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.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 16

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

I accidentally typed “Outbreak Company, Vol. 167” while putting in the title of the review, and while that’s a typo, it also feels too real. The series is not really doing anything wrong at this point – indeed, I am grateful that Shinichi talks about boobs less in this book than in any of the previous ones – but it still feels like something that has gone on for far too long. I suspect the author knows that as well – he says he’s going to try to end the series with the 17th volume, though we already know he had to make it 18. He’s also doing his best to wrap up as much as he can – the war between Eldant and Bahairam, the rapidly melting down nuclear reactor form the last volume, and of course the question of who Shinichi will end up with – if he can end up with ANYONE, given this is his own far future. But most importantly for the future of the series, Japan is pulling out of Eldant once and for all, and probably taking everyone with them.

Petralka’s on the cover, but don’t expect much from her – much as she would like to go help with the meltdown, she’s the ruler and can’t leave. As for said meltdown, it’s complicated by several things. Bahairam is sending in troops to kill everyone, even though their own forces don’t seem to be particularly united. Only a human has the access to shut down the reactor, and it needs to be a human who’s been in the powered suit we’ve seen for the last few volumes, which leaves out Minori. Oh yes, and Myusel is not only taken hostage by the bag guys, but after escaping that falls into the Earth’s crust. She’s reaching Doctor Who companion levels. Fortunately, Shinichi and Minori are given a secret weapon to resolve most of this: the power to live out their wildest otaku fantasies.

I won’t spoil what they actually do, as it’s probably the comedy highlight of the book. I will note that Shinichi is not having the best of days. Leaving aside the whole ‘nuclear reactor melting down’ thing, and the fact that he is once again the only person with no powers in the middle of a war zone, there’s the fact that I think he’s subconsciously made up his mind about who the girl he loves is. I’m not sure if the book will end with them together – certainly there’s a couple of things that happen here that suggest it would be difficult – but yeah, it’s not going to be anyone other than Myusel at this point. (Speaking of which, the discussion Shinichi has with her about death flags may be the other comedy highlight.) Things are temporarily resolved here, but I suspect things may get very sticky – and political – in the next book.

With only two volumes to go after this, you may as well keep reading. It’s actually a decent volume in the series. But I’m more weary than anything else.