Reviewby James Beckett,
Carole & Tuesday
Episodes 1-12 streaming
In a future where Mars has been terraformed into a bustling, colorful metropolis, Tuesday Simmons has decided to run away from her pampered life as a politician's daughter to make a life of her own, with a classic acoustic Gibson guitar as her only companion. Wandering the streets of Alba City, Tuesday meets Carole Stanley, an orphan refugee from Earth who fills time between a rotating stable of part-time jobs by busking with her keyboard to indifferent Martian passersby. It takes less than a day for Carole and Tuesday to become best friends and musical partners, as they pass the time writing songs and having a blast together. When Roddy, a young musical engineer, posts a video of Carole and Tuesday that goes viral on social media, a washed-up rocker named Gus takes it upon himself to become Carole and Tuesday's official manager. In an industry driven by pitch-perfect tunes crafted by algorithms and artificial intelligence, these old-school musicians stand apart. Right now, the girls are anonymous, but if they can survive egomaniacal DJs, self-centered divas, and the chaotic world of reality-TV competitions, Carole and Tuesday's music might just change Mars forever.
After months of anxiously holding on to Shinichiro Watanabe's latest opus, Netflix has finally released the first half of Carole & Tuesday to American audiences. I've been brimming with excitement from the moment I learned that the legendary director was returning to a story rooted in the lives and friendships of aspiring musicians, a la Kids on the Slope, except this time in in a lush science-fiction setting that hearkens back to his time playing in the worlds of Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy. Carole & Tuesday is a uniquely ambitious undertaking, serving both as an animation showcase for Studio Bones' 20th anniversary as well as a no-holds barred musical showcase for a number of international artists. Given that Watanabe has always been eager to blend anime sensibilities with cultural influences from all over the world, many of the songs in Carole & Tuesday are performed in well-written English verse, making the debut of Netflix's English dub especially fortuitous. At long last, viewers on this side of the globe can discover how Carole & Tuesday holds up across the language barrier.
I'm happy to report that Carole & Tuesday provides more entertainment, emotional weight, and heart-bursting joy in its first dozen chapters than many other shows ever manage in their entire runs. It isn't just that the music is a treat for the ears, or that the animation will make any fan beam with satisfaction – at its heart, the story of Carole & Tuesday appeals to anyone who has ever wanted to reach out to another person and make a connection worth fighting for, and a testament to the power of respect and culture in a world that so easily indulges people's most cynical instincts.
At first, you might wonder why Watanabe and his team chose to set this story on a futuristic Mars at all – after all, the story of up-and-coming artists is fairly universal and timeless – but it soon becomes clear that Carole & Tuesday's vision of the future is one that serves as a logical endpoint of how our current society values music, pop culture, ambition, and consumption. Though her name isn't in the title, Carole & Tuesday has a third main character, the quasi-antagonistic angela, a former child-actress and model who pursues a career as an idol with grim mechanical determination. Her manager, Mr. Tao, uses artificial intelligence and mechanical enhancement procedures to craft angela into the dystopian vision of a pop-star, a woman detached from everything but her own success who cannot even be sure whether her thoughts are her own, or the product of the algorithms that determine every syllable she sings on stage.
angela's story is meant to contrast with Carole and Tuesday's, whose lives and rise to fame stand in opposition to everything Mars' music industry stand for. The girls make music because it gives them joy, and they want to share that joy with others. Their manager Gus might be an irresponsible drunkard, but he isn't interested in exploiting Carole and Tuesday's talent for profit. Working with Roddy, Gus simply recognizes that Carole and Tuesday are talented, honest musicians whose music deserves to be heard. As the crew write songs, book gigs, and shoot disastrous music videos with con-artist robots, it's incredibly easy to root for them, because they feel like good friends from minute one. While the plot stumbles in the too-long singing competition storyline, it's only because the focus on the many fun side-characters takes the spotlight away from our main heroes and the vibrant world that exists outside the walls of that TV studio.
Even when the story drags in the back half, Carole & Tuesday never loses sight of its core mission, which is to celebrate the power of music, optimism, and human connection. This is a well-written, likable, and diverse cast, which makes sense, since its future Mars is populated by people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and identities. While the show's approach to writing and character design occasionally favors caricatures that can be too stereotypical for their own good, it's always nice to have more anime that works to portray queer characters and people of color with the same degree of humanity and complexity as anyone else.
It also helps that the band's music is genuinely delightful, since the show's whole premise would have crashed before takeoff if its heroines didn't live up to their own hype. Composed by Canadian musician Mocky and performed by Nai Br.XX (as Carole) and Celeina Ann (as Tuesday), the duo's tunes are modern, soulful, and catchy, avoiding the sickly-sweet veneer of artificiality that often drags down the soundtracks of music-based anime. “The Loneliest Girl” is the group's standout first song, which becomes a refrain that we hear polished and perfected throughout the season, but most every track that centers around Carole and Tuesday is worth hearing. While I don't know if Carole and Tuesday's music would make the kind of cultural landmark that Gus' narration suggests it will eventually become, it remains as convincing in appeal as anything you might find blowing up on YouTube these days. If that weren't enough, we're treated to plenty of guest spots from artists like Thundercat and Lauren Dyson, which only serves to make the world of Carole & Tuesday that much more believable.
Bang Zoom!'s English dub, directed by Erica Mendez, is one of those rare productions that serves the anime even better than its original Japanese track. Don't get me wrong, Miyuri Shimabukuro and Kana Ichinose make for a great Carole and Tuesday, but Jeannie Tirado and Brianna Knickerbocker's voices are great complements to Nai Br.XX and Celeina Ann, so the near seamless transitions from English dialogue to English songs just feels more natural – the same could be said for all of the English performers, except of course for the characters of the Mermaid Sisters, whose funny, expletive-laden acapella medley has been left untouched. Whether it was worth slapping a TV-MA rating on such an otherwise family-friendly production will be up for the viewer to decide.
When you have to watch as much anime as I do, you often need to take a break from even the best of shows, but that wasn't the case for Carole & Tuesday. I lost track of half my day getting through these twelve episodes, and I'm impatiently counting down the weeks until Netflix delivers the second half. I don't know what the story's conclusion will bring, so time will tell if it ends up as the masterpiece that I suspect it could be, but the fact remains that Carole and Tuesday represents everything I look for in anime, and I can't recommend it enough.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A+
+ Beautiful story of friendship and artistic discovery that values diversity and positivity, great animation and worldbuilding, awesome music, top-notch English dub
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