The Light Novel Club returns with a tale of a missionary, sharing what he believes and loves with a new culture. Sure, the “missionary” is an otaku sharing anime, manga, and the like, and the “new culture” is a fantasy alternate world country, but don’t mind the details too much. TWWK and I take a look at the first volume of Outbreak Company, a light novel series licensed by J-Novel Club that inspired a 2013 anime and provides its own take on the isekai story.
Note: This time around, I have brought back the old format of numbered questions. If you have a preference for what format we use here, let us know in the comments!
1. What do you think of the book overall? What do you think of it compared to other isekai series?
TWWK: I would say the two words that come to mind after reading volume one are “impressive” and “frustrating.” I’ll talk about the latter later, but the “impressive” part is that the novel just FLEW by. I enjoyed I tremendously, and I also found that it had really important ideas expressed within, items that I did not expect to read about in a moe moe take. The focus seems to actually revolve around these ideas, which to me separates it from other isekai, which focus on the protagonist’s journey in another world.
stardf29: That is definitely what stuck out to me about this series: it actually looks at particular issues that come up when someone goes to another world and brings their culture there. It gives a nice angle and that gives it something to keep my interest even through some of its weaknesses.
2. What do you think of the characters? Do you think Shinichi is a good protagonist? How about the other characters?
TWWK: I have mixed feelings about Shinichi. He’s extremely likable of course, and that’s kind of the issue—he’s too funny, too nice, too motivated, too much of a “perfect otaku.” That’s purposeful, and perhaps that also the point. Maybe he’s designed this way to encourage otaku or because we need to be able to somehow put ourselves in his shoes—if so, I don’t like the strategy. If he’s this way because the focus, again, is on these greater themes, then I’m more open to his goodness.
Myusel and Petralka are wonderful characters, archetypes that remain interesting because of clear descriptions and crisp dialogue. Very easy to like, very easy to root for. It was also fun Petralka’s character growth happened through and because of Myusel!
stardf29: I think that in general, isekai protagonists tend to be “too good” (that or an angsty edgelord), though I want to say Outbreak Company started before the current isekai boom. You do bring up a good point that, because this story wants to address certain themes, it might have more of a need of such a protagonist. And yes, the other characters are great. I definitely appreciated Petralka’s growth, in particular.
TWWK: That’s interesting…you know a lot more about isekai than I do, so I’ll ask this: has the trend REVERSED as of late? I think of examples of some isekai protagonists that have negative attributes, some crippling, like Subaru in Re:Zero. I totally understand the need to make your protag a loveable character in a series that is meant to whisk you away (and especially if your an otaku), but there seems to be merit, too, in challenging readers who put themselves into the position of the MC to see one who is profoundly flawed.
stardf29: Honestly, other than the aforementioned “angsty edgelord” protagonists, I haven’t really seen any change in this trend. I think it’s because most isekai light novels originated as web novels, where people generally just “write what they like”, post it to a site like Shousetsu ni Narou, and hope other people hop along for the ride. (Some of those authors might “like” their protagonists to be more edgy for one reason or another.) I think what it boils down to is that, as you mentioned, most of these isekai are more focused on the characters’ adventures themselves, rather than seeking to convey some kind of “message”.
It’s worth noting that Outbreak Company did not originate as a web novel, which may have played a bit into why it’s more focused on its themes.
3. What do you think about all the otaku elements and references?
TWWK: The references were fun for me! They didn’t go too deep, which was okay by me—Fujiko Mine is kind of at my level—though its possible I missed some. I did read that there were a lot of shout outs to various anime in the series (which I’m now eager to see). I do think the volume would be stronger, though if the cuts were deeper—it would of course establish Shinichi as more of an otaku (I don’t really feel his weak nerd rejection story and constant reference to himself as a home security guard really establish his otaku identity); in this aspect, I was hoping for a little more Ready Player One, which contained a ton of references I knew as an 80s kid, but also gave enough explanation that even if I didn’t know the reference, I could embrace it.
stardf29: I haven’t seen or read Ready Player One so I can’t comment there. I will point out, though, that as far as catching references go, I have a bit of help… For J-Novel Club’s novels, if you have a membership, you can buy special Premium ebooks straight from the site; these Premium ebooks have some form of bonus content with them, such as extra short stories (sold as store exclusive bonuses in Japan), textless versions of the opening color illustrations, or in some cases, content written by the translator/editor. For Outbreak Company, in addition to textless color illustrations, there’s a glossary of all the otaku references (and other cultural notes).
TWWK: That’s a really cool option! What a great idea for a premium content offer! I tell you what—for Outbreak Company in particular, I could go for more illustrations. The character sketches are some of the best I’ve seen in any light novel I’ve read. I was super impressed by how pretty the illustrations are.
4. Is there anything about the worldbuilding so far that you particularly like?
TWWK: So I love the IDEA of the worldbuilding in this series. The author comments on it at the end of the volume—it’s a neat concept to bring Japan together with a fantasy world. I even like the idea of this kind of black hole connecting the worlds and the transfer of goods between, as well as the JSDF having a post in the city. But I don’t think the movement of concept to reality was particularly strong. This kind of led to a general frustration about the volume—the lack of subtleties and details. I could probably put this more delicately, but it felt like plot vomit—there was this rush to get to the climactic scene, and so instead of taking the time to bask in the uniqueness of the world by just walking through it, the author had us frequently in one of two places: a class setting to develop dynamics between Shinichi and the girls or in a scene that was full of action, like that at the end. Why not demonstrate the class divisions instead of having Shinichi rage about them? Why not elaborate on a specific village setting, noting what each type of race was doing, instead of info-dumping? The author is capable—there are really nice moments of relationship development for instance—but the hurry to get from point A to point B, I think, broke down a chance to make this volume into something even better.
stardf29: Huh, that might be an unfortunate result of the light novel format, if the author had a certain page limit to finish the volume in. (It’s possibly an advantage for starting as a web novel, where one can write things at their own pace to start with, and worry about volume divisions later if it gets picked up for publication.)
And now for the big question of the volume…
At many points, the story describes Shinichi’s work in terms very familiar to Christians, like calling him an “evangelist” of moe culture and spreading an “otaku” gospel. And at the end, he even references the spread of Christianity during the Middle Ages and how it was an example of a “cultural invasion”, whether intentional or not. So, how is Shinichi’s work similar to Christian missionary work, and to what extent can that be “cultural invasion”?
TWWK: That was a really interesting parallel made in the volume. I think it makes sense, too, in terms of this desire to do the right thing versus a more administrative, worldly concern. Shinichi reminds me of a passionate missionary, aiming to share his love of otaku culture with those who have never experienced it, while the Japanese government may have ulterior motives, not unlike church bodies of years past (and perhaps now) who have concerns other than altruistic ones in spreading the gospel.
The idea of cultural invasion is also interesting. As I often do, I’m reminded of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, where the idea is considered whether or not the missionaries belong in Japan. The message is good—if you believe in Christianity, you believe is to be necessary and true for everyone—but will is also cause immediate harm to cultures receiving it? Shinichi seems to be considering this, especially in light of the terrorist act that concludes volume one.
stardf29: The question of “immediate harm” is notable because Shinichi notes that the otaku products he’s introducing contains concepts like freedom and equality–concepts that, should they be accepted into the culture, would arguably make life better for people. Likewise, with Christian evangelism, we believe we are ultimately helping the people we are reaching out to. However, that doesn’t change how introducing radical concepts can produce unexpected results that might not be pleasant. So the question then is, when do we avoid “stirring the pot” and when do we go ahead and do what we believe is to be done?
TWWK: And also is there a better way of introducing “good” concepts? Paul mentions how he adjusts his mode of communication for different people groups—I think the willingness to invest in this and to do it show your heart for the people. Shinichi is already considering how to approach his own evangelism and makes adjustments, while the Japanese government don’t apparently care much for doing so—only as far as it can export its culture and empower and enrich itself.
stardf29: That’s a great point: having a heart for the people rather than just being concerned about your own goals. The answer Matoba (the Japanese government official) gives for “are we invaders” shows pretty clearly how self-interested they are: “If you believe you’re an invader, then you are, and if you don’t, then you’re not.” You can’t get any more self-centered than that. By the same token, though, the terrorists are also acting out of the interests of only their group’s interests, wanting to maintain the dominance of humans over other races. The contrast to them is Petralka, who starts off with various prejudicial beliefs because that’s how she was raised, but after being exposed to different ideas, starts to come around to the point of saving Myusel. (Also worth noting is Garius, who has noticed that the culture of the country has become stagnant and welcomes the opportunity to introduce new ideas and help it grow.)
From the perspective of the missionary, one can hope that the people we are reaching out to are as receptive as Petralka and Garius are of otaku culture… but if they’re not, we may simply have to be patient and start by putting our own goals aside and simply serve them with no strings attached.
TWWK: Well said. It will be interesting to see how Shinichi approaches his evangelism as he becomes more aware both of what he’s doing and what his employers goals are.
And that concludes our discussion! For further reading, check out @negativeprimes’s article on the anime adaptation and how it compares to other stories with similar concepts, over at Curiously Dead Cat (warning: the article goes into anime content that comes from volume 2 of the light novel).
For those of you who read along with us, or are familiar with the anime adaptation, what do you think of Outbreak Company and how it relates to Christian missionary evangelism? Let us know in the comments!
Volume one of the light novel ebook for Outbreak Company is available for purchase through Amazon.