Imagine, if you will, a moment of bliss. The dazzling array of lights illuminating the hall, radiating along the stage. Glimmering golden flakes floating down from above like snow upon two girls pouring their hearts out in the performance of their lives. Their eyes are transfixed on the spectacle of it all as the narrator bellows that “it would go down in the history of Mars as the miraculous seven minutes”. This is the moment that Carole & Tuesday wishes to define itself by. A celebration of music and the power it holds consummated in seven special minutes.
But behind these seven minutes is the journey that set it all in motion.
Carole & Tuesday is a tale steeped in the past, now set in the gleaming terraformed future of Mars. The story of rags-to-riches between a pair of talented women: Tuesday, who sneaks away from her wealthy sheltered lifestyle and takes a train to the big city, and Carol, an ex-refugee and orphan constantly looking for work with no clear direction in her life. In their world, music has been studied, dissected and repackaged to perfection through the use of artificial intelligence; the popular human artists now acting as merely fronts for the artistry. They both feel isolated and melancholy, needing some way to express it. In this, the two have a fateful encounter as Carol plays piano atop a bridge. She hums along to the music, but Tuesday insists she can hear the meaning of her song despite the lack of words. Carole and Tuesday, two musicians from radically different socioeconomic backgrounds, are able to understand each from through their music.
Considering the nature of this series being centred around music, the anime puts a lot of attention towards the music incorporated within the show. Carole & Tuesday holds some clear similarities with other works by director Shinichiro Watanabe; not only does he use a variety of diverse character designs and art styles, but here he employs different genres of music and artists to coincide with the Western accessibility of the show in general. Flying Lotus, Alison Wonderland and Denzel Curry and just some of the names associated with this project. Most importantly, the music acts as a natural means for development between the two leads. When the two begin playing together, the flaws in their sessions are apparent: they aren’t in tune with each other, Tuesday is a step behind Carole and both continually have to restart the song. The session is a work in progress, but once they start finding their rhythm, it’s as if their souls have slowly begun to intertwine. Their unity, passion and emotional release creates a world of their own, free from the gloomy feeling around them.
The worldbuilding details constantly echo the technology-driven culture of today, giving it a sense of believability amidst the more fantastical elements. Instagram, Google and YouTube are all featured in some way during the duo’s attempt to break into the music industry, before eventually entering a talent competition that parodies the likes of The Voice and American Idol. This is where the most diverse musical genres of the series are showcased, from a profane barbershop quartet number to an operatic hip hop hybrid piece that really shows the range of musical styles present in the show. While the pacing is slowed down significantly for this purpose, it also introduces an antagonist to the pair in Angela, a model turned singer on her own journey that acts as a clear juxtaposition with Carole and Tuesday. Unlike the lead duo, Angela embraces the influence of artificial intelligence and is pushed as the industry’s next big star, however her struggles are as real as the two protagonists. Angela as a former child star carries her own share of baggage whilst being used as a puppet of the industry and given no creative control over her art. But she is passionate about her career and has to work tirelessly in order to stay relevant. She provides an insight into what can happen when business takes priority over pleasure.
All of the contrasting styles and motivations serve as foils to the stripped-down singer-songwriter ability of the titular duo, representing the traditional side of music with warmth and authenticity that cannot be replicated. At least, that is what the intention was with each of their performances. But the series only achieves this in theory. Their opponents in the talent show seek to treat music as a commodity first and foremost in contrast to Carole and Tuesday, who want to deliver a more intimate experience with their songs as down-to-earth musicians. Except that the music they play seems counter-intuitive, coming across as the kind of melodramatic pop that would not be difficult to find nowadays. It might not be surprising to see how the judges love the pair whose music you would expect to find in every talent show in the last decade, but consider how the series is trying to, in a sense, rehabilitate music, with some of the most generic pop tunes of our time. Lyrically the song also come across poorly, with the melodies and rhythm having to compensate for instances of laundry being used as a metaphor for example. The song writing here speaks volumes about Tuesday’s lack of life experience to draw from, yet they are still showered with overwhelming praise after each and every one of their performances.
As the series continues, there’s a concerning lack of character development going forward for a character-driven show such as Carole & Tuesday. The characterization begins strong with establishing the differences in both leads, before the scripts changes to emphasize the commonalities between them and more nuanced is added to their actions. However, their bond as a whole feels unnatural, as they become such close friends after a short amount of time and their bond is never challenged going forward. Chemistry between main characters, especially in dramas, tends to grow little by little through each of their interactions with each other. Because of this, viewers are able to see their relationship develop gradually for themselves, thus coming across more naturally. This does not happen with Carole and Tuesday. Instead the two are shown to be great off the get-go, putting on good to excellent performances together that garner high praise from well-known artists. There is hardly a struggle they face that is shown in their journey. Add to that how predictable and light-hearted the tone of the series is, Carole and Tuesday feel more like avatars than their own characters for the remainder of the show.
From the offset Carole & Tuesday, despite its shortcomings as a music drama, was based around the two leads coming together and making a name for themselves in the music industry. But after the talent show, the narrative begins to shed more of a light on their backgrounds: Carole’s friends who are refugees and, more importantly, Tuesday’s family ties to politics. This is where the story transitions from the tale of two women chasing their passions in an age of AI-produced music to an allegory of current-day American politics that takes itself seriously. Politics in an anime is not an inherent issue and make no mistake, Carole & Tuesday wanted to be a socially conscious series from the beginning. But the sudden change in plot and focus causes most of the key events that occur to feel forced and inorganic, not to mention even more predictable than before. The execution is clumsy at best and incompetent at worst; it imitates the United States’ immigration policy yet holds a childlike perception of the debate that would only lead to more dissention. The show portrays it as simply a societal bad mood without any further nuance to the discussion, to where the audience is never told why Earth has refugees coming to Mars in the first place. The story becomes so concerned with being a social commentary on the world today that it does not bother to justify the political actions that happen within the story.
And regardless of how much the story has shifted, the anime continues to revolve around Carole and Tuesday. The two musicians who at first strived to be a success in the music scene have had their journey side-tracked by the overt political agenda that, coincidentally, renders their previous journey obsolete. The AI-produced music that initially acted as a commentary on how pop music panders to the trends of today instead of creating something “meaningful” is tossed aside. The sub-plots unresolved from the talent show remains unresolved. Instead the series takes the overly-idealistic route that coming together and singing an inspirational song has the power can change the world, with music’s power lying in the ability to make one's own voice heard. Only a vague solution to the real-world crisis the show intended to reflect. There’s an air of cynicism to the series that feels crafted out of naivete, which is certainly odd when Shinichiro Watanabe’s name is at the helm of the project. For an esteemed director as himself, it feels as if he was phoning it in here, not overly concerned with how the show ended up looking.
Carole & Tuesday was ultimately a tale in two parts: the first enamoured in the original journey of its two protagonists, their pursuit of passion acting as a love letter to the art of music. While meandering in parts and feeling a tad bloated, it’s hard to deny the show had a genuine love of the craft on display. But its second half was burdened with misguided ambition, aiming to encompass every angle of drama the series holds without regard for their impact on the writing as a whole. Unwilling to commit on its initial story and core values, we can only imagine what could have been a true moment of bliss.