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.