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.