Outbreak Company, Vol. 8

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

After an up-and-down volume of short stories last time, we’re back to one plot for this volume, which I am very grateful for. The premise is that Petralka needs a body double for security reasons, and our heroes get the brilliant idea (it actually is pretty smart, given how magic works here) to construct a puppet Petralka, much like the puppet dragon we saw in previous volumes, and have the puppet stand in for Her Majesty. This will be controlled by Lauron, a young dwarf woman with an immense talent for controlling such things. There are, however, two problems. First, magic has been occasionally vanishing and coming back in the kingdom, and they’re trying to figure out the reason. Secondly, Lauron may be fantastic at manipulating puppets but she has underlying emotional issues that may lead to everything falling apart. Oh yes, and there’s the fact that Shinichi is being accused of “adding to his harem”, which baffles him but merely makes everyone else sigh.

Honestly, for a book with a premise like this, you’d expect more deconstruction of tropes, but frequently the author just decides to write things as they are. As such, Shinichi really is the dense harem protagonist, with not only no idea that a lot of young women have fallen in love with him but no idea that he even has much worth at all. It takes several people to point out that it’s his influence and words that have led so many others in Eldant to grow and change, and even after having it pointed out he still doesn’t quite get it. This does not stop him from figuring out Lauron, an overly serious dwarf who had an incident in her past that led to her being incredibly precise about following rules to the point where breaking ANY rule leads her to become an emotional mess. This is not the subtlest of plots, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and will be interested in seeing how Lauron factors into the cast.

As for the magic part of the plot, it’s almost an Outbreak Company version of Sharknado, as a giant twister is sucking up all the magic in Eldant, and it’s centered on the portal between the fantasy kingdom and Eldant. This leads Shinichi and Minori to briefly realize that fixing this could lead to their being stranded here forever, but fortunately it’s dealt with before that happens, by the fantasy equivalent of hurling a nuclear bomb at it – a bomb that Shinichi and Lauron are able to walk into the castle, gab, and take off, thanks to the crisis and also (it has to be said) really inept security. Shinichi being lectured about not stealing any more nukes amused me, but I was more intrigued by the revelation that some magic has leaked out onto the Japan side of the portal. We haven’t actually been back to Japan proper in the series yet, and I wonder if future books may actually see that happen, if only to stop magical girls from becoming real.

This was a surprisingly strong volume of Outbreak Company, and even had a low quotient of Shinichi leering at boobs. Definitely recommended for fans of the series.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 7

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

For the most part, I tend to wait at least a day before writing a review of something. Reflection can be a good thing, and so sometimes my opinions on Twitter – which are as I read – don’t match up with what’s here. And, let’s face it, this volume had an uphill battle to win my affection in the first place. I enjoy Outbreak Company a great deal, but not for the fanservice. Thus when you have a volume that, in one way or another, doubles down on such things, you’re going to be losing me. That said, it is not without interest. If you can ignore the fact that the entire first story seems to revolve around Minori’s tits, it’s actually a lot of fun, and there is some actual suspense in there briefly – that turns out to be undercut. It’s Outbreak Company’s excuse to do a beach episode with swimsuits, something it admits within the text, and as such is fine. The other two stories were a bit more problematic with me.

The second story should have easily been my favorite, as it’s an emotional character-driven piece. It’s also from the POV of Myusel, which makes for a great change. We’ve known since the first book that she’s half-elf, but the subject of her parents has never come up. Now, all of a sudden, due to changes in the family, her mother has arrived (she’s the elf) and wants Myusel to leave the mansion and come live with her. Myusel, we know, really does not want to do this at all, but runs up against everyone seemingly thinking it’s a done deal and accepting that it has to happen. And if Minori and Shinichi are already arranging for her replacement, how can she say no? I was struck by how obtuse everyone was being in this part. Frankly, as a reader, Myusel’s depression could not be more obvious if she’d tried, and the fact that the characters all assume she’s fine with it really bothered me. Do they really know her all that well? This was well-written but the characterization just felt… off.

The third story was apparently written with the help of one of the author’s female assistants, who is a fujoshi. He clearly said to her “I want a story where Minori is going through BL withdrawal, make it as exaggerated as possible.” And boy howdy, that’s what happened. Again, the issue I have is with the characterization. I’m fine with Minori being like this. Though the constant chants of “homo, homo” are perhaps a bit… insensitive, shall we say, they certainly fit with a certain type of fujoshi. I was more annoyed with this essentially turning into a fujoshi zombie movie, with Minori infecting everyone else in the story (even Myusel, though she holds out at first, for reasons that everyone but Shinichi understand) so that the entire cast are suddenly mindless BL maniacs. Yes, that’s the exaggeration, but it didn’t sit well with me. That said, if you enjoy over the top comedy, this may be your favorite segment. It’s certainly that. And OK, the “Vitamin BL” gag was very funny.

This was certainly a volume of short stories. There were some interesting parts, but I am hoping that next time around we get back to the main plot.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 6

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

It can sometimes be a bit striking how blase this series is about the government of Japan wanting Shinichi to be murdered because he ruined their grand plans. The Japanese side of things are simply one of the villainous factions in the books, and this time around they put into place a new plan: give Shinichi an assistant who turns out to be better than him at everything and watch him slowly lose confidence and break. Or at least, that would be an excellent plan if that was their actual intent. Because in that respect it works out quite well, and it’s only the heartfelt feelings of Myucel that manage to win him back from depressed land. No, instead Japan and the new character seem to be dedicated to destroying the country through commerce one way or another, and while they don’t succeed, things do get a bit dicey. Fortunately, as always, Shinichi is here to win the day with a really irritating otaku speech that grates on my nerves.

On the cover is Hikaru, who is the new Japanese “assistant” to Shinichi who is there to shake things up. Honestly, she should share the cover with Shinichi, but I know a lot of light novels refuse to have the main character on the covers, possibly as they still tend to think in terms of “faceless unseen protagonist” from ero games. Speaking of ero games, Hikaru is willing to do anything to get profits for the Japanese side, even if that means importing trading cards (the rare ones immediately get traded for massive amounts of money) and, yes, erotic games, which is causing the kids of Shinichi’s school to turn into, well, puberty-infested boys who refuse to leave their game. (The fact that the ultimate solution for this issue is to give them body pillows instead of games shows us where the issue ultimately lies.) Unfortunately, turning a bunch of the nobles’ kids into addicts is not what Shinichi had in mind. What’s worse, in the games you can create your own girl to moon over… and some are creating girls that look a lot like the Queen.

There’s a lot of discussion in this volume about the ‘otaku’, and how they’re viewed in Japan. Hikaru seemingly hates them with a passion, and regards them as the root of all evil. Some of this is related to Hikaru’s past, but there is a certain amount of truth to the idea of “let’s find a game/anime we can blame this tragedy on” to both Japan and North America. That said, ‘gaming addiction’ is clearly the motif here, and I really liked the fact that Shinichi accepted that it was ultimately his responsibility for what happened, and he thus sets out to correct things. A kidnapping helps to add a bit of excitement to things (the kidnapping, it turns out, is unrelated to the game issue), but for the most part this volume turns on Shinichi vs. Hikaru, and how they both view this world and the people in it. Shinichi is an empathic guy, as we’ve seen time and time again, and this is why he’s trusted by the Eldian people, despite his goody @D speeches.

Next volume we take a break for short stories, but I’m sure that there’s more political machinations to come. In the meantime, this was a pretty good volume of Outbreak Company. Plus this is past where the anime ended, I believe.