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This Week in Anime
Scratch Your Sci-Fi Itch with Irresponsible Captain Tylor
by Lynzee Loveridge,
It's time revisit a classic this week! If you find yourself missing the sci-fi shenanigans of series like Nadesico and Vandread in the seasonal line-up, why not take to the skies with Captain Tylor? Sure, he looks like a deadbeat, but he's actually really competent. Maybe. Probably.
Hey, uh, Jean-Karlo? You awake? It's column time. This Week In Anime and all that. We have to post our jpegs and silly little jokes. You there?
[sigh] Can't believe I have to put up with this again. There's just no getting through to that guy! He's so... so...
Hey, that irresponsibility has carried Nozomi Right Stuf for almost 30 years now! There are lots of space-faring adventures out in the world, but none are quite so storied to anime fans of a given age quite like the beloved classic The Irresponsible Captain Tylor. Based off of a series of light novels (back before the genre was just isekai), this story of a guy joining the army to live an easy life has been released and re-released on almost every platform available. It's currently up on Crunchyroll, and we were lucky enough to watch it this week!
Yeah, I've said it before, but one of my favorite parts of this column is how it gives me a push to work on my interminable backlog. There's too much anime out there, but I'm very glad I got to set aside some time this week to check out the classic space opera parody about a schlubby guy with a smiley face pin.
It's a shame that even in its heyday of the 90s, Tylor was a hard sell for anime fans because Tylor himself is the posterchild for Millennial/Zoomer/Gen Z-types: a guy of arguable brilliance who doesn't so much as take the short-cut between Point A and Point B so much as collapse the space between Point A and Okay I'll Take A Nap Now. They don't make 'em like this anymore, and it's a real shame because right off the bat this show as aged really well.
I mean, look, it's even got some nice Bladerunner: 2049 memes that the Vinesauce kids love!
We really can't be that far away from giant anime girl holograms being the primary avenue for military enlistment. For all I know this is already happening.
And Tylor really does hit a generational sweet spot by being both very goofy and very much about lampooning the romance of war narratives. In modern parlance, I believe the youth still considers both of those things to be very "based."
Before we talk about the show proper, I feel we need to give the show props for its intro. The crew for Captain Tylor were very clearly a bunch of first-gen otaku who loved the crap out of animation and were dedicated to "working hard for those who demand the finest in image and sound," as the episode previews proudly boasted. The intro ties into that, making a full-on music video edited with bits of the filming process, the singer in the audio booth, and a cute story of Tylor himself and his crew trying to reach a heart in the sky. It's adorable and amazing and it's, in my opinion, one of the finest anime intros of all time. Hare Hare Yukai could never. Jibun Wo could never.
I go bugnuts for both of the Tekkaman Blade openings with their butt-rock and sweet, sweet Masami Obari animation. But The Irresponsible Captain Tylor intro? This is how you do it, man.
It's doggone iconic. And a bop, of course. It's hard not to groove alongside it when you've got the singer herself busting a move in the middle of the OP.
The show proper is an aesthetic achievement as well. Lots of exceptionally lovely backgrounds and sci-fi cyberpunk compositions.
Like I said, they beat Blade Runner: 2049 to the punch! Sure hope that Blade Runner: Black Lotus is panning out...
Anyway, the show starts with Justy Ueki Tylor, age 20, slav-squatting in an alleyway with empty Cup Noodles containers around him. We don't really know where he came from, we just know he's got nowhere to go in that shabby coat of his. Like the similarly-shabboy-coated Columbo, he comes from nowhere and is destined to return to nowhere. A giant ad on the wall opposite him promotes him (and any other able-bodied young man) to join the United Planets Space Force as a warm body to fight off the Raalgon Empire, which dusts some of the cobwebs he has in his noggin.
And like any red-blooded youth thirsty for adventure, he answers the call of destiny and—wait, strike that, he joins to mooch off as many of the benefits as he can, and with the ultimate aim of landing as cushy a desk job as possible.
As we can already see, he is by far the smartest person in the universe.
I mean, he's not wrong. I dunno how the military in Japan works out, but milk that military benefit teat as long as you can—once they cut you off, they cut you off—as evidenced here by the esteemed Admiral Hanners, a decorated Space Force hero who nevertheless winds up old and depending on his pension. But we'll get there in a bit.
So, here's the thing with Tylor: like your average light novel potato, he doesn't have any real skill. But unlike any average potato, he doesn't have any broken superpower backing it up—no overpowered spell nullification, no inexplicably strong telepathy, none of that. If he has anything, it's a silver tongue: he's able to charm the recruiter into letting him take the application exam even after he talks about how he just wants to get paid for slacking off.
The other thing he has is complete, unfaltering, and unfounded confidence that everything will eventually go his way. Tylor's response to "what if you get killed in action?" is "I just won't." He's like a con artist who has fully conned himself, and has thus been gifted with the ability to rope any and everybody along with him, be they human, alien, or AI.
On that note, Captain Tylor takes a cue from another seminal sci-fi comedy Dirty Pair, recognizing that there's no better way to premiere your anime than with a story about completely trashing an advanced artificial intelligence with your protagonist's profound case of galaxy brain.
Hey, the Dirty Pair shot their malignant AI. Tylor somehow makes his have an orgasm after naming her "Betty." And it trashes the entire military base, leaving them in such a state of emergency that they hire him on the spot, no questions asked. Who has time for exams when there's a war going on?
There's a lot of good stuff in here about how bureaucracy is fake. Like, the immediate aftermath of this computer climax lands Tylor in the cushy desk job he wanted, taking care of pensioners. And even there, red tape and mismanagement give way to a terrorist kerfuffle.
Tylor is a slacker, but he's exactly what the UPSF deserves: when we see the higher-ups Admiral Mifune and Chief of Staff Fuji, they're bickering blowhards who care more about their own careers than about the lives of the people they employ. They can't see eye to eye on anything
These two are the heads of the entire military and all they do is take potshots at each other. About the only thing they agree on is how much they hate Tylor, but that comes later.
Yeah these first two episode are mostly setup, but the second introduces perhaps the important component in any satire: the "normal" people who have their brains slowly eroded away by Tylor's shenanigans. One of them is Yuriko, who also doubles as one of the handful of women in the universe who aren't instantly charmed by Tylor for god knows what reason.
Yuriko Star is a career military woman. Most comedies would make her out to be stuffy, snobby, cold and in desperate need of Tylor to teach her to "chill out." The show instead has a lot more respect for her in acknowledging that yeah, Tylor is a bit of a lout and Yuriko's nagging isn't; she just cares about her job being done right.
Like I said, she's pretty much just a normal person who tries (in vain) to steer Tylor to do normal things, like, say, not returning the gun to the guy taking you hostage.
Oh yeah, so this is important: remember when I talked about Admiral Hanner up there? Well, Tylor actually gets a job at the UPSF pension office, and one of his first jobs is to give the good admiral his pension. Apparently, it'd been tied up in red tape for ages. This is where the Raalgon Empire comes into play, though. They're an alien empire opposing the UPSF, and they'd just sent a small team of saboteurs to go and kill Admiral Hanner in an attempt at weakening human morale.
And Tylor just... waltzes in like Chance the Gardner with nothing but a smile on his face, a check in his hand, and that shabby coat of his.
Like I said, he comes from nowhere and returns to nowhere. Columbo would be proud.
That guy he's talking to is Yamamoto, another strait-laced military type like Yuriko, except he's played up a lot more like the anti-Tylor. He's the by-the-books hardass who gets shown up by a slacker savant at every turn. The Frank Grimes of the show, essentially.
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is basically Down Periscope as an anime, only with less dick jokes and sexual harassment towards the female CO. Yamamoto is Rob Schneider's character, only likeable.
Side-note: there's an old AMV that plays the audio from the Down Periscope trailer to Captain Tylor and it's one of my favorite old AMVs ever, but it's since been lost to time so I can't share it with folks here.
Too much of the annals of AMV history have been eaten away by the sands of time. And by the DMCA. It's a shame.
Anyway, the title of the series does mention a CAPTAIN Tylor, so how does a pencil-pusher get his own ship? Simple. Through flattery.
Tylor just... talks his way out of a hostage situation with zero casualties and saves the esteemed Admiral Hanner. And the UPSF, much to their chagrin, finds themselves having to properly reward the world's biggest slacker.
However, the military isn't a stranger to the concept of passive aggression. Although assigning a guy to a rowdy and rusty ship notorious for breaking the wills of its prior captains probably counts as regular old aggression.
I additionally love that its crew is made up of a bunch of '80s action movie villains and also Jason.
No joke—his name is literally Jason. You can see it in the eyecatches if you pause fast enough. He's even got a chainsaw.
An eyecatch never lies! And scope out his adorable little skull necklace too.
So like I said: this is basically Down Periscope as an anime: a scapegoat is given command of a junk heap of a ship with a crew of weirdos and rejects in the hopes that they'll fail off where nobody can see them. But Tylor doesn't know that, and even if he did he wouldn't care enough to follow orders.
So with that: shenanigans™ ensue.
This is where we start to see Yamamoto's brain truly melt. It's a thing of beauty.
It's enough to drive a man to drink. Or take a nap in a "neuro-cleanser," whatever that is.
Actually, on the subject of sci-fi concepts, I'm a big fan of Tylor's take on battle mechs. You rarely see a space military pack deadly strength and weaponry into a exoskeleton that looks like it fell out of a Kirby game. And the huge muscly action movie guys stuffed into them makes their visage even funnier.
It's time we change the channel to the Raalgon empire. See, while the UPSF has been doing their wheelings and dealings, the Raalgon empire has been dealing with their own problems. Their ruler, Goza the 15th, has died and his young daughter has to take up after him. She's barely 16 and also mourning her father, and the entire empire is hanging on her word, with some people demanding she set off for revenge before the body is cold in the ground.
Calling back to my earlier praise of the show's aesthetic, it differentiates the Raalgon empire's fleet with more organic, biomechanical designs compared to the UPSF's stuffy metal tubes. Some very smart design work went into this very silly anime.
Me, I just miss when alien ships were organic. Outlanders, Gunbuster, Captain Tylor... let a guy have his organic bug-ships!
Anyway, Empress Azalyn up there has only one friend she can really count on: Dom. He's doing everything he can to help win the war, without being a bloodthirsty warmonger.
Personally I don't trust any anime man who hides one of his eyes behind his luscious locks, but compared to the rest of the Raalgon bigwigs we've seen, he seems to be okay I guess. I also assume he has an underling named Sub, but we haven't met them yet.
I mean it doesn't help that apparently, in order to hold higher office in Raalgon, you have to look like you tie women to railroad tracks in your spare time. Check out the 'stache on this guy.
Also, you need some full-on Tatsunoko-level henchmen. That guy in the back looks like he's a background goon from Gatchaman.
Anyway: Tylor finds his first would-be speed bump in having to deal with his unruly crew. The footsoldiers have a long-standing beef with the flight squadron, so once the ship sets out from port (without orders from the higher-ups, of course), the bullets start flying.
Thankfully, Tylor uses his trademarked honeyed words to quickly assuage the situation.
Except, uh, it doesn't. Tylor finds himself on the receiving end of a mutiny within the hour.
To be fair, I don't think Tylor quite understood what a mutiny was.
This is the beating heart of the show, however. Tylor does and says some dumb shit, Yamamoto's blood pressure spikes, and somehow Tylor still ends up saving the day through some infernal combination of luck and unintentional strategic genius.
Pretty much. During the mutiny, the ship accidentally warps to a random location in deep space—right in front of a traveling band of Raalgon ships. They've got Tylor dead to rights... until the prank-bomb the mutineers were giving to Tylor is given to the Raalgon general by Tylor himself, blowing up the Raalgon fleet. So he not only returns not-dead, he returns even more of a military hero than he used to be. All to the chagrin of the bigwigs at the military.
They set Tylor up to fail, and the forces of the universe invariably conspire to turn it around on them several-fold times over. That's textbook comedy right there.
Even the Raalgon empire can't make heads or tails of this guy, and they've got a woman on the inside.
Feel free to use that reaction template wherever. That one's on me.
The show moves onto its main joke: nobody can tell whether Tylor is the biggest, luckiest idiot alive, the most brilliant tactician to have ever lived who's just laying low, or just a freak of nature. And the worst part is, there's evidence for all of it: there are scraps he's walked out of that he couldn't possibly have known about, all of which have to have been strokes of luck. There are bits where his attempts at charming someone feel premeditated, like there's more under the surface. Nobody knows what to make of it or how to deal with it, they just know it's infuriating.
Regardless of the truth, "guy who pisses everybody off" is a tried and true protagonist archetype. And of course, the more someone doesn't understand something, the more they obsess over it. That's basic human nature.
Tylor's brain may as well be a black hole, but that just means he sucks everyone into his orbit, and once they're in, they can't get out.
Which isn't to say the show is devoid of poignancy. Like I said earlier, the whole thing is lampooning the romance and grandeur of traditional war narratives, and sometimes that anti-war sentiment comes out beautifully. Though, as with Tylor the character, it can be hard to tell if this is the show being genuine or if it's just messing with us on purpose.
I've seen the entirety of this show, and I'd like to talk about all of the great moments like these that are in the show. But again, that's outside of the purview of these columns. Suffice to say that Captain Tylor—both the show and the character—has a great deal of sensitivity and heart. The show cares a lot about these people whose lives are upended by a forever-war, with a great deal of finger-wagging at the suits in charge who just want to keep their trumped-up position of veneer-thin power.
Even in these early episodes, the men in charge get their asses handed to them in several different fashions, and it's delicious each time.
That bit of attempted harakiri comes after a very blatant attempt at killing Tylor: Mifune and Fuji give Tylor a medal with a radio chip intended to make the Soyokaze appear as an entire fleet on radar systems. Once the Raalgon engage with Tylor, the plan is to shoot the lot with a high-end ballistic missile. Dead Tylor, dead Raalgons, two birds, one stone.
They didn't count on Tylor having a hole in his Columbo coat.
Which they really should have counted on. Look at the guy.
In Tylor's defense, though, I don't know a single 20-year-old who has their shit together. And just look at what 33 years of experience does to a man. I would know! Nobody on this ship is in a good place.
Nonsense, Jason is a perfectly upstanding young man! But, uh, I can see you on literally everyone else. Even Tylor was from a miserable background, he's just (possibly) too dumb to care about that now that he has a cushy captain's chair to nap in.
A fun idea the show does explore in the last episode we watched, however, is that the crew of the Soyokaze could, under different circumstances, be a traditional, functional space navy outfit.
They actually get the Soyokaze looking like a brand-spanking new ship after losing a bet with Commander Star. And even Dom is impressed with Tylor when he acts like a "proper" captain. But then the timer runs out and the shenanigans resume, and all Dom can do is shake his fist at Tylor as he concedes defeat.
And that's the rub, isn't it? No matter how well they clean up (look at the damn shoulders on Tylor there), they do their best work when they embrace chaos and lucksack their way into a win. As a wise (drunk) man once said,
The ends justify the means, even if those means are very, very stupid.
There's an undercurrent of recognition in this show from some of the characters where even if Tylor is a genius or a knucklehead, the thing that's important is that he's lucky: all of the smarts in the world wouldn't have saved him the way there being a hole in his pocket would. If he's smart, he's smart enough to know the easiest way to do things. If he's stupid, he's too stupid to do things the way the worst people in the world have continued to do them. Everyone around Tylor is playing Civilization; Tylor is playing "Freebird" backwards on a Fischer-Price Xylophone, as badly as he can because it's a fun way to kill fifteen minutes.
He's the Mr. Magoo of space warfare. He's a lethal weapon in the form of a banana peel. He's the Raalgon's worst enemy and the UPSF's worst nightmare. And he's part of a very good anime.
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is one of my favorite anime ever, and even among older fans it's disheartening how few people have seen it. It's kinda old and they do the "Wow, he's so irresponsible!" thing a bit too much, but the heart and soul of this show rings true. There's a reason the cast is up there with Tylor on the tightrope to the heart to the sky: the whle thing really is a lovely show about a bunch of misfits hanging out together and making the best of things in a world that's too busy being "productive" to be nice. The humor is the stuffy suits in charge getting egg in their eye on a level I haven't seen in anime since. It's a special thing.
And speaking as one of those people who hadn't seen it before, coming into only having known the OP, it made a great first impression on me! Very much of its time, but with its wits about it, and wrapped in a fun and eye-pleasing package. I extracted so much power from this single fang alone. High marks all around.
There is a sequel series of OVAs that Right Stuf also puts out, but to anyone who just wants a good time and have a few heartfelt laughs and isn't allergic to stuff that's older than Cowboy Bebop... go ahead and be irresponsible.
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