Outbreak Company, Vol. 14

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

Short stories here, two starring Shinichi and one Hikaru, of varying quality. The three together do remind you that this series has been sort of coasting ever since the Japan arc. The author says that he plans to end it in three more volumes (it ended up being four), so they at least have an endgame in mind, but there is very much the sense of “killing time” here. That said, at least the stories, for the most part, avoid the worst of Shinichi’s otaku qualities. The first one is a continuation of the prior volume, and offers us our hero hiding in his room to avoid seeing the girls in love with him. The second one involves Brook and Cerise hatching a family, and Shinichi trying to bond with the new lizard baby, who unfortunately sees him as food. And in the final story, another magical maguffin is found that ends up turning Hikaru into a girl for real.

The first story is the weakest. For all that the series has seen Shinichi achieve a lot of things and even save the world once or twice, there has been little to no actual maturity in his character. That’s really been emphasized in the last couple of books, as he’s totally unable to deal with the idea that more than one girl might be in love with him. Seeing him deal with this by hiding in his room and reading manga/playing games is totally in character but also 100% annoying to a reader who sort of wants him to grow up. That said, there was some nice suspense writing here as the team uses an obvious but effective lure to get him out. As for the second story, it shows Shinichi in a slightly better light. He could have simply given up and avoided the new baby, but he’s stubbornly determined to make it like him. This shows off the qualities Myusel and Petralka see in him.

The final story is the most interesting, though it loses a bit when the author admits the editors gave him the idea. It’s actually a sex-change slime, discovered in the caves and turning out to be yet another piece of long-lost technology. It fastens onto Hikaru and essentially leaves his real body there while putting his consciousness in a female body. The rest of the cast have some discussion of how Hikaru identifies – Shinichi discovers that he wears real bras and panties rather than male underwear, and they discuss how much he might identify as a woman. That said, Hikaru’s own POV narration is more matter of fact about it – he thinks of himself as a man, and is attracted to women, but dresses as a girl for reasons of family upbringing. Probably the most interesting part of the story is seeing Elvia forcibly bathe Hikaru, who realizes that getting involved in wacky harem comedy “I saw your boobs!” scenes is easier than it seems.

There weren’t really any big missteps taken here, and it’s certainly pleasant enough. That said, it’s not a good sign when, after each volume finishes, you’re thinking “When will this series come to an end?”.

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