The first half of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a comedy. Sure, it's a comedy set in outer space, and there's some sort of life-threatening battle that pits the hopelessly outnumbered Soyokaze against a Raalgon fleet every couple of episodes, but it's still a comedy. Most of the action's internal; these episodes rarely stray from the Soyokaze, and much more time's spent with the perpetually frustrated crew duking it out than epic confrontations with the Raalgon Empire. The biggest laughs don't come from the one-liners or sight gags that pop up as a result, as many of those as there are. It's the overall structure...the elaborate, incomprehensibly narrow escapes...that really grabbed my attention. The confrontations with the Raalgons get increasingly dire each time, and Tylor manages to not only repeatedly escape from harm's way against all odds but to continually devastate the Raalgon's mechinations.
At first, Tylor's baffling success seems like dumb luck, making it seem like he'd be better off on the casino planet of Carillon than the United Planets Space Force. As the series progresses, that becomes a little more muddled. The first spark of genius rears its head in "A Gentleman's Word Is His Bond" at the end of volume one. The episode starts off as usual, with the more tightly-wound crew members clashing with the lazy Marines about the ship being such a wreck, and a challenge is issued for the crew to behave like gentlemen for 24 hours and to give the Soyokaze the spit-'n-polish treatment. So far, so good, but the crew becomes much more somber when they find themselves outmatched by an enemy fleet. They seem to resign themselves to death, but they march onward anyway like true, dedicated soldiers. With three full discs left to go, obviously they're able to yank themselves out of the fire in time, but it's not made clear if the way the Soyokaze's escape ties in with the lighter moments earlier in the episode is a happy coincidence or understated tactical genius, and that's entirely the point.
The tone shifts around halfway through as the comedy takes a backseat to the rest of the story. It's a gradual change, and since the threads of what follows are established so early on, the shift doesn't seem jarring or undeserved. Tylor seems like at least a little less of a screw-up, most of the really violent bickering between the crew settles down in favor of teamwork, and things frequently take a more dramatic turn. "The Day The Soyokaze Vanished" is where things start to veer in that direction, as the ship is beseiged by vengeful spirits on the anniversary of a previous captain's suicide. The episodes that follow are equally dark. In "Be Prepared, Be Smart, or Be Lucky", the Raalgons disable the weapons, communications, and navigation systems of the Soyokaze; all the crew can hope to do is warp from one random location to the next, and they run too low on power to even keep that up for long. This culminates in one of the series' most tense moments and its most genuinely impressive escape. "Equation of Kindness" picks up with the Soyokaze still battered from the previous assault, unable to defend itself against a quickly approaching Raalgon ship. Both the Soyokaze and Tylor's jumpship avoid detection by shutting down all systems and running silent, but the Raalgons seem to be willing to spend as much time as is necessary to search for their enemies, and Tylor's running dangerously low on air.
Even with all of that darker-tinted drama, there are still some very comedic moments in the second half of the season. "Well-Handled Solutions" has Tylor frantically trying to avoid erasing a pornographic present from the Marines, much too occupied with that to notice that virtually every woman on-board is throwing themselves at the typically lecherous captain, and "Paco Paco Junior" has the crew reeling after being told that their Raalgon prisoner is carrying the captain's child. These help lighten up the later episodes, which include near-deaths at the hands of a virulent Raalgon attack, Tylor lying comatose as an implanted chip wreaks havoc with his mind, Tylor facing the firing squad for treason, and then his having to deal with the death of his idol.
I also liked some of the other nice touches throughout the series, such as humanizing the bad guys and making them much more likeable and sympathetic than the Space Force to which our heroes belong. There's more going for The Irresponsible Captain Tylor than just the writing, of course. The animation's nice and fluid, and the character designs are infused with so much personality that you can instantly get a sense of who these people are at a glance. Even though a lot of the cues are recycled over and over again, I really like the music scattered throughout -- kind of a mix of Mono Puff's "To Serve Mankind", the champagne music of Mr. Lawrence Welk, and what it would probably sound like if Takako Minekawa directed her Moog-pop towards a game show theme song.
These four volumes of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor were initially issued separately several years ago, and that's how they were sent to me for this review. Since it's all part of one complete, heavily serialized story with a beginning, middle, and end (not to mention a somewhat overly long three episode epilogue), there's no point breaking this review up into four different parts. There's also no reason to buy these overpriced DVDs individually when there's the massive and more affordable seven disc set Right Stuf issued earlier this month. The four discs reviewed here are packed alongside a CD soundtrack, two DVDs teeming with extras, and a 64 page booklet with a keen looking box holding it all together. I can't comment on any of these newly-issued extras without having seen 'em, but the box set is considerably cheaper than buying the four volumes separately, so the sticker price alone should be enough to push prospective viewers in that direction.
The uninitiated might want to consider giving the first volume a rental before shelling out $60 - $90 for the box set -- the first seven episodes should let you know pretty quickly if you want to dive into the rest of the series -- but The Irresponsible Captain Tylor successfully juggles several different tones and genres, and I enjoyed 'em all enough to highly recommend it.
Video: Pretty much what you'd expect from a twelve year old animated TV series, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor looks alright but isn't particularly impressive. The full-frame image has a slightly noisy and soft, composite video-ish appearance. There are a few specks, although they aren't much of a nuisance, and the palette leans heavily towards the flat and uninspired. Don't go in expecting to be bowled over by the dated video quality, but its shortcomings are all easily tolerated, even if it does look more like basic cable than a shiny 5" DVD.
Audio: The Irresponsible Captain Tylor can be viewed in several different languages: the original Japanese (predictably what I'm reviewing here), Spanish, or an excruciatingly painful English dub. The stereo audio is reasonably robust -- the dialogue is clear and discernable, or as discernable as a language with which I have zero familiarity can realistically be. There's a decent amount of stereo separation, and sound effects and music come through fine, although neither of 'em will put much of a strain on anyone's audio rig. Some hiss is lurking in the background, but it's not loud enough to distract. All three tracks are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and have been encoded at a bitrate of 192Kbps. English subtitles are, of course, available as an option, and it might be worth noting that these discs are not closed-captioned.
Supplements: The extras spread across these four volumes are pretty lightweight, limited to shots of the characters and ships, a tour of The Melva, still galleries, trailers, web links, and credits. Each disc sports a set of 4x3 menus, but instead of just the usual animation buzzing around in the background, there's a target that launches a still gallery when successfully firing upon a ship. Each episode is divided into four chapters stops, and liner notes are offered for each of them. Also, these episodes can be selected individually or played all at once.
The newly-released box set includes two full DVDs worth of extras, along with a hefty booklet and a CD soundtrack. Those weren't available for this review, but I guess I did my job by mentioning them, right? Right?
Conclusion: It's funny! It's dramatic! It's 26 episodes, and at least with as much as e-tailers like Deep Discount DVD have marked this set down, it's reasonably priced to boot. Highly Recommended.