The Irresponsible Captain Tylor Anime Review
Musekinin Kanchou Tairaa
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor
US Release By
Space Opera Comedy with a Philosophical Twist
26 25-minute episodes
1993-01-25 - 1993-07-19
What's In It
- Mass Combat
- Super Technology
- Space Ships (big ones)
- The Dorkiest Battlesuits Ever
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
Justy Ueki Tylor, age 20: An irresponsible youth wandering the streets aimlessly... until he hears the call of the military, and a ticket to the easy life. Of course, the military brass doesn't see the life of an enlisted man that way, but this lucky fellow somehow ends up a Captain--of none other than the Soyokaze, a battered battleship and dumping ground for half the misfits in the space force. And so the irresponsible Captain is joined by his crew: The born-in-a-uniform First Officer Yamamoto, by-the-book Lieutenant Cmdr. Yuriko Star, a drunken doctor, and a whole host of bridge crew, pilots, and marines... not one of whom knows quite what to make of the fool who leads them.
Neither, it seems, does the enemy: The Holy Raalgon Empire, ruled by the young Empress Golza the 16th, is locked in a bloody struggle with Earth. The powerful Raalgon military will stop at nothing to achieve victory over the evil UPSF, but when the newest, "brightest" captain in the UPSF (Tylor) catches the eye of Dom, the Empress' advisor, figuring out this enigmatic man may prove to be the most difficult battle in the war...
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The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is more than just a funny, lively space opera comedy about a captain who's either a genius, an idiot, or both. It is also a concealed philosophical study in how to live, a subtle satire of the military mentality and war in general, and perhaps even a commentary on the unstoppable change youth is bringing to Japanese culture. You can read between the lines and watch it as any of these things, just laugh at the humor and maybe absorb a bit more in the process, or even write it off as outright silly, but no matter what you take away from it the juxtaposition of a silly ship on a serious war makes for a unique and thought-provoking series. The picture is rounded out with a variety of characters--most broad, a few much more substantial--a lively character-based score, and quality Japanese acting including a masterful performance behind Tylor. There is also a phenomenal half-episode ballet of a showdown in space capping off the climax that alone is worth watching the whole thing for.
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is not a philosophical masterpiece, nor is it the funniest comedy you're ever going to see, but it is punctuated by moments of brilliance and, in the end, is both fun and thought-provoking--well worth the time it takes to finish.
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The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a hard series to pin down; you can tell it's going to be funny, there's going to be some space battles, and the ongoing question will be whether Tylor's a genius, an incredibly lucky idiot, or some of both. That pretty much sums it up, yet as it progresses it adds a layer of meaning and depth to the likable characters, amusing situations, and flat-out fun of a good anime comedy to become something special.
Each viewer will take something different away from the series; it will be no more than a comedy to some, others will see it as something a little deeper, and I'll bet for a few it will border on a religious experience. When I sat down, I didn't particularly like the sound of the "genius/idiot" conundrum of Tylor, so I was expecting to be annoyed despite all the raves I'd heard. As I watched, I could feel myself becoming a convert, but I committed to watching the whole thing before making up my mind. Having done just that (twice now), I'm still not sure quite what to make of it, but I do know two things: One, it is something far more than a simple comedy. Two, when it was over there were parts I'd enjoyed immensely and parts I didn't care for, but my gut gave me that feeling I only get from anime that had some kind of deeper effect on me.
Like Trigun, another series with a similar blend of humor and philosophy, the first half of the series pretty much sticks to the stock formula of wacky characters, wacky situations, a bit of wondering whether Tylor's a genius or a lucky idiot, and not a whole lot else. The plots are sequential, and there's a sense it's headed somewhere, but missing a few episodes wouldn't throw you off. It does do a remarkably good job of keeping the formula interesting by weaving around in unexpected ways; the twists are gradual, and while you know each story will resolve itself happily, the how is never obvious. Plenty of times I really didn't see things coming.
Tylor is initially just a catalyst for the story, never instigating much himself, but in the second half he begins to play a more active role and to fill out as a character. As the story builds momentum we see more of the internal functioning of the Raalgon (which is important--they are not faceless "bad guys"), the romance moves beyond superficial, and an increasingly high-stakes string of events eventually carries the story to its climax. The humor slowly fades, but the rest gets a lot more involving than I expected it to. It also doesn't lay everything out clearly, provoking more thought than you'd think this sort of anime would.
In a way, the final episodes are where the irresponsible series has a run-in with responsibility--not an easy thing to accomplish successfully from a storytelling standpoint, but quite interesting. The message that had been hiding in there since the beginning ("live your life the way you want to," if you're wondering) is eventually stated explicitly, but even then I was never quite sure if that's what I should be taking away from it, and it's certainly not the only thing in there. (If all this sounds like an unfortunate way to end a comedy, I'll note that the finale definitely doesn't close on a downer.)
Perhaps the most unusual thing about Tylor is the way it superimposes a wacky ship on a serious setting. The war swirling around the story has no clear bad guys on either side, and both military forces take the situation seriously. They act more or less like classic, honorable Japanese military forces should. When the Soyokaze and its crew is jammed in the middle of this, the rest of the characters in the universe (and even some on-board) don't seem to get the joke, a contrast that is both hilarious and thought-provoking.1
If the series had just been a drama illustrating the folly of the military mentality, you could get sucked into the rhetoric or turned off by the heavy themes. If it had just been a farce, you could have fun and ignore the message. Instead, it aims for backhanded satire by following an unserious group of people involved in a serious war. This successfully pokes fun at both sides of an age-old argument, forcing one to think about both the legitimacy of the fight and whether these people should be having so much fun in the middle of it.
These superimposed themes also give the series an unexpected air of realism--having "normal" people interacting with the wackiness aboard the Soyokaze makes it (almost) seem like something that could actually happen, part of the reason the story is effective. This isn't to say the war is realistic; while the battles are not played for laughs, many of the situations are far from the realm of the plausible. Tylor's extreme luck aside, several parts sacrifice realism for either humor (early on), making a point (throughout), or moving the story along (toward the end).2
The later parts of the series are marred somewhat by this heavy-handed manipulation; moving the story along often takes precedence over any sort of logic or common sense.3 There's also some particularly metaphorical imagery toward the end that, while a legitimate artistic choice, seems unnecessary. Worst of all, however, some of the characters are seriously shortchanged or manipulated for the sake of the story. Not even Tylor is safe, but straight-man Yamamoto in particular is a slave to the plot--he repeatedly does an about-face on his changes of heart so that he can play the holdout and have another dramatic change of heart.
Even so, the series is full of the sort of characters that make any anime comedy worth its salt fun to watch, mixing quirky personality traits, fun interplay, a touch of romance, and some depth hidden below the surface. Some are just there for laughs, of course, and others just to be serious (either as a counterpoint to Tylor or to represent the unfunny nature of the war). A few--Tylor, Yuriko, and the Empress--are a more complex mix. The real standout is, no surprise, Tylor. The whole genius/idiot thing is part of it, but while I found him annoying at times, he's more than just the ultimate slacker hero. There's a lot of talk about "realizing what kind of man Tylor really is," and while it's obvious by the end there's more to him than his class-clown facade, the series makes a point of leaving the exact why of Tylor open to interpretation.
The character animation adds tremendously to Tylor's personality; he has a sort of off-balance way of carrying himself and a perpetual slouch that manifest his nonchalant attitude. The Empress has a similarly distinctive comportment. Elsewhere, the visuals rank as a more average TV series in terms of art, character design, animation, and unspectacular space battle sequences.
One relatively subtle visual touch that does stand out is the mechanical design. Aside from several sci-fi in-jokes and some hilariously goofy mecha, the ship designs play with expectations. The Earth forces have a shiny, classic space opera look, while the Raalgon ships are dingy and organic. This immediately makes the Raalgon look more alien and more like "bad guys," even though both sides think and act nearly identically.
The Japanese acting (I won't comment on the dub) has a variety of distinctive voices to go with the assortment of personalities, but there are only a few standout performances. Characters like Yamamoto and the doctor are fun and well cast, but there isn't much room for impressive acting. Of the noteworthy performances, Hiroko Kasahara gives Azalyn a believable mix of stern Empress and little girl inside, and Yuriko (Yuri Amano) occasionally has an effective dramatic moment, but yet again Tylor is the standout. Koji Tsujitani is Tylor--his performance perfectly embodies Tylor's slacker demeanor, low-key confidence, and charisma. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job of carrying that through the entire series and even mixing a bit of seriousness in at the end.
As for the soundtrack, the intro theme is particularly catchy, but the songs aren't what rank the unassuming score as another success by master Kenji Kawai. Kawai makes effective use of character themes throughout the series, an appealing operatic technique and perhaps a nod to John William's character-based score for the Star Wars series. Yamamoto's stilted, intentionally artificial-sounding Japanese military theme is the most distinctive, but a variety of other characters have their own little tune accompanying them. The music re-use rate is, sadly, high, in particular one dramatic-then-heroic piece that makes an appearance at the end of almost every episode.
The most notable music, though, comes during two long sequences near the end of the series, where the William Tell Overture and a couple of other pieces are used in their entirety. The final showdown between the Raalgon and Earth fleets is the pièce de résistance, a Fantasia-esque ballet in space encompassing half an episode. I'm sure it will disappoint some viewers, but it is one of the most meaningful showdowns I've ever seen and I was glad someone had the guts to let it play out as it did.
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a series not quite like any other. Another silly anime comedy on the surface, it is more satire than farce, taking a long, hard, amusing look at war, the military mindset, and just how seriously we should take life. It's not a philosophical masterpiece, nor is it the funniest comedy you're ever going to see, but it is punctuated by moments of brilliance and, in the end, is both fun and thought-provoking. Definitely well worth the time it takes to finish.
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There aren't any series quite like it, but Trigun is the most obvious parallel of a comedy that develops into something heavy and meaningful as it progresses. Martian Successor Nadesico is a sillier version of a similar theme, and you might try the Wings of Honneamise for a much more serious version of a similar story (the personal growth end of this story, not the space-opera comedy). Finally, Dominion: Tank Police is at least somewhat similar in its mix of humor and somewhat more blunt philosophy; it was also scripted and directed by the same man as this series. In the non-anime realm, there are a number of similarities to M*A*S*H, of all things.
Notes and Trivia
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is based on an epic series of light novels by Hitoshi Yoshioka; they're titled "The Most Irresponsible Man In Space" ("Uchuu-ichi no Musekinin Otoko"). There is also a short manga adaptation (not available in English as of this writing). This anime adaptation was both written and directed by Koichi Mashimo, whose career dates back to the '70s and includes everything from Dominion: Tank Police to .hack//Sign to the animated sequences in Xenogears.
There's also a ten-episode OVA series; it is more or less a direct sequel, although it doesn't line up with the very end of final TV episode. It does fit, however; the closing epilogue of the TV series is essentially a symbolic version of what is explored in more literal detail in the OVAs.
The Japanese title of the series is technically "Musekinin Kanchou Tairaa," but it's actually more commonly written using the English "Tylor The Irresponsible Captain."
RightStuf's releases of the series have all included near-fanatical episode-by-episode liner notes that explain translation oddities, as well as a lot of musings about the story that popped up during its translation. There is, however, one mistake in the notes included with the early VHS version (don't read it if you don't want a bit of plot given away, though): In the notes on episode 16, the translator ponders why it was so easy for Tylor to escape. Dom and Shia Haas were, of course, watching, so we can assume it was intentional, to see what he'd do. This note was omitted from the DVD notes (at least), so I'd assume that somebody (or hundreds of rabid fans) pointed it out.
Footnote 1: Some additional thoughts about sociological symbolism, for those into that sort of thing: The military mindset in the series has a distinctly Japanese feel to it (although it can be overlaid quite effectively on just about any dedicated military). Tylor himself, of course, is the dead opposite--his "take it easy, do what you like, be nice, and things will work out" mindset is completely at odds with old-school military discipline, and also happens to fly in the face of classic Japanese values. The former of the two was definitely intentional, and the latter presumably was as well.
Since Tylor is, of course, the hero of the story, you could take that to mean that the purpose of the whole series is to poke fun at the antiquated nature of military culture and good-guys/bad guys mentality that still holds a dominant place in politics. But, reading between the lines, it could just as easily be a metaphor for how the old Japanese way of thinking is being dragged forcefully (but with some degree of understanding of the inevitability of it) into the modern world of Western culture. I could be reading too much into it, but with a series like this, you never know.
Footnote 2: There's also a brief bout with the supernatural in an early ghost ship episode that, while very funny, breaks up the reality that becomes important later.
Footnote 3: Spoiler: Putting Tylor in charge of the entire fleet is the most egregious offense.
US DVD Review
The four DVDs may come in a relatively cheap slipcase, and there isn't so much as an insert with the discs, but this is one fine set. To start with, the video transfer is fairly sharp and very clean (with few if any compression artifacts), and the stereo audio is sufficiently crisp as well... in three languages (they threw in a complete Spanish dub for good measure, although the subtitles are English-only). Next, we've got some easy-to-navigate and slick-looking animated menus that provide access to the index of each episode (although the end credits aren't on their own chapter... go figure) plus special features: The first two discs have character statistics and information for the UPSF and Raalgon, respectively, and the other two have ship information (and a lot of it). Plus, each disc includes a little bonus music video, and the final one also has a humorously written report by Tylor.
Finally, to round out the picture, each episode includes the complete liner notes (accessed through the menus) for those interested, plus the complete Japanese credits (relegated to the bonus menu, but still there... although apparently the Spanish actors deserve no credit). Nice touches (for example) include the dual-language (English and Japanese) song subtitles, and the fact that you can play straight through a disc, quick-start each episode, or bring up a chapter index for it. There's also a list on each disc of the people who made the set possible by pre-ordering it (that's what the "Special Thanks" section is).
One side note: Some very early versions of the DVD set had a bad disc 4 in them (it has a picture of Azalyn on it, while the replacement has both her and Tylor). RightStuf stepped up and replaced all of these, but on the bum discs a big chunk of stuff after the mid-episode break in episode 23 is missing. This is ironic, because the missing footage doesn't include any plot at all--if you hadn't seen it, you might not even realize anything was missing--but is a vital part of the best episode in the series.
Since that original release, there has been a limited edition "Ultimate" box set that includes all of the above plus a novella, vast heap of live-action interviews, and more, and then a "remastered" box set of the series that appears to lack the fancy extras of the Ultimate version.
A few bits of mature humor and themes, and some serious violence make for about a 13-up.
Violence: 2 - Many people die in space battles, but it's mostly bloodless.
Nudity: 2 - A bath scene early on, and Tylor's exposed posterior during the opening credits.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - One suggestive but relatively mild scene in the first episode, and another much later on, plus generally mature themes.
Language: 2 - Some strong language, but not unnecessarily so.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Tylor: Koji Tsujitani
Kim: Kotono Mitsuishi
Yuriko: Yuri Amano
Yamamoto: Sho Hayami
Kitaguchi: Joji Yanami
Harumi: Maya Okamoto
Katori: Tsutomu Narita
Kojira: Mitsuo Iwata
Azalyn: Hiroko Kasahara
Andressen: Hiroyuki Shidamoto
Cryburn: Kazuhiro Nakata
Yumi/Emi: Mika Kanai
Dom: Toshihiko Seki
Shia Has: Yuko Mita
Fuji: Tomomichi Nishimura
Donan: Fumihiko Nishimura
Lt. Renandi: Wataru Takagi
Noriko: Maria Kawamura
Assassin: Mitsuo Senda
Producers: Kandai Okazaki (TV Betouch), Noriyuki Taguchi (Big West), Makoto Kubo (The Tylor Project), Masatoshi Yui (Tatsunoko Productions)
Original Story: Hitoshi Yoshioka
Screenplay: Hiroyuki Kawasaki
Director: Koichi Mashimo
Storyboard/Production: Koichi Mashimo
Animation Director: Tomohiro Hirata
Photography Director: Harutoshi Ikegami
Art Director: Masaru Satoh
Character Design: Tomohiro Hirata
Mechanical Design: Koji Itoh, Soichi Masuo
Opening Theme "Just Think of Tomorrow"
Lyrics: Erina Shima
Composition: Hiroaki Nakamura
Arrangement: Megumi Maruo
Performed by: Mari Sasaki
End Theme "Downtown Dance"
Lyrics: Kaoru Ishijima
Composition: Yoshiko Yamamura
Arrangement: Megumi Maruo
Performed by: Mari Sasaki
By: Tatsunoko Productions, TV Setouchi, Big West, The Tylor Project
Currently available in North America from Nozomi on a 5-disc bilingual box set with remastered video. Was previously available on four trilingual (English, Japanese, and Spanish) DVDs, either individually or in a set, and also in a "Limited Edition Ultra Box Set" that included a novella and additional extras. Was originally available on 8 subtitled or dubbed VHS tapes, now out of print.
At last check RightStuf had the remastered box set in stock, as did Amazon: Irresponsible Captain Tylor Complete TV Series Remastered DVD Collection.
Amazon also has the Ultra edition set listed new and used, although it is quite expensive: The Irresponsible Captain Tylor TV Series (Ultra Edition).