Carole & Tuesday

“When it comes to researching the human brain in order to control emotions using AI, music and politics are very much alike.”
— Jerry Egan

It’s been fifty years since humans colonized Mars. Cities akin to Tokyo and New York are populated with an array of immigrants from Earth, and natives recently born there. Technology crowds every facet of life—from streets, to homes where an android or robot pet is commonplace. Thanks to artificial intelligence, people don’t have to put as much effort into working, thinking, or even creating anymore. “99% of modern hits are produced by AI,” a record producer tells an up-and-coming idol. Doing anything without a technological assist is an oddity.

There are still people who prefer doing things the old-fashioned human way. Tuesday Simmons, a 17-year old from the lowkey Hersell City, dreams of becoming a musician. Fed up with the sheltered life under her strict mother, politician Valerie Simmons, she runs away from home with just a suitcase and Gibson guitar in tow. She arrives on the bustling streets of Alba City, and her suitcase is immediately stolen (never turn your back on your stuff in a big city).

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On a sunset lit bridge—lost, penniless, and alone—Tuesday encounters Carole Stanley, a street musician who appears to be the same age as her. Carole’s upbringing wasn’t as cozy as Tuesday’s. A refugee from Earth, she grew up in an orphanage, and struggles with odd jobs as a young adult. Carole’s melancholic lyrics resonate with Tuesday in her moment of desperation. The two form an instant camaraderie as if by fate, and Carole takes her in.

In a parallel story, Angela Carpenter, a 16 year old with excellent hair, already has a career as a model and actor. At the behest of Dahlia, her mother and manager, she works with a misanthropic technologist named Mr. Tao to start a music career. Mr. Tao prefers working with technology over people. His algorithmic approach to producing music is juxtaposed with Carole and Tuesday’s from-the-heart approach. At this point, it’s unclear if Angela’s new path is something that she wants, or if she’s doing it for her mother’s sake. Regardless, she doesn’t take kindly to competition, and she has a strong desire to be the best in everything she pursues.

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The first 12 episodes, generally, had a casual slice of life vibe. It was so casual in fact that I worried if the story could stay fresh for the 24 episodes that were listed. On the other hand, I was hoping that needless drama wouldn’t be interjected to justify the runtime. Mercifully, with the exception of a few brief arcs (I’m looking at you Cybelle), the story neither dragged nor irritated me for too long. Strong worldbuilding, unexpected predicaments, thought provoking ideas, and bits of backstory kept each episode feeling new.

After a string of light-hearted, and often hilarious, performances and competitions, the story took an unexpectedly dark and political turn, touching on real world issues like convenience verses privacy, and the morality of using technology to read and influence people. The same technology that’s used to produce hit music is being used by politicians to improve their poll numbers. Data is collected from facial and sentiment analysis to tailor messages that will resonate with people. This is an interesting prospect because something like this will likely happen, and is already happening to a less advanced degree today.

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Valerie’s presidential election, advised by the perpetually shady looking Jerry Egan, opens a discussion on another real world issue, the immigration debate. One side feels that a country (or planet) has a moral obligation to help refugees, and the other side feels that unfettered immigration poses a security and economic threat; Valerie sides with the latter.

There was also commentary on the struggle for human relevance as technology renders us irrelevant, and how neither pursuing our personal ambitions nor attaining societal acceptance can guarantee happiness. It was surprising to see such weighty topics in what I’d expected would just be a cute music anime. Shinichiro Watanabe (previously Cowboy Bebop) clearly had a lot that he wanted to say.

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The animation by BONES studio shined. The art had a 90s aesthetic with a modern digital polish. Collectively, the cast had an extensive wardrobe, and the character designs were attractively detailed with highlights, shadows, and full lips. It would’ve been cool if those lips were always synced to the singing, but doing this likely would’ve exceeded their, presumably, already large budget.

The vinyl record eye-catches, printed with song titles that mirrored the theme of the episode, were a nice touch. Pop music isn’t a genre that I’m intimately familiar with, so I can’t give an unbiased assessment of the soundtrack itself. Regardless, I did love a few of the songs, especially the first ED. It was a delightful bop that I never skipped.

There were notable and instantly recognizable seiyuu surprises like Hiroshi Kamiya (previously Koyomi Araragi) as Tao, and Megumi Hayashibara (previously Faye Valentine) as Flora. Carole (voiced by Miyuri Shimabukuro) and Tuesday (voiced by Kana Ichinose) were voiced by actors with relatively short filmographies, but both filled their roles more than adequately.

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I’ve been watching anime on-and-off for about 24 years (wow, I didn’t realize it was that long until I did the math). In that time, I’ve become less critical of the medium. If I’d seen Carole & Tuesday when I was a 20 year old film elitist, I’d likely rip apart how little friction the leads had to endure (despite enduring enough), how abruptly some turning points happened, and how briskly the last few episodes wrapped up the story—which are all valid criticisms. Today, at the ripe old age of 38, I’ve become a “filthy casual” in the way I watch things. While maybe not all of my expectations were met, I was more than satisfied by what was, for me, an uplifting and inspired experience.

Thank you, Shinichiro Watanabe.

Aoi Hana

There’s no shortage of anime with apparently gay characters and pairings, or “yuri/yaoi bait” as it’s sometimes called. In many—perhaps most—cases, these characters exist as comic relief (‘Yuru Yuri’), fanservice (‘Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid’), or their romance is “implied” (‘Hibike! Euphonium’), meaning they’ll occasionally act super gay, but actually aren’t.

Aoi Hana does something that’s quite rare for an anime to do. It attempts to portray non-straight characters openly and legitimately without invalidating their sexual orientation as a perversion or passing phase. It tells a story that touches on the pertinent issues of social expectations and the struggle of coming-out.

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In the opening episode, we meet the principal characters: Fumi Manjome, a tall yet timid girl who recently moved back to Kamakura after being away for 10-years; Akira (Achan) Okudaira, a spunky longtime resident of Kamakura; and their respective families. Both girls are due to start their freshman year at closely neighboring schools—Fumi at the prestigious Matsuoka Secondary School for Girls, and Akira at the historic Fujigaya Girls Academy. The two were classmates and best friends in elementary school until Fumi moved away. After a tearful goodbye, they promised to write each other, but neither ever did.

Fumi is visibly downcast when we first see her. She developed strong feelings for an older cousin, Chizu Hanashiro, who didn’t take things as seriously as she did. Already marred by regret over some of the choices she made, Fumi’s depression is exacerbated further when she learns that Chizu is getting married soon. To cope, she takes refuge in books, and distances herself from social contact. Conversely, Akira doesn’t appear to have much interest in love or romance yet, but can envy people who do.

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Yasuko Sugimoto, a popular senior at the Matsuoka Secondary School, takes an interest in Fumi. Her personality is similar to that of the character Saint-Just from the classic 1991 anime ‘Onii-sama e…’, of which ‘Aoi Hana’—among many other shoujo-ai—could be considered an offspring. Like Saint-Just, Yasuko has a more traditionally masculine demeanor, and is deeply admired by her fellow classmates. Initially, it’s unclear what Yasuko sees in Fumi, or what her intentions are. Maybe she’s attracted to Fumi’s coy disposition; maybe she’s just appeasing her own ego; or maybe it’s something else entirely.

If you expect to see any romance between Akira and Fumi, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This adaptation only covers the first 18 chapters of the manga, which centers primarily on Akira and Fumi attempting to rekindle their friendship, the relationship between Fumi and Yasuko, and the love interests of some of the supporting characters. Two complaints I sometimes hear about this series is that it has a somewhat abrupt, read-the-manga, ending, and the pacing is very relaxed. My own criticism would be of the sexual assault in the first episode that’s used as a catalyst to reunite Fumi and Akira. I wish they could’ve been brought back together under better circumstances.

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Aoi Hana was animated with a tranquil pastel pallet by JC Staff (‘Shoujo Kakumei Utena’), and masterfully directed by Kenichi Kasai (‘Nodame Cantabile’), who brilliantly captures the non-verbal cues and body language of Takako Shimura’s bold manga. If you’re looking for a mature, unusually nuanced, LGBT anime, I highly recommend Aoi Hana. If you enjoy it as much as I do, you may want to consider buying the recently released Blu-ray from Nozomi/Lucky Penny Entertainment; the English title is ‘Sweet Blue Flowers.’ Apparently, Aoi Hana didn’t sell well in Japan when it was originally released in 2009. To have more series like this, it helps to support them.

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