My Review of Irresponsible Captain Tylor

Hey there, you! Recent university graduate! Are you looking for a cushy, simple job with great benefits and a generous pension upon your successful retirement? Are you looking to kick back and enjoy a peaceful, relaxing life of little stress and even less responsibility so you can spend the rest of your days getting paid for goofing off amongst friends? If you’ve answered yes to any of those questions, then get dressed, get out of bed, and sign up for the United Planets Space Force! If you can flirt your way through our thorough job interview, then you’re already well on your way to joining the crew of the Soyakaze, a space ship full of rejects and degenerates from across the globe, and Commanded by the decorated yet perpetually Irresponsible Captain, Justy Ueki Tylor! You’ll get free room and board, at least five different lovely ladies, and the instant respect of your peers! Oh, and remember, don’t take your position too seriously. It’s just a war, after all!

It should go without saying that Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a very old series. In fact, dating back to 1993, it’s actually the oldest anime I’ve reviewed thus far. And yet, surprisingly enough, it just might be one of the best looking shows I’ve ever reviewed. It isn’t just surprising because of the show’s date, but also because of the company that released it, Studio Deen. I’ve known at least a few people who call Deen their least favorite animation studio, siting shows like Higurashi and the original Fate/Stay Night as their reasons why. Which is a fair assessment, because those shows were nowhere near visual wonders, but the truth is that I’ve seen just as much good from this company as I’ve seen bad from them.

Yes, judging from the visual style, Tylor is incredibly dated. Despite the fact that it’s a sci-fi show, there is not a single drop of CG in it’s 26 episode run… At least, not that I could notice. It carries the classic aesthetic of it’s time, and I haven’t seen any new anime following that aesthetic in at least a decade. There’s no moe girls, no bishies… Okay, maybe one or two of the villains… No, this show looks purely like a product of it’s times, and the fact that only about a fifth of the characters have big eyes should be your first clue to that. But while the visual style may be dated, the animation itself could easily hold up even in today’s market. You can tell right from the first episode that Studio Deen had no shortage of money to sink into this series, despite being limited by the technology of the time. The images on screen aren’t always moving, but when they are, they move fluidly, with such great attention to detail that even the fluttering of somebody’s cape gets the same loving treatment as the ships and characters themselves. It wasn’t exactly rare for a show in the early nineties to look this good, but it’s always a treat when they do.

The limited technology of the nineties is also apparent with the show’s soundtrack, a purely instrumental collection full of tracks that don‘t just repeat the same notes over and over, like a lot of the more modern osts that I’ve had the misfortune of listening to. Throughout the series, Toshiyuki Watanabe goes full orchestra, utilizing every instrument from piano to drum to pipe organ, striking many different moods in the process. There are very few OSTs that I’ve actually found myself compelled to buy, and this is definitely one of them, although my only real gripe about the actual CD is that it doesn’t include either of the classical music pieces that were played towards the end of the series. The soundtrack can be found relatively cheap if you buy it used on Amazon, and if you’re looking for a taste of it before committing, I’d recommend testing the waters with Samurai of Space, Strange Love, and the jubilant Forward Tylor!

When watching the English dub, you’re going to run into three voices that should instantly strike a chord in your heart… Crispin Freeman, who plays the loose goofball and titular captain Tylor; Rachel Lillis, who plays the by-the-book Lt. Commander Yuriko Star as well as billboard Idol Noriko; And Lisa Ortiz, who pulls triple duty playing the twin pilot trainees Emi and Yumi as well as the fiery teenage empress of the Raalgonian empire, Azalyn. Ortiz had some major experience coming into this, having already performed the central role of Deedlit in Record of Lodoss War, but for the other two, this was their first ever attempt at starring roles… And it’s an attempt they succeeded at beautifully. Rachel Lillis, who would later be known for several important roles in the Pokemon franchise, brings an air of love, discipline and patience to a character who could have easily been played as yet another tsundere love interest. Seminal voice actor Crispin Freeman, despite this being really early in his career, shows off his trademarked elasticity all the same. He plays up the mystery of his character, peppering a light-hearted air-head delivery with a sense of knowing, and in some cases, he even winds up sounding condescending as a result… And it winds up being the perfect balance when you consider just how little we ever learn about how the character’s mind works.

There are several other well known actors in minor roles throughout the series, like Dan Green and Ted Lewis, and Professor Oak himself Stan Hart playing the boisterous, alcoholic surgeon who looks about 20 years older than the series claims he is. For the most part, the acting in this series is somewhat underwhelming and dated, and aside from Tylor himself, the only really over the top performances come from a pugnacious young fighter pilot who’s afraid of women and a couple of large rough and tumble marines. It’s an okay dub overall, but even if it wasn’t, I’d still recommend it just based on the fact that it’s an important title in the careers of three legendary voice actors who are still pumping out work to this day.

Whether or not you enjoy this title will ultimately depend on what it is you’re expecting out of it. It presents itself as a sci-fi comedy, and if you’re looking for a comedy, you won’t find any problem with this material. The jokes are constant, mostly character-based, and inventive, rarely ever relying on such cliched devices such as awkward situations, misunderstandings or random slapstick. I say rarely because that kind of humor does slip into the story now and then, but it’s never present enough to get old. It’s also really careful with it’s use of romantic comedy tropes, as the harem angle only really comes up in one episode, but it’s played for laughs while something much more original is happening in the background. To put it bluntly, every girl on the ship makes a pass at Tylor while all the poor guy is trying to do is keep a porn tape from getting erased while desperately trying to keep it a secret from them. Even the swimsuit contest… Yes, that happens, and it’s as confusing as it sounds, as there’s no reason any of these characters should need to have swimsuits on the ship in the first place… Plays the part of a larger and more important plot going on in that episode, and winds up serving as character development.

If you’re watching it with the expectation of it being a sci-fi title, however, you may come away from this series a little disappointed. I’m not going to say there’s nothing sci-fi about Tylor, because it IS a show about the crew of a spaceship getting caught up in a galactic inter-species war, but the universe of this series is a very small one… We barely spend any time on a vaguely defined technologically advanced planet that may or not be earth, and aside from that, the only real settings we spend any time in are the UPSF main station, The Raalgon Empire’s flagship, and the Soyokaze itself. Extraterrestrial planets occasionally factor into the plot of an episode or two, but they’re never utilized as anything other than plot devices. The reasons behind the war between humanity and the Raalgon Empire is also very vaguely explained… It’s stated that humanity may or may not have killed the former Raalgon emperor, but this plot point is never explored. How did he die? Why do they think it was us? What actually happened? Azalyn’s emotional response to this is portrayed with a great deal of understanding and maturity, but it’s kind of an important plot point to just drop cold after episode 1.

Ironically, Irresponsible Captain Tylor’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness, and that would be Tylor himself. On the one hand, he’s every bit a cult of personality… He comes into a ship full of the aforementioned rejects and degenerates because the higher-ups want him to screw up in the most contained environment possible, so they can find an excuse to fire him without having to suffer any major losses in the process. And what better place to put him than a ship where no captain has ever lasted more than three days? But this winds up backfiring hard as his loosey goosey attitude winds up fitting in perfectly well with this wretched hive of scum and idiocy. As one of his first orders of business, he orders the crew to, and I quote, ‘do whatever you want!’ This does result in quite a bit of anarchy and some justified outrage from the few cool heads on board, but amazingly enough, everybody quickly settles back into routine, with the only major change being their attitudes towards one another. It’s through stunts like this that he proves that as long as there are no outright villains involved, a community really can support itself without strict rules and regulations. There are a lot of moments in the series like that… Tylor bumbles his way through a situation, and things just happen to turn out for the better, and it’s never really clear whether he’s accomplishing these feats by accident or design.

No, scratch that… It isn’t just never made clear, it’s the main hook of the series. The viewer is meant to determine for themselves whether Tylor is a careless idiot who happens to possess the best luck in the galaxy, or if he’s actually a genius who’s just pretending to be stupid in order to enforce his decisions more smoothly. One of the hallmarks of good writing is the ability to inspire debate and discussion amongst fans and haters alike, and this series is very good at that. The debate over the method to Tylor’s madness may not be as deep or profound as the political, moral, social or even philosophical discussions certain other shows inspire, but the fact that both sides can make equally valid arguments is proof that it’s still in the same ballpark, so for that alone, Tylor is well written enough to hold it’s own under the scrutiny of even the harshest critics.

The main problem I had with this… Which is the show’s biggest weakness, at least in my opinion… Is that while both answers are equally valid, neither answer really paints the series in a positive light. First of all, if Tylor is really an idiot who just happens to have the greatest luck known to man, then the circumstances leading to all of his victories are some of the most badly written, contrived coincidences I’ve ever seen. There are several moments throughout the show where the events unfolding, if we’re to view them as random, would have certainly allowed the captain and his crew to perish had they not occurred. I’ve called other shows stupid for far less than this, and those are shows that pulled miraculous occurrences out of their asses ONCE to save the lives of it’s characters. The reason Tylor gets away with it is ultimately because of the mystery involved.

But there’s also the possibility that Tylor’s just clever like a fox, right? Well, frankly, that’s even worse. To explain this, let’s take a look at the first few episodes of Trigun. For a long stretch in that series, Vash the Stampede would act like a moron, insert himself into dire situations, and find ways to orchestrate solutions to these problems that don’t result in any lives lost without ever overtly taking the credit for any of it. He does this to save as many lives as possible without attracting attention, due to the weight that his name and reputation carry. Now imagine how these episodes would make you feel if his exploits resulted in hundreds of deaths, and he just smugly shrugged them all off as unfortunate accidents. It isn’t as funny now, is it?

Now imagine that he doesn’t trust even his closest friends and allies enough to let them know about his opinions or desires, and instead just manipulates them for his own selfish purposes without showing any signs of remorse or compromise. Imagine he’s been trusted with accomplishing something that every single one of his allies wants, and only he doesn’t. Imagine if he goes along with the plan for most of the way, then bales on it and intentionally side tracks it so that he can have his way without appearing as selfish and stubborn as he really is. Vash would never do this, which is why you can’t classify him as a sociopath. But if we’re to believe that Tylor knows damn well what he’s doing at all times throughout the series, then… Well, he did exactly that on at least one occasion. That explanation makes him look like a sociopathic asshole, and a very difficult one to redeem at that. That kind of person should under no circumstances be allowed to lead anybody, let alone the crew of a military vessel.

The saving grace of the series that makes up for these problems almost completely is the ambiguity of it all. This series is extremely careful to not sway to either side of the fence in terms of what Tylor’s motivation and method really is, which will keep most viewers so busy guessing that they’ll never even bother to analyze just how troubling either answer is. Or hell, maybe it’s a mix of both answers! There’s one episode taking place inside of Tylor’s mind… Yes, that happens, but I won’t spoil it by telling you why or how… And in one scene, you hear two distinct thoughts in his head. One of them says the key to a long military career is to run away, and the other one says that it’s easier to play the fool than to be tortured. Not only do these two thoughts perfectly represent both sides of the argument, but they still seem like two thoughts that could just as easily exist in the same mind. You’ve gotta give Tylor this… An anime’s ability to recognize and safeguard it’s own weaknesses is a strength all it’s own.

Irresponsible Captain Tylor was originally available from Manga entertainment, but after that company ceased to exist, it was picked up by Right Stuf, who have released the series in several different DVD sets that vary in terms of size, price and box art. You can buy whichever set you want off of Ebay or Amazon, and while I personally cheaped out and bought the thinpack from Rightstuf.com during their winter sale(cost me like fifteen bucks, hell yeah!) I’d have to strongly recommend the Ultra Edition. In addition to being a much more attractive item in general, it comes with the series itself, the soundtrack, an artbook, one of the original light novels, and a bunch of supplemental materials. You can find that collection for anywhere between forty and sixty dollars on Amazon and Ebay.

I had my complaints about this series, and while I do feel that they’re valid, it does make up for these issues just enough so that I can still highly recommend it to pretty much any viewer who’s looking to have a good time. It’s a bit of an underachiever as science fiction stories go, but it’s not a bad one by any means. It’s an episodic character-driven story, which actually redeems a lot of the weaknesses in it’s plot when you consider jut how funny the story is and how awesome the majority of the characters are. It’s aged surprisingly well despite being over twenty years old, and still has a lot of laughs to offer it’s audience even to this day. Grab a copy for yourself, lighten up, and don’t think about it too hard. I give Irresponsible Captain Tylor an 8/10.

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