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.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 10

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

The general thought behind my giving almost all light novels full reviews (as opposed to manga, where most series find their way into Bookshelf Briefs as they go on) is that the length of the book is such that I can always find something to talk about for 500+ words. Admittedly, there are times when that theory is tested, and this is one of those times. It doesn’t help that this is the second shortest light novel in my digital library, and easily the shortest in the series to date. But the other problem is that it’s mostly the 2nd half to a book where most of the plot and character beats were in Part 1. There are more cool action sequences, there’s a touching farewell to Shinichi’s family, and there’s a certain sense that we will not be returning to Japan anytime soon in this series. And there are a few more hints in the romantic resolution, if any, that this series will have. So let’s see what we can discuss.

The author straight-up admits that Shizuki was written as the series did not have a classic “tsundere” type. Petralka comes closest, but she’s too much of a softie. It’s a reminder that these series really do tend to be written around tropes and cliches, especially if you’re an author that’s been around as long as Sakaki has. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the series, we’re not allowed to develop that beyond “my brother is not as much of a loser as I thought” and see the love and affection that led to her renouncing him in the first place. Myusel praising him to the skies likely helped. Speaking of Myusel, she’s still front-runner in the “will the romance be resolved?” sweepstakes. Shinichi’s dad asks if there are harems in Eldant, and unfortunately for Shinichi, the answer is “no”, so something is going to have to be done – though of course “resolve nothing” is always an option, and one that’s more popular these days with authors, if not with fans. Still, Myusel really loves Shinichi.

As for the international intrigue part of the book, I will admit that the beginning of the book, with Minori being threatened by multiple copies of Putin (sorry, Pu**n) and the ultimate torture of having a pairing she loves reverse the ‘seme/uke’ positions was very funny, and welcome in a book that otherwise is mercifully light on fanservice. In reality, of course, Minori is merely tied up in a room somewhere, and rescuing her is the easiest part of things. Unfortunately, our heroes all then proceed to become absolute fools, as blithely getting onto a bus to return to Eldant and not realizing that there would be even more attempts to capture them was so shortsighted it counts as a flaw in the book. Fortunately, the day is actually saved by the JSDF – and how often can you type that in an anime/manga review?

The author seems to be up in the air about what to do next, but it will definitely be back in Eldant. Till then, this book is slight but enjoyable.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 9

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

Honestly, returning to Japan for a visit was an obvious plotline. So obvious, in fact, that the anime (which I haven’t seen) apparently also used it in an original story. This time Shinichi hears that his light novel author dad is hospitalized and worries, so he asks if he can return to Japan, despite the fact that the Japanese government recently tried to kill him. But there’s been a regime change since the series began, and maybe he’s not quite as wanted? So he returns, with Minori as his guard, Myusel and Elvia also has his bodyguards (and disguised), and Petralka hiding in the luggage so she can come too. Fortunately, his dad is fine. Unfortunately, that leaked soccer game footage has led to everyone in it being wanted by most major world governments. As a result, Minori is captured by the Russians, while Shinichi and the others are menaced by Chinese and Americans. And worst of all, his sister has turned into a tsundere!

The first three-quarters of this book is set up for comedy, and it’s decent comedy, with only one of two instances of “dur… boobs!” from our hero. Shinichi’s parents are just as over the top as they were in the first novel, and his dad in particular is amusing and reminds me very much of Shinichi himself. As for the little sister, you can see why she’s frustrated with her entire family, but also why “Shinichi’s gone to India to find himself” did not really fly. Not sure how much more we’ll see of her, but she’s cute. The sections in Akiba are also fun, with Petralkas getting lured in by gatcha games, Myusel maid fangirling, and Elvia really REALLY wanting some expensive artbooks. It’s only as they get surrounded by more and more people who recognize them that you realize how foolish it was to return (and really, Minori should have realized this would happen) and things get very serious very fast.

We are unlikely to see more Outbreak Company animated, which is a shame, as the car chase that is towards the end of the book is top tier, and shows Elvia, Myusel and Shinichi all being pretty damn badass. The book ends on a cliffhanger as, having returned home for lack of other safe havens, they are surrounded by more bad guys. There are also a few other odd hints here and there that Japan and Eldant may be meshing together a bit as, while magic mostly does not seem to work here as it does there, there are moments where that does not seem to be the case – in particular, moments where the girls who can’t speak Japanese are acting like action heroes. Also, how much of an international incident is everyone going to make of this? And is Minori OK? We never saw her after she was captured. It’s a good thing this series is light-heated in nature…

Outbreak Company is a fast-paced comedy that also has some really good character beats. I still enjoy it.