time, AI are each created to fulfill a single purpose. Even with Matsumoto downloading combat skills onto her for the mission, she rejects going through with the project all the way. After all, she’s initially created to sing for her audience at the theme park NiaLand. Straying away from that unsettles her, and she worries about losing her original purpose.
When she, later on, discovers that she’ll be placed in an AI museum after retiring, she accepts that fate. As long as she lives up to her purpose instead of letting the future interrupt it.
For cultural context, Japan’s definition of purpose derives from the concept of ikigai, with “iki” meaning life and “gai” meaning value and worth (Dayman). The concept adds to the belief that everyone carries a goal that keeps them productive during their lifetime. This mindset brings value to their life, providing them with the skills needed to produce satisfying outcomes.
In other words, it’s not about what you love to do but rather how the world benefits from you. In Vivy’s world, human governments have decided to create each AI with a single purpose after failed experiments in giving them multiple functions. In Vivy’s case, what matters most to her is she gives her best in fulfilling her purpose. But, of course, Matsumoto’s revelation about the future distresses her. If future human generations will cease to exist, then what is the worth of her own existence?
Thus, Vivy’s focus on her single purpose is challenged again and again. In episode one, the human child Momoka encourages her to pour her heart into her singing. Vivy spends most of her journey questioning the meaning behind her friend’s advice.
The series sheds further light on this through another songstress AI, and one of Vivy’s successors, named Ophelia (introduced in episode seven). Like Vivy, Ophelia ponders on the meaning of putting all of yourself into fulfilling your purpose. Under the guidance of her then functioning manager AI Antonio, Ophelia struggles to not only maintain her audience’s interest but to increase it as well.
Between averting the singularity points in AI history, Vivy’s audience surges, leading her closer to her goal of performing on NiaLand’s main stage. Throughout the series, she learns to emulate human emotions, but she still worries about her worth to her human audience. Like Ophelia, Vivy insists that her performance isn’t up to her creators’ expectations.
The series also dwells on how we live affects how we’re acknowledged or commemorated after death. Most notable AI media like AI: Artificial Intelligence convey the fear of artificial creations outliving humans, and this anime meditates on this through the characters Vivy encounters and the setting’s architecture.
Arayashiki, a radio tower built by the AI industrial giant OGC, enables wireless communications between AI worldwide. The structure, continuously built throughout Vivy’s lifetime, represents the evolution of AI up until the war (“Vivy Official USA Site”). The tower’s construction and then deconstruction is seen in the anime’s opening theme. While not autonomous itself, the radio tower executes its purpose in providing communication among AI.
Human governments and politics also contribute to the alarming evolution of AI. Episode 1 introduces the AI Naming Law, which, if passed, would allow further advancements in AI (“Vivy Official USA Site”). While this law intends to provide AI, particularly humanoid and autonomous AI, human rights, it can trigger the events (singularity points) leading to the war. AI will become more aware of themselves instead of just following their purpose.
Ophelia’s part in AI history involves her committing suicide, which causes an uproar among human governments especially when similar incidents happen afterward. The question of AI autonomy arises. The idea of an AI having complex emotions, let alone struggles, baffles them. AI are created with a purpose, so they should be satisfied with having that alone.
Despina Kakoudaki describes this notion as the Romantic/gothic rubric of imitation, or “the lingering tendency to read objects through an animist lens” (Kakoudaki introduction). Ophelia’s actions challenge stereotypes about AI and shatter the uncanny effect. She becomes more than an object imitating human arts and cultural values (i.e., her singing and the ideal beauty standards of women in Japanese society). Vivy, likewise, aims to maintain her original purpose by performing and meeting her creators’ expectations. But, as mentioned before, her encounters with other characters in her journey disrupt her purpose, including members of an anti-AI group called Toak (an acronym for the Tree of all Knowledge) whose purpose is to halt the evolution of AI.
One (human) member of this group, Yugo, grapples with the passing of his AI piano teacher several years ago. During the flashback scenes in episodes 8 and 9, his AI teacher deviates from his purpose by rescuing him after an accident and receives a proper funeral afterward like one would a respected human being.
These events precede Yugo’s disdain for AI and their evolution. His encounters with Vivy, in the present and future timelines, fuel his disgust. Like his piano teacher, she sways from her original purpose, making her more human-like to him. So Yugo persists with his aim to staunch the evolution of AI consciousness, even going as far as to contradict his beliefs by employing a previously discarded android and later transferring his consciousness to an artificial body. The android he employs, Elizabeth, is a sister unit of Estella, a lifekeeper and the owner of the space hotel Sunrise.
In the original timeline, according to Matsumoto, Estella purposely crashes the Sunrise into Earth, igniting anti-AI movements and sentiments worldwide. Vivy, at first, doesn’t believe that an AI would commit mass murder and sets out to find the truth. Toak’s involvement in the disaster is revealed, and Vivy’s intervention leads to Estella reuniting with Elizabeth. The Sunrise disaster, also called the Sun-Crash incident, in this altered timeline makes Estella a hero. She evacuates the hotel guests and stays behind to make sure that the Sunrise’s modules burn in Earth’s atmosphere instead of reaching land.
Estella completes her purpose as the space hotel’s lifekeeper. She sacrifices herself for her human guests, spurring positive reception in the media and politics after the disaster. However, she has also reunited with her sister unit Elizabeth. Like Ophelia and Antonio, the bond between Estella and Elizabeth is a purpose outside of their programming. AI has already begun to transcend beyond their mechanical routines. Five years after the event, a robot-made island called the metal float serves as a factory for autonomous AI parts.
Non-humanoid civil engineering robots have created and maintained the metal float with a central core, also called the Mother Computer, stabilizing its structure. Each robot aims to entertain their future human guests and ensure their guests’ well-being. Episode 6 reveals that the core is an android named Grace, a nurse AI that former Toak member Tatsuya, had fallen in love with. The first married AI and human couple in history (in the original timeline), Tatsuya intends to have Vivy spread a virus throughout the metal float so that he could rescue Grace’s data from the island’s core. Vivy, eventually realizing through Matsumoto that she cannot save Grace at all, destroys the core and disables the metal float. This event leads to Tatsuya’s anguish of losing his purpose.
Tatsuya’s emotional state at the moment demonstrates the experience of experience, or the miracle and tragedy of existence (Kakoudaki ch 1). In a flashback scene (episode 6), Tatsuya, then a child, learns that his mother has abandoned him. All he has is his nurse Grace who makes him worthwhile through her singing. He’s lived through his adulthood because of her.
Without her, he has nothing else to live for. He has no purpose for himself. Although the Grace that he’s with during the series’ present moment is actually an AI clone of her, he yearns for the Grace he’d grown up with. So when Vivy decides to destroy Grace’s body and data, Tatsuya threatens to shoot himself.
It should be noted that Tatsuya’s name means “achieve” (ta) and “to be” (ya) (“Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song Wiki”). While Grace serves as the meaning of his life, being with her also serves as his purpose. Losing her means the end for him. While Vivy has destroyed the last thing he had in his life, she encourages him not to commit suicide. He does anyway, and Vivy shuts down from the shock. Matsumoto reboots her and she lives the next several years as Diva, her memories as Vivy erased.
This growing hopelessness that she can’t make everyone she encounters happy, let alone save them, kills Vivy’s self. She involuntarily returns as the songstress she’s created to be and mentors her successor Ophelia. Even when Matsumoto appears again and tells her what had happened, she decides to continue her original purpose until she retires and lives the rest of her lifetime in the AI museum.
Between her memory loss and her mission to prevent Ophelia’s suicide, she loses her ability to sing. Yugo, his consciousness having transferred into an artificial body after his death, infects Vivy’s system with a virus. This time, Diva dies and Vivy’s memories and personality take over.
While displaying herself in the AI museum, she consults The AI and a regular museum visitor, the human child Osamu Matsumoto (the AI Matsumoto’s creator in the future), about the ability to sing from her heart. This question once again refers to Momoka’s advice to Vivy – to pour her heart into her singing. She draws from her life’s experiences to finally compose her own song.
As in the series’ beginning, Vivy’s peak in her narrative arc ends with her striving to fulfill her purpose. Her efforts to prevent the war in the future come at the fatal cost of literally losing herself. Towards the series’ end, The Archive – having gone rogue and initiating the war to stop the burden of AI serving humans – proposes a challenge: if Vivy sings from her heart, The Archive will stop the war. Vivy does this, finally meeting her goals of singing on NiaLand’s main stage, singing a song of her own without human assistance, and finishing the Singularity Project.
However, she intends to shut down every AI during her performance including herself. Matsumoto (the super AI) reactivates Vivy, and she later awakes in a space similar to The Archive. She’s lost her memories again, but Matsumoto reminds her of her original purpose instead of diverting her from it. Humanity is recovering from NiaLand’s destruction, and it is her purpose to make them happy with her singing.
Purpose, a recurring theme in Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song, means a reason for being and questions how we live in the face of mortality. The question of how to live with the time we have resurfaces in several key moments such as The Archive. Vivy and supporting characters navigate their worth within and outside of societal expectations. Artificial Intelligence, mainly seen as androids serving one purpose, search and achieve their own means to an end.
However, Vivy struggles to retain her original purpose to the end. Her one-hundred-year journey follows her search for the answer to what it means to sing from the heart and how to utilize that purpose. The general definition and cultural context surrounding purpose runs throughout the series thematically, showing how this concept intersects and contradicts during Vivy’s narrative arc.
Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is a 2021 anime series directed by Shinpei Ezaki, written (and created) by Tappei Nagatsuki and Eiji Umehara, and produced by Yuuma Takahasi and Hitoshi Itou. A manga adaptation by Morito Yamataka is published in Mag Garden, and a light novel series by Tappei Nagatasuki and Eiji Umehara is published in WIT.
Dayman, Lucy. “‘Ikigai’ – The Japanese Concept of Finding Purpose in Life.” Japan Today, 29 June 2018, japantoday.com/category/features/lifestyle/’ikigai’-the-japanese-concept-of-finding-purpose-in-life. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
Kakoudaki, Despina. Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People. Kindle ed., Rutgers University Press, 2014.
“Tatsuya Saeki | Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song Wiki | Fandom.” Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song Wiki, Fandom Wiki, vivy-fluorite-eyes-song.fandom.com/wiki/Tatsuya_Saeki. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
“Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- Official USA Website.” Vivy, vivy-anime.com/world. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in creative writing program. Their cross-genre chapbook, Coquí’s Song, is forthcoming (2023) from Mason Jar Press.
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