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.

A.I.C.O. Incarnation

Is it ethical to clone a human being? Would anything—or anyone—have to be sacrificed? How far should one go to save a life? A.I.C.O. Incarnation asks these questions in the aftermath of a biological experiment gone horribly wrong.

The year is 2035. A team of scientists inadvertently create a massive and lethal organism that has infested a region of Japan. To gain a better understanding of this “Matter”, as it’s called, special-op “diver” teams are sent into quarantined areas, usually at the behest of a secretive client, to investigate and retrieve samples.

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The main characters are 15-year old Aiko Tachibana, a charming high school student, and Yuya Kanzaki, a diver with a mysterious past. Yuya, who looks slightly older than Aiko, has a laser-like focus on what he feels must be done to remedy the current situation. His aloofness and knowledge often arouse suspicion from those around him. Conversely, Aiko’s life hasn’t been as mission oriented. Still recovering from the events that took the lives of her parents and younger brother, she’s bound to a wheelchair as she’s rehabilitated at a hospital near her school. In the face of these tragedies, Aiko has maintained her humanity.

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One of the several notable supporting characters in this world is Dr. Kyōsuke Isazu, voiced by the legendary Takehito Koyasu of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure fame; he played Dio in the 2012 adaptation. Dr. Isazu is the head of the hospital that oversees Aiko’s rehabilitation. His own daughter, Yuzuha, is in a coma. Finding a cure for her is always in the back of his mind.

A revelation sets Aiko and Yuya on a dangerous mission deep into the Matter. They’re accompanied by a team of divers: scientist Haruka Seri; rambunctious and agile Kaede Misawa; electrician Kazuki Minase; stern ex-military fighter Yoshihiko Sagami; mechanic Maho Shiraishi; and their leader Daisuke Shinoyama. Personally, I really liked Maho. She was an anchor for the team, and instrumental in helping Aiko adapt to her new role. My least favorite was Kazuki. He wasn’t unbearably annoying, but his interest in Aiko added extra tension to an already tense situation.

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Exchanges between the characters were often steeped in jargon. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t verify the accuracy of all the exposition. Regardless, I chose not to worry too much about it. Scientific accuracy only truly matters in real life. In a story, it doesn’t hurt to take some liberties—as long as they aren’t too obvious or distracting—to enhance the intrigue. Would it be possible, with technology 20-years from now, to create a rampant biomass that’s impervious to most forms of attack? Who knows. But is it cool to see one in an anime? Hell yeah!

Visually, the diver suits were an immediate standout. Instead of taking the easier route with 3D graphics, the suits were hand drawn with a real sense of weight that you felt as they zipped through the hallways in the opening scene. And when there was 3D, the shading and frame rate closely matched the 2D. The creators didn’t overlook the small details, and were sticklers about consistency—even if it caused some “panchira.” Such shots, however, avoided excess, and were always the natural consequence of physics, which, for me, is preferred over “magic skirts” that unnaturally defy gravity and shape shift. In short, the animation makes few compromises. Everything looks great, and moves as you’d expect it to. Netflix must’ve given BONES/Project A.I.C.O. a generous budget.

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I briefly listened to the English dub track to hear how it sounded. Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the male actors were uninspiring, and the female actors sounded like adult women trying to imitate the tone of young girls. If you struggle with keeping up with info dumps, which are abundant in this show, I’d recommend the dub. Otherwise, in my humble opinion, in this case, the sub is better.

A.I.C.O. reminded me of the live-action movie Annihilation (2018). It raised stimulating ideas as it took us through menacing environments populated by peculiar forms. The director, Kazuya Murata (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet), did well in bringing so many pieces—maybe too many—together into an engaging story with an impactful ending. Some people will surely disagree about the ending, preferring something happier, or something more tragic, but I felt that an appropriate and satisfying balance was found. The story wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, and it was occasionally difficult to follow, but it certainly wasn’t dull, and, at times, it was quite brilliant.