Back in May when I watched the first couple of episodes of Carole & Tuesday, I wasn’t impressed. Its musical tastes didn’t gel with me one bit, meaning that I came away quite disappointed and even slightly bored, despite all the things that I did like about it.
Nevertheless, last month I decided to give the show another shot. There were two reasons for this: firstly, the fact that this November was Shinichiro Watanabe month over here at OTAQUEST and, secondly, the fact that the show’s second half will be dropping on Netflix very soon (on December 24th). Essentially, it comes down to a question of circumstance and topicality.
But what I discovered when revisiting Carole & Tuesday was unexpected. I discovered that perhaps I had jumped the gun a little too early in my initial ‘review,’ as many of the show’s best features don’t become clearer until much later on: making Shinichiro Watanabe’s latest a real tale of two halves, a mixed bag in each measure. Here’s why.
Characters: An Enduring Strength
That being said, one of the things that I did like about Carole & Tuesday back when I wrote my initial impressions piece was its characters. The titular main duo of Carole and Tuesday are genuinely likable and work well together as a contrasting combination, both in terms of character design and personality, with many of the side characters introduced at that point also being generally engaging.
Yet, it is not until later on that Carole & Tuesday demonstrates itself to be a true powerhouse of character-based storytelling. In terms of the main duo themselves, it is by revealing and exploring their respective backstories in later portions of the show – Carole as an Earth refugee and Tuesday as her family’s black sheep – that they become truly endearing.
But even beyond Carole and Tuesday themselves, what becomes increasingly evident as the show goes on is just how many unique, compelling characters Watanabe was able to cram into this story. Possibly my favorite is the DJ Ertegun (voiced by the iconic Mamoru Miyano), who starts off as an abrasive braggart but goes through an interesting transformation in the second cour as he eats a piece of humble pie that makes him surprisingly likable.
There’s also Carole and Tuesday’s madcap producer, Tobe, whom we first see wielding an ax and screaming bloody murder in a favela. He hardly lets up from there, either: his amusing speech pattern that sees him refer to everything as various types of ‘shit’ is hilarious, but masks a genius that sees a genuinely perceivable improvement in the duo’s musical output.
Yet, both of these characters are more meant for comedy than they are for serious drama, so it is through the character of Angela that Watanabe hits on a more subdued note. Her quest to become a singer leads her through tough personal circumstances and forces her to overcome past trauma, making her a true secondary protagonist to this entire story. It’s also incredible to see that Watanabe was somehow able to me on Angela’s side over the course of the series because of her journey in spite of her abrasive, entitled personality.
There’s a multitude of other side characters that are worth talking about, but I’d honestly be here all day. That stands as one of Carole & Tuesday’s greatest strengths: a truly fully formed and well-rounded cast of characters that will surely stay with the viewer long after their story has concluded.
The Music of Carole & Tuesday: Talent in Development
Even so, I already recognized the strength of Carole & Tuesday’s characters back in my initial review, so it’s not exactly surprising to see that this strength continues into the series’ later half. We should, therefore, move on to talk about the show’s music – one of my biggest gripes and what was largely responsible for me dropping the show in the first place.
To reiterate, my problem with the music of Carole & Tuesday did not come down to a lack of expertise or creativity. Far from it. Shinichiro Watanabe clearly put a lot of effort into the music, as showcased by the extensive list of musical collaborators and discussed at length in the first part of our interview with the legendary creator.
Rather, my problem very much came down to a matter of personal taste. Watanabe’s decision to utilize pop music as the main genre for the show and our protagonists was simply unengaging for me, someone who tries to avoid listening to mainstream music. As I said, “it doesn’t really matter how good your collaborators are if you’re working together to make something that’s ultimately not very interesting.”
Perhaps I was being a little too harsh. This is because the true musical potential of Carole & Tuesday only becomes apparent around episode 6 when the duo attends the Cydonia music festival. Here is where we get to hear the true fruits of Watanabe’s collaboration, as Thundercat provides a hypnotic, soulful groove for the character of Skip and Lauren Dyson creates an R&B-infused ballad for Crystal.
This hardly slows down one bit as Carole & Tuesday then shifts into a story centered around a talent show called ‘Mars Brightest,’ where the duo goes up against Angela with the hopes of making their debut. During this talent show, we get a more consistent smattering of varied musical styles as Carole and Tuesday’s singer-songwriting goes up against Piotr’s energetic pop, BBK’s cosmic groove, OG Bulldog’s rap operatics, and so much more.
Carole and Tuesday’s own sound then starts to develop once they encounter the legendary music producer Tobe, also becoming more fully rounded once they start to employ a full backing band for their performances. All of this lead to the creation of a handful of songs that I actually enjoyed, such as ‘Army of Two,’ ‘Day by Day,’ and ‘Message in the Wind’ – all of which are helpfully collected in the second edition of the soundtrack.
Such is the marked improvement in Carole and Tuesday’s sound that I can’t help but think this was all part of Watanabe’s plan from the very beginning.
But, I digress. Carole & Tuesday may prove itself a more complex and compelling musical tapestry later on, yet it is important to realize that this music does not stand apart from the show itself. Rather, there are many instances where the music is simply used as another tool with which to strengthen the character-based storytelling – making it that much more effective.
Ertegun and Angela are perhaps some of the best examples of this, as their respective songs ‘LIGHTS GO OUT’ and ‘The Tower’ showcase their inner struggles and character development. Yet, there is perhaps no character that stands as more of a testament to the power of Carole & Tuesday’s music than the character of Desmond.
This mysterious artist, isolating themselves from society in a giant greenhouse, conjured up an atmosphere so ethereal and captivating with such tracks as ‘Miserere mei, Deus’ and ‘All I See’ that it almost reached the same heights of sonic greatness as the iconic ‘Space Lion’ ending to episode 13 of Cowboy Bebop, ‘Jupiter Jazz (Part 2).’ This is helped in no part by the voice acting of none other than Kouichi Yamadera (Spike Spiegel, Inspector Zenigata).
All in all, perhaps I was being a little too harsh when it comes to Carole & Tuesday’s music. I might not jive with the genre and style all of the time, but there are certainly moments where the fruits of Watanabe’s labor shine through. To emphasize the point even further, I must admit that I have been listening to ‘Day by Day’ pretty much on loop ever since I heard it – a far cry from my initial reaction.
Messages: Political and Philosophical
The development of Carole & Tuesday’s musical tapestry was certainly marked, but certainly not unexpected. Having such a strong list of collaborators had to pay off at some point, I would’ve reckoned. But one thing I certainly did not expect was how serious Watanabe’s story would get with its political and philosophical messages towards around the beginning of the second cour – showing how sincere this story really is.
A clear turning point comes when we are finally introduced to Tuesday’s mother Valerie, who is running for president, in episode 13.
She had been mentioned previously in passing, but it is during her campaign launch that we begin to notice that something is afoot. Valerie suddenly comes out with a very strong isolationist and anti-immigration message, calling for the forced deportation of all illegal Earth immigrations and the break-up of the Mars-Earth treaty. It is after that we see that it was her political consultant, the slimy Gerry, who pushed her into adopting such a chance as his AI technology told him that it would boost Valerie’s approval ratings.
Such a message enjoys clear parallels with the current global political climate, not least of which in the United States. On that front alone, it’s quite a bold move. But Watanabe – not content with simply echoing the politics of our society – goes one step further: adding another layer that explores the role of technology in our everyday lives.
Valerie herself is not particularly conservative or anti-immigrant but is pushed into becoming so by the information provided to Gerry by his AI technology. She becomes, therefore, subservient to AI in her quest to become president, which questions to what extent does technology plays a positive role in our lives. Of course, the issue is simplified just a little bit when it turns out that Gerry is unquestionably evil, but it’s still a valid question.
This question is made even more pertinent as the effects of Valerie’s encroaching conservatism are felt far and wide as the Mars authorities decide to start cracking down on suspected illegal Earth immigrants. They even go as far as to arrest several of the musicians we’ve encountered throughout the series thus far for their subversive messages, including the Thundercat-inspired Skip and Carole’s gangster rapper friend, Ezekiel.
It’s against such worrying developments that Carole and Tuesday themselves decide to take a stand, working together with their friends to create a seven-minute ballad named ‘Mother.’ Although the whole problem with Valerie’s manipulation at the hands of Gerry is eventually solved through a confrontation between her and her son, Spencer, Watanabe’s message is clear: music can and will save the world.
Carole & Tuesday: A Sincere Tale of Two Halves
Carole & Tuesday leaves off rather boldly on this main thesis, declaring that the story ‘will continue… in your mind.’ It’s an idea that’s more than relevant in this day and age, as well as one that stands as a testament to Watanabe’s own career-long engagement with music and musical collaborators.
Even so, I still find it strange that Watanabe chose to use pop music as the main focus of his show. I understand that in-universe, the trappings of singer-songwriter pop music are seen as rebellious given that most music is made by AI; but my own, real-world cultural knowledge can’t help but make me think otherwise.
To be honest, seeing all of the other types of music that Watanabe was able to create for the show with his collaborators just makes me wish that he would have chosen another type of music to go with – I’d honestly much rather watch an entire show about Skip and hear more of his groovy Thundercat-produced sound.
Yet, I have to give Watanabe credit. Carole & Tuesday is much, much stronger in its latter sections than it is in it’s earlier opening episodes, and I’m willing to admit that I jumped the gun just a little bit. We get to see our main characters strengthened alongside new ones, experience all different types of compelling music, and dive into some truly poignant themes and messaging – all of which made the show difficult to put down once it really got going.
Nevertheless, I’d hesitate to call Carole & Tuesday one of Watanabe’s best. This is a shame, because there’s clearly been a lot of love put into Carole & Tuesday. I’ve already discussed all of the musical collaborators on the project, but we mustn’t forget all of the other staff that have put considerable effort into the series. Whether it’s the Bahi JD-directed first opening sequence or the unique world design courtesy of Thomas Romain, everyone is giving it their all.
This is also clearly a story that comes from a sincere place in Shinichiro Watanabe’s heart. The creator has enjoyed a close relationship with music over the years, even serving as a musical director in the past. So while Carole & Tuesday might not be one of his best in my mind, it certainly comes from a place of sincerity.
You can watch Carole & Tuesday on Netflix.