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"The Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVA": Tylor Grows Up

by on November 12, 2009

Allowing characters to actually noticeably grow and gain some emotional experience with longer-running, successful properties can be a tricky thing. If you’ve got what appears to be a successful formula, there’s the danger that in making characters change with time, they might lose what made them popular in the first place, and there are many examples of long-running properties that are effective held in a ‘holding pattern’ because of this. When there are franchises that do allow their characters to develop over the years, I’ve learnt that these are to be savored, and it’s extremely satisfying to see that The Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVAs fall into this latter group.

The popularity of the Captain Tylor TV series and novels ensured that the Soyokaze crew’s animated exploits would continue on video, and the first of these OVAs was entitled simply “An Exceptional Episode”. Presented as a 90 minute special, the story entails the Soyokaze being given an important mission to try and discover some information on a new and highly effective Raalgon secret weapon. Meanwhile, Empress Goza (more informally known as Azalyn) of the Holy Raalgon Empire has tired of the continual tensions between the Raalgons and the UPSF, and simply wants to go on a much-needed vacation, leaving her responsibilities over to the devious Prime Minister Wang. As the Soyokaze and its fellow ship Aranami (whom the Soyokaze crew had a recent ‘dispute’ with in a bar) embark on their mission to deal with the Raalgons and their secret weapon, the ever blasé Tylor simply orders the Soyokaze‘s surrender, placing the entire crew at the mercy of the Raalgons – who normally execute all their prisoners.

This sudden strange turn of events, thanks to Tylor’s seemingly capricious actions, bring up some interesting characterization from the crew, who alternatively think the Captain actually has a plan, or is simply acting for purely selfish reasons due to his friendship with Azalyn. It’s interesting to see the Soyokaze crew taken to the limit and seriously question Tylor’s actions in a more realistic manner than before, and there’s even the interesting curveball or two thrown at the audience. The main one is that Lieutenant Yamamoto finally realizes that his respect for Yuriko Star is more than simple admiration for the ship’s only other by-the-book officer. As befits the smart nature of the series so far, the audience isn’t beaten over the head with this revelation, and it arises quite naturally out of Yamamoto’s growth throughout the TV series. When Tylor wrangles a visit with Azalyn, the Empress, initially reluctant to see him again, tries to make clear to him the depth of her feelings towards him, only to shirk at what Tylor has really come to tell her. Very much getting the wrong idea shortly afterwards (as he walks in to find Azalyn nude in front of Tylor), Captain Ru Baraba Dom loses it completely and tries to beat the truth out of Tylor as to his intentions, in what has to rank as one of the series’ darkest moments.

Naturally, Tylor is once again imprisoned with the rest of the Soyokaze crew, who continually mull over exactly what Tylor’s true intentions are. Tylor of course is traditionally nonchalant over the whole situation, expecting an imminent release of the Soyokaze and its crew, which sure enough comes to pass after Azalyn takes on board Tylor’s words. Things aren’t all clear sailing after leaving the Raalgon command however, as the Soyokase crew, disgusted at Tylor’s attitude and refusal to explain why he spontaneously surrendered to the Raalgons in the first place, decide to democratically remove him as captain, despite Tylor’s best efforts to drum up support with voting posters proclaiming “Pensions at age 20”. Just when things couldn’t go much worse for the divided Soyokaze, Captain Dom launches into an all-out attack on the ship using the Raalgon’s new secret weapon, leaving the crew to undertake a rather unorthodox and somewhat touching path to victory.

Produced only a year after the TV series ended, “An Exceptional Episode” is rendered in essentially the same style as the TV series, suiting its place as a post-script of sorts. Somewhat annoyingly however, like the TV series, the special still ends on an ambiguous note with regard to both the character relationships and indeed overall plot, leaving the hostilities between the UPSF and the Raalgons cooled down, but still present in the background. While still markedly closer in tone to the TV series than the following OVAs, the touches of character development given to the characters make the special more than simply a ’27th episode’, and only serve to enhance what is already an enjoyable story.

The Captain Tylor light novels remained popular even after “An Exceptional Episode”, and so a full OVA series was commissioned the following year. According to Right Stuf’s ever-welcome linear notes, the OVA series was designed to follow on from the Captain Tylor novels, rather than the TV series, which featured a slightly different chronology. Whereas these new adventures were supposed to be set several years after the novels, the animated series’ internal chronology has these stories set merely several months after “An Exceptional Episode”. In hindsight, knowing that the OVA series was written for an older Soyokaze crew goes some way to explain the noticeably different take on Captain Tylor’s world. While the TV series and first OVA special had its fair share of serious moments among the lightheartedness, the OVA series goes directly for a more serious route, making most of the characters act in a far more mature fashion, albeit still with touches of their humorous idiosyncrasies. Reinforcing this revised take on the characters are the slightly different character designs and animation style the series employs from this point onwards. Of course, perhaps the one character changed the least from the earlier stories is Tylor himself, possibly explaining why he sidelined from most of these later stories.

Indeed, Tylor doesn’t appear at all in the first three OVA episodes, which serve as interesting side-stories spotlighting different characters. The first of these focuses solely on the Raalgon Empire, as Azalyn decides to take a brief vacation from leading her people. She decides to visit the planet Ashran, home of her former childhood friend Ti’in Ruu of the Duchy of Ashran, who went missing after the Raalgons made an all-out attack on the Duchy after an attempted rebellion. The second story concerns Kojiro’s exploits as a temporary test pilot while testing a powerful new UPSF fighter, and inadvertently drawing attention from nearby Raalgon ships in the process. More familiar ground is seen with the third OVA episode where we see the Soyokaze‘s marines becoming involved in the testing of a new mobile armor, which predictably doesn’t go quite according to plan. Tylor himself finally makes his re-appearance with the fourth episode, “White Christmas”, which sees Yuriko Star attempt to meet up with Tylor on Christmas Eve during their downtime, only for Tylor to become sidelined by a troublesome boy’s antics all night.

The next two episodes are the two-part “If Only the Skies Would Clear”, although functionally they still serve as only tangentially connected side-stories, the first part focusing on Yuriko Star and the second on Makoto Yamamoto. In the first story, Yuriko Star is kidnapped by Raalgon agents seeking to sow the seeds of confusion among the UPSF, while in the second, Yamamoto is finally granted the command he always dreamed of, the Kageroh, only to come up against an extremely powerful and unknown force that almost completely destroys his ship.

Cleverly, while not readily apparent at first, these side-stories all prefigure elements of the main plot of the final two episodes, which serve as a climax of sorts to the series. In the two-part “From Here to Eternity” (seriously), we get an expanded telling of the events leading up to and immediately following the preceding two episodes, making clearer who sent the Raalgon spies to capture Yuriko, and what exactly happened to Yamamoto on his command flight on the Kageroh. Unsurprisingly, the mysterious new enemy is being coordinated by Prime Minister Wang, seeking the ultimate power play to both topple the UPSF and take over the Raalgon Empire. Meanwhile the Soyokaze crew are purposefully split up by Admirals Mifune and Fuji, both whom are now seeking to increase their influence in the UPSF hierarchy. With both the UPSF and the Raalgons facing problems within their own factions, and the mysterious enemy threatening to bring both factions to a full-scale war, Tylor and the crew of the Soyokaze make a desperate effort to unite both sides against their common foe.

While these final two installments are appropriately climactic, I wouldn’t call them a definitive ending. Although they were clearly intended by the producers to be the last of this particular series of OVAs, the story ends on something of an unresolved cliffhanger, which was continued in the never-adapted subsequent novels. While it’s not the worst place the series could end off, it is slightly frustrating that the OVA series went to the trouble of introducing a new all-powerful enemy, only to leave us hanging on exactly how the UPSF and the Raalgons dealt with this new threat. At least we do get to see Captain Tylor actually act responsible for the briefest of moments before the series ends, making this ending still having its fair share of satisfying moments. Like the TV series that it follows, the Tylor OVAs somewhat disappointingly end with many plot points unresolved. With the OVA market having contracted quite a bit in the years since Tylor finished, and the more serious type of non-toyetic science-fiction anime similarly having fallen a little out of fashion, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing any more Tylor anime in the near future.

Thank heaven then for Right Stuf’s always-welcome linear notes, which fill in some of the story that follows the OVAs, including revealing the identity and ultimate of the powerful enemy behind the scenes. They also briefly mention the plots of succeeding volumes of the Tylor novels, which is particularly helpful since they were never officially translated. Indeed overall, the linear notes this time around are even more helpful, making clearer the relationship between the original novels, TV series, and OVAs, and the fates of some of the characters following the animation. There’s no confirmation either way in the notes as to whether or not Prime Minister Wang was actually responsible for the death of Azalyn’s parents, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if that was revealed in one of the following novels.

Video-wise, I didn’t notice much of an overall improvement to the picture compared to the TV series, although the more recent OVA episodes do appear to be a little sharper. Audio-wise the quality of the soundtrack is consistent that heard in the TV series, aided in no small part from consistently excellent performances from both the English and Japanese casts, with some great work by Crispin Freeman as an older and (slightly) wiser Tylor. Worth noting since the Tylor series owes so much to Yamato, it was entirely fitting to find that voice actor Amy Howard, who played Nova in the original 1979 dub of Star Blazers, pops up in a small but notable role in the first of the OVA episodes. Thankfully unlike the small error on one episode of the TV series, I didn’t notice any obvious instances of the soundtrack going out of sync with the picture. Also worth noting that as with the recent re-release of the Tylor TV series, this latest re-release of the Tylor OVAs omits the Spanish dub found on previous versions.

The Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVAs serve as a more mature and thoughtful companion piece to the comparatively whimsical TV series. Mostly aside from “An Exceptional Episode”, the OVA series really goes off in its own direction, showing us a different and more measured side to the characters, giving them the courtesy and respect to actually allow them to grow with time and experience, although still with the occasional touches of the series’ character-based humor. Overall, I greatly enjoyed the OVA series as a whole, even if the opening installments were seemingly a little unfocused at first, although ultimately I still preferred the more lighthearted TV show. The change in directorial style for the OVAs took a little while to get used to, but the creators still remained true to the characters and the more serious tone of the series served as a useful reminder that despite some of the sillier aspects of the series, that it was still set to a traditional space opera backdrop about hostilities between two great powers. Even with the OVA series ending on several unresolved plots, both it and the Tylor TV series serve as one of the better slightly longer anime series out there. They may not be the flashiest or funniest productions out there, but the series’ accessible nature, refusing to be strictly pigeonholed into a mass of clichés, makes Captain Tylor secure yet another victory as far as I’m concerned, even if by the end of this particular journey he is still mostly irresponsible.

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