To be honest, even as I begin writing this review it is still difficult for me to determine exactly where I stand with regard to Outbreak Company. On one hand it is a clever series with some shining episodes, complemented by “inside jokes” and other references for the anime-loving community to discover and enjoy. But on the other hand, there were long periods of time where little of interest/importance occurred, and several occasions where I was left feeling that the otaku culture concept was taken a few steps too far. While perspectives are likely to differ depending on how you approach the series, it is hard to deny it made for an entertaining watch at the very least.
Although his backstory is not delved into too much, Outbreak Company follows a male protagonist by the name of Shinichi Kanou. Aside from being a shut-in, having parents with successful careers in eroge and light novels left him with an almost compendium-like knowledge of the otaku culture. Looking for work, he comes across a brutal questionnaire which tests him on his knowledge about the culture – and manages to answer every question correctly in a brief period of time. The resulting events see him attend a job interview, subsequently drugged and then waking up in a bed attended to by a half-elf maid in the fantasy-inspired Holy Eldant Kingdom.
This land of magic, swords and fantasy is noticably different from the Japan of today, which is why Kanou was dragged into this hidden parallel world. Now working for the Japanese Government, his job is to introduce otaku culture into a kingdom which still highly regards the class system, bigotry against certain races and favours a never-ending work ethic that has seen all bar the highest ranked citizens learning how to read their native language. From here, Kanou must form a rapport with the young Empress Petralka Anne Eldant III, and begin his plans to integrate the Japanese language and otaku culture into this new land. A supposedly daunting task that takes only a few episodes to begin achieving noticable results.
One of the elements I particularly enjoyed when watching Outbreak Company was Shinichi Kanou as a character, who was a driving force behind many events in the series. Although they did push the overly-enthusiastic otaku cliche on him a few too many times, he tended to be portrayed as a character with strong morals and ethics, frequently fighting against what he considered to be the prejudices faced by people in the Holy Eldant Kingdom. For example, despite being enthusiastic about his half-elf maid Myucel Foaran, he treats her as he would any other person and defends her against those who discriminate her due to class or lineage. On the other hand, he is one to see Petralka Anne Eldant III as a person rather than an empress who needs automatic praise. Watching him succeed and fail at breaking these stereotypes and navigating his way through the different challenges posed to him across the 12-episodes were one of the main reasons I opted to keep watching Outbreak Company.
Another positive element of Outbreak Company was that it tended to be a humorous and occasionally informative series to watch through references to other series. There were even a couple of occasions where the characters poke fun at previous series that cast and crew of the show had worked on. Unfortunately this is where one major stumbling block potentially arises, given several of the referenced series have never been localised into English. While Sentai Filmworks have done a solid job of keeping the experience authentic and not rewriting references out wherever possible, I envision that some of the references may be pointless to the more casual anime viewer. Those who are familiar with a vast array of series should have plenty to enjoy however – from the vague to more prominent references.
Where I remain hesitant with Outbreak Company is that while the references to anime, manga, light novels and the otaku culture would have likely drawn people in and tended to be entertaining to watch, I found myself drawn into the more serious facets of the storyline. Unfortunately, plot development tended to be sacrificed for episodes such as the “swimsuit” episode, “soccer match” episode and the “let’s make a movie” episode. While these wern’t necessarily bad inclusions or poorly written episodes, a lesser reliance on them would have been welcome to me. The idea behind the ending was also pretty obvious from Episode 1/2, and I was expecting more of a dilemma given the circumstances.
While a Blu-ray release of Outbreak Company was made available in North America, Australian publisher Madman Entertainment opted to keep it exclusively on DVD. I am not too torn about this decision, as the visual quality of the series whilst adequate is nothing spectacular in terms of both character and environment designs. Similar to the vague references presented via text or through dialogue, the production team also refer to a number of anime series visually – with Shinichi Kanou’s mansion and school filled with books, posters and other merchandise referencing particular real series. Quite often these differences are mere colour alterations of official artwork. Some of the more significant inclusions have received annotations by Sentai Filmworks, but most of the brief visual references don’t.
While they have been meeting the demand for sub-only anime releases as of late, Sentai Filmworks opted to commission an English dub for Outbreak Company. Although I do personally think there are other series which would be better suited to an English dub, what was delivered proved adequate. Highlights of the English dub include Christopher Patton as Galius (It is great hearing him in new titles!), Tyler Galindo as Shinichi and Genevieve Simmons as Minori. However, I personally think the Japanese dub did suit the series better.
Unfortunately there was little in the way of extra on-disc content with this release, with the only extra content being Clean Opening/Ending sequences and a small compilation on trailers. The Australian DVD release of Outbreak Company included trailers for: Ben-To, Dog & Scissors, Senran Kagura: Ninja Flash! and Samurai Bride.
While I think there could have been a better balance struck between the otaku culture element of the storyline and the more serious elements of the plot, it was hard not to enjoy both elements which contributed to the Outbreak Company experience. With 11 light novel volumes by Ichirou Sakaki currently available in Japan… I would be tempted to see where the plot progresses from there should a second season be commissioned. However, what’s provided delivers a solid 12-episode standalone experience which doesn’t fall into the “stepping stone anime” trap I previously discussed in my review of Unbreakable Machine Doll, and can be watched without the need for additional episodes to supplement major plot holes.