Koichi Mashimo Should’ve Retired After The Irresponsible Captain Tylor

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.


  1. To be fair, though, Mashimo’s girls-with-guns shows aren’t exactly the same story over and over again: they actually manage to get progressively worse.

    I still have a soft spot for Noir though, if only for the way it completely loses its rag in the final couple of episodes, culminating in that bit with the girls shooting machine-gun toting nuns repeatedly in the face.

  2. Captain Tylor shall forever reside in that special part of my heart that isn’t blackened by the prominence of moe or “Twilight”. I must admit to liking its serious turn at the end. If there’s anything else that can be said about the series, it is its finality. The TV series ends on a fantastic optimistic note and gets my blood pumping every time.

    I’d be interested to hear your take on the OVA series which I found to be, for the most part, dreadful. It seemed to systematically disassemble everything that made the TV series fantastic coupled with the fact that everyone seems to go back to square one on their feeling regarding Tylor which, in my opinion, completely undermines the ending of the television series.

    Dominion Tank Police remains a favourite of mine, in part due to the fact that it was the Manga UK video that was my first ever purchase. It also saw a similar metamorphosis from comedy into drama.

  3. TYLOR was one of my favorite shows back in the 90’s, and above all, it was genuinely funny! I mean laugh out loud, “Holy sh@t, did that just happen?” funny. And thanks for pointing out that Tylor is not stupid–he just has his own way of doing things and he believes that things will work out.

    I wonder if there are any plans to translate the novels…but even if that never happens, at least the anime is still available in the US.

    Thanks again for putting the spotlight on another classic!

  4. I’d be interested to hear your take on the OVA series which I found to be, for the most part, dreadful. It seemed to systematically disassemble everything that made the TV series fantastic coupled with the fact that everyone seems to go back to square one on their feeling regarding Tylor which, in my opinion, completely undermines the ending of the television series.

    This is exactly why I’m staying away from the OAVs! Just because I’m cool on the ending of the TV series doesn’t mean I want to chase it down with disgust.

  5. I’d like to unapologetically state that the porn game adaptation was at least better than Noir in my view, because it didn’t bore me to tears less than halfway through. To be quite frank, I don’t know or care about the rest of them.

    In any event…Irresponsible Captain Tylor is still one of my favorite anime comedies / parodies. That might not be saying much since my experience with the genre is mostly limited to Excel Saga, Nadesico and random bits of Ranma I don’t even want to think about, but never mind.

    Tylor’s animation isn’t consistently great and yes, you do have to struggle through a few terrible filler episodes (I never liked those ghosts either). Still, most of it was reasonably entertaining and the main cast was likable enough.

    That the Tylor TV show is better than the OVA series is almost undeniable. Didn’t really like some of the changes to the character designs myself and I agree that most of the episodes seemed redundant. Maybe the OVA was supposed to be in continuity with the original novels or something but it didn’t really work out. And let’s not even discuss the rather disappointing non-ending.

  6. People hit their peak. Some maintain it for a while, some for an improbably long while (see Hayao Miyazaki.) Those who don’t die at that point inevitably decline (see Peter Jackson, Hayao Miyazaki, etc etc etc…)

    I don’t blame Mashimo for succumbing to entropy. We all do, in the end. But I’m really glad he made the Tylor TV series, and Project Eden. Nobody can take them from us – or from him.

  7. To Helen: Well said. Every artist, every writer, has their ups and downs, their peaks and low points. That fact seems to have been forgotten by many fans.

    That said, one always hopes to finish strong. The idea factory doesn’t always run smoothly.

    And you’re right–at least we got PROJECT EDEN and TYLOR.

  8. Actually there were 2 OVAs, and I kinda like the 1st one which – while not as funny as the series – finally brought both the romance and the war plots to a satisfying conclusion and did so without excessive navel gazing.

    It also has one of the damn best insert/title songs to date that is seamlessly integrated into the story proper.

    The drawback of the OVA is that it’s treading on familiar ground and in essence it’s a condensed rehash of events of the last arc of the series before its more somber conclusion.

    Still, one can’t help but forgive the creators as they still have the good humor to be flippant about this and consciously make fun of this repetition.

  9. Tylor was hilarious and cut against the grain for most heroes and plotlines in the 90s. Loved and it is one of our old school feel good favorites.

  10. Tylor was the only series I purchased as it was released all the way through. 2 tapes every other month. Man, those were the days.

    I watched it a few times and enjoyed it. Then when I went to college for the second time I showed it to my younger friends who were not into Anime and they loved it.

    Even with it getting a little “deep” at the end, the final scene of the Soyokaze falling on the new battle cruiser (in space) quickly replacing it left me with a smile on my face.

  11. Oh man, I just read this little article and it causes a slight pang in the heart – while there was quite a bit of a lot of crap in 1990s anime there were more than a few gems and Tylor was definitely one of them.

    It’s funny how I’m getting nostalgic for 90’s anime the way some of the “old school” anime fans I knew in the 1990s would get nostalgic for anime from the 80s when they really started getting into it. Kind of funny, kind of bittersweet.

    But yeah, anything Mashimo has been involved with post-Tylor that I’ve bothered to check out has been snore-inducing. Noir and Madlax (haven’t seen Avenger and have no interest in doing so) should be marketed as insomnia cures.

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