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.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 12

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

I feel that I’ve said a lot when reviewing Outbreak Company that the book starts off badly and gets better as it goes along till a good climax, and that holds true here as well. That said, the annoying parts of the book are very annoying. I haven’t used the word ‘queerbaiting’ when reviewing this series, mostly as it’s highly unlikely the author is doing it deliberately to bring in BL fans. (Then again, given that afterword, I may be wrong.) But for the most part the book is content to view Garius the way that Minori does – as a product of BL fantasy that she can ship with either Shinichi or newcomer Rubert – without ever explicitly having Garius say that he’s gay or state he is gay. It may sound like it’s so implied that they don’t have to, but that’s the point – the BL subtext is slathered on with Minori-vision, making it hard to take seriously. There’s no gay characters here, just a bunch of heavy breathing.

I may be more annoyed than usual as Garius and his supposed homosexuality are front and center in the plot this time. The prince of a neighboring country that is on good terms with Eldant has arrived to propose marriage to Petralka. He apparently knew Garius when they were younger, and it is heavily hinted they were lovers in college – again, with just enough plausible deniability that, should the author want, he can satisfy fans that might be put off by that – and the implication is he’s doing this to get close to Garius. The other half of the plot, which works MUCH better, is that Rubert’s country are very much prejudiced against non-humans, and an alliance between the two countries is bad news for most of the cast. Plus there’s the fact that Petralka loves someone else. Can Shinichi get over his obliviousness and self-hatred long enough to solve this new problem? And will Minori ever shut up?

Shinichi’s low self-worth – still stemming, he says, from getting rejected by the girl he likes for being a creepy otaku – has hovered over the entire series. You’d think, after saving the world multiple times and having at least three different women, and possibly more, in love with him that he might be gaining more self-confidence, but the lack of communication about his real feelings – which is the same reason that he can’t recognize the girls are in love with him – has kept him from seeing that he’s changed. This is frustrating to the reader, and also to Hikari and Matoba, who see him as a standard harem lead and want to kick him in the balls. Fortunately, his opening up to Petralka about his past may have helped to trigger something – she and Myusel are far more open about the love triangle they’re in (sorry, Elvia, you were never going to win this one) and the cliffhanger ending is that Shinichi finally figures this out.

Will this affect the plot going forward? Well, we’ve still got 6 more volumes and an ‘after story’ volume to go, so I suspect not all that much. Till then, please enjoy a new Outbreak Company, irritating and teeth-grinding as it still is.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 11

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

This volume is still short, but a bit longer than the 10th book. That said, I’m still struggling to find 500+ words to say about it. The series is good, I enjoy it, but it’s not really trying for anything other than “be entertaining” with a small side of “treat all people equally”. It doesn’t help that this book is an expanded short story, blown up to book format when the author realized he didn’t have the room. The thrust of the plot is that Amatena, Elvia’s cold, paranoid sister, and Clara, who held him captive while he was kidnapped, are on the run from the authorities of their nation, who have decided that they’re a liability – possibly as they’ve been passively helping Shinichi smuggle anime and manga into the country. Elvia helps them hole up at the mansion, but they have to hide themselves. This leads to an extra maid (which stresses Myusel out, though not for the reason you might think) and an extra (disguised) Elvia. Hijinks ensue.

There’s a subplot in the book of Shinichi’s class getting a hold of digital cameras, and Shinichi and a very grumpy Hikaru end up having to teach them that it’s not OK to just take pictures of everyone all the time – you need permission, and sneak shots are right out. This is a good reminder that a lot of the “lessons learned”, heavy-handed as they can be, are as much for any young readers the series might have as for the fantasy elves and dwarves of Outbreak Company. Consent is important, even though Shinichi frames it as “you don’t want to catch them out of character”. The other small subplot is Amatena’s cool, overly suspicious attitude is contrasting hideously with Elvia’s puppy-ish mood, something that’s more vital than you’d expect given Amatena is supposed to be pretending to be Elvia. This leads to another obvious, but still welcome lesson: if you don’t trust anyone, why should anyone trust you? You have to open up a LITTLE bit.

Meanwhile, the series’ slow-boiling romance may finally be getting somewhere, though this may all vanish by the next book. The difficulty is on both sides, as Shinichi still tends to think of himself as a “loser” that nobody could like. He’s also, despite his perversions, still relatively innocent, and Clara reminds us of how he fended her off when he was kidnapped – by pretending that if he has sex with a woman, he’ll die. On Myusel’s end, more and more people are accidentally seeing Shinichi naked, and this frustrates her though she’s not sure why. After talking things through with Clara, she may have finally realized how deep her feelings for Shinichi are, but then she’s also dealing with a poor self-image, so it’s unclear whether she’ll actually act on this – certainly Elvia’s “heat” interrupts her at the end of this book.

It was nice to be back in Eldant for this book, despite it reading very much like a padded-out short story. We may get that next time too. Still recommended for those who enjoy the series.