The first words we hear from the opening song of Carole & Tuesday goes, “It’s hard to be a normal person, that’s just not me.” I find that it’s a quite fitting summarization for this series as it embodies the main narrative hook of the story as well as the thing that makes it truly special: a willingness to go beyond trends and conventions for the sake of genuine artistic expression.
Carole & Tuesday is an original 24-episode anime series made by Bones in commemoration of their 20th year anniversary. Bones was formed in the late 90s by former staff members of Sunrise and has, since then, gone on to make one of the most decorated filmographies of anime of any studio still working today. I cannot understate just how rock-solid Bones has been and continues to be to this day. What always set Bones apart from other anime studios for me is how consistent they are. With every series they produce, they are able to maintain a baseline of overall quality that most anime studios struggle to meet. While even they’re not immune from making duds (whether legitimately bad or just forgettable), these are few and far between. Bones, through its 20 years in the industry, has exhibited the seemingly effortless ability to churn out exceptional works that rival both the old guard anime studios like Madhouse, KyoAni, and Production I.G as well as the new blood like Studio Trigger and P.A. Works.
Bones’ legacy is one worth celebrating as they have an overwhelming backlog of classic anime under their belt that demands respect from pretentious, old fogies like me and fresh new faces alike. Some examples of notable classics from them are RahXephon, Wolf’s Rain, Sword of the Stranger, Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 and Brotherhood, Eureka Seven, Ouran High School Host Club, Darker than Black, and Soul Eater among many others. Even their more contemporary works are looking to become future classics with titles like Mob Psycho 100, Space Dandy, My Hero Academia, Akagami no Shirayukihime, and Hisone to Masotan. While it’s still too early to tell, I believe Carole & Tuesday has the potential to join Bones’ long list of modern-day classics.
Carole & Tuesday is the story of two girls living on Mars 50 years after humanity’s migration into space. Tuesday is the rich daughter of the governor of the state of Hershell. She runs away from home, taking the late night train to Alba City, in order to pursue her dream of becoming a musician. Carole, on the other hand, is an orphaned refugee who works odd jobs to make ends meet but has the much greater aspiration, like Tuesday, of becoming a musician. These two have a fateful encounter as Tuesday sees Carole in the middle of a heartfelt performance, and, finding out they both have the same dream, decides to pursue it together as a duo. However, in this new, technologically advanced world, musicians are on a serious decline with AIs now making 99% of hits. In a world that no longer seems to need or want them, these two starry-eyed girls must pave their own path to success.
As much as I’d like to deny it, anime is formulaic. There is a long list of tropes and trends that work and are popular, so studios and creators churn out imitation after imitation of the same tired storylines, settings, and characters till they inevitably run it into the ground. Just look at any given anime season and ask yourself how many anime are set in schools. How often do you see teenagers composing the main cast? What about anime’s new hottest trend, isekai; how often do you see that? Even within any given series, you are faced with so many simplistic, cookie-cutter character archetypes: the quiet, cold character, the bubbly, high-energy character, the perfect little sister, the pervert otaku best friend, et cetera, et cetera. While I believe all stories are built on formulas, when those same formulas are constantly repeated verbatim without any attempt to add spice or individuality to the portrayal, it starts to grate on the senses. It’s precisely because Carole & Tuesday is willing to distance itself from so many of the things that I just treat as a given with anime these days that it has captured my interest so greatly. To put it simply, Carole & Tuesday to me is a much-needed breath of fresh air.
In many ways, I find that the elements of Carole & Tuesday mirror the production of the anime itself. Just look at the main characters and you’ll already see something quite different from your typical anime. While both being Martian, it should be clear that Tuesday is meant to resemble the typical Caucasian American girl next door type while Carole represents your prototypical African American girl. Mars as a whole is meant to be a melting pot of all kinds of different cultures so we see characters of a variety of ethnicities and appearances. It’s just so refreshing to see an anime with a cast of characters that aren’t just made up of Japanese people.
But, it’s not just within the anime that we see this but also in the people involved. One of the things that absolutely floored me when I watched the first episode was that all the singing is in impeccably pronounced and understandable English. They actually hired English speaking singers, Nai Br. XX and Celeina Ann to to be the singing voices for Carole and Tuesday respectively and I found that so unexpected. It’s not just the voices either. If you look at the musicians involved in the series, you’ll find that it’s chock full of not just Japanese contributors but also foreign ones. It’s no surprise then that the songs so far have been a wonderful acoustic blend of genres. Even the setting of the story is credited to Thomas Romain and Stanislas Brunet, two French men working in the anime industry today. I believe that supervising director Shinichiro Watanabe’s willingness to take from all walks of life, as can be seen from all his previous anime, is reflected in the work, giving it a more unique, diverse, and global appeal.
Another aspect that I found quite refreshing was the setting. It’s so rare to have an anime that’s not set in Japan whether that be in the past, present, or future. Oftentimes, even when you do find one of these rare anime that go outside of Japan it ends up just being a generic, Dragon Quest-inspired fantasy world. Carole & Tuesday is set in this future-day normalized Mars setting (it’s actually hinted to be in the same universe as Cowboy Bebop) and it feels very distinct while still being grounded in the real world. There are all the amazing new technological advancements like AI pets and even AI luggage that follow you around. The series is able to explore what the future is through small little details in the environment. I especially like how in the restaurants, the tables have special touch-screen panels for calling servers, ordering food, and paying. What I found more impressive though was how the series was able to make itself feel even closer to the real world than most anime despite being in this fantastical, sci-fi setting. This was mainly done through references to real-world things. Most anime when referencing real things will make parodies to dodge copyright but in this series, they just make a direct reference. For example, in the first episode, Carole and Tuesday take a photo and upload it to their Instagram account (which actually exists by the way). Carole uses a Nord keyboard and Tuesday uses a Gibson guitar, both actual brands. There are numerous references to real life musicians such as Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, The Beatles. Every episode is actually named after a classic hit song. For example, episode 1 is named True Colors after Cyndi Lauper’s hit 1986 song and album. It’s these small little details together that make the setting feel like a place that actually could exist despite how far-fetched it is. Also, the musical references are actually thematically relevant (unlike Jojo).
I also think the series does a good job of giving us character details without overtly stating them. There are small details to each character that clue you into what they are like. To give some examples, Carole often gets fired from every job she takes, not because she’s incompetent but because she is impulsive and breaks rules to get back at rude customers. We continue to see this rebelliousness and willingness to break rules throughout the series. Tuesday often writes her thoughts and feelings in a small red journal which reinforces this quiet, contemplative personality that she has. There are other small, subtle details that I appreciate like how Roddy was shown to be painting his robot figurines and then we see his profile picture is an image of one of those figurines. This ties in with how he treats his AIs very personally, giving them names and referring to them as if they were humans. Even a character like Ertegun who seems like an exaggerated and simplistic portrayal of a DJ who relays on AI for all his music shows some character when he comments that the bass in the AI’s song sounded off.
While I feel like it’s too early to make any sweeping statements about Carole & Tuesday, I really do appreciate what it has shown so far. In a way, I treat this show as a meta-commentary on the anime industry and the entertainment industry as a whole. Most studios just look towards the works that are popular at the moment and try to take their elements to make something that will please the crowd. That sounds eerily similar to how in the world of Carole & Tuesday AIs are used to analyze patterns and trends in order to make and market songs perfectly. It really does feel like the films, music, and anime we consume could be made by AIs with the way producers, executives, and creatives force what is popular into the work without respect for how it fits into the greater work. So, much like its titular character, I believe Carole & Tuesday is meant to be the counterforce to that trend in art. It is a work with a genuine creative vision and a staff that seems to have it close to their heart and I think that’s something worth celebrating because after living in a sea of uninspired, blasé works for so long, whenever something with a flash of creativity and brilliance floats to the surface of this deluge of samey, forgettable drivel, it deserves to be given the same amount of attention that the creators put into making it.