Shinichiro Watanabe is one of the few anime directors known to the wider world of entry level anime fans. He’s made giant hits like Cowboy Bebop, Space Dandy, and Samurai Champloo. Those were all big genre bending and redefining action comedy series. However he also made the deeply character driven Kids on the Slope. He is back to do it again with another character driven musical series, Carole and Tuesday. A show that was released to America via Netflix.
The show proper is set in the future of a colonized Mars. We follows two budding female artist, Tuesday, a rich, politician’s daughter who wanted to follow her own path, and Carole, a refugee from Earth who works a part time job. They have a chance encounter and decide to form a band and make music. They meet other artists, allies, rivals, and managers along the way. Their main adversary being the model turned singer Angela, who uses AI music to craft her songs.
It has a near flawless first half that made me want to put it on my favorites list almost immediately, but falters and stumbles in the second half.
There are reasons for that faltering, which I’ll get to, but this show has so much good that it can’t be overlooked.
The most striking elements that stand out is the great background and character designs. All of the characters have such life and personality in them. Even bit characters we get all feel so fleshed our just by looking at them. The backgrounds similarly convey so, so much, and do lots of legwork to get you invested in this future of humanity. The main location, Alba city feels very lived in, developed, and planned. It helps that we get to travel from the station, down its main drag, see it’s sky scrapers and visit the west side so often that it feels easy to place.
This is a good time to talk about world building. It is a very interesting choice to set a very traditional rags to riches musician story in the far flung future where everyone lives on mars and people are immigrating to it from Earth. That sets up a lot of themes and ideas (all of which cause the problems in the back half, but we’ll get to that), and world. It must make us believe the world they live in is our future, and like it is Mars. It does it. We see Alba city as an oasis in the desert. The technology feels very possible. We see sell driving cars, and luggage. All restaurants make wait-staff second to ordering at a kiosk on the counter. Robots and AI take over different aspects of people’s lives. It is all really fleshed out.
The same fleshing out also goes for the main reason to watch the series, our leads Carole, and Tuesday, but also most of the supporting cast, and even bit characters. They all get something. Carole is rash, hard working, and has an interesting backstory as a refugee from Earth who works dead-end jobs for nothing and plays music for the love of it. She’s a strong contrast to the reserved, strong willed, kind, and fun loving Tuesday.
The two act as foils to help build the other up, but they’re not comedic foils. It’s not as simple as fire and water. They have a bond, a connection that builds from the moment they meet. It makes it incredibly believable that they’re friends and that they can make music together. They feel so well developed as a duo that when they do argue or disagree it doesn’t feel believable because they are too reasonable as a unit (I also don’t want to be THAT guy, but every time a love interest is introduced I don’t think the pair has chemistry and kind of want Tuesday and Carole to get together. Feels too natural).
The show might be called, and focus on Carole and Tuesday, but a music industry story needs people in the industry, and it delivers that. From the duos manager, a former earth rock star, to their rival Angela, a loud mouth DJ Ertegun, and a full American Idol cast, everyone has such life to them. The characters also all act as foils or explorations of ideas. Angela and her story is a mirror to what Carole and Tuesday must go through. It is all really strong, and well constructed.
The music is also killer. The team behind the soundtrack really work hard to give every character their own musical style and lyrical voice. The team literally has to make music that’s supposed to be artificial intelligence copying human written music. The same team also has to make the music we the audience like so we support the duo. It’s a feet this team manages. It does sound dated. Many of the songs sound like songs from the last two years. Synth and EDM heavy, drop based ballads. Carole and Tuesday are the exception to this. They’re songs are more classic pop, and folk-pop (that isn’t really it, but kind of what it sounds like). Either way they all sell the world, and are catchy.
This show has so many positives, why is it not an automatic favorite? The story changes in the second half. To explain, the first half of the show is more episodic. Carole and Tuesday meet and scheme ways to get popular with their rag-tag team. They are grounded (as far as a future where a robot can drink beer and scam people into making movies), intimate, and character driven stories. It picks up with a singing competition arc. It is the best because it gives the audience a clear sense of advancement for the two. Gives us a great introduction to more characters, and is ridiculously funny. The weird musician gags are pushed to the extreme and it’s great. I mean seeing the last living members of ZZ Top still rocking out is great. The arc also gives us a great villain and fleshes out the stakes in very real ways.
The second half of the show pushes the drama and our characters too far too fast. Part of this comes from the setup that these two are going to make Martian history and we have to see that. Therefore the characters have to explode to popularity (technically it’s slow burn, but they go from a singing competition to the Grammy’s very quickly.) The other part is that it gets political. Being political isn’t bad. It tackles refugees and illegal aliens, but none of comes from an interesting place. It is all conspiracy and puzzle boxes where the reveals of who is doing the bad thing is so obvious it hurts. It no longer is the musical friendship cruise the story started as. There are some great episodes in that run, but most are hindered by focusing on what the future president of Mars is up to. It makes sense, but just is not engaging because it’s direction is too obvious, not fleshed out, and not why I started the series.
By the end of the series I found it hard to continue. The series overthought itself and tried too hard to be engaging when it never needed that. It had good characters, music, and comedy. That’s all it needed.
This show feels like it should have been the next Yuri on Ice. They are both high quality, demographic pushing character dramas. The direction and animation is wonderful. The characters have so much life. And the show is really progressive in super casual ways. It just lets characters be who they are. I just wish this show came out a decade ago when American Idol was at its prime. It would have been massive. As is, it is good, but I just haven’t heard any buzz about it.
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