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.

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.