Impressions: Let’s talk about the best or worst show from 2021

One of the hardest things for me to do is to separate my general proclivities from my analysis. See, at heart, I’m a contrarian. When everyone says something is bad, I tend to look at it more favorably.

The opposite is true as well. When people tell me how wonderful something is, I will tend to be more critical of it than I might otherwise be.

That’s what makes talking about Vivy and Odd Taxi odd.

Yes. I’m still talking about shows from last season. To be fair, there are still a couple more that I want to watch, and this season seems a bit bare to me.

On the face of it, the two shows had totally different receptions last season. Odd Taxi was a critical darling that could do nothing wrong. It’s hard to understate the amount and how universal the praise was for the story of Odokawa and the others.

Now, I started watching it because of the praise it received. I kept watching it because I like those multi-perspective crime stories. Along with fantasy novels, I’ve read a lot of crime stories. Carl Hiassen, Tim Dorsey and Elmore Leonard are among some of my favorite authors. Then there are the movies like Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Last Man Standing and Smoking Aces.

What makes it hard to talk about is that as much as I liked Odd Taxi, I didn’t love it.

I don’t have a good reason for not loving it. Thematically, it’s an interesting enough examination of how people perceive the world and how that affects their behavior. The characters are often hunting for the one thing that will seemingly make their life worthwhile. This often leads them to be undone.

The only character who avoids this trap is our main character, who doesn’t want much.

The writing was tight as well. The characters behaved in ways that made sense. There is a normal layered progression to the world-building where we meet the character, and then we learn about their dark secret, and then their secret destroys them. (Well, at least for some of the characters.)

And I don’t want to oversell it. I didn’t hate the show. I wasn’t disappointed in it. It was just something I watched and wasn’t overwhelmed or underwhelmed. I was just whelmed.

The best answer for this is that Odd Taxi does everything well, but it doesn’t do anything extraordinary. There isn’t anything particularly compelling or thought-provoking about it. It hits all of the beats, and while a few weren’t expected, none felt unexpected.

This is where I begin to question my contrarian nature. Do I just dislike Odd Taxi because it’s loved by everyone? Am I judging it unfairly because of my familiarity with the genre?

They’re questions I don’t have answers to. And really, it’s the difference between saying this a 5 out of 5 or a 4 out of 5. The show is still worth watching.

This brings me to the show I really wanted to talk about here — Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song.

The most mixed reactions.

When the season started, I really didn’t think about watching Vivy. Sure, I support original storytelling in animation. Adaptations are great and all, but when something is already tied to a medium, it’s hard to divorce it from that medium. Something created in animation is more likely to use animation’s strengths without being tied to serving the manga or light novel that started it.

I tend to find that animators rarely use that freedom to create something that takes advantage of a visual medium. Many still use the same conventions that adaptations use to tell reasonably similar stories. While, on occasion, we get an episode 1 of Texhnolyze, most of the time, we get something that is relatively indistinct from an adaptation.

What got me interested in Vivy was the reactions to it.

You see, Jon Spencer and Scott really did not like the show, and each week I saw their growing distaste for the show. I don’t think it would be overstating to say that they hated it. Or, at the very least, they didn’t find anything worthwhile in watching it. Just for instance, here are some of the more choice quotes.

From Scott:

For all the fantastic concepts and set up behind it, the writing behind Vivy did nothing with the potential that it had at all to me. I felt left out in the cold.

Mechanical Anime Reviews, I don’t like Vivy

From Jon Spencer Reviews:

At best, they are predictable/boring, and at worst, they actively hurt the overall narrative. I feel like I’m starting to write a proper review here, but that’s how irritating this whole anime was for me. The characters were frustrating, the plots weak, and at the end of it all, I don’t think it really justifies any of its core ideas.

Jon Spencer Reviews, Worst in Season — Spring 2021

What caught my attention was that the other side of this discussion held Vivy up as a genuinely good science fiction show that was not only among the best of an already stacked season but the best of the year. In particular, I will note Karandi and Dewbond. Both are reviewers whose opinions I respect, even if I don’t always agree when them.

Here is a quote from Karandi’s review:

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song will potentially be my anime of the year. I am almost certain it will be my sci-fi of the year regardless because I just can’t imagine another story coming out in the same year that feels as cohesive, well planned, and ultimately as lovingly crafted as Vivy.

100 Word Anime, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song Series Review – A Breath-taking AI Journey In A Brilliantly Crafted Story

And from Dewbond:

And while the jury is still out on Fluorite Eye’s Song, but what I can say is that it is probably the strongest anime original I’ve seen in years.

Shallow Dives in Anime, Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song-: Good Science Fiction

While the positive reviews noted some show’s issues, and the negative reviews did note some of the good things, I think these quotes capture the gist of the dialogue about Vivy. It’s either the worst show or the best show.

This kind of dissonance is really intriguing to me. That is why I watched Vivy.

While I could condense my thoughts about Vivy into two words, just saying, “It’s fine” doesn’t really capture the unusual dilemma that is Vivy: Fluorite Eyes.

It’s a Fantasy Story 

Vivy is a story with a lot of science fiction trappings. There is a coming AI revolution that will make androids and machinery alike revolt and kill off the human race. The only person who can save the day is the future equivalent of Chuck E. Cheese named Diva. She has been given the name Vivy, one of her only fans. 

So Diva/Vivy is given the task of saving the world by an AI who has traveled back in time named Matsumoto. 

Now we are given two different types of science fiction stories. We have the upcoming robotic overthrow, and we have a time travel story. 

Here’s where I think people are wrong. Vivy isn’t a science fiction story. Just to say what I mean, hard science fiction takes technology and explores its impact on society. For example, let’s take Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex. That takes a look at the effects of the Internet on human society. It’s funny how easy it is to map something like the Standalone Complex onto the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

The technology in Vivy doesn’t matter to the story. Yes, there are AI, but most of the typical themes around AI aren’t explored. It doesn’t look at man’s relationship with machines here. We only barely dip into the ideas of people’s dependence on AI. It doesn’t really talk about fetishism, slavery or sentience.

In fact, Vivy, from the start of the story, is sentient. She has emotions, desires and dreams. For all intents and purposes, she is a “person.” This doesn’t change throughout the story. While there are science fiction trappings, like her “purpose,” this could very well have been a magic spell cast on her when she was young. It’s just a condition of her life. The meaning and reason for it are only given lip service.

It’s better, in my opinion, to think of Vivy as some other race, like an elf or a dwarf, that was created by humans to serve humans. The only reason she is a machine is to ignore the questions about slavery that would raise. 

Sure. I can hear people say, “There are science fiction stories that don’t have any science in them.” So there is a definition of science fiction that is basically: This is a story that takes place in the future, like Star Wars. And you’d be right. These space operas are really better thought of as fantasy stories. 

That is what Vivy is. It’s a fantasy story about some sort of mechanical child given a mission to save the world while she becomes the world’s most famous singer. 

If you start from this point of view, it clears a lot of the baggage away that I see from Scott’s complaints. He is right. As a science fiction story, it doesn’t really hold up. While it talks about machine suicide, android marriage and the love that might be shared between machines and humans and between machines, it’s never compelled to explore what that means. 

And I think it’s fair to judge it for that. It certainly tries to sell itself that way. 

A Thematically Muddled, but entertaining mess

At the beginning, I said that I think Vivy is fine, but I would say more honestly that Vivy is the equivalent of a jalopy. It runs fine. Everything seems to be in order, but if you scratch off the paint a little, you’ll find that there isn’t much left to it. 

I seriously can’t tell what Vivy is trying to say thematically. All of the stories seem to touch on some sort of love. Whether it’s the love someone might have for an elder or a romantic partner, or a mission. But I can’t see if it’s saying that love makes sacrifice worth it? Is it trying to tell me that sacrifice without love is meaningless? It seems to say those things, but that’s as close to a meaning as I can find.

Then there is the refrain of “putting your heart into your music.” While it’s repeated often enough, it’s never really explored in any of those instances. The events in the episodes don’t really reflect on the theme, and when we finally get an answer to it, it’s basically, put your memories into it. I mean, sure, but… so what? 

This, combined with not addressing anything about artificial intelligence or time travel, makes for something that is either too thin to be compelling or too murky to be understandable. 

But if you want a good time with a lot of action, this is what Vivy delivers on. For me, at least, I have to say the direction, animation and music of this show really worked. And Vivy, well, she was charming. I can’t understand the gripes about the characters being thin. I found Vivy had enough depth to laugh with her and, probably more importantly, cried with her. 

More than anything else, this was the thing that Vivy did right. I cared about what happened next in her story, and as it progressed on, I wondered just how things would get screwed up in the end.

But someone might be asking, “Hey, you started off talking about Odd Taxi? What does this have to do with Odd Taxi?”

Here is the thing. When I went into Vivy, I wasn’t expecting much. When I see this kind of split among reviewers, it generally indicates that I’ll probably like a show, but I won’t love it. 

See Odd Taxi had a big hill to climb even before it started. I know this kind of story. I have a list of things to compare it to, and people are telling me that “This is the best thing EVER.” So when it’s not, well, it’s a bit of a disappointment, even if that isn’t really fair. 

On the other hand, Vivy is a show that was both maligned and loved. So when I found myself entertained, I was OK with it. If you don’t really expect much from it, it’s fine. 

I suppose that is why I don’t write reviews. 

As always, thanks for reading. 

12 thoughts on “Impressions: Let’s talk about the best or worst show from 2021

  1. Hey, just wanted to bring to your attention about the quotes because you have asides in those sections that look like attributions to other people. I noticed this for myself and Dewbound. Not a big deal, just figure it got missed in editing, happens, but thought you might like to know.

    As for the article. It’s interesting and I understand the core idea about expectations, but I struggle to agree with the more granular points. In any case, I enjoyed reading. It sparked some good discussion between my buddy and I.

    1. I think I just put too much stuff in the quote. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Thanks for reading it.

  2. In my head, I was thinking about Star Wars too because it did hit that science fantasy marker. I think that Star Wars did the smart thing of never talking about the taboo in general. And yeah, all of that bit on my part appears when people were saying that Vivy way do groundbreaking. I can be a bit of a comtrarian too though I don’t like being one. It just kind of happens for me.

    1. I think it happens to a lot of people. I think when everyone is saying something is great and then it isn’t as good as you expect it to be, it can be a let down.

      I don’t really fault you. I think you’re right in saying it’s not a very good science fiction story. I think I just liked it in spite of that.

  3. Science fiction has a bunch of subgenres but can be divided into hard science fiction, where everything proceeds according to known scientific principles, and soft science fiction where we get to seriously tweak the rules of physics. “The Martian” was hard and “Star Trek” is soft. Get too soft and you turn into science fantasy. And it isn’t always clear when science fantasy becomes more fantasy than science.

    Eventually, they are included in a much larger grouping called speculative fiction, fiction where the fundamental question is “What if things were different?”

    Not sure where Vivy fits in all this. I watched it until the cute mascot/helper critter showed up and then I quit. I’m tired of seeing adorable super-critters used to drive the plot. Not a “deus ex machina” exactly but closely related.

    Let the plot drive the plot.

  4. I really loved Vivy a lot, I wasn’t disappointed. From the science fiction anime focused on androids it did something different for me. A conversation for AI’s, I had been personally wishing to see, that is more to their creation than to follow orders entirely. This series reflected that conversation for me 🙂 Odd taxi I had no interest for, nope. ahaha

      1. For sure. I am surprised there have been people who have been sour on it, not that it is a problem, but after the absolute trashfire that was Wonder Egg, it was great to see something actually stick it’s landing.

        I mean, you could nitpick it to death, but Vivy always felt like a great “in and out” type of anime story. Does some cool things, but nothing risky, and with a level of polish that you can respect.

      2. I haven’t seen Wonder Egg. After all of the dialogue about it, I kind of want to. But I would be going into it with the idea of seeing how bad it could get.

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