Monday, April 20, 2020

Missed it Monday - Carole & Tuesday Part 2 - too much plot (Anime Review)

Young musicians stand around with their instruments
Missed it Monday is the weekly column where I review manga or anime that I wasn't able to read or watch when they first came out.

Carole & Tuesday - Part 2 - 5.5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

There were things I liked and things I struggled with in regards to Part 1 (read my review here) of Carole & Tuesday. Some of those were improved in Part 2, but there were other structural problems in Part 2 that weren't yet apparent in part 1. Overall, Carole & Tuesday, particularly Part 2, could be best summarized as ambitious but not fully realized. It simply tried to do too much in too little time and didn't giving us deeply constructed characters with rich inner lives. Let's review Part 2:

The "quick" summary of Part 2 - having just gone through Mars Brightest (or whatever the show was called, I honestly couldn't be bothered to go back and look it up), Carole and Tuesday embark to find ornery producer Toby. With him, they proceed to work on their debut album. At the same time,  Tuesday's mother Valerie who is running for president has hired on a consultant named Jerry who plays up nationalist and fascist themes in her campaign. A journalist, Kyle, starts investigating and connects with both Tuesday and her brother, Spencer. Black musicians, writing songs about oppression, start being arrested. Refugees from Earth, particularly black ones, also start being arrested and/or deported. At the same time, Tao is up to something and gets arrested. Angela is being stalked and people are getting hurt. Angela starts spinning out of control and falling apart. And all this leads up to (and this isn't a spoiler since it's in the intro of every episode) Carole & Tuesday saving Mars with their music. In thirteen episodes. Whew.

First, I want to talk about Carole and Tuesday as protagonists. When we really start to look at them, we don't actually know much about them or their inner lives. They are almost like stock characters, going through a very plot heavy show. In fact, they're almost blandly perfect. They are young, attractive, talented, nice, and diverse. In fact, it is even referenced in the final episode how the daughter of the nationalistic presidential candidate is friends with and writing songs with a black refugee from Earth. Of course they are!

But they have no flaws. They have no inner lives that we are privy to. They are just there, going through the show. Much of the plot happens to them or around them. Other than writing the same song 20 times over, oh, I mean writing 20 different songs that sound the same, they don't do much to move the story forward. So many other characters are written with at least hints of more complexity in this series. Angela continues to be the most nuanced, complex, and realistic (in some ways) member of the cast and she spends half of Part 2 in a coma-ish, and she still comes off as more interesting.

However, Carole and Tuesday are not alone in being pretty hollowly defined characters. We get hints that there's more to Gus, and his connection with Dahlia (I have my theories), but he's pretty much just there to use his connections and his old-fashioned sense of the industry. Roddy somehow managers to donate all his time to Carole & Tuesday, but expects nothing in return, and other than maybe a slight crush on one of them, he has no discernible personality.

Spencer has potential, but he's such a minor character that we don't get much time with him. The same for Valerie. Characters like Jerry and Tao's financier are only there to be stock antagonists, they aren't provided with any motivation. We start to get a little something out of Amer, a refugee turned rising music star that Carole was friends with back in the refugee camps. Sadly, his brief but fascinating moments are just that, way too brief.

All in all, there are so many more characters, and they all just fill plot roles, not human roles. (people will strongly disagree with me, and point to people like Desmond or what's-her-name that Gus discovered, but I don't think them telling you about their lives through exposition counts as richly drawn and nuanced characterizations). I think this is my biggest disappointment with the series, and specifically with the two namesake leads, Carole and Tuesday (I try to use "and" when I'm talking about them as people and "&" when I'm talking about their band or the show). They are just so perfect and likable and sweet and talented that there is really no interest. There's never any internal conflict, there's never any external conflict, there's never any growth or change (yes, yes, Tuesday is less scared now, and Carole is less of a bad-ass - I'm not sure that counts for much). We cannot see ourselves mirrored in them, we cannot relate to them because they are not actually people with any complexities.

Okay, so it's a plot-based show, not a character based show. Fine, those shows exist, and even if they aren't my cup of tea, I can appreciate a well done one. And this show has so much plot, and it is all actually pretty timely and interesting. But the show is only 26 episodes, and the majority of the plot takes place in the second half of the series, Part 2.

In those brief episodes, we are forced to think about nationalist and fascist rhetoric from a president (sound familiar?), the problems with AI (both how it can run amok, be used to manipulate people, can it replace people?, and how it has drained the life from music), confront racism and anti-immigrant/anti-refugee sentiments, genetically engineered super people (yup, really), an all-too brief and poorly done family issue with Carole (to be discussed momentarily), a brief and poorly done love (crush) by Tuesday (to be discussed momentarily), stalking and harassment, Angela's falling apart, Tao's story, Ertegun's story, etc...etc... and there's so much more!

So much is going on that none of it gets the depth it deserves. The themes are so important, whether they be the social themes, the technological themes, or the character driven stories. But they aren't done justice because they are only touched on and then handled at the end  of the series with hints of what will happen in-universe after the series, or resolved through a big implausible and ultimately meaningless gesture that is supposed to wrap everything up in a neat bow. After all, a big multi-musician sing along is bound to cure all the social ills of the world, right?

Nope, hasn't worked on Earth - let's see, we still have AIDS, people are poor and dying of malnutrition all over the world, help me out, what were some of the other celebrity love-fests about? Anyway, all those big celebrity sing-alongs don't actually do anything. They tend to follow on all the incredible work that protesters, people on the ground, activists and others have been doing for decades. Then the celebrities come in, and maybe (at best) give some media attention to an issue, but they really tend to represent a shift in thought that has already taken place, rather than being at the forefront. At the end of the day, all it shows is that well-known, millionaire celebrities can write a bland song and promote it endlessly. We wouldn't be in the predicament we are in today as a country and a world if sing-alongs by celebrities actually worked. In fact, I watched this not long after the "Imagine" controversy during our current COVID-19 pandemic. Famous people just don't get it.

Don't get me wrong, we need the arts to shine a light on what is wrong in the world, but they can't do the heavy lifting, and I felt that this big one song, sing-along in Carole & Tuesday that is supposed to fix Mars just didn't fit the severity of the real issues at play. If anything, the work Kyle and Spencer did to uncover Jerry's crimes was so much more meaningful than the stupid song. When actually looking at the series structurally and sociologically, Kyle and Spencer uncovering Jerry and how it shifted Valerie did ALL the work of making change. I don't think this song, that the ENTIRE series was leading up to, had any actual value what-so-ever. The song didn't actually resolve the high-stakes issues at play, Kyle and Spencer did. Why wasn't this show called Kyle & Spencer? (Joking, I'm joking)

And it was, if not a stupid song, a relatively bland one. And that went for much of the music in Part 2. While some of the songs from Part 1 were okay, at least they were all minimalist and folksy and set Carole & Tuesday apart from the "AI" written songs of the other musicians. However, in Part 2, many of the songs are the "album versions" which are more produced with a full band, and that lack of intimacy strips any remaining value from them. The songs lyrics are all blandly nice, but nothing intimately real and so without the rawness of the two singers alone, they just felt like nice filler music.

There are a couple decent songs in Part 2, but they are all ones that are back to just the two young women performing. The more slickly produced ones are devoid of any emotional impact. For a show about changing the course of a planet's history with music, Carole & Tuesday's music was pretty safe. Give me Amer's or Skip's any day, because at least their music had urgency and some powerful lyrics.

Okay, so back to the characters' stories. In the beginning of Part 2, which is the middle of the series, a man comes into Carole's life. His name is Dan, and we are left, as is she, with the sneaking suspicion that he is her biological father. But then he's gone after a couple of episodes and doesn't return (yes, I know he say's 'goodbye,' but that isn't my point). I really like the theory behind Chekhov's gun - that when something is shown early, it must come back and be pivotal to the story. Well, Dan isn't. Carole's relationship with her parents, her abandonment, and even her refugee status really doesn't come back. It doesn't seem to inform her personality or emotions much. The meeting with Dan doesn't change her in any discernible way. Why bother introducing him. We don't learn anything about Carole from these interactions. Again, she is (like Tuesday) devoid of any inner characterization.

And what's more, I'm totally confused with the fact that Amer and Skip are getting mistreated by the police for being black musicians speaking out against the rise of nationalism, but Carole (a black refugee) is always perfectly safe. Maybe it's that she's a woman? Maybe it's that she has the public's good will? Maybe she's become a naturalized Martian citizen? Maybe it's a plot hole?

Now you'll argue that the police do show up at the very end when they are all singing their big kumbaya song, but I don't think it's because of Carole specifically and if I'm being honest, the lyrics are pretty non-descript and certainly nowhere near as inflammatory or pointed as Skip and Amer's are. I doubt they'd care about this song, really. I don't find the police arrival there (and being turned away easily by the private security) to be realistic at all.

Then there's the random crush Tuesday develops on Kyle. Fine, Kyle has beautiful wavy blond hair, perfect stubble, is a diligent journalist, and gives her some attention. But he in no way, that I can tell, signals any romantic interest, yet Tuesday falls head over heels in just a few meetings, and then is totally and absolutely dejected when she sees he has a girlfriend. The whole thing seems shoehorned in there to give Tuesday some sort of actual inner life. The intensity of her feelings seem a bit over dramatic given that absolutely nothing ever actually happened between them. You could say, yeah, but she's in her late teens (I think, 19 maybe?) and late-teens women are emotional to which I will call you misogynistic for implying that girls have no control over their emotions and are wildly and easily able to fall in love instantaneously and are devastated when a person they barely know has a girlfriend. Nope. Not buying it.

So Carole and Dan and Tuesday and Kyle are supposed to be moments where we learn about Carole and Tuesday as people, not just plot devices but it utterly fails. They are brief, and Carole and Tuesday are not changed in any meaningful way from those encounters and those encounters do not inform the developments of the show in the least. Lost opportunities that could have been explored in a longer series.

On another note, the show has been praised for its animation, and it is very expensively animated. It has also been praised for using a diverse cast of body doubles to act out the actions on stage to give the musicians more believable movements when animated. That's great, except I don't actually like that pseudo-rotoscoped animation style. There's something about it that breaks the feel from the more traditional animation and the way those movements occur in animation (like in hand-drawn anime, when they use a CGI car in the same scene, you know what I'm talking about!). There's a fluidity and complexity to the ones traced over the video footage that leads to an almost uncanny valley type feel, where they're animated but they're a little too life-like. And frankly, for all the work they put in to doing that, the choreography of the stage movements and dancing was so boring as to hardly have been worth the effort.

There was another funny (bad) animation moment, when Carole and Tuesday are looking up at the sky the EARTH IS HUGE! It's bigger than the moon is to us on Earth. If that were the case, then Mars would have had to been moved into orbit around Earth as another moon (that would be a cool show) and would dramatically affect life on Earth (tides and other things). I'm sure it was just a visual to be dramatic and emotional, but it was totally silly from a science stand-point. And don't give me any of that: it was a digital projection on the sky, like those billboards in Blade Runner. If it was, then it would undercut the importance of the dialogue in that scene, so go away.

And this is random, but I have to mention something totally insignificant that just really really bugged me. I was a freelance recording engineer and producer for a while before my current career, so I'm always listening to how things are recorded. In their first session with the producer, Toby, they get a backing band together (Skip's group) and Roddy sets up a single mic in the room to record them all. Now, many classic albums have been made that way. In fact, going back to some of the earliest recordings when a horn was pointed at the musicians that etched into wax discs, a single recording source has been used to great effect. But it has a very distinctive sound given to the distance form the sources and the higher ratio of room reflections to direct sound. However, IT WILL NOT SOUND LIKE A PRODUCED, CLOSE MICED RECORDING. Even more critical, with a single microphone, IT WILL NOT BE IN STEREO!!!!! Now, you could say, "Jaime, it was a stereo mic, they exist you know!" Yes, of course I know that, but that was not the model depicted at all. It was a vintage large diaphragm Neumann, not a stereo mic. Even if it was the vintage stereo Neumann mic (and the art was just off) it wouldn't give the same overly dramatic close miced and super-wide stereo imaging that is present in this recording. I can suspend disbelief, but why bother showing such a specific detail to the recording (using one mic in a large high-ceiling-ed room that Toby specifically picked for its acoustic signature) and then having a totally polished closed miced sound for the actual recording? For all the effort at detail this show exhibits, this was a funny miss.

Some other things:
- Desmond, an intersex, gay, and perhaps transgender musician. Nice representation, however he does attribute his gender transition to the radiation on Mars. This is the second time in the show that being intersex and/or transgender is attributed to random pseudo-science rather than just acknowledging the fact that there are intersex and transgender people and have been for all of human history. We don't need some fake science (or medicalized) explanation, just give us representation without the "it's the future, on MARS! so radiation!" justification.
- Ertegun trying to beat-box his song in Tao's office is the funniest moment of the entire series, even better than the music video from Part 1. Tao's reaction and then Angela's reaction to Tao are both priceless. Well done. This reminded me of some of the best humor from Part 1 of the series.
- Angela's former manager shows up to care for her in the hospital. I still totally"ship" these two.
- And perhaps the most tone deaf moment of the ENTIRE show: In response to the arrests of Amer and Skip, Carole says, "If musicians can't sing about the things they want to..." then Tuesday completes the thought with: "then music itself will die." - Uh, no. You really really missed the point Tuesday. If musicians can't sing about the things they want to, then it is a sign that freedom of speech has been lost and other fascist controls over people are coming into play, democracy is dead, and you are now in a fascist dictatorship. Music dying is the least of your worries Tuesday. Jeezus, people are being arrested and deported. Music is not the issue.
- The conclusion to Valerie's arc (relative to Jerry) is somewhat anti-climactic, and maybe worse. Valerie just kindly drops out of the presidential race after she is told what Jerry has done, and then sweetly says she'll just start working her way back up from the bottom, that she didn't like his policy ideas anyway. HOLY CRAP, this is a complete 180 personality-wise from the anything-at-all-cost nationalistic politician of the rest of the series. The one who locked her grown daughter in a room with robot guards. Who said hateful things about other human beings. And all of a sudden, she's a kind, hard-working, grass-roots loving politician and a good mother? I don't believe her rapid turnaround was sound writing at all.

Jeez Jaime, you sound like you hated this show! No, not at all. I kinda liked it, but was sort of bored by it, found other stuff a bit overwrought, and other parts way underdeveloped. It's like there was four really good shows, crammed into one, with no time to develop anything. I'm being more critical of it than I would a cutesy anime because it sets itself up to be this big serious show, reflecting our current world through Mars in the future, and the values that can make a difference. And it doesn't really deliver.

There's an amazing show (or four) in here somewhere, but it needed many seasons or fewer themes. It was ambitious, it tried (not always successfully) at racial and LGBTQ+ representation, tried to tackle big humanistic themes, and overall had a decent message. It's just that Carole and Tuesday were cardboard cutouts of people, written to be too perfect and too likable with no flaws or quirks, and the end conclusion fails to recognize that a bunch of rich famous people singing a song doesn't actually change the world (even if it makes them feel like they are doing something important). There is much to like, and much to marvel over, but it didn't strike any deep resonant emotions for me, despite it's incredibly important themes. Carole & Tuesday Part 2 gets a mixed 5.5/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 8 - for sure, all 10,000 of the stories. Just wish there was more time to develop some of them deeper.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 5 - nope, other than Angela, pretty much everyone else just plays their part in the story, they're all one-note characters.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 6 - it's mixed. Some of the themes and values are clearly defined, other parts (particularly the LGBTQ+ representation in both parts) are pretty clunky and a bit problematic.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 3 - Carole would not deal with Dan that way, I just don't believe it. Tuesday should not be that hysterically sad after seeing that an older man she's just getting to know as a reporter has a girlfriend. Valerie would not turn around her personality so quickly and effortlessly. She was more or less a villain throughout (even if she was somewhat just caught up in power hunger) and at the end was painted as nearly a saintly public servant.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 5.5/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 0 - this show is incredibly superficial. Big themes, but no internal lives for its characters.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 2 - intersex, transgender, and gay characters, but problematic representation in many ways too.
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - Gus just keeps kicking Carole & Tuesday out of meetings. They also more or less go along for the ride in this series, everyone is doing things for them,things happen around them. They don't really drive the plot directly.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 - other than Tuesday's outfits having a bit more diversity than just loli-victorian dresses at times and that she's a little less timid, no one else really changes (other than the unexpected change in Valerie in the final scene).
  • Quality art (0-5): 3 - even though I don't like the "rotoscoped" parts, the overall visual quality of the show is superior.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +.5

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 1 - they keep medicalizing transgender people. Please stop doing that. I am who I am, we are who we are, stop looking for the "reason" we're trans. Even if you're just curious, other people will take that information to try and "fix" us and erase us from society. But overall, Part 2 was less problematic than Part 1.
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5):0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -.5



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  1. It’s ok to not like the show, but “medicalizing transgender people it transphobic”? When everyone born on Mars is called “Native Martian” and not black, white, or American.

    You could say Angela and Tao were medicalized too since they are revealed to be genetically modified people and they are not LGBT in the end so things could have change in the future on earth.

    1. It's an interesting idea you present, whether the socially constructed issues of race on Earth transferred to Mars or not. However, it seems to me that since the story made a point of having Amer and Skip be POC that they weren't just talking refugees in the abstract, but were directly calling attention to the parallels of race currently in our society. I don't think it was a coincidence that black characters were treated more poorly in the show than white characters, including Carole's history growing up. I also, in my review of Part 1, was bothered by some of the stereotypical art designs, and even personalities, of some of the POC. I think this show was very explicitly trying to make connections to our real world, but was uneven in doing so. So even if things on Mars didn't replicate the socially constructed idea of race from Earth, the producers sought to make very clear parallels to our current society through the use of POC in those pivotal roles. I also think, that since it isn't that far in the future, and the refugees are coming from Earth, that at the very least those who are refugees are more likely to be POC and other marginalized people because that is what IS currently happening on Earth and would likely still be happening.

      As for medicalizing transgender people (through saying radiation causes it on Mars at least), your argument (if I understand you correctly) is that there could be transgender people on Mars for completely different reasons that transgender people exist on Earth. Maybe. But given that there is so little honest transgender representation in media, I don't think we can look at this show as if everyone watching it will say: "oh, this is totally different than Earth now in the real world, so I won't bother letting what I see and what it says influence my opinions of actual trans people in the real world." I think that until we have really good representation, broadly, that bad representation in media does true harm (just look at Idaho, Alabama, and all the other states trying to legislate trans people out of existence).

      You make interesting points, but at least for me, I can't separate out that real people in the real world are watching this show, and even though it is fiction, they will still use it (consciously or not) to inform their world views on real world things (it's natural, we all do it).

      I give credit to the shows team for trying, I think they did everything with the best of intentions. I just don't think it all worked out super well.

    2. Yes I there is poor representation of trans people in the media but there has been a lot of good trans rep in anime even more than the west.

      Rebecca sugar is one of the most important LGBT Creator when it comes to LGBT characters in western cartoons who made Steven universe yet all of the non/binary characters are gems(not human) and use female pronouns, one non binary character is a fusion of a human female and a half human half gem male, yet it’s still praised for it’s lgbt rep. It was only till recently there was finally a fully human non-binary character, but people still loved the show and it’s lgbt even if the non-binary characters were not human.

      If the media is supposed to only show positive rep of Trans people dose that mean we are suppose to Ignore the bad ones in real life.

      Example Jeffree Star is a part of the LGBT community (I don’t know if this person is trans) and said some racist things about POC. They Apologized but being queer doesn’t save you from being racist or doing a bad thing.

      @TheMissConnie92 On Twitter is a fan of the anime and a trans woman and she never felt offended by it. She even Commented on one of her YouTube videos that it’s important to have both positive and negative rep of LGBT in a show. Even Neutral rep.

      Most black people (including myself) are happy with the black designs. At least They are not drawn all the same and the positive designs out number the negative ones you didn’t like. Unlike most anime where there is only ONE black/dark skinned character in a show and it’s the only I representation you’re ever going to get in the show.

      ^written by a black person happy about the POC in C&T.

    3. Great thoughts! I really agree with what you're saying. I'm also really glad to hear that you felt the POC rep in the show was pretty good.

      The only thing I want to add on, is with your thoughts about positive rep vs. the problematic (or worse) people in real life within any community. Certainly there are bad people within any community, whether that be those in power or those from marginalized groups, there are assholes everywhere! And hopefully we'll get to the time in life where representation in media will be able to show people from marginalized communities who are both positive and negative role models without those negative role models adding fuel to the oppressors' fire. I don't believe we're totally there yet on race, and I know we're not there yet with LGBTQ+ rep in media. It's better, wow is it better in my lifetime, and there are finally so many really good examples that are mirrors for me and others in the LGBTQ+ community. But while rights are still being stripped, while hate is being flung from the highest points of power, I think we need as many positive examples as possible. But I hear you, there are certainly not great people within any community, and real story-telling should be free to explore that with whatever valid critiques of those characters come up. I just fear those in power right now would only take negative rep and say: "see, we told you they were dangerous!"

      Overall though, despite it's imperfections, the rep in C&T is far superior to many anime. Without a doubt.

  2. The artists of the Carole & Tuesday anime actually have shared a message for fans who are struggling during COVID-19 here:

    It played the mother song and ended with “Keep on Singing, and Keep yourself Alive”

    I don’t think the final song in the anime was actually suppose to solve any but just bring hope. And have everyone express themselves through music. Everything is left to Interpretation after that.

    1. Very cool. Thank you for sharing this. At the very least, as a musician myself, I know that music and the arts in general add a tremendous amount to people's lives. I do believe that the arts represent the height of what humans are capable of. We can create and depict things that transcend nature, that elicit feelings in others, it is an exceptional ability. So even when I don't love some art someone creates, I am so amazed that they do it and so happy people are making art. Please don't ever think that my critique of the substance is a critique of the value of art, even art that doesn't speak to me. We need as much art as possible so that everyone has some that speaks to them. Thanks again for the link!


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