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Review: “Carole & Tuesday” Is Shinichiro Watanabe’s Latest Musing on Music, Youth, and AI

“Carole & Tuesday” is a visual spectacle that explores the role of AI in our future underneath its underdog tale of passion and song.

By , 30 Aug 19 08:32 UTC
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Courtesy of Netflix.

Dreams are hard. They’re time consuming, risky, and not really feasible for most normal people. Yet why do we celebrate stories of people pursuing their dreams so much? Whether it’s sports, music, or even entrepreneurship—humans are enamored with stories of those who risk it all to achieve the impossible.

Youthful passion and ambitious dreams abound in Carole & Tuesday—famed director Shinichiro Watanabe’s latest contribution to his repertoire of anime musical hits such as Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Kids on the Slope

Dreams Not Deferred

Courtesy of Entertainment Station.

Carole & Tuesday follows a familiar format compared to those predecessor hits. The show is a story of idealistic underdogs, powered by innocent passion and fiery ambition, who eventually defy all odds to achieve a glorious victory. Taking place in the far future, the show follows two teenagers—Carole Stanley and Tuesday Simmons—who live in the terraformed Martian metropolis of Alba City. Carole works part-time gigs, while Tuesday is on the run from her overbearing politician mother. They meet by chance encounter on a bridge when Carole is performing on her keyboard streetside, and decide to form a band together—combining Carole’s keyboard with Tuesday’s acoustic guitar.

The pair become a sleeper hit when their guerrilla performance in one of the city’s main event halls is filmed and leaked to the public via social media. They come to the attention of Gus Goldman, who’s a former rock-band drummer and self-proclaimed big-time manager who decides to take them on as a project. This is quite like the real story of Justin Bieber, who was discovered initially through the videos he posted on YouTube before being scouted by his agent.

Under Gus’ management, Carole and Tuesday embark on their journey to the big stage—weaving between failed music video attempts, live shows, and backup performances at music festivals. It’s a beautiful tale, full of youth, passion, joy, and suffering. Watanabe provides a convincingly detailed portrayal of the trials and tribulations aspiring artists hustle through on their journey to stardom. This is perhaps no accident, given his close collaborations with many musicians as both director and producer across many shows.

For Carole & Tuesday, Watanabe invited artists like Celenia Ann, Nai Br.XX, Alisa, and more to create exclusive soundtrack singles. While Samurai Champloo had a hip-hop theme and Cowboy Bebop channeled jazz, Carole & Tuesday moves in a new direction with an electronic, city pop vibe—perhaps a nod to the recent internet-driven virality of Japanese hits like Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love” and Mondo Grosso’s “Labyrinth.”  Furthermore, unlike those from Watanabe’s past shows, Carole & Tuesday’s singles have all their lyrics in English. This stands out quite a bit from the anime’s original Japanese voices, and mirrors the show’s international ambitions given its wide Netflix distribution.

An Anime AI Future?

Courtesy of Entertainment Station.

Beyond its soundtrack, Carole & Tuesday also offers a fascinating exploration of the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in politics, media production, and more.

From a political perspective, the show depicts AI as an intellectual core and key adviser to political hopefuls. Tuesday’s mother, Valerie Simmons, is running for president; her policies often resemble those of America’s self-proclaimed messiah, Donald Trump. An anti-refugee imigration policy quickly becomes a cornerstone of Valerie’s campaign, but she only adopts that stance after her political consultant AI system analyzes social media and facial responses from public events to suggest she do so. It’s a rather compelling extension of how social media and data-driven decision making have already begun to affect politics in the real world, packaged up in easily digestible anime form.

The show also explores the ever-increasing role of AI in content and media production. Carole & Tuesday describes a world where AI “producers” create all music—and humans are relegated to being passive consumers. These fictional AI “producers” represent a marriage of technological capabilities that exist today, albeit in nascent form. AI systems can already compose music from scratch in the style of your favorite artists, while services like Netflix and Spotify leverage user data to decide what kind of content viewers will like. Put those two phenomena together, and having an AI that churns out reliable music hits doesn’t seem that far off.

Carole and Tuesday, however, buck this trend towards AI production. To the surprise and delight of their fans, the duo write their own songs with no AI assistance. It’s a fitting dose of human empowerment amidst contemporary debates about what AI means for art and beyond.

With its stellar visuals, beautiful soundtrack, and heart-warming story of two young girls fighting against the world to achieve their dreams, Carole & Tuesday is another Shinichiro Watanabe masterpiece for the books. From its convincing portrayal of the music industry to its ruminations on the future of AI-driven space politics and media production, it’s strong in both storyline and ideas. Give it a go—you’ll find yourself entertained, enlightened, and ready to dream on.

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Carole & Tuesday is currently streaming on Netflix; this review was based on the 12 episodes available on the platform at press time. 

Carole & Tuesday (Japanese: キャロル&チューズデイ) —Japan. Dialog in Japanese. Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe. First released April 10, 2019. Length: 24 Episodes. Voices by Miyuri Shimabukuro, Kana Ichinose, Akio Otsuka, Sumire Uesaka, and Miyu Irino. 

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