Shinichirō Watanabe is arguably the greatest anime director of all time. Even the worst of his directorial credits is still regularly considered one of the greatest pieces of animation ever. His productions feature a diverse mix of Eastern and Western influences, style that offers substance and an incredible soundtrack. Watanabe's newest anime, Carole & Tuesday, is the first he's directed since his 2014 double-header of Space Dandy and Terror in Resonance. It's yet another science fiction anime, but, much like Watanabe's other series, it focuses on how human culture and life is both affected by scientific development and remains unchanged.
Carole & Tuesday focuses on a musical duo on a terraformed Mars. Tuesday Simmons, who comes from a rich family, runs away and encounters Carole Stanley. Tuesday plays guitar, while Carole handles the piano. Together, they form a band, and the series explores their experiences together. The plot to this series is entirely character driven, and every event that occurs starts as a result of Carole and Tuesday pursuing their musical careers.
Early on, the contrast between the two characters becomes apparent. Tuesday is this soft, wealthy girl with a naive view of life who aspires for more. Carole, on the other hand, is a cynical, brash lady who works hard for scraps. The two are lonely characters who, immediately after meeting, complete one another. Both are touched by music, which brings something to their otherwise sad lives (Tuesday in the superficial world of the rich and Carole in a refugee camp). The two both help fill in the holes in one another's lives, as well as in regards to their musical careers.
As expected with any Watanabe project, the soundtrack is incredible. The music Carole and Tuesday play is sincerely beautiful. However, the background music, while often playful and tone-setting, rarely matches the set-piece song numbers. In some ways, this is a good thing, since the background music never overshadows the big songs. The opening theme, "Kiss Me," is an incredibly memorable song that is reminiscent of heartfelt pop songs, and it's accompanied by a beautifully animated sequence. In many ways, this opening is emblematic of the whole series: a heartfelt tribute to artistic achievement in the increasingly superficial and automated world of music.
Carole & Tuesday also features a ton of pop culture references, giving the series a very real feel. This is, again, in-line with much of Watanabe's other anime, which are often filled with western pop culture references. Also the series has an adorable robot owl.
The animation itself is rich and beautiful. Everything is fluid and earnest, and the backgrounds are richly detailed. No corners were cut in this production. Even common corners that get cut in anime, such as jaws moving or hair bobbing, are deeply animated.
The science fiction aspect of the series, at first, seems unnecessary. Carole & Tuesday's conflict seems fairly universal, and the series explores in depth the conflict between authority figures (parents, the establishment, the industry) and individuals. These are ideas that can be applied to any situation. However, the series has some interesting commentary on the superficial and technologically-driven music industry vs. the sincere earnestness of true artistry. Even mourning becomes an oddly cynical product. This, naturally, contrasts with the earnest lives the two girls lead. The writing is immediately resonant, and the dialogue about nothing (favorite songs, for example) goes a long way in establishing the characters' and their relationships.
But the series isn't just about Carole or Tuesday. There are several other characters who leave a huge impact. In particular, there's Gus Goldman, a has-been who serves as Carole and Tuesday's manager, and Angela, a child-model hoping to transition into stardom through the cynical pop machine. Their more cynical arcs stand as a foil to the more idealistic path of the titular characters.
Many might discover Carole & Tuesday as an example of diversity in anime. Indeed, the racial diversity of its cast is a huge selling point. Of note, Carole is a beautifully designed character. In a medium where racial features tend to be over-exaggerated, Carole's hair and skin-tone are refreshing and real. However, the racial diversity is just one aspect of the series's greater use of contrast. Tuesday's aristocratic lifestyle contrasts with Carole's down-and-out life. The cynical overproduced world of music producer Tao and Angela contrasts with the more down-to-earth, earnest lives of the girls.
Carole & Tuesday isn't just a great series anime on Netflix. It's Watanabe's most earnest and sincere work since Cowboy Bebop. Watanabe tells a story about the place of artistry in the increasingly cynical world of content creation. While Netflix's present release only offers fans the first half of the story, it's a half that will continue to move you long after you finish your binge.
Carole & Tuesday is available now on Netflix.