It’s OK, Myucel. We all know what he was going to say.
It’s been a fun ride, but sadly Outbreak Company has finally come to an end. And with that, it’s time to take a step back and reassess the series as a whole.
The way I see it, Outbreak Company is a very interesting experiment. At its core, it’s no more than one of those “otaku-pandering” meta shows like Genshiken and even Welcome to the NHK. What they have in common is a focus on the people immersed in said culture, and their relationships with society or the individuals around them (note that Nyaruko doesn’t count because it only references otaku culture as jokes). This is interesting enough in and of itself, but frankly the approach is very niche, as it has to be by design. So an obvious take on the formula to open it up to a larger audience is to instill it with some other distractions. In the case of Outbreak Company, our otaku hero is thrust into a fantasy world where he is unwittingly used to spread weaponized moe-ism. The otaku in question is still being evaluated in society; it’s just the society in this case is one completely different from the norm, and in fact one in which none of the otaku culture is present. Along the way, we are teased with hints of educating the “backwards” fantasy world with our own values and standards, including the dismantling of social and racial segregation. A rather quaint suggestion when you remember that our own world is still rife with various injustices and inequities, but not an unreasonable one since it is objectively true that we’re farther along than Eldant at the impossible task of creating a perfect, happy world.
Together even in heaven.
So how has Outbreak Company done with this little bit of diversion? Well, in all honesty it’s been rather half-baked, although still very satisfying. The last hurrah with the Japanese government’s conspiracy was a pretty lousy parting shot; certainly not a haymaker that knocks us out. I like how it pointed out the true grotesqueries of our own world, as if we aren’t already subconsciously aware and simply choose not to think about it on a day-to-day basis because, well, who likes thinking about those things. But aside from doing just that and reminding us of what we already know, it didn’t add anything of real value to the premise of the show. Which then makes it even more painfully obvious that all the talk of bringing equality, education, and a higher standard of life to the citizens of Eldant is only a thin and flimsy label affixed around the canned product that is the true core of the show. Outbreak Company is merely a show whose primary novelty factor (though technically no longer novel) is an otaku being an otaku. So then why do we enjoy it so much? Surely it’s not because we’re drawn to its allure as fellow otaku to varying degrees (face it, you wouldn’t be watching the show if you weren’t one).
There’s hope for Petralka yet.
The answer to that question lies in the individual relationships and the growth of the characters. You’ll notice the same can be said to justify the successes of the other shows previously cited, and for good reason. The truth is, no one really cares for a story about the life of an otaku. Those who aren’t otaku themseves cannot relate and moreover wouldn’t be interested in watching in the first place, while those who are can simply point to their own lives for a daily play-by-play. But what is truly original and fascinating is Outbreak Company taking a member of an oppressed class, and liberating and empowering her. Technically speaking, this is just a very individual spin on the social and racial issues we were supposed to be distracted by. But when you consider that Myucel’s growth from timid, subservient maid to confident, respected aide is really the only solid example of said issues being addressed, it becomes less about the society and more about the character herself. The school was yet another nice attempt at spearheading racial tensions, but that one fell through because it kind of devolved into more otaku-pandering (although that dwarfxelf ship sure is one to think about).
So at the end of the day, where does Outbreak Company stand? There was a lot that could have been done and explored given the world in which it was set. But most of it was squandered as wasted potential in favor of watching otaku culture spread like a wildfire, with some silly sinister plot slapped on at the end that was resolved just as quickly as it came about. However, after twelve episodes of watching the gang mess around, I have to say I find myself charmed by their various exploits and interpersonal relationships. Needless to say, Myucel stole the spotlight for most of the show, with Petralka hot on her heels. So in that respect, it turns out that Outbreak Company actually is a fairly solid piece of entertainment, albeit not for reasons that I would have liked. It certainly could have been better, but it was sufficiently well done as it is, so the final verdict is that it’s pretty damn well good enough.