If he had the energy, Judge Bryan Byun would raise an index finger in salute to this anime tribute to slackerdom.
"You really shouldn't worry so much. It's all right! Just leave everything to me!"—Captain Justy Ueki Tylor
The first thing that struck me about this series was how ordinary it seemed. A space opera set on a gigantic battleship? Never seen that before. Ooh, the "United Planets Space Force" versus the "Raalgon Empire." How very Yamato. It seemed, at first glance, to draw upon every space-adventure anime cliché in the book, right down to animation and character design eerily reminiscent of Leiji Matsumoto's designs for Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999. Was The Irresponsible Captain Tylor an homage to a classic (and by now overdone) anime staple, or a parody, a la Martian Successor Nadesico?
Consider the cast of characters: the gung-ho first officer, Yamamoto, a by-the-book martinet; the lovely but icy second officer, Yuriko Star, who has a deep sense of duty and propriety; the hotshot pilot, Kojiro, who knows he's the best and lets everyone else know it, too; the perpetually drunk, yet wise Dr. Kitaguchi, who does his best work when halfway through a bottle; the badass master chief, Andreesen, who hates pilots and all authority figures; the corrupt, selfish military leaders, Chief of Staff Fuji and Admiral Mifune, who undermine the crew of Tylor's ship, the Soyokaze, at every opportunity. None of these characters would be out of place in any space opera anime series of the past twenty years.
The only unique character of the bunch is Justy Ueki Tylor, a career slacker and layabout who decides to join the military in order to live an "easy life." Tylor's a puzzle, someone who seems to be utterly clueless, but at the same time is tuned into the world around him in a way that his more competent counterparts aren't. That mystery is compelling enough to entice the viewer to keep watching, if only to see what he does next.
Tylor begins his military career by winning over the recruiting officer, who is frankly amazed and (initially) irritated by Tylor's admission that he's only joining up in order to live an easy life. The military, the recruiter insists, is anything but easy. Tylor informs him, to his stupefaction, that when Tylor rises to the rank of fleet admiral, he'll write his memoirs and thank the insightful recruiter who originally recognized his talent. Luckily for Tylor, the ongoing war with the Raalgon means that the military needs every warm body it can get, so the recruiter gives Tylor a shot at the screening process, figuring he'll be washed out and no longer remain an irritant.
Instead, Tylor manages to befuddle the testing computer, and secures himself a job in the pension department. While delivering a pension check, he stumbles onto a terrorist hostage situation, and when he (accidentally) helps resolve the situation, Tylor is given command of a fleet starship, the Soyokaze. Far from being a genuine reward for his talents, however, the promotion is an attempt by Admirals Mifune and Fuji to shunt Tylor off to a crew of troublemakers, on a ship whose sole purpose is to house the losers and undesirables of the fleet.
Tylor, predictably, is far too laid-back to be a good captain, at least by military standards. He just wants everyone to do whatever they feel like doing, even allowing the ship's doctor to get plastered on the job, and the machinists and pilots (who have a fierce rivalry) to fight as much as they like. Tylor's lackadaisical command and total lack of discipline, however, seem to keep generating improbable victories. In one episode, the master chief presents him with a bomb disguised as a present; Tylor forgets about it immediately and eventually gives it to an enemy commander, who has boarded the Soyokaze (after a quick surrender by Tylor, of course). The doomed commander takes the "gift" back to his ship, where it promptly explodes, destroying the enemy. Brilliant plotting by Tylor? Or merely a happy accident? Repeated instances of these "happy accidents" leave the crew—and the viewers—utterly perplexed as to whether Tylor is an idiot savant, or just a lucky idiot.
This question is the heart of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor's appeal, and why I couldn't stop watching. The rampant clichés give way to a fresh, engaging story that ranges from comic to poignant, with the mysterious Tylor at the center. Gradually, we get closer to understanding Tylor's mindset, and begin to perceive the truth of his character. By the end, the crew that initially mistrusted and disrespected him have become his ardent fans, and the surprising finale caps off one of the most subtle and cleverly crafted stories I've seen in anime in a long time.
It's clear from the packaging, animated menu designs, and extras included with this set that the producers cared deeply about this series. Each DVD is given translation notes for each episode; the notes are a fascinating read, offering insights into the choices made by the translator for difficult cultural references, and information about scenes and plot developments that might be a little obscure for those not familiar with Japanese culture or anime. The main menu offers up some easter eggs (in the form of clips and images from the series); line up the gun sights with the floating alien images and press "Enter" on your remote to view them. The gallery and easter eggs are worth checking out, if only to hear the stirring theme music that accompanies them.
Video and sound quality are excellent, with a clear Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track that presents sound effects and dialogue well. As one might expect from a space opera, there are plenty of laser sounds, explosions, and ambient mechanical noise to keep your speakers busy, and all of it comes across with crystal clarity. The English language audio track sounds best, having been recorded more recently than the Japanese or Spanish tracks. The image does have some softness to it, and the colors are a little muted, but this seems to be a consciously retro aesthetic choice by the producers instead of an issue with poor source material or a bad transfer.
The casting for the English dub is spot-on, with Crispin Freeman in the lead role of Tylor. Freeman knows just how to play the part—Tylor is laid back to the point of somnolence, but his voice has a playful, knowing quality about it that enlivens the character. The other standout is David Brimmer as Yamamoto, who brings a maturity and authority to the stuffy first officer—which makes it all the more comic whenever Yamamoto is breathless with outraged confusion over Tylor's latest shenanigans.
It's easy to write this series off as just another ho-hum "space war epic" drama. Don't. The series is so much more than that. At the very least, it's entertaining, hilarious, and a lot of fun to watch. Beyond that, it comments in a subtle, non-preachy way about the importance of living life with dignity and purpose, even in the face of societal disapproval. You wouldn't think that a series that (on the face of it) is all about duty and honor would turn out to be so subversively individualistic, but The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is all about being true to yourself, a worthy message indeed. Don't miss it.
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