"The Irresponsible Captain Tylor TV": Successful Science-Fiction Silliness
Having been an anime fan since the days of the early 90s, I have often read about The Irresponsible Captain Tylor but never actively sought it out. I never thought it looked like a bad series, but it never looked like one suited to my tastes. Now that I’ve watched it, I find that I am late to a very enjoyable party.
To be sure, the promised hilarity of Captain Tylor does take a little while to show itself. While the series gets off to an amusing start, that’s all it remains for the first several episodes: amusing, but not necessarily side-splittingly funny. In hindsight, this is actually one of the series’s noticeable strengths. In starting off with a slow burn comedy-wise, the series focuses a little more on setting up both the overall plot, and particularly in detailing the Soyokaze‘s crew’s many idiosyncrasies.
We start out with a brief introduction to the United Planets Space Force (UPSF) and the Raalgon Empire, who evidentially have had an uneasy relationship with each other in the past. The recent deaths of the parents of the Raalgon ruler’s parents is blamed on the UPSF, and a state of war now exists between the two powers. As war brews, resolute slacker Justy Ueki Tylor decides to enlist in the UPSF simply in order to have an easy life of free food, room and board, and the chance of a fat pension to eventually live off. The whole notion of possibly getting killed in conflict is merely a side note.
After a funny set-piece involving Raalgon terrorists holding hostage the retired Admiral Hanner, his twin daughters Emi and Yumi, Lt. Commander Yuriko Star, and Tylor himself, the latter finds himself automatically promoted to captain of his own ship, the distinctly Yamato-esque Soyokaze. Unfortunately, the Soyokaze is also the dumping ground for the UPSF’s most unstable and undisciplined individuals. However, while Tylor himself fits right in, the very by the book Yuriko Star, whom the good captain is openly smitten with, and first officer Lt. Commander Yamamoto struggle to teach the irresponsible captain how the ship should be run. Yamamoto in particular gets himself quite stressed out by having such an unsuitable individual as Tylor being promoted above him, and indeed this contributes to making Yamamoto by far the funniest character in the series.
As befits Captain Tylor’s good fortune, the Soyokaze manages to come up against Raalgon forces several times, defying the odds and beating them every time. Along the way, the series playfully spoofs some of the tropes seen in other science-fiction anime: a constantly drinking doctor (as in Yamato); an on-board beauty contest to boost morale (Macross); and a Raalgon spy on the ship (so many other series). Amusingly, Tylor naturally discovers the Raalgon spy at work fairly quickly, but his carefree nature simply has him sanctioning the spy to continue spying, albeit in secret from the rest of the crew.
With Tylor’s actions bringing him to the attention of the Raalgon ruler, the Raalgons infect the Soyokaze with a genetically-engineered virus, and will hand over the antidote only if Tylor will give himself up. The captain complies and is taken to their military headquarters, where he meets the Raalgon empress; she unsurprisingly finds his good nature quite endearing, and to ensure his life is spared officially takes him on as a ‘pet’. Meanwhile, the Soyokaze is under quarantine back in the UPSF, but take a leaf from Tylor’s book and break out, intent on stealing the Soyokaze and rescuing Tylor against all the odds. Obviously having learned a thing or two from the irresponsible captain, they are able to confront the mammoth Raalgon mothership and rescue Tylor, only to find themselves stumbling onto a plot from within the Raalgon ranks to assassinate their own Empress. Tylor manages to save her, and she insists on traveling with him, in so doing technically becoming a very high-profile prisoner of war.
Further plot twists take us into the final stretch of the series, climaxing in a very suspenseful, yet also fittingly absurd, “battle” between two opposing space forces. The series does have a very satisfying ending for the main characters, but the overall background plot is left somewhat hanging, no doubt explaining why several OVAs were produced after the TV show finished.
The storylines thankfully aren’t blighted with overlong political and strategic discussions, but the characterizations are undoubtedly the show’s greatest strength. Captain Justy Tylor himself is, as is commented on many times throughout the series itself, quite an odd character, which does at first make him somewhat difficult to relate to. Most of the time he is quite clearly very lucky when dealing with one crisis after another, usually in a way that is misinterpreted as ingenious strategy. If this was truly the case throughout the series, the joke would have worn quite thin, but Tylor’s extraordinary luck is tempered with some equally extraordinary brief moments of insight, so he’s not just simply a “lucky fool”.
The animation is of a fairly high standard for television-based anime of the time, with plenty of detail to the ships and backgrounds. The actual character designs, while clearly looking a little old-fashioned these days, are nevertheless quite detailed and capture the personalities of the main characters quite well. Like most series, the animation for the first few and last few episodes is quite good, but dips in the middle.
A major selling point of Right Stuf’s latest repackaging of this series is that the video masters used in this re-release are the same ones used on the Japanese Region 2 DVDs, making the episodes look better than on previous releases. Not having seen any of the previous Region 1 releases, I can’t see how much of an improvement there is to the picture, but the series does look quite clear and vibrant considering its age.
The series was originally brought over by Right Stuf in the late 1990s, and therefore unlike their latter-day releases also comes with an English dub, from the days when such dubs were commonplace and once taken for granted. In any case, for the most part I didn’t notice any consistently major issues with both soundtracks, although there’s a noticeable audio glitch with the second half of episode 17 where the English audio is clearly out of sync with the picture. Overall though, both English and Japanese tracks sounded quite clear, with some great performances all round, particularly from Sho Hayami and J. David Brimmer who play the hapless Yamamoto.
I was taken aback by one aspect of the English dub: the opening and ending songs are dubbed into English as well. This practice was slightly more prevalent almost a decade or so ago when studios could afford dubs for the majority of their material, but the dubbed songs sound quite out of place now. It’s worth reiterating that this release does indeed contain only English and Japanese soundtracks. Evidentially a Spanish track found on previous Right Stuf releases of the series couldn’t be included on the new set, so any viewers whose preferred language for Tylor was Spanish would probably want to skip this latest re-release.
Extras include some very welcome and informative linear notes for each episode, and these are exactly the type of helpful extra I’d like to see on more series. There are also moderately detailed character and ship profiles and a wide array of commercials for other Right Stuf releases. There’s a couple of glitches with the character profiles, where part of Admiral Hanner’s profile is accidentally copied from one of the other characters, and on a more minor note, the background music is missing from one of the other profile pages.
The DVDs come in an attractive and handy thinpacked boxset, with some black and white line-art of the series’ main characters on each disc. There’s a bit of laziness with the back cover copy on each volume, as it’s just a generic paragraph used on all the volumes.
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor pretty much represents the best anime has to offer. While other series may be funnier, more plot-heavy, or simply better designed, Tylor‘s strength comes from successfully juggling all these elements with equal skill, making for one of the most rounded and enjoyable viewing experiences I’ve seen in an anime series. The age of the series naturally makes it a very tough sell to potential new buyers, but as someone who was once themselves not actively keen on seeking out the show, even though I do admittedly already like older anime, I can very much assure that it’s definitely worth it.