Outbreak Company, Vol. 15

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

Last time, I said that I was tired of ending each volume of Outbreak Company wondering when it would come to an end. I guess they heard me, because this is definitely the start of the endgame. For one thing, leaving aside his horny dream fantasies (which seem to be written to give the artist an excuse to draw the girls naked in an otherwise relatively serious story), Shinichi seems to be taking a bit more seriously the fact that he has three different girls in love with him. Unsurprisingly, most of his thoughts on this involve Myusel, the obvious front runner. If they do become a couple, can they go back to Japan? She is half-elf and not a citizen, after all, and while the Japanese government is happy to help Shinichi while he works for them, he suspects that this help would dry up if not turn against him. That said, given they overheat merely holding hands at the moment, baby making is still something only in dreams for now.

The main plot involves Elvia’s kingdom of Bahairam suddenly turning into a disaster area, with constant earthquakes and buildings turning into pillars of fire. The reason seems to be whatever is in the “Dragon’s Den”, a secret facility, but those who know of it aren’t talking. Even worse, Myusel’s mother is delivering supplies to the Kingdom and ends up getting trapped in the devastation. She asks Clara and Amatena to immediately go and get Shinichi, who is the one person who might be able to fix this. How? We’re not sure, and neither is he. But now the rest of the cast (sans Petralka, who is unable to get away from the basic need to rule her kingdom) head out to find out what the heck is causing this and if there is any way of stopping it. And things get even more confusing when they meet an android replica of Theresa Bigelow, a North American army officer.

There have been hints of the big reveal planted throughout the series, and they’re especially blatant here, as the first chapter opens with Shinichi showing his class a copyright-altered Planet of the Apes to demonstrate to them the idea of those “kinds of endings”. It does make things a lot more interesting, and is handled very well. There’s also some cool action scenes, though again the author’s habit of throwing in constant nudity whenever he can is a bit irritating, especially when our heroes are being surrounded by “the nekkids”, as Minori calls them. Speakoing of which, this volume changes viewpoints quite a bit, and it’s nice to hear from people other than Shinichi’s POV, though I admit it’s not always that easy to see who’s narrating at first. And, fantasizing aside, Shinichi and Myusel are very cute here. Again, I still think if this ends with a choice at all it will be Myusel.

So a very good book in general, and should lead nicely to the next one to end the arc. The series ends with 18, though there’s a short story volume after that that I’m unsure will be licensed. If you’ve been reading this series all along, there’s no reason to stop now. Also,l I’m fairly certain you cannot gain a handle on military strategy just by reading Legend of Galactic Heroes, Petralka.

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?”.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 13

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

Harem comedies can be immensely frustrating for the reader, especially if they’ve picked the girl they like and would like the author to end the series with their choice please, OK, thanks. But harem comedies are also popular because everyone reads it to see who will be picked, and so that is drawn out forever. You think you’ve reached an end point… and then it backs away again. There are very good reasons for this – much to the frustration of North American companies, harem comedies that have a resolution in Japan see sales in the West drop off precipitously once they know who wins (not their girl). Or it has “no ending”, leaving everyone angry. But again – fans love these sorts of books and read them in great numbers AT FIRST. So they keep happening. And that’s how we get to Outbreak Company, which last time had Shinichi finally realize that Myusel and Petralka are both in love with him. How does he handle it? Unfortunately, like a harem protagonist.

There is a plot here, which is so ridiculous I hesitate to type it up. The kingdom is going through its armory, which includes various mind-controlling weapons and such, and find five boxes of armor with lettering on them that seems to be Japanese. While having our heroes examine it, through various wacky accidents, Myusel, Petralka and Elvia all end up inside one of the artifacts, which are essentially powered suits (powered by fanservice, if the pictures are any indication). The armor removes some inhibitions (meaning they can all yell at each other about how Shinichi likes the other two more than them) and also was military in use, meaning it allows them to attack each other – potentially fatal news for Myusel and Elvia if they hurt Petralka. How do they get out of the armor? Well, the objective has to be fulfilled. Sadly, the objective is “have Shinichi choose a girl”.

I’ve gradually come to realize that I’ve been giving a bit more depth to Shinichi than the author has really intended. I’ve said before how Shinichi’s own self-hatred would make it hard for him to genuinely love anyone, and there’s a bit of that here, notably in the harrowing opening nightmare that he has. But for the most part Shinichi acts like any shonen harem lead would… he whines, he wusses, he says he likes all of them equally, he says he doesn’t want to hurt any of them. That last is perhaps the real reason – he got rejected when he confessed back on Earth, and doesn’t want the others to suffer like he did. And so, inevitably, he arrives at a solution that is very harem manga-like – he gets the girls to resolve their fight by beating him up instead. By the end of the book the feelings are still out in the open, but we seem to be back to “status quo”.

There’s some foreshadowing towards the end, notably in terms of where the armor came from in the first place. But for the most part this is the most harem-like of the books to date, and therefore suffers most of the weaknesses of that genre. The next volume is short stories, so we likely won’t see any forward movement there either. Which suits the author fine.