Carole & Tuesday is a new anime about two teenage girls: one an orphaned refugee and the other a wealthy runaway, trying to break into the Martian music industry together. Even though it features young female protagonists, the show is technically being marketed in Japan as a seinen series, meaning it's targeted primarily at adult men.
This doesn't mean it's inappropriate for teen viewers, though. Most people seem to agree it's a pretty safe show without much objectionable content. MyAnimeList describes its content as "PG-13," while the ratings boards for Germany and the Netherlands both say it's acceptable for viewers aged six and up.
Netflix in the United States, however, has the first 12 episodes of Carole & Tuesday listed with a TV-MA rating. It's an odd decision giving this show the same adults-only content rating as the likes of Devilman Crybaby and Love, Death & Robots. There's only one logical reason to give the show this rating, and it's all due to a single scene in a single episode.
The scene in question is in Episode 9, when the genderqueer choral group The Mermaid Sisters performs in the Mars Brightest music competition. In perfect harmony, the four singers perform a lovely 40 second ditty of random meaningless profanities. The judges are baffled by everything about this performance and kick the Mermaid Sisters out of the running, leading to a fight breaking out.
Saying half the words in this song will pretty much automatically get any TV show a TV-MA, so in a way this was inevitable. It's noteable, however, that this brief song is the only time anyone uses such language in the show. Even the gangsta rapper OG Bulldog keeps his music surprisingly clean. Nor does the show contain anything else that would generally be deemed inappropriate to viewers over the age of 12. Only a few more mature thematic elements (drug references, DJ Ertegun's sleazy reputation, Cybelle's creepy stalking of Tuesday) would make it questionable for younger kids. Remove the Mermaid Sisters' song and a TV-PG or TV-14 rating would suffice.
Perhaps it would be more reasonable to follow the UK ratings board's model and rate the different episodes individually. Carole & Tuesday's content ratings in the UK fluctuate from PG to 12 (equivalent to TV-14/PG-13) to 15 (equivalent to either a harder TV-14/PG-13 or a softer TV-MA/R) on an episode-by-episode basis. In the US, Netflix doesn't do such individualized episode-by-episode content warnings, which has led to confusing situations, like how every episode of Stranger Things 3 came with a seizure warning even on the episodes that didn't contain strobing images.
Of course, there's also the question of why our culture treats cursing as so much more objectionable than, say, graphic violence. Seeing Netflix label Carole & Tuesday TV-MA feels especially hypocritical when it only labeled The End of Evangelion TV-14. It's perhaps one of the most disturbing animated films ever made, opening with Shinji masturbating over Asuka's comatose body and ending with him strangling her after the rest of humanity has been obliterated in a storm of nightmarish violence and psychosexual symbolism.
Netflix's new dub for End of Evangelion, however, removes the F-words from the old dub, so by some double-standard that makes it a better option for 14-year-olds than the show about nice girls doing Martian American Idol.
The Carole & Tuesday rating issue brings back memories of the controversy over the MPAA giving The King's Speech an R. That Best Picture winner had a scene of comedic cursing as a fluency technique in a speech therapy session but otherwise had nothing objectionable for kids, and raised a lot of discussions over why non-aggressive, non-sexual usage of the F-word is seen as so much worse than the violence PG-13 movies get away with.
Given that Carole & Tuesday was originally released in Japanese but with English songs, this could also be a case of something that passed under the censors' radar in Japan suddenly causing trouble in America. It's sort of like how Firefly got away with using Chinese curses or how Adventure Time's dirtiest jokes were all said by Lady Rainicorn in untranslated Korean.
The first half of Carole & Tuesday is currently streaming on Netflix, with the second half of the series still to come at an as of yet unannounced date. If you have anime-loving teens in the house, we recommend you ignore the Netflix ratings and can say you'll probably be more comfortable letting them watch this than End of Evangelion.
Carole & Tuesday is available now on Netflix.