Fifty years have passed since mankind began migrating to the new frontier: Mars. It's an age where most culture is produced by AI, and people are content to be passive consumers. There's a girl scraping a living in the metropolis of Alba City, she's working part-time while trying to become a musician. She's always felt like something is missing. Her name is Carole. There's another girl. Born to a wealthy family in the provincial town of Herschel City, she dreams of becoming a musician, but nobody around her understands. She feels like the loneliest person in the world. Her name is Tuesday. A chance meeting brings them together.
*potentially vague and mild spoilers for a show I don’t recommend*Carole and Tuesday is a strange disappointment. It’s not a terrible anime, but it’s a mediocre show and an empty shell. It’s fundamentally at odds with itself as well, given the narrative of the show and the contemporary feel it oozes in every direction. You can smell the corporate in the air here, which is probably the most bizarre thing to say given that this is a Shinichiro Watanabe anime. The man responsible for stylish classics such as Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo is one of the main people who crafted something that’s at the crossroads of trends from both the popular anime industry and the popular music industry. That sounds epic until you realize that both industries are formula and trend chasers, meaning this show is the culmination of all that. It certainly hits home with the American crowd, much like his works always do. This time it feels even more designed for them than before.This leads to the first major problem with the anime: its setting. There is no reason for it to be set in Mars. There’s not a single thing this anime does to really have a setting that couldn’t have easily taken place on Earth without anything changing outside of where Carole comes from. The only thing they do with it outside of lame space politics is “Mars’ radiation tampers with people’s hormones” because they couldn’t just let trans people and androgynes be in the show without some kind of crazy explanation that raises more questions than answers. The space politics are done in a way where you could just replace Mars with America and Earth with a third world country, and it wouldn’t have made a difference to Carole’s backstory or the world. If they wanted this to be an allegory, then it needs to justify why it makes its setting based off real world events instead of just setting it where it’s pulling from. The show doesn’t tap into anything regarding the planet and what kind of climate you’d expect a city on Mars to have. It doesn’t really do anything regarding space travel. It’s just a futuristic show that happens to take place on Mars while having a suspicious number of American talent and ideas from the 2010s.Frankly, I’m left wondering why they didn’t just make this show take place in a futuristic America. The main characters have decidedly English names. One of our main characters is light-skinned. They have a plethora of both light and dark-skinned people in this show (compared to most anime, anyway), and even some lesbian and transgender characters. There’s more English than the recently finished El-Melloi anime which sprinkles in random English/Engrish words and phrases every chance it can get. The show has Denzel Curry and Thundercat, on top of some other American artists. Hell, the main music genre the show uses is pop music, one of the most American genres out there (there’s hardly any J-pop in this show). Why didn’t they set it in America? Would it have made too much sense? They ignore the most obvious idea for a setting and do nothing with what they actually chose! Sure, there’s a fair amount of world-building regarding the music industry and the technological advancements (even if some of the AI concepts feel underutilized) but this is still baffling beyond belief!Then we get to one of the show’s ideological conflicts: AI vs human music, or rather the divide between humans and people. The conflict between AI and human music and how one just sounds artificial and corporate and lifeless and whatnot falls on its face when you realize that the show's just using generic, melodramatic pop music for the human side. Just about everyone seems to love the typical pop music Carole and Tuesday put on (as well as the dismal chorus Angela showcased in episode 5) and I just don’t see it. I can’t see it with these vocals, let alone some of the lyrics. I’m no Anthony Fantano but I can’t help but roll my eyes at lyrics like “Can you feel my, can you feel my tear drops of the loneliest girl”. I understand that pop music has a lot of repetitive lyrics and tackles contemporary/relatable subject matter in a relatively melodramatic fashion, but this is just too much. Angela’s aforementioned song in episode 4 just features the chorus which primarily is about her moving mountains, and I can’t bet behind the lyrics or the voice. Another case of bad voices is the song Carole and Tuesday perform in episode 6, which often sounds off-pitch. Not all of the songs are terrible (I find the song capping off episode 5 to be sorta decent, and most of their songs are just mediocre) but still. They’re often cloying beyond comprehension.The characters treat the concept of AI music as artificial and lacking in warmth before we even get to hear it. It takes forever for us to hear proper AI music unless you want to count the terrible electronica that pompous fuck Ertegun pumps out almost every time he is introduced (as well as episode 5's chorus to one of Angela's songs that are written by AI). We just have to take the show’s word for it for more than ¼ of the show’s runtime while putting up with corporate, boilerplate pop music. In this regard, the show is at odds with itself, fundamentally speaking.There is a lot of commentary on the shadiness of the music industry with regards to how labels and producers often treat their artists like shit and try to control them, as well as how several of these producers are terrible people with several recorded acts that will ruin them if exposed. Even some of the more harmless producers have a ton of shit other characters threaten to expose them for, and there’s a ton of blackmail from or between producers in this show regarding exactly that. If only that amounted to anything beyond there being a shady corporation man working with our main antagonists for profit in the final quarter.Another problem is with Tuesday, specifically, her fear of getting noticed and sent home. It's one of the main things about her and yet it barely even gets brought up during that time everyone tried making a music video, or when she and Carole were backup performers at an event with over 10K people. Though the show treats this as some sort of looming threat until she develops past that after a single pep talk in episode 7, it doesn't feel like one. It doesn't even happen during an episode when one of her family members is in the city she is so he can look for her. Almost no one in the public or the media seems to make a big deal about it or look into it further anyway, which is utter nonsense given the show’s attempts to look into the industry and the connections of people inside it. It's not like her storyline amounts to much more than a worse version of Pokemon Sun and Moon's (even Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon's) storyline, anyway. That and the issues with the setting are the main problems with the first ⅓ of the show since honestly, the actual writing, for that portion of the show isn't all that bad. Outside of a detail that dismantles the 4th episode because they couldn't figure out how to do dramatic irony in a way that doesn't make the characters come off as utter morons, that's basically all I got. Unfortunately, sometime during the Mars Brightest competition, the show decides to create contrivances for our main duo to be separate for an episode, and for Angela to have a temporary conflict with her latest manager who was introduced several episodes ago. This is all by the halfway mark.The rest of the show is where the main conflict regarding human music VS AI, issues with the music industry, and issues with politics and capitalism take center stage. They’re so basic, one-dimensional, and on the nose about all of this to the point of absurdity. To think, the self-defeating conflicts about human VS AI music and the warmth of one vs the artificiality of the other wasn’t enough for this show. On top of that, while criticizing the music industry, they have our main characters train under someone that continually forces them to do upwards of over 52 takes until he is satisfied. He is overworking them to dangerous levels and that’s a combination of comic relief and an uplifting montage. That and the fact that the AI vs human music disappears completely by episode 21 should tell you everything about how this show handles these ideas and commentaries. Here I was thinking that the AI and people divide in general was supposed to be relevant with how much they brought it up.Admittedly there is this nice plot point that pops up in this latter half regarding Carole’s parents which the show had been building up to. It’s delicately handled, and it provides another genuinely good character who sadly won’t get much screen time in this anime since that whole plot point concludes by the end of episode 14. There’s also episode 16 which has a decent, bittersweet tale with some pretty nice songs by our main duo. That and a sorta decent episode knocking down and building that egotist Ertegun back up caught me by surprise. The second half of the show seems more character focused despite also doubling down on the points that damage the show. When it focuses on the elements that are promising and true to its characters, it somewhat works, and when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t. It really goes to show you that the show’s writing isn’t all that terrible on paper, and that with some tweaks as well as a change in destination, this could have probably been a compelling anime. It’s just those critical logic, setting, and idea/commentary blunders among other issues that kill the script.The characters aren’t great either, even with a few cute moments here and there. It’s never a good sign when the two main leads in your show tend to feel virtually identical outside of their pasts and how they react to a deranged superfan/musician who goes mental around Tuesday. Carole is more of the tomboy type while Tuesday is more of the girly girl type, and that’s basically the main thing differentiating them...when it’s noticeable. Simply put, Carole and Tuesday don’t have much chemistry or anything interesting in their personalities or interactions. Their manager is ok. He has some interesting bits regarding former friends and his former lover and another former partner, but that’s about it aside from being a bumbling tough guy looking manager. The last member of the main quad squad is Roddy, who is just a shy guy with connections, and nothing else. I suppose he’s better than the myriad of stereotypes we meet in the Mars Brightest show such as the rapper stereotype. The worst has to be the insufferable instagram boy always saying shit like “pow” in the most obnoxious way possible because clearly making a character out of zoomer stereotypes was a great idea.Sasuga, Mrs. Watanabe. Your script writing and series composition knows no bounds.Honestly, the most engaging character was that one guy named Skip from episode 6 who gave C&T some wise words of encouragement before talking with a former love and then playing the song “Unrequited love”. The latter conversation in particular is one of the few times where the show just uses strong implication and actually good dialogue to convey what’s going on. This is a character who feels more tangible and engaging than the actual characters in this show, and he doesn’t reappear until episode 14. He doesn’t even play a major role in episode 6, and I was excited to see him return! Sadly, the show abandons him and his guys shortly thereafter when they could have easily filled the roles some non-entity characters fill in during the final ⅓ of the show. This anime does seem to abandon a few characters, like Angela’s female manager at the end of the first half. She’s absent for an incredibly long time, and all because of contrived, surprisingly vague circumstances.The anime does try to have some of the stereotype characters flesh out their views and whatnot so the show can feel more lived in, but none of them are particularly engaging. Even then, that only goes for the Mars Brightest stereotypes, not the political stereotypes. Tuesday’s mom is especially lame as she’s just a typical amoral politician created by fusing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton together with the spell card Polymerization. She even drops a line about deporting illegal immigrants cuz this show likes to be very on the nose about its commentary and conflicts. She’s also influenced by a typical scheming advisor because of course she is. The show needs a main antagonist, even if he has nothing to do with our main leads beyond a few actions that indirectly impact them. They do get into some conflict by the end because the mother has to be redeemed at all costs, but that’s not enough to make this worthwhile. It all devolves into a bout of sugary, exceptionally rushed nonsense bin the last two episodes, anyway.I also get the feeling that we’re supposed to like Angela. Despite the show making her out to be a complete bitch at every turn, we’re supposed to feel joy whenever she wins something, and sympathy for her just because of a scene that implies that she was abused by one of her parents (if only the show’s dialogue was more consistently clever). Yet she talks about actively abusing her managers for fun as the reason why she doesn’t want an AI manager. This isn’t an Asuka from Evangelion situation where we’re supposed to understand the character as she gets peeled back regardless of whether or not we like her. We’re supposed to like Angela, especially when she determines that she wants a fair match against C&T instead of her winning cuz of them getting sabotaged. We’re supposed to like her when she tells her cold, AI-loving manager, Tao a bit about her past thanks to circumstances regarding his AI programs knowing everything about her. We’re supposed to fear for her when she gets targeted by a stalker and feel for her when we know that she’s doing everything for her mother’s dream at the cost of herself. Seeing what becomes of her in the final act is interesting, so the show does have me on her side by the end in terms of character writing. I just wish the presentation was better.For an anime prominently featuring and referencing music, the show’s songs are unfortunately hit or miss. I am somewhat ambivalent on the first opening, and I absolutely hate the second. However, both C&T and Angela have a song that I actually kind of like, that being their respective ending themes: “Hold Me Now” and “Not Afraid”. Otherwise’ I’ve gone over enough of their tracks for one lifetime. The other pop artists/characters such as Lauren Dyson’s performance as Crystal or J. R. Price as Pyotr the instagram boy don’t do much for me either. The fact that they make up a majority of the songs in this show hurts because not only does an actually nice OST by Mocky get pushed practically out of existence by the 8th episode, but I do like a majority of the other songs. Maika Loubte’s (Cybelle) “La Ballade”, Thundercat’s “Unrequited Love”, Madison McFerrin’s (GGK) “Milky Way” and “Gravity Bounce” make up some of the many nice songs the non-pop singers perform for this show. The production for these songs is a lot more interesting and varied, and while not all of them have necessarily interesting lyrics either, they’re a lot more engaging and memorable than Angela’s or C&T’s songs. Even the latter’s songs get better over time anyway, so there ends up being a few tracks from them I actually find decent to listen to. If nothing else, this anime does provide a gateway to a variety of interesting artists, so I can appreciate that fundamental aspect of the show. I just wish that Mocky’s OST wasn’t mixed so low after a while cuz I actually want to hear more than just the eyecatches track and the piece that plays during the 30 seconds of recap at the start of every episode.Carole and Tuesday's contemporary, unadventurous feel even extends to the visual presentation. This doesn't feel like a Shinichirou Watanabe anime. I don't know what goes into being chief director, which is his role in the show outside of original creator, but I'd assume that there would be some real ambition or flare in the camera work of this show. Instead, it feels like just about anyone even remotely competent at anime direction and cinematography could have made it. That's probably because Motonobu Hori was the regular director credit for this show. He does do a fairly decent job, but there aren’t many moments that feel particularly enticing in terms of cinematography and presentation.The visuals by studio Bones are about as solid. The anime sports a vivid, varied set of character designs, often with different types of heads and faces that still mostly feel like they all come from the same world. There are some dazzling light show sequences as well, like with GGK, a contestant in the Mars Brightest talent show who has her outfit synch with the moving galaxy patterns in the background. I can't deny that outside of some dodgy CGI sequences and instruments, the show looks rather good, especially when they're able to pull off that aforementioned sequence on top of having overhead crowd shots that don't contain CGI. Still, even with generally solid, sometimes exceptional visual presentation, I can't help but feel jaded in context. It doesn’t help that the production does go downhill for part of the show’s third quarter thanks to less overall polish and further reliance on bad CGI instruments and objects.Where did it all go wrong? You'd expect an original anime, especially one with Watanabe as one of the credits, to showcase a ton of ambition and creative freedom. This feels the exact opposite, with only the vibrant city and character designs having any sort of flair. Unlike previous works like Macross Plus or Bebop, there isn't that same creative drive here. It's more about mass appeal, which Watanabe had already excelled at without even trying to. As a result, Carole & Tuesday feels empty and artificial, requiring mediocre writing and uneven music to fill the void that ambition once filled. How fitting then, that it embodies the sugary, overly melodramatic, trendy pop music it employs so often. That said, even pop music tends to have a clear goal it wants to commit to. Carole and Tuesday has a bunch of ideas and concepts it merely pays lipservice to before barely going through with any of them. If nothing else, I hope Shinichiro Watanabe and his wife are satisfied with this product. I wish I could be.By the way, since we’re getting political, I have to ask: where are my hispanics at?! You’ve been tackling the deportation of illegal immigrants via a Trump x Hillary character, an issue that affects my people, yet we get no representation in the show outside of arguably the guy Denzel Curry performed as. What the fuck? I say “arguably” cuz we don't even know. At most, he dropped a line about speaking Spanish. That’s it! You got all sorts of white and black people, as well as a bunch of LGBTQ+ characters and people of other ethnicities and whatnot, but not us while you’re tackling our issue? Piece o’ shiet!Written and Edited by: CodeBlazeFateProofread by: Peregrine
"When it comes to researching the human brain in order to control emotions using AI, music and politics are very much alike."— Jerry Egan It's been fifty years since humans colonized Mars. Cities akin to Tokyo and New York are populated with an array of immigrants from Earth, and natives recently born there. Technology crowds every facet of life—from streets, to homes where an android or robot pet is commonplace. Thanks to artificial intelligence, people don’t have to put as much effort into working, thinking, or even creating anymore. "99% of modern hits are produced by AI," a record producer tells an up-and-coming idol. Doing anything without a technological assist is an oddity. There are still people who prefer doing things the old-fashioned human way. Tuesday Simmons, a 17-year old from the lowkey Hersell City, dreams of becoming a musician. Fed up with the sheltered life under her strict mother, politician Valerie Simmons, she runs away from home with just a suitcase and Gibson guitar in tow. She arrives on the bustling streets of Alba City, and her suitcase is immediately stolen (never turn your back on your stuff in a big city). On a sunset lit bridge—lost, penniless, and alone—Tuesday encounters Carole Stanley, a street musician who appears to be the same age as her. Carole's upbringing wasn't as cozy as Tuesday's. A refugee from Earth, she grew up in an orphanage, and struggles with odd jobs as a young adult. Carole's melancholic lyrics resonate with Tuesday in her moment of desperation. The two form an instant camaraderie as if by fate, and Carole takes her in. In a parallel story, Angela Carpenter, a 16 year old with excellent hair, already has a career as a model and actor. At the behest of Dahlia, her mother and manager, she works with a misanthropic technologist named Mr. Tao to start a music career. Mr. Tao prefers working with technology over people. His algorithmic approach to producing music is juxtaposed with Carole and Tuesday’s from-the-heart approach. At this point, it’s unclear if Angela’s new path is something that she wants, or if she’s doing it for her mother’s sake. Regardless, she doesn’t take kindly to competition, and she has a strong desire to be the best in everything she pursues. The first 12 episodes, generally, had a casual slice of life vibe. It was so casual in fact that I worried if the story could stay fresh for the 24 episodes that were listed. On the other hand, I was hoping that needless drama wouldn’t be interjected to justify the runtime. Mercifully, with the exception of a few brief arcs (I'm looking at you Cybelle), the story neither dragged nor irritated me for too long. Strong worldbuilding, unexpected predicaments, thought provoking ideas, and bits of backstory kept each episode feeling new. After a string of light-hearted, and often hilarious, performances and competitions, the story took an unexpectedly dark and political turn, touching on real world issues like convenience verses privacy, and the morality of using technology to read and influence people. The same technology that’s used to produce hit music is being used by politicians to improve their poll numbers. Data is collected from facial and sentiment analysis to tailor messages that will resonate with people. This is an interesting prospect because something like this will likely happen, and is already happening to a less advanced degree today. Valerie’s presidential election, advised by the perpetually shady looking Jerry Egan, opens a discussion on another real world issue, the immigration debate. One side feels that a country (or planet) has a moral obligation to help refugees, and the other side feels that unfettered immigration poses a security and economic threat; Valerie sides with the latter. There was also commentary on the struggle for human relevance as technology renders us irrelevant, and how neither pursuing our personal ambitions nor attaining societal acceptance can guarantee happiness. It was surprising to see such weighty topics in what I’d expected would just be a cute music anime. Shinichiro Watanabe (previously Cowboy Bebop) clearly had a lot that he wanted to say. The animation by BONES studio shined. The art had a 90s aesthetic with a modern digital polish. Collectively, the cast had an extensive wardrobe, and the character designs were attractively detailed with highlights, shadows, and full lips. It would’ve been cool if those lips were always synced to the singing, but doing this likely would’ve exceeded their, presumably, already large budget. The vinyl record eye-catches, printed with song titles that mirrored the theme of the episode, were a nice touch. Pop music isn’t a genre that I’m intimately familiar with, so I can’t give an unbiased assessment of the soundtrack itself. Regardless, I did love a few of the songs, especially the first ED. It was a delightful bop that I never skipped. There were notable and instantly recognizable seiyuu surprises like Hiroshi Kamiya (previously Koyomi Araragi) as Tao, and Megumi Hayashibara (previously Faye Valentine) as Flora. Carole (voiced by Miyuri Shimabukuro) and Tuesday (voiced by Kana Ichinose) were voiced by actors with relatively short filmographies, but both filled their roles more than adequately. I’ve been watching anime on-and-off for about 24 years (wow, I didn’t realize it was that long until I did the math). In that time, I’ve become less critical of the medium. If I’d seen Carole & Tuesday when I was a 20 year old film elitist, I’d likely rip apart how little friction the leads had to endure (despite enduring enough), how abruptly some turning points happened, and how briskly the last few episodes wrapped up the story—which are all valid criticisms. Today, at the ripe old age of 38, I’ve become a “filthy casual” in the way I watch things. While maybe not all of my expectations were met, I was more than satisfied by what was, for me, an uplifting and inspired experience. Thank you, Shinichiro Watanabe.
Is it worth it to watch Carole & Tuesday? The acclaim for the show has certainly been less than universal. While few dispute the technical merits of the show (the animation and sound design), there has been a mixed response to the the story and characters. At first, my impression of the show was that of several music video strung together with a paltry excuse of a plot. While the songs were generally good (having been produced by big name western music stars like Flying Lotus and Thundercat), the content between each musical number just left me with the anticipation of the next one. This pattern largely continous through most of Part 1 (episodes 1-12), to the point where watching Part 2 (episodes 13-24, which were not released on US Netflix until December) moved further and further down my list of priorities. However, after finishing Part 2, I can confidently say I shouldn't have waited, as the story makes a greater comeback than the forces of Rohan at the battle of the Hornburg. Carole & Tuesday starts with the model a “sports movie,” with plot cliches of an unknown underdog working their way up through #hardwork #dedication and overcoming all odds to achieve their dream. They face off against more talented/better funded rivals, but manage to emerge victorious by demonstrating virtue. The story ends with them getting the gold/winning the championship/securing the record deal and they all live happily ever after. But what happens after “happily ever after?” Carole & Tuesday explores the challenges of how one handles success from not only the perspective of our protagonists, but from the perspective of our primary antagonist (Angela). The way both plots are weaved together not only gives the story more weight, it gives the songs they sing greater meaning as well. The story doesn’t shy away from the complexities of modern life, and addresses relevant issues like gender identity, depression, immigration, drug use, and poverty with maturity and tact. This all builds up to an immensely satisfying climax that ties all the subplots together and thematically unifies the anime’s message. From a musical standpoint, I doubt we’ll ever see an anime with this kind of musical production again. Bringing in big name western artists to produce and perform nearly 2 unique songs an episode is absolutely crazy from a production perspective. The sheer variety of genres represented is ridiculous, from 4 part acapella to dubstep to hip hop to acoustic folk to modern pop, if it was a genre of popular music in the 20th/21st century, this anime probably featured it. While musical tastes are certainly subjective, I believe the soundtrack has something for everyone, and even since finishing the show I’ve been listening to it on loop on Spotify. I can almost guarantee there will never ever be another anime like Carole & Tuesday. For that reason alone I do recommend it highly for anyone who loves music. It may not have the wide reaching appeal of music anime with elements of romance and drama like Your Lie in April or Kids on the Slope, but it’s a unique love letter to modern western music that is unparalleled in its music production. Its story may not be its strongest element, but it grows from something average and cliche to something profoundly meaningful. In a way, the anime itself follows the trajectory of its protagonist on a meta level, growing in quality as they grow as musicians. It’s a 24 episode miracle.
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