(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)
Shinichiro Watanabe has made some of the most iconic and influential anime of the past 20 years, with some of the best soundtracks in the industry. His first show, Cowboy Bebop, was the perfect midpoint of anime storytelling and Western pop culture influences, resulting in an exhilarating sci-fi western with a killer jazz soundtrack. He followed that up with Samurai Champloo which combined Japan’s Edo-era samurai road trip story with a hip-hop soundtrack and visual style. Even his thriller anime series about a terrorist attack, Terror in Resonance, was heavily influenced by the music of Sigur Rós.
All this is to say, if you watch a Watanabe anime, you’re bound to get a blending of genres and visual styles, plenty of references to Western pop-culture, and a fantastic soundtrack – and Carole & Tuesday may have his best musical work yet. The series follows Tuesday, a runaway rich girl who, taking a page out of Cyndi Lauper’s book, runs away from her privileged life with nothing but a guitar and a dream. After finally making it to Alba City, a metropolis on Mars that attracts those who want to become somebody, she meets Carole, an orphan and refugee from Earth who plays the piano and works many part-time jobs. Soon they’ll move in together to start making music and try to make it as singer-songwriters in a world where life has become entirely automated and all art is being made by AI.
From there the show becomes a sweet and optimistic exploration of the power of music and creativity that feels like it could very well be set in today’s New York despite it being set in Mars in the distant future. Oh, and of course the soundtrack has some of the catchiest songs you’ll hear all year – including what should become an anthem for frustrated people everywhere.
What Makes It Great
Watanabe’s work has always been renowned for its great world-building. Cowboy Bebop managed to build a vast and complex work by looking at a crew of bounty hunters just trying to make a living. Carole & Tuesday follows that example by throwing its audience head-first into a vast and rich universe filled with details that feels lived-in by how little it is explained to the audience. The show begins with Tuesday running away from home, and we quickly notice that her suitcase is a robot that goes up and down stairs, moves on its own and seemingly has a personality. Indeed, AI is a huge part of the show, and it is everywhere – not only are most workers replaced with robots, but even directors, security guards, accountants, managers, everyone even has their own AI pet that also serve as alarm clocks.
Of course, this being a show about music, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the soundtrack for Carole & Tuesday is phenomenally catchy. The focus of the show is pop music, but when the girls are invited to participate in an American Idol-type competition, we see singers of a variety of genres including operatic hip-hop and the aforementioned best song for frustrated and angry people everywhere. This is a rare instance of an anime show featuring all English vocals, with Nai Br.XX and Celeina Ann providing the singing voice of Carole and Tuesday, respectively. This makes for a smoothing transition when the characters start to sing, with no loss in translation and some great lyrics that will make for great additions to your daily playlist. I dare you to listen to “The Dancing Laundry” and not get the melody stuck in your head for days. After watching the 12 episodes available on Netflix worldwide, it won’t come as a surprise to know that the show already warranted a live concert in Japan despite only about a third of the first season having aired in Japan by then.
Not only does Carole & Tuesday sound excellent, but it looks amazing too. The show is produced as a special 20th anniversary celebration of Studio Bones, which has produced some of the most popular and best-looking anime series of the past two decades like Fullmetal Alchemist (and Brotherhood), My Hero Academia and Mob Psycho 100. The result this time around is a beautifully animated series with eye-popping backgrounds, an art style that looks like a bright and futuristic utopia that goes perfectly with the optimistic tone of the series, mixed with animation that will have you wonder ‘how did they do that?’ every episode. The show uses double the amount of drawings as the standard anima, and like Space Dandy, Carole & Tuesday uses rotoscope animation for the musical performances, resulting in fluid, complex and simply impressing dance moves you’ll want to memorize as soon as you see them.
What It Brings to the Conversation
Out of the gate, Carole & Tuesday wants to make you it makes you believe in the magical power of music. The opening narration at the start of each episode tells of the “miraculous seven minutes” that forever change the world, and that we’re experiencing the story of the women who made it happen. It’s like Bill & Ted but with pop songs and less time-travel and it immediately sells you on the idea that art, when used to make a soulful connection between artist and audience, can really change the world. Near the end of the very first episode, Carole and Tuesday meet at Carole’s apartment and, knowing they both share a passion for music and a deep desire to make music themselves, they start playing music. They have no idea what they’re going for and they’re terribly out of sync, yet there is a connection between them. As they slowly figure out what their song is, they start getting more in sync until everything clicks. It’s a short and simple scene, but in that beautiful moment when they start singing “The Loneliest Girl” everything clicks – from the life-like movements of Tuesday’s fingers playing guitar, to the excellent vocal performances, it all come together for this one magical moment that kind of does make you believe that these girls could change the world in just seven minutes. This nearly magical power that music has is a vital component of the show and its story, as it’s been decades since anyone has actually made their song songs, relying instead on algorithms and AI.
Though at first glance the use of a sci-fi setting may seem unnecessary for this series, Watanabe quickly shows that the flashy technology, quick reference to actual aliens and other sci-fi elements are more than just for show, as Carole & Tuesday uses tomorrow’s world to comment on today’s. Characters are constantly talking about the benefits of simply having a computer make the best songs based on market research, and the show also explores the ups and downs of the music industry and the way it treats its artists. In a rare move for an anime series, Carole & Tuesday even introduces the idea that space radiation is literally disappearing bindery genders.
Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out
Shinichiro Watanabe’s work is often found at the top of lists of recommendations to anime newcomers, and with good reason. While most anime series today are heavily inspired by other anime series from a few years ago, Watanabe mixes anime influences with a deep love for Western pop culture. Where Cowboy Bebop had references to everything from Alien, to Taxi Driver, Carole & Tuesday feels like a series retrofitted for a Western audience. There are reference to everything from Ellen, SXSW, a number of Western media corporations, Breakfast Club, 73 questions with Vogue, Banksy, and even something as silly as a joke about “Bruno’s Mars performance.”
In the endless dub-vs-sub debate, you might actually be better off watching the dubbed version on Netflix. Not only are the songs sung in English, but all the characters have Anglo-American names (one of the main characters is from Texas!) and all text appear in English throughout the show – a rare instance of a sci-fi series that does away with all Japanese background text. If everything is in English, why shouldn’t the dialogue?
Watch This If You Like: Cowboy Bebop, A Star Is Born, series about aspiring musicians, great pop music.
Carole & Tuesday is streaming on Netflix.
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