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Review: Outbreak Company

Couple of shut-ins

When Shinichi Kanō is given the chance to kick the habit of his lonely shut-in existence, with a job after his otaku smarts, he can’t bring himself to believe it’s real. But it all turns out to be better than real, as he’s tasked with nurturing cultural relations between our Earth and a parallel world, where magic exists and humans rub shoulders and shins with elves and dwarves. And just to sweeten the deal, he’s helped to feel welcome by his darling of a half-elf maid, Myucel.

However, the Holy Eldant Empire, where he’s in charge of spreading otaku culture however he darn well pleases, doesn’t seem as idyllic when he comes down from his tower. This fantasy realm is one where an antiquated class system makes elves and dwarves fair game for the taunts and abuse of humans. The relations between the societal ranks, and how they change through Shinichi’s touch, are what awaken our caring for him and the people he meets. Myucel, being half elf and half human, doesn’t quite belong anywhere, and like anyone else without noble status, doesn’t know how to read or write. As Shinichi teaches her Japanese you see her sprout in confidence, and when Eldant’s tsundere empress Petralka joins the lessons, at first refusing to be outshone by a servant, she and Myucel become friends.

Their bond within the bubble of Shinichi sharing his manga is in cruel contrast with how it’s viewed in public, a joyous and clumsy high-five drawing scepticism from the masses. But when he requests that a school is built, where elves and dwarves will be allowed to learn alongside human-folk, the importance of reading settles in the spotlight. The school’s founded on Shinichi’s belief that all books hold important lessons, and tells the modern tale of how fandom can change lives for the better, connecting unlikely people, and fostering friendship, compassion, courage and self-acceptance.

Petralka’s cousin and gentle knight Garius comes to personify this last value, as Shinichi’s colleague from his own world, Minori Koganuma, shares her devotion to boys-love manga and helps him discover his sexuality; a subtle, LGBT celebratory gem. Perhaps it might smudge the subtlety if he was a more prominent character, but you can’t help but wish for it as his hinted backstory and humour intrigue. All of these small yet significant shifts in the characters’ understanding of themselves and others cause triumphant changes in the Empire, eventually leading to dwarves, elves and humans all being swept up in working together to make their own anime.

Outbreak Company was pushed out as a fantasy harem satire, but this seems to be a mistake as it often falls into cruising along with conventions and archetypes. Still, this avoids becoming a fault as each character is at least likeable and, at best, complex as we discover each of their reasons for treasuring otaku culture. And all with a dozen boob gags to boot.

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