November 2, 2022
By Andrew Osmond.
Anime fans coming to the made-for-video episodes of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor after watching the Tylor TV show might wonder what they were in for. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, it was common for anime franchises to be adapted between formats – TV episodes, video episodes and movies. But they could change greatly in the process.
Often the story was rebooted, even if the situation and characters remained essentially the same. For instance, that happened to the Patlabor and Tenchi Muyo! franchises when they moved from video to TV. Or the “sequel” could turn out to have an entirely new set of characters – a tradition that went back to the early Gundam TV shows, but was taken up by the video sequels to series such as Macross and Orguss. Alternatively, the sequels could turn out to be far more serious than their light-hearted predecessors, as with the cinema films of Patlabor, or the film sequel to the comedy space opera Nadesico, subtitled “The Prince of Darkness.”
The video episodes of Captain Tylor play their own game. They clearly follow on from the TV series, and they keep the characters we’ve grown to love. Tonally, they’re much more of a mix. There are daffy moments out of the TV series, but also some much “straighter” stories that feel like non-comedic SF anime. The approach didn’t satisfy all lovers of the TV show, but it’s fascinating to see the videos mix tones so blithely. You might even say that such unpredictability is in the spirit ofTylor himself.
The episodes are bookended by two feature-length stories with big-league stakes. The first is called “An Exceptional Episode” and the concluding story is “From Here to Eternity.” As they’re feature-length, and they look as good as many cinema films, you may sometimes find fans calling them movies. Then there are the middle six video episodes, each focusing on one or two characters from the series, with Tylor sometimes off stage altogether.
These middle episodes reflect how the source prose stories, written by Hitoshi Yoshioka, had snowballed into a plethora of sequels, side stories and spinoffs. The original TV serial had been centred squarely around Tylor, his foibles, and the comic dismay of the other characters, hysterical that such an idiot could command them. By the end of the TV serial, that hysteria has settled down a bit. The characters have accepted Tylor is captain, and maybe he won’t be the death of them, though their faith is still shaky. In “Exceptional Episode,” Tylor takes actions that seem so barmy that his crew’s fragile faith is shaken right to the ground again.
But even in “Exceptional Episode,” it’s not just about Tylor. For instance, there’s a lovely character scene early on where Yuriko and Yamamoto are walking down a ship corridor. Yuriko is reflecting on soldiers who think only of battle. She tells Yamamoto about something she’s never confided to anyone before; how she went drinking with soldiers when she was younger, and was appalled by their obsession with weapons and strategies. Then Yuriko admits how ironic it seems now, when she’s a dedicated soldier herself. All through the scene, Yamamoto is struggling to be cool and supportive. After they say goodbye, we see him gloat hilariously, about how Yuriko’s told him something she hasn’t told Tylor!
Of the shorter stories, one standout is “The Samurai’s Narrow Escape,” which focuses on the pilot whizz-kid Kojiro. In the episode, he takes time away from the Soyokaze, testing a new fighter plane, with the action split between outer space and an airfield in the sweltering sun. Kojiro is also saddled with a rival cocky pilot who rates himself just as much as a hotshot. Watched now, the setting and story feel very reminiscent of another lavish anime video, Macross Plus, which had debuted just the previous year. But whether coincidence or homage, it’s a beautiful episode.
Other stories focus on the Raalgon princess Azalyn, and a boy who touched her heart before she met Tylor. There’s a story about the always-unruly Marines, and their Lieutenant Andressen, who ends up battling a rogue mecha; it’s the kind of story you’d expect to find in Patlabor or Ghost in the Shell. Naturally there’s more about Yuriko and Yamamoto too. But like all successful space operas, you always have the sense that you’re only seeing a fraction of a far bigger universe.
Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films. Irresponsible Captain Tylor, the OAVs, is coming soon from Anime Limited.