It might come as something of a shock to novice Japtoon fans, but there was a time when Koichi Mashimo, the founder of one-time Production IG subsidiary Bee Train and director of every single miserable animated installment of the .hack//talentless multimedia franchise, was capable of producing entertaining television. Before he started making the exact same show about girls with guns and lesbian innuendo set to a Yuki Kaijura soundtrack every other year, proving what a bad idea an animated version of Blade of the Immortal was, and finally hitting rock-bottom working on porn game adaptations, Mashimo managed to turn out several surprisingly watchable pieces of animated entertainment: two episodes of Dominion: Tank Police, Dirty Pair: Project Eden, and tonight’s featured programme: The Irresponsible Captain Tylor.
Captain Tylor is a rarity in Japanimation comedy series, or at least it feels that way in the era of shows that want you to know exactly how clever they think they are: it’s capable of subtlety. The best moments of the show aren’t the ones where a character does something overtly “wacky” and gets berated for it, or when the show indulges in stock filler episode plotlines (a spooky ghost ship!), and it’s sure as heck not the badly warmed-over space opera plot that occasionally attempts to grab the reins. No, the show peaks when the characters fully embrace the absurdity of their situation and run with it.
Episodes 17 and 18 are easily my favorites in the entire series, as they mark the point where the crew of the destroyer Soyokaze (“Gentle Breeze”), your typical rag-tag bunch of misfits (I just hit my stock phrase quota), finally recognize that they’re the main characters in an animated television series. I don’t mean that literally — this isn’t a Chiaki J. Konaka production — but, after witnessing Captain Tylor’s management strategy for most of the series, they realize their absurd luck is their strongest asset, and start actually planning around it.
From the first moments of the show, our hero, the Irresponsible Captain, has only one plan: just do what you want and have faith that everything will work out. In short, he keeps it real. Tylor’s not a stupid character, as some of his subordinates, superiors, and opponents initially suspect — he’s just figured out a fundamental truth about the nature of the universe and expects everyone else to follow his lead. The lucky son of a bitch foils multiple assassination attempts, hostage situations, enemy assaults, mutinies, standardized tests, career death sentences, and a busted VCR on intuition alone. And, as much as they resent it at the time, this rubs off on even his most stuck-up subordinates.
The Soyokaze‘s crew don’t just pull off an improbable jailbreak, hijack a battleship, and warp randomly to the last known location of the rubber forehead aliens’ fleet, ending up directly in front of the ship imprisoning the captain — they do it knowing from the outset that it’s going to work. This set of episodes, along with the “final battle” a few episodes later, present possibly the most spectacular comic payoff I’ve seen in a long time, having fun at the medium’s expense without relying on spelling out the jokes for the audience.
The culture clash between Tylor’s “do what you feel is right, even if it means breaking the rules” mentality and the strict hierarchy of the military becomes one of the central recurring themes of the show, and, ultimately, the element that undermines it. After the war grinds to a halt as suddenly as it began, what was once a slyly-grinning farce gets stuck in the unenviable position of trying to tackle serious questions about life and society with a cast of one-note gags and stereotypes. Tylor’s crew of misfits engages in a fair bit of soul-searching, trying to decide exactly what they want to do with their lives (and who they want to do it with), while the Irresponsible Captain’s realization of the burden of command causes him to suffer a mental breakdown. Even the series’s central villains, the feuding fleet admirals who conspire to try and kill Tylor pretty much weekly for various humiliations (imagined and otherwise), get philosophical, walking along the beach while pondering the impact of insubordinate outliers like our hero on the overall health of the military. It’s a little too much to swallow from a sit-com.
But hey, this is anime, where clumsy endings are the standard! If there’s one lesson we should take away from Irresponsible Captain Tylor, it’s how to take these things in stride. Let’s not get bogged down in the series’ permanent turn from genre send-up to overly-serious genre piece, nor in how clearly Mashimo’s future of ponderous navel-gazing shines inside our crystal ball. Instead, let’s relax and giggle at how relevant all the jokes still are, even if we never did see that one show about the hot space Prussians. Besides, after watching a masterpiece like Tytania, you’ll be begging for someone to inject some life into the bloated corpse of sci-fi animation.