Outbreak Company: The OG Isekai Spoof – Anime (Non)Essentials

The anime essentials series has afforded me
the opportunity to talk about older anime in a way I simply couldn’t before. And not
only has that been a lot of fun, but, especially in the case of my recent Anohana video, I
think it’s allowed me to produce some of my best work.
But there is a problem with the series as a concept, that’s baked right into the title:
the anime I talk about have to be essential. which doesn’t leave much room to explore
the older shows that are creative interesting or well made, but definitely aren’t must-watch
masterpieces, or influential cultural touchstones. The guilty pleasures, popcorn fodder, and
filler shows of seasons past that are good and deserve to be talked about, but don’t
really belong on anyone’s bucket list. So, to give myself space to talk about these…
Anime (Non)Essenials I’m creating a new sub-series. And the first subject I’ll be
tackling here is Outbreak Company, a satirical Isekai anime that came out just as the Isekai
Boom was first hitting full swing. This video is sponsored by Bookwalker, Kadokawa’s
official ebook store, where you can read hundreds of English-translated light novels and manga,
including outbreak company. In fact, from now until September 30th, they’re giving
away the first volume for free! Stick around to the end to learn more.
The original Outbreak company light novels entered publication in 2011, and funny enough,
their anime adaptation first aired in October 2013, the same month that Konosuba’s first
light novel volume hit store shelves. As I hinted in the title, I do think that
that fans of Kazuma and Co’s adventures will find a lot to love in this show – maybe
even enough to sate them until Crunchyroll releases the new movie. But you shouldn’t
go into Outbreak Company expecting an isekai “parody” per se. Its interest lies less
in skewering overused tropes, and more in using the “trapped in another world” premise
as a lens to examine the real target of its parody:
Otaku Culture. Outbreak Company shares its base premise with
the aggressively mediocre GATE: one day, a fantasy land appears in the heart of Japan
(in this case, deep in the “suicide forest” of Aokigahara) and as the government struggles
to deal with this new scenario, they enlist the help of an… otaku guide of sorts.
Since this isn’t a work of masturbatory military propaganda, the fantasy empire on
the other side DOESN’T blindly jump into a war they can’t win with a world they have
zero intel on. Instead, the Japanese government sends a party of emissaries to explore the
portal. They’re swiftly brought before the empress, and before long the suddenly neighbouring
nations enter tenuous diplomatic talks. Each with their own agenda, of course.
This pre-industrial land is a treasure trove of untapped natural resources, even before
you consider the staggering potential of its magical properties, and Japan wants to capitalize
on all of that. But they need to offer an export of equal value in exchange. And, noticing
that this world doesn’t have an entertainment industry… the visiting bureaucrats hatch
a brilliant scheme. Foreign nations in our world already go nuts
for anime, manga, and other pieces of otaku culture – it only stands to reason that
a populace starved for entertainment would love it even more. Needing an expert to curate
their new export business, the government puts out a hiring call for Otaku, and Shinichi
Kanou, a hikikomori high school dropout, aces his interview and lands a job as the new CEO
of Amutech. Before he knows it (literally, because they
drug and kidnap him on the spot), Shinichi finds himself living and working in this new
world, under the watchful eyes of a shady government bureaucrat named Matoba and an
expert JSDF soldier (and closet fujoshi) named Minori, who serves as his bodyguard. He’s
not… trapped in this new world, per se, but since its existence and the location of
the portal are both national secrets… he may as well be.
Though his otaku knowledge is impressive, it’s his inherent disposability as a jobless
teenage shut-in that made him the ideal man for this job. Still, it’s not all bad. He
gets to live in a massive mansion, with an equally massive anime and manga collection
furnished by the Japanese government. And he enjoys being waited on by his beautiful
half-elf maid, Myucel, and his Lizard-manservant Brookes, who is equally beautiful in his own
way. They both become Shinichi’s first converts to otakuism.
Initially, much of his time is spent explaining the nuances of anime and manga over daily
tea with the almighty Empress of the Holy Eldant Empire, Petralka. Who looks like a
little girl because *sigh* of course she does. Although thankfully, she is 16, just 3 years
younger than our hero, so as far as anime goes… it could be a lot worse.
Still, it could be better – shinichi does get very excited about petralka’s looks
before he knows her age – and if that’s setting off alarm bells in your head, this
might not be the anime for you. Outbreak company has more than its share of hit-or-miss pervy
otaku humour – muchof it concentrated in the first few episodes – and it doesn’t
handle it nearly as well as the likes of, say, High School DxD.
At his worst, Shinichi can be a creep on par with Mineta from my hero academia, ogling
and making lewd comments about every girl he meets, often before learning their names..
And while that kind of thing ranges from amusing to tolerable when it’s coming in small doses
from a supporting character, it’s a little hard to stomach in a protagonist. Especially
when the girls don’t really reciprocate and that protagonist never takes the hint.
Thankfully, It’s not his defining character trait, and he does mellow out as the story
goes on, but it bugged me, and I can see it putting some people off the show entirely.
Or it might not bother you at all. The first time I watched this, when I was 20, I laughed
at a lot of jokes that made my eyes roll today. Either way, shinichi does have plenty of good
points to offset the bad – he’s intelligent, observant, kindhearted, and surprisingly considerate
in other contexts. And… personally, I find it hard to completely dislike any character
– or show – who starts dropping Kaiji references in episode 2.
I know that sounds a bit shallow, but Outbreak Company is one of the most passionate – and
inclusive – love letters to Otaku media out there. If you enjoy anime and manga – no
matter what your tastes are – it’s all but guaranteed that you’ll spot a copyright-safe
parody of at least one of your favourites in the background of just the first few episodes.
And depending on how hardcore of an otaku you are, I’d almost recommend it based on
that alone. There’s not many shows where you’ll find
nods to Hataraku Maou Sama, Scrapped Princess, Inazuma Eleven, Prince of Tennis, Attack on
Titan, Doraemon, Tokimeki memorial, Gundam, Rental Magica, Minami-ke, Hakuoki, Milky Holmes,
The Matrix, Shaolin Soccer, Haruhi, Anohana, multiple Miyazaki movies AND my boy Kaiji
– plus dozens more – in the space of just 12 episodes.
And it goes well beyond simple references. Episodes 6 through 10 of the series all offer
sharp satirical takes on various aspects of otakudom, including hilarious parodies of
sports anime and obligatory swimsuit episodes, and explorations of more esoteric topics,
like the culture of Akihabara, Tokusatsu film production, and the Hikikomori lifestyle.
The more anime you’ve seen and the more you know about Otaku in general, the funnier
this show will be for you – though, of course, conversely, that means that a lot of the jokes
will be lost on more casual fans. The references are so dense that even I missed quite a few.
You’re either gonna scratch your head, wondering why every time someone gets knocked out they
happen to land like this, [dead yamcha pose] or you’re already giggling about it. That’s
just the kind of show this is. But, as inside-jokey as Outbreak company is,
what I really love about it is that it’s not *exclusionary.* Shinichi isn’t interested
in gatekeeping his fandom – he wants to share the shows, books, movies and games he
loves with as many people as possible. And the only kind of fans the show paints in a
truly negative light, are the ones who put others down or get into heated arguments over
differences in taste. It draws direct parallels between that kind
of fan bickering and the vitriolic interracial mudslinging inherent to its tolkeinesque setting.
And when Shinichi eventually founds his otaku school – where children of the eldant empire,
noble and commoner, human, dwarf, and elf alike – can come to learn both Japanese
and key cultural concepts like “absolute territory” and the difference between semes
and ukes… he strives to use the education he’s providing to break down both of those
barriers. The power that education has to enrich our
lives and make us better people is something that Outbreak Company really loves to hammer
home. Moreover, the show asserts that Manga, Anime, Games, and other pop narrative media
are very much LITERATURE. That, with the right mindset, they can be just as useful textbooks
as the ones we sell our kidneys to buy and then use for a single semester. And as a guy
whose main job is writing literary analysis of anime, THAT is a message I can GET BEHIND.
And it’s far from the only one here. Outbreak Company was written by Ichiro Sakaki, the
creator of Scrapped Princess and Coffin Princess Chaika – a pair of more serious, dramatic
fantasy stories with some genuinely interesting philosophical underpinnings. So, while it
is a lot goofier in tone than either of those, this anime is surprisingly deft at exploring
thought-provoking topics when it wants to. And the characters who drive its comedy have
a surprising amount of depth to them. The anime sadly doesn’t have much time to
dive into that outside of its core cast, but there’s more to almost everyone than you’d
first think. In particular, I really enjoyed Petralka’s character arc.
While she’s initially a bit insufferable, she grows a great deal after finding – essentially
– her first ever friends in Shinichi and Myucel, letting go of deep-rooted prejudice,
learning to be a more level-headed leader, and becoming a lot less entitled as the series
goes on. (though she still has an ego, as is demonstrated in the gut-busting conclusion
of the tokusatsu episode.) My favourite part of her arc is episode 8.
Overwhelmed by her responsibilities as empress and the trauma of how she got that job at
16, Petralka retreats into her room, resolving to live as a hikikomori, playing games, watching
anime, and reading books all day. Shinichi – a former hikikomori himself – uses his
expertise to help her indulge herself and, eventually, get it out of her system.
The episode highlights how guilt over being a burden on their loved ones, coupled with
social anxiety, can trap people in this shut-in lifestyle making it harder and harder to leave
their rooms the longer they retreat from their responsibilities… but ultimately, it posits
that such fears might misplaced. It turns out Petralka’s attendants and family are
just worried about her, and they respond to her emergence with relief and love, not the
scorn she’s expecting. That’s probably a message a lot of people
in that situation need to hear, and that episode represents one of the most thoughtful, nuanced
explorations of the hikikomori phenomenon I’ve seen this side of Welcome to the NHK.
In general, Outbreak company isn’t afraid to address the more toxic aspects of otakudom,
and I really appreciated that. I wish I could say the show was so competent
in handling every sensitive topic it tackles, but it does have some major blind spots, particularly
in how it addresses racism. It’s not all bad – it presents the doublethink of bigotry
in an impressively realistic manner, I think the way the otaku students slowly move past
their prejudice really works… but… There this scene where our hero sees the absolute
dictator of a racially stratified empire screaming and hurling slurs at a terrified half-ethnic
maid, and his first thought is “this is exactly like that time a girl turned me down
because I’m a nerd.” Which… is a can of worms in itself, but let’s stay focused.
The intent of this, I believe, is to help the show’s otaku audience empathize with
Myucel’s plight, and demonstrate how awful prejudice is, which is a good message. But
sending it in this way creates a false equivalence that utterly trivializes the horrors of real
racial injustice. Myucel had to earn her citizenship by being a CHILD SOLDIER. The woman screaming
at her leads a government that forced her to kill people. Shinichi can take his sexually
entitled first world problems and shove them I do want to focus on the positive in this
video, so I’d maybe have let that slide if shinichi didn’t immediately follow it
up by saying [quote: ep 2 19:05 to 19:18]
Do I even have to explain what’s wrong with that statement?
Maybe he’s talking about the ideals present in otaku media, and not how his country actually
treats minority groups and foreigners. But without making that distinction, it sure sounds
like he thinks Japan is free of racial prejudice and inequality, which makes him (and by proxy
the show, since his statement goes entirely unchallenged) seem to be totally… infuriatingly
clueless about the whole topic. And since the first arc is largely ABOUT that
topic, getting through it can be pretty rough. Though to be clear, I think it’s worth powering
through the frustration to enjoy everything else the show has to offer.
It’s not like Outbreak Company isn’t critical of other aspects of Japanese culture. Matoba
is as close as the show has to a main villain, and he’s basically the living embodiment
of shady politics and the right wing nationalism of Japan’s ruling party. An ideology the
show seems to take particular issue with – considering that the villains of the first arc are ultranationalist
terrorists, the soccer episode highlights how sports can fuel dangerous jingoism, and
the last arc… Well, I don’t want to spoil too much, but
it doesn’t exactly paint the Japanese Government in a positive light, and it advocates strongly
for cultural cross-pollination in otaku media. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t give that
arc NEARLY enough time to explore all of the interesting ideas it brings up. I’m only
just starting to read the light novels, so I can’t be sure, but the jarring tonal shift
going into those last two episodes really makes it feel like they rushed and rewrote
some plot points to give the show a more conclusive … conclusion.
Fun as it is, Outbreak Company is one of those anime that feels like it’s being held back
by the constraints of its adaptation. But as critical as I’ve been of its worst points,
I do still heartily recommend it overall. The first arc is a bit slow, and the last
arc is a mess, but Episodes 4 through 10 are great, and the show works exceptionally well
from beginning to end if the main thing you’re looking for is a lighthearted, geeky comedy.
With great music, voice acting, and especially animation on top of that – seriously, some
of these action scenes had me picking my jaw up off the floor – I think most anime fans
will be more than satisfied with outbreak company, warts and all.
That said, I am getting the impression that the Light Novels might offer an even richer
and more satisfying narrative, which brings us back to today’s sponsor, bookwalker.
Because if you’re interested in reading those original light novels, there’s never
been a better time. Until the end of the month, in partnership
with J-Novel Club, bookwalker is giving away the first volumes of In Another World with
my smartphone, Der Werwolf, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, I Saved Too Many Girls And Caused
the Apocalypse, and, obviously Outbreak Company for free to all users! So if you sign up now,
you will IMMEDIATELY have five great new books to read.
And if any of those entice you to read further, you’re in luck! Because until September
30th, subsequent volumes of all those series are on sale for 20% off. which means that
if you use my promo code, basement, to buy volume two of, say, outbreak company, the
600 yen discount you get will bring the total price down to a little under 60 cents. Which
is an absolute steal – especially if you think of these geeky works as textbooks.
For the low, low price of free, there’s no reason not to at least sign up and download
those books, and that promo code – basement, once again – will work for the entire first
month of your membership, so you have a good while to figure out which work of otaku literature
you most want to use it on. The next basement book club will be covering
A Silent Voice, so that’s a good option too.
I’m Geoff Thew, Professional Shitbag, Signing out from my mother’s basement.

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