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.

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.