Netflix brings us a new anime by the creator of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Space Dandy about two young girls trying to become musicians. It’s so awesome you guys.
It’s the future. We’ve colonized Mars and it mostly looks like Earth. Earth is now a craphole. Carole Stanley (Miyuri Shimabukuro/Jeannie Tirado/Nai.br XX (vocals)) is an orphan refugee from Earth who works part-time jobs to support her piano playing. Tuesday Simmons (Kana Ichinose/Celeina Ann/Brianna Knickerbocker) is a rich girl who runs away from her politician mother. While Carole is playing a song in public, Tuesday encounters her and innately understands her feelings coming through her music. The two quickly bond and realize that they each complement the other’s writing, quickly churning out a song. They break into a concert hall to record it, only to go viral when they get secretly recorded by Roddy (Miyu Irino/Zach Aguilar). This video is seen by Gus Goldman (Akio Otsuka/Jason Marnocha), a former musician and manager, who offers to help the girls get their careers going.
At the same time, they have a rival brewing from a former child star named Angela Carpenter (Sumire Uesaka/Alisa/Ryan Bartley), who is getting help from AI tech genius Tao (Hiroshi Kamiya/Kyle McCarley) to launch her own singing career.
The three end up meeting when they enter the same music competition, with their possible futures on the line.
This show’s so good, it actually works well in either subs or dubs. You can watch it in English or Japanese and it’s actually pretty much the same. A big part of that is that the music is the same in both languages. There’s only one version of each song, with the same artist providing the vocals in both languages, and with two songs per episode, that’s a decent portion of the series. So, however you like your anime, it’s going to be awesome for you.
This series was made by Shinichiro Watanabe, the creator of Cowboy Bebop, and, much like that show, this series is a blend of a number of different musical and fictional genres. Each of the episodes is named after a famous song, ranging from “Fire and Rain” to “Video Killed the Radio Star,” paying tribute to not just a kind of music, but music as a whole. There’s a gangster rapper who uses opera at one point, for example. This series is a love letter to the power of sound.
Carole and Tuesday are presented as the pure side of music, because in this future Artificial Intelligence generates most of the songs. One artist, DJ Ertegun (Mamoru Miyano/Ray Chase) considers himself a genius despite the fact that all of his songs and his musical performances are actually done by AIs that are written by Roddy. Machines have taken over so much of the industry that people consider it a novelty that Carole and Tuesday even write their own stuff. They’re two broke girls who constantly risk it all to survive based on their own talent, which is, admittedly, sizeable. They’re the underdogs that we want to cheer for and, dear God, do I cheer for them when they play. The music in this show is phenomenal, but they do save the best for our leads. Their struggles are human, their victories are hard-won, and their characters are surprisingly well fleshed-out despite the fact that they are essentially building off of simple archetypes, which was a strength of Cowboy Bebop.
Even though she is their rival and a user of AI generated music, Angela is not presented as evil. She’s on a journey to overcome the bias against her as a former actress trying to become a musician, because she loves music. That’s why it’s so interesting when she finally goes up against Carole and Tuesday, because she’s not a villain, just a person who wants to sing that’s taking a different tactic. Admittedly, a much easier one, but since it’s an option for her it’s hard to blame her.
It’s interesting that this show actually explores the future where automation has started eliminating creative jobs, one of the things which are currently assumed to only be the domain of humans. We see AI directors, animators, writers, and, of course, musicians. Instead, in this version of the future, the only jobs left are pretty much the ones that are dependent upon human personality, like being a DJ or a professional mourner. Despite this, we don’t see anything like Universal Basic Income or communal resources, instead, we just have a proliferation of those kind of positions.
The animation is top-notch, the supporting characters are all phenomenal, the writing is amazing in both languages, and the end of the series, which is really just the set-up for the second half, is amazing. Also, this is one of the first anime series I remember to have an openly bisexual character where that is not the focus of their character, if that’s something you appreciate.
The thing that surprises me is that this show is not something that I would normally think of as being my kind of show. I have no knowledge of music, nor do I really listen to it. The show is extremely formulaic, with most of the things happening exactly as you would expect, something that usually drives me nuts. Despite that, the show has so much damned heart that I couldn’t help but feel my eyes watering during some scenes. Really, its absolutely flawless use of tropes reminds me why these things became tropes in the first place. I recommend it for everyone.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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