Outbreak Company, Vol. 2

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

Sometimes when you’re reading a novel, particularly if it’s a series, you find that it’s not paced exactly the way you want it to be. You’d really like the author to focus on the hints he dropped at the end of the last book, and he eventually does and it pays off quite nicely. But he’s content to wait around to do that, and instead meanders through various other plots that you don’t care about so much. Of course, the entire point of Outbreak Company is the enmeshing of the two plots, so you can’t say I shouldn’t have seen it coming. For all that I’m in this for the political intrigue and drama, Outbreak Company is about a man introducing a fantasy world to the wonders of otaku life. Manga, light novels, games… and the fandom wars that ensue when you have a bunch of people arguing about manga, light novels, and games. It’s certainly working out pretty well. In fact, it might be working out a bit TOO well, as Kanou realizes with a growing horror.

We do get a new character introduced in this book, a very bad spy who also turns out to be a very good artist. Elvia is a beast-girl, much to Kanou’s delight, and again what is thought in their own world to be a trait that inspires prejudice and hatred is looked on by our resident otaku as simply really cute. Throughout this book, Kanou is seen winning over everyone simply by virtue of being nice and not having pre-existing biases. He doesn’t look down on elves, dwarves, lizardmen, or beastgirls. The one flaw he has he shares with the rest of the Japanese forces, which is that he assumes that just because this country is based on “fantasy medieval kingdom” rules they’re a bunch of rubes. Instead, it’s Japan that ends up getting handed their asses, even when they try to threaten Kanou with the safety of his family near the end. These are not the brightest bulbs.

The main cast is excellent. Kanou may be an otaku, but his reasoning is very logical and thought out, and his solution to how to avoid having Japan simply steamroll over everyone is quite clever. Myucel is sweet and kind and helps Kanou when he’s at his lowest ebb, and also packs a mean magic punch. We get a bit more depth to Petralka, seeing why she’s so driven to succeed as the ruler and why her fuse is so short. She also gets possibly my favorite moment in the book, just by speaking a single sentence in Japanese. If there’s one drawback, it’s that, given this is written in Kanou’s first-person POV, Minori comes up a bit short. The author is at his most comfortable writing her as a BL fangirl – when he has to write her as a member of the JSDF, it works less well, and I wish we had a bit more of her own thoughts and feelings on this situation.

These are pretty short books – the anime dispensed with this one in a mere two episodes – but I think that works to their benefit, as otherwise I worry that the series would get bogged down in shout-outs to other anime and manga series and otaku trivia (which I understand the anime does). If you’re looking for a light, breezy read with more depth than you’d expect from its premise, Outbreak Company is a very good choice.

Outbreak Company: The Power of Moe

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

It has almost become a running gag to say this, but I went into reading the first volume of Outbreak Company with rock-bottom expectations. The subtitle of the first volume alone made me roll my eyes, and the description of the plot didn’t help one bit. And yet once again, somehow, J-Novel Club has managed to snag a series that sounds wretched and shows that it’s actually pretty readable and entertaining once I get into it. Admittedly, the author is an old hand at novels rather than a web novelist turned published pro, which helps. Sakaki’s previous series include Scrapped Princess and Chaika the Coffin Princess, but we level up a bit here, as Outbreak Company has a Queen. The series is filled with cliches – our hero is an otaku and a bit of a perv, one heroine’s breasts are there to be pointed out every single time, and the Queen is sixteen but looks about eight. Fortunately, the book does things with these cliches.

Our hero is Shinichi, who’s living at home and has not been to school in about a year, but instead spends his life playing games, watching anime, and buying goods. After his parents give him an ultimatum (which may be the funniest scene in the novel, and I think was censored in the anime), he goes to find a job, and winds up interviewing at a sketchy company which tests his otaku knowledge. Mid-interview, he passes out and wakes up in a fantasy world. Turns out it’s connected to Japan, and the JSDF have assigned him to introduce otaku pursuits – anime, manga, etc. – to this fantasy kingdom. For cultural reasons. He’s assigned a maid (from the fantasy world) and a JSDF bodyguard (from Japan), both of whom are cute young women. And the Queen is also a cute young woman, as he observes the moment he sees her – though “little girl” is what her appearance screams. As the book goes on it seriously examines the ridiculousness of the premise, the casual racism and classism that infests the fantasy world, and whether Shinichi is really a good guy or not.

As I said, the series is rife with cliches, but they never actually descend to the creepy or annoying level, much to my surprise. Shinichi is a PG-rated otaku, looking at large breasts and going on about maids because he’s a teenager, but never going further than that, and he also has a genuine sense of right and wrong, which I suspect will get him in trouble in future books. His reaction to the treatment of Myucel, the half-elf maid who serves him (and falls in love with him almost immediately, mostly as he treats her like a real person) and Brooke (a lizardman servant, which does freak him out a bit at first) is not as subtle as the casual reader might like, but after so manty fantasy light novels where the reaction of the hero to slavery existing is “welp”, this is refreshing. And while he has a magic ring to communicate with others, it doesn’t work on other media, so translating is desperately needed – no easy outs in his new job.

This was clearly written from the start to be an ongoing series rather than “do the first one and we’ll see how it sells”, and it ends on a highly ambiguous note that makes the reader want to get the next book. I definitely will. As long as it sticks to gently poking at otaku cliches rather than leaping into them face-first, and keeps on tearing down the class and race-based structure of this fantasy universe, Outbreak Company is worth your time.