When Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- was first announced, it created a lot of buzz: Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- light novel author Tappei Nagatsuki would be working with Eiji Umehara, the scriptwriter of a handful of episodes for the anime adaptation of Re:ZERO. We had the special opportunity to interview them both about Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- when it first released in Spring 2021.
Thank you very much for your time. Nagatsuki-sensei, Umehara-sensei, you both wrote a novel specifically for Vivy‘s original project, which took quite a long time. How did a typical writing session go for the novel? Did one person focus on a particular aspect like the story or characters?
Nagatsuki: For Vivy, we first discussed the overall story, then decided on the details for all 13 episodes. After that, we decided on who would write which episode. For example, in Episodes 3 and 4, where Estella and Elizabeth appear together, I wrote the story about the Sunrise outer space hotel crashing into Earth. Umehara wrote the story about the Metal Float incident that features Tatsuya Saeki and Grace in Episodes 5 and 6. We decided on the overall direction of each episode together, but our unique touches were reflected in the details.
Umehara: In Episodes 3 and 4, Elizabeth pretends to be Estella and tries to crash the Sunrise Hotel into Earth, which is a part of the story that we came up with together. But the story about the previous owner of the Sunrise and the humanoid AI named Leclerc is something that Mr. Nagatsuki added. If the episodes we wrote were reversed, the overall story of each episode would have still been the same, but the details and flavor would have been different.
How did you come up with the concept of Vivy as a story? You have mentioned prior that there were many elements examined and chosen such as an AI’s life cycle compared with a human’s and time travel, but what was the trigger that formed the first outline for the story?
Umehara: The initial proposal came from George Wada, who is a producer at WIT STUDIO. In the initial proposal, he explained the theme saying, “I want you to write a story for an original anime series that’s about AI and music.” But I didn’t have any experience on series composition for anime, so I proposed that we should have Mr. Nagatsuki work on the series. He was present at the screenwriting meeting, and he is the original author of Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World (Re: Zero), which I got involved in as a screenwriter when it was adapted into an anime. The ideas for time travel and revising history came from Mr. Nagatsuki.
Nagatsuki: When I got involved in the project, Vivy was going to be more of a story about AI wanderers journeying through outer space. The emotional aspect about combining AIs with outer space is all about the passage of time. AIs never age, so they can travel through outer space over a period of many years, which was something I knew we could romanticize and create a great story out of. When you have a story based on wanderers, the problem is that it can get very expensive to animate because you have to create a new artistic setting for each of the planets that appear in each episode. So instead of interplanetary travel, we came up with the idea of a war that would happen in the future, and the characters going back to different points in time to revise history. That way, we could maintain the mystique of wanderers traveling through space but avoid the issues of animating a story like that. That’s where the idea for time travel came from.
Many of the android sisters have distinctive personalities. In your mind, are the AI alive, or are they following a scripted personality code that was written for their mission? Is that how you personally see AI as they continuously become more integrated with our society?
Nagatsuki: Obviously, I don’t wish for a world where AIs would revolt against humans like in Vivy. (Laughs) By giving AIs life, it means that a new intelligent life form has been created on Earth. They are much smarter than humans, they are physically stronger, so they are only going to be a threat to humans. In order for humans to live in peace, AIs should not have minds of their own, and should just stay being machines… You might be disappointed and think, “The author of Vivy is rejecting the existence of AI,” but in reality, I just don’t want this to happen. I just love AI as a theme for my creations. I’m also the author of Re: Zero, but that doesn’t mean I want to experience Return by Death. (Laughs) That’s what I’m trying to say.
Umehara: The definition of “life” changes with the times. If AIs become extremely similar to humans, then it will become nonsense to debate about the differences between the two. So the way humans perceive AI will change. This won’t be a perception that will be shared by the majority right away, but more people will start thinking that way, and people will no longer say, “How can we accept AIs more?” This shift won’t happen while we’re alive, so it’s probably not something we need to worry about. (Laughs)
Many stories have explored the complex relationships androids have with humans. However, what makes Vivy Fluorite Eye’s Song stand out is the deep dive of love and how emotions that stem from love don’t just result in happiness ever after but also end in grief, unrequited longing, and sacrifice. What are you hoping Vivy will tell people about love as humanity’s relationship with androids continues to change just as how they are changing in the anime?
Nagatsuki: I first need to tell you that the question I hate the most in the world is, “What is the message you’re trying to portray in your work?” (Laughs) Taking that into consideration, if there is a message that I want to get across to the viewers, it is, “Isn’t this story cool?”
Umehara: If we were able to condense the message of this whole story into one sentence, then it would be meaningless for us to create this anime. Regarding the theme of love, in the series you see the relationship of Saeki and Grace, which is love between a human and an AI. But it ends in tragedy because history is revised. That doesn’t necessarily mean that love between a human and AI will always end tragically. It was just a device we used to make the story more interesting. Vivy is influenced by films that use the theme of time travel like Terminator and Back to the Future. It’s more of an innocent approach where we were like, “We combined all the elements we love and came up with this cool project!”
Songs play a huge part in storytelling to Vivy as a character and to the anime. Were you also involved in the songwriting process? How far in advance were the incorporations of Vivy’s songs into the narrative story planned out?
Nagatsuki: As I answered in question 2, when I was at the screenwriter meeting, music was already going to be a central theme of this series. That is why we incorporated scenes of singing in the script for each episode. For example, we decided beforehand that Vivy would sing “Fluorite Eye’s Song,” which is a song she composed, in the last episode. We told Satoru Kosaki (MONACA), who was in charge of the music, that this song has to be powerful enough as an ending or it will ruin all 13 episodes, so we put a lot of pressure on him. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize and say thanks. (Laughs)
Umehara: The first thing we did is write the story for Vivy, so the songs didn’t influence the direction of the script, but we knew that we needed to have a specific idea for each song that we wanted to portray. If Ophelia who appears in Episodes 7 to 9 had sung her songs in a hard rock style rather than opera, that would’ve been a problem. (Laughs) All the songs and lyrics that Mr. Kosaki and the music team wrote for the series were wonderful, and we’re so full of gratitude.
Many audience viewers did not expect intense action scenes in a story about an android whose mission is to sing to make people happy. What is writing action sequences like when it comes to an anime production?
Nagatsuki: One reason we were able to pack a lot of action scenes into the series was because we got to work with WIT STUDIO on the animation production. They are an anime studio that worked on titles like Attack on Titan, so we had no choice but to pack our series with action scenes. (Laughs) But even if we were working with WIT STUDIO, if we had too many action scenes in one episode, that would have been too much of a burden on the staff, so we made sure to only include about one action scene in each episode. Though it was only one action scene per episode, it turned out that those action scenes were all insanely intense. (Laughs)
Umehara: Generally speaking, anime scripts don’t have detailed instructions for action scenes. In the battle scene with Matsumoto and Vivy at the end of Episode 2, we wrote that “Vivy’s arm gets torn off” in the script, but I left the details about how her arm gets torn off to the director. In Episode 9, there is a memorable scene where Yugo Kakitani grabs Diva’s hair, but I didn’t write that in the script. That idea came from an animator named Masahiro Tokumaru who worked on the storyboards and original drawings. We were able to create Vivy because we had the help of the amazing directors and animators.
Matsumoto and Vivy have one of the most interesting relationships as the two began on unfriendly terms. However, with the most recent episode, Matsumoto has started to develop a sense of concern towards Vivy, despite any denials to the contrary. In their character arcs, were their developments planned together as a team or separately?
Nagatsuki: We were conscious of typical buddy themes when portraying the relationship between Vivy and Matsumoto. We wanted to show that their personalities clash, but they recognize the strengths and weaknesses in each other’s personalities, and at the end we wanted them to become true partners. The central theme of Vivy is based on a songstress who does her best to bring happiness to humans by singing, but on the other side, we also wanted to show the evolution that Matsumoto goes through when he pulls Vivy into the Singularity Project. So we were conscious about showing the growth of both of these characters as a set.
Umehara: When we were still thinking of Vivy as a story about wanderers, there was also an idea to have the Matsumoto character be a human. Humans will age, but the appearance of AIs don’t change no matter how old they get. We thought it would be interesting to visually show the difference in the passage of time between humans and AI. But when we shifted from a wanderer theme to a time travel theme, we naturally decided on having both of these characters be AIs. We chose to use the Kakitani character to show how humans age with the passage of time. That’s why we decided to have Kakitani start out as a member of Toak, then become its leader, and finally become an AI with his own mind implanted into it, to visually show this evolution.
Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- has been performing well on our Anime Trending charts. Many people in the community are not only invested in Diva’s journey but are also just as enamored with the world and the plot. For the fans, what do you ultimately hope they would get out of this story as they eagerly await the next episode?
Umehara: First of all, I am so grateful that people are showing love for Vivy. However as of now, we don’t have any plans to develop the Vivy story any further. In our initial idea, we were thinking of having one episode be more casual and focused on humor, so we might make something like that, but I don’t think that’s what the fans want. (Laughs)
Nagatsuki: If we get a good response, both of us might team up again to create a new series. There would be nothing that would make me happier if there are people who think, “Vivy was great, so if these guys work on something together again, it’s bound to be awesome,” and we’d like to create something that would live up to those expectations. We know that we’re both going to be creating until the day we die.
Any final comments to fans around the world as we approach a final couple of episodes for Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song-?
Nagatsuki: I’d first like to say thank you to the people who took an interest in Vivy and even went out of their way to read the staff interviews. We purposely chose a difficult path of writing a novel to be used as the basis for this series, and it was a series that took longer than normal to complete. Fortunately, the quality of the series lives up to the time we spent working on it, and we were able to create a very dense dramatic story. We filled Vivy with elements from everything we’ve been influenced by, and we created the series using the techniques that we excel at. You’ll probably see our names together on projects in the future, and when that happens, there will always be an element of Vivy in those projects. We hope that everyone looks forward to the new projects that we work on.
Umehara: In recent years, even though we’re in Japan, we get to hear more feedback from international audiences. You might not know, but Japanese creators are really inspired by the comments from international fans. There are a lot of fans in the US that are passionate about our work and really dive deep into them, and that really motivates us. Due to the times we are in, it’s hard for us to travel to the US to directly hear comments from the fans, but we hope to continue creating projects that are loved by you all, and the love that you share really inspires us. Thank you for the support.
Thank you to Aniplex, Aniplex of America, Nagatsuki-sensei, and Umehara-sensei for the opportunity. Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- is now streaming on Funimation.