Outbreak Company: Gaiden

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 book feels like an apology, frankly. I was very grumpy with the final volume of the series, and judging by some of the reviews I saw on Amazon Japan, fans of the series there were also unhappy. So now we get the “Gaiden”, or “Side Story”, volume of the series, the actual final volume, and it feels like it’s giving fans what they wanted all along. Well, at least the first half is. The second half of the series is there to highlight Minori, who has always been the least developed character in the series (insert joke about her breast size here), but this final chapter allows us to see a BIT more into her inner psyche and how she really feels about things. Unfortunately, it’s still Outbreak Company, and she’s still Minori, so in the end the plot cannot quiet thread the serious needle and goes back to its running gag. But it tried. The first half of the book does a better job, and uses “fantasy world” as a way to resolve the love interests.

After the events of the final volume (minus the epilogue, which is thankfully ignored), Shinichi returns to the castle… to find Petralka announcing that she’s marrying him, and the wedding will be as soon as possible. Given that he struggled to make a choice and chose Myusel, he’s a little pole-axed by this. The nobility doesn’t like it either… and might also be the reason Petralka is pushing things. After this, we see the secondary pairing, as Hikaru very publicly confesses to Elvia… who still loves Shinichi, and is not really sure how romance works to begin with. A lot of awkwardness follows. Finally, a suitor arrives to marry Garius whether he likes it or not, despite his sexual preferences. Can he find a replacement? And what are BL lover Minori’s thoughts on all this?

Gonna be honest, even though I felt the book was trying to “fix” the last book, it only partly succeeds. The first chapter works best, being Shinichi focused, and with a good intrigue sideplot. I don’t mind the polycule resolution, and obviously the three of them don’t mind it either, though that’s more because we’ve seen it a LOT more in recent light novels. The Hikaru and Elvia story is hampered (as is the Minori story) by multiple narrators, and it’s not always clear who’s meant to be our POV until several paragraphs in. It also feels a bit too quickly resolved. As for the Minori story, as with a number of stories focusing on her in this series, it looks like it’s going to finally be serious and sober, and then heads down into BL alley again. Which is fine, it’s her gag. It just felt a bit too jokey for me. And the treatment of trans and gay issues is… attempted, I will grant you.

So a side story that’s highly variable, which I’m OK with because it’s a side story. A must read for Petralka fans, but for the rest of us it’s another reminder that this series was excellent and annoying in just about equal measure.

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.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 17

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

One thing that has always remained reliably on brand about this series is how all in it goes on its otaku evangelism. The author is clearly just as bad if not worse than his lead character, and it shows, as the books are littered with references to anime, manga, books, films, games, etc. And what’s more, this is shown in a (mostly) very positive light, with people who would otherwise be indifferent to if not hate each other bonding over their shared obsessions. This particular volume seems to really lay the references on thick – it trusts that readers will not only know what Area 88 is, but also buy into the extended Star Wars riff that comes at the climax of the book. It even affects the plot, as the Americans who show up in Eldant towards the end are somewhat stunned to see the princess swearing at them, as she’s quoting the cliched stock American from Japanese media. That said, the guys who show up in Eldant very much DO feel like stock characters – Outbreak Company is not only a huge fan of cliches, it’s also a client.

We pick up where the last book left off, after a brief prologue from the POV of Shinichi’s family showing how things are going back in Japan. Not well. The hyperspace tunnel is starting to really go to pieces, which is leading to lots of natural disasters. As such, Japan has decided to punt, and tells Shinichi and company they’re pulling out of Eldant in five days. Needless to say, the cast are varying levels of upset by this – Minori is pretty cool with just going back, Hikaru suddenly realizes his own feelings for someone else in the cast, and of course Shinichi is still waffling about what love really is and if he’s in it with anyone. If he stays behind, lacking any ability to either import or create anime and manga, isn’t he just useless? If he takes a girl back with him to Japan, won’t they just be captured and experimented on? And then suddenly the USS Nimitz appears on top of a forest in rival nation Bahairam, and everything gets blown to hell.

As is typical of this series, Shinichi can be thick or clever when the situation demands it, as with his being unable to understand why Petralka seems to be OK with him leaving forever, missing the subtleties of her response as well as her own true feelings. We’ve still got one volume to go, and it’s possible that he won’t pick anyone, but I’d still lay odds on Myusel, who also has a bit of a love revelation in this book. As for the subplot, it’s basically pure action movie – the book makes many references to the 1980 movie The Final Countdown, as our heroes have to infiltrate Bahairam – again – and try to stop the war breaking out between their country, already upset about losing the Dragons Den, and some very jumpy naval officers. Can Shinichi talk everyone down? Can they figure out how to return a battle carrier to its proper place in the world? And can we actually get anyone to confess their love at all without being under the influence?

The next volume is the last, though there’s also a short story collection that I’m not sure is licensed. Fans of the series should enjoy it, though I suspect, like me, they’re happy it’s finally drawing to a close.