Outbreak Company, Vol. 18

By Ichiro Sakaki and Yuugen. Released in Japan by Kodansha Light Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Kevin Steinbach.

(This review discusses the ending of the series, so spoilers abound.)

OK, I’ve calmed down now. When I first finished this volume, the final one in the Outbreak Company series (let’s leave Gaiden aside for the moment), I was a little upset. The book ended up going in a couple of unexpected directions that threw me for a loop, which the author seems to specialize in – Bluesteel Blasphemer did the same thing. Unlike Bluesteel Blasphemer, I was able to finish this series and do recommend it, though I’m tempted to tell people to simply skip the epilogue. In the end, this book is a political one, and who Shinichi chooses (which is pretty obvious by now anyway) takes a backseat to the hyperspace tunnels, the damage they’re doing to Japan, and the fact that closing them has become complicated by the presence of the US Navy and Marines, who are looking at a fantasy world with technology beyond anything they have and getting very sinister ideas.

The J-Novel Club Forums discuss the novels as they come out, and there was some discussion of how realistically the United States military was in this book, which seems to portray them most of the time as arrogant, cartoon bad guys. The folks who said “nope, no issues, it’s 100% realistic” in the comments were in fact ex-military, so there you go, then. They quickly decide to make the most of being in Eldasnt by taking over everything, threatening Shinichi repeatedly (as he and Theresa can control the Dragon’s Den) to give them power, and then going so far as to become “advisors” to a terrorist group that kidnaps Patralka and holds her hostage, meaning the series is ending much the same way it begun. That said, in these modern times, Americans being power-mad psychos is not something all too surprising, though the treatment of Theresa, who is murdered repeatedly to keep her down, is disturbing and creepy.

In the end, things are taken care of, and we end up where we’ve been for a couple of books now: are the main cast returning to Japan or staying in Eldant, and who is Shinichi in love with? The answer to Question 2 is obvious, as if the cover didn’t already tell you, but suffice to say getting him to say the words is like pulling teeth. As for their decision to stay or go, it’s not what I’d heard (showing to never trust spoilers on the Internet), but it fits the series pretty well, and leads to a nice, sweet, relatively happy ending… until you get to the epilogue, showing a future Japan is a dystopia where BL doujinshi is punishable by death. (It’s also a Japan that’s been essentially taken over by China with the US’s help, which… let’s not go there.) I suppose it’s meant to show that the struggle for otaku lifestyle will always go on no matter where or when, and also that our heroes will be there to be on the side of the otaku, but it really did not work for me. I’d have preferred the next-gen that the author rejected (as he says in the afterword).

That said, me liking certain things and really disliking other things is par for the course for Outbreak Company, a series that has always worn its heart on its sleeve, sometimes to a truly horrifying degree. I wish Shinichi and Myusel luck, and feel bad for Petralka, who (as the author admits) just wasn’t in a role that allowed her to do a lot.

I Refuse to Be Your Enemy!, Vol. 6

By Kanata Satsuki and Mitsuya Fuji. Released in Japan as “Watashi wa Teki ni Narimasen!” by PASH! Books. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Tara Quinn.

It’s the final volume of this series, and I am pleased that it’s ending pretty much the way that it began: with lots of strategy and battles. There is some romance here, as the cover art will no doubt clue you in on, but for the most part this is still a military fantasy first and a romance second. e get to see the remaining bad guys be really bad, but also (well, in one case) see how they got to be that way, and witness Kiara say that if Reggie had died she’d totally have done something very similar, which is… chilling, but very on brand. There’s a character reveal that’s well-handled and an actual surprise, which pleased me. And, of course, our heroes very nearly lose several times, as we are shown that just because you may know about the past in a game… or even via other means… does not mean that there is not still danger of death lurking everywhere. This ISN’T a game.

Having confessed to each other, all that’s left for Kiara and Reggie’s happy ending is… well, a lot, to be honest. Lord Patriciel is still around, as is Queen Marianne. And they both seem far more confident than they should, really. It would help to have a few more allies, which means getting the Thorn Princess completely on their side, but to do so they’ll have to discover who she really is. The enemy is brutal, enslaving people and using them as meat shields, then using the slaves and its own soldiers as defective spellcasters in order to kill the troops. And oh yes, they also have a monster, a huge flying beast that obeys the Queen’s command. Even when they’ve won and all that’s left is for the Queen to surrender, there’s still one nasty trick up her sleeve, which Kiara may have to pay for with her life.

As I mentioned earlier, I appreciated that it’s very hard to change fate, but not impossible. Every time Kiara or the Thorn Princess feel that they’ve managed to alter the past so that Reggie is not brutally killed, he ends up in a different kind of danger. It’s not easy trying to find the right butterfly to step on. Fortunately, they have the ability to plan and strategize on the fly, but it’s a touch-and-go thing, especially towards the end, where various characters compete to see who can sacrifice their life to save 3everyone else first. That said, it’s not a big spoiler to say that most everyone lives happily ever after, even some people that I was pretty sure were going to die. And, for those who DO like romance, there’s some nice stuff here – Reggie is very affectionate, and spends most of the book trying to get a very reserved Kiara to accept him touching her. A lot.

At six volumes, this turned out to be exactly the right length. If you like villainess stories done almost completely straight, with few cliches and a heaping helping of battle, this is a terrific series to read.

The Emperor’s Lady-in-Waiting Is Wanted As a Bride, Vol. 1

By Kanata Satsuki and Yoru Ichige. Released in Japan as “Koutei-tsuki Nyokan wa Hanayome Toshite Nozomarechuu” by Ichijinsha Bunko Iris. released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Emily Hemphill.

There are various ways to conceal things in books, and some of them are harder to pull off than others. Common in mystery stories is keeping the viewpoint character and the reader in equal ignorance, revealing things to both when the time is right. Rare is when everyone except the reader knows about something, and they all talk around the subject. Then there’s the reader knowing something that most of the cast do not – we get a bit of that here in this novel. Unfortunately, we also get “everyone else knows what the viewpoint character does not, including the reader”. This is the hardest to pull off, and the most frustrating. You start to wonder what in the world is wrong with the main character. Still, it’s not impossible. That said… and I don’t mean to spoil, but I must to a certain degree… when it turns out that a magical mind-controlling device is the reason that your cast has not noticed things that are obvious to the reader, you have a problem.

Qatora, a knight in charge of protecting the young prince and his friend, ends up sacrificing her life to save the latter, falling into the “Light of Origin”, a seemingly religious artifact. Reincarnated in a different country several years into the future, she is Lyse, the daughter of a baron, who tries her best to fit in in this country where being strong as an ox and good with a sword is NOT appreciated in its young ladies. She’d much rather be back in the Empire, but knows the secret of the Light of Origin after falling into it, so avoids the country. Then one day the Emperor and his retinue pay a visit to their land, and she’s chosen to not only be Lady-in-Waiting to the Emperor, but also fiancee to his knight, Sidis, who seems mysteriously fascinated with her. Oh, and did I mention that the Emperor is… slowly tuning into a dog? Lyse is going to need strength and smarts to get out of this dilemma.

The author of this series also writes I Refuse to Be Your Enemy!, which I highly recommend, but I found myself struggling to get into this new series of hers. It is very clear to the reader from the start who Sidis really is, and hearing “but that can’t be, he doesn’t have blond hair” over and over is frustrating. Likewise, the villain of the piece is about as subtle as a boot to the head, to the point where there is literally a mind-controlling device meant to convince people that ISN’T what it is. I also wish we got to see a bit more of Lyse’s past abilities – she’s known as the “boar-killer”, but we don’t SEE that, and mostly she just kicks a lot of guys. (Who, admittedly, deserve it.) On the plus side, the Emperor and his ongoing problems are amusing enough, and Sidis makes for a good love interest, though again, you get the sense that Lyse is not interested in him because the writer doesn’t want her to be yet more than anything else. She needs to pick up on things better.

The book also feels complete at one volume, which is unfortunate as the series is at least four books in Japan. If you really enjoy romantic fantasies, give this a try, but honestly you’d be better off with I Refuse to Be Your Enemy!.