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.