Behind the thick veneer of otaku culture and preying upon the sensibilities of many an anime fan, Outbreak Company makes for great entertainment and even greater social commentary that only a goofy series like this could possibly provide.
Title: Outbreak Company
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Parody
Shin’ichi Kanō is a young secluded otaku who is offered a job thanks to his vast knowledge of anime, manga and video games and just after meeting his new employer, he is kidnapped, awakening in an alternate world with a fantasy setup. Shin’ichi then is informed that he was in fact selected by the Japanese government to help improve his country’s relations with this new world by establishing a company to spread the unique products of the Japanese culture to this new, unexplored market
After all these years of being a fan of anime and Japanese culture in general, it is undeniably difficult to understate the impact that it has had on my daily life. Although it has never changed the way I live, culture does have a peculiar way of influencing person – even to the point where I started to incorporate and acculturate some of the same practices into my own rituals. In many ways, culture is truly a transformative tool and what type of discussion Outbreak Company tries bring to the table without being too patronizing to its audience or too whimsical to get the point across. As someone who usual enjoys parody and satirical manga/anime, yet tire from the material that just uses the most recognizable and iconic staples of the fandom, Outbreak Company does seem like more of the same, but surprisingly, a refreshing departure from the crowd and something I believe everyone can possible enjoy on some level or another – whether you be a casual observer of anime, self-proclaimed hard-boiled viewer, or every other place in between.
Much to Outbreak Company’s credit of combining two of my favorites thing: 1.) Comedy and 2.) An high fantasy world setting – it really is good and harmless fun as much as it a brilliant commentary. Recalling some of the scenes like the half-elven maid, Myucel learning Japanese to better support and talk to Shin’ichi reminded me of myself learning the language from an initial interest (and play games I normally would be able to) as well as the rivalry between the elves and dwarfs that went from a clash over race discrimination to that over who taste in anime better; much like any forum today on any topic dealing with personal preferences. As endearing and humorous as many of these things are, I do least commend the series on having the narrative to roll things along where most titles make the jokes and punchlines the ultimate endgame. Ironically, while much of Outbreak Break narrative seems like a punchline in and of itself; moving from on misadventure to another – episode titles and all (see episode 10), the story of Shin’ichi’s otaku missionary work, enjoyable as it is, does at least lend itself to deeper and interesting dialogue many stanch viewers will like. The last three episodes best sums this up as the nature of Shin’ichi’s work comes to light that brings up the question of the effectiveness of soft power and the influence culture can have, especially in today’s modern world of advance communication. Or, if you like to go the simpler root: Is it possible to explain the world of anime fandom to friends and family (and understand it without freaking out) like Shinichi does with the elves and dwarfs. You don’t really have to peer that closely (or even try) to enjoy this show other than for the pure fantasy, offbeat characters, and deliberately well-crafted wit; self-effacing, referencing, or otherwise. All-in-all, as aforementioned, the series does have little bit of everything for most people and miraculously, presents it in an adept manner that doesn’t border on the realm of arcane – a common problem most parodies tend to by overestimating/underestimating its audience breadth of understanding.
Of course, for those watching the series, a majority of humor and jokes will be gained from observing the many Easter eggs that director Kei Oikawa obviously left aside. With many coming in the flavor of spoofs of cornerstone otaku anime and games, he doesn’t miss an opportunity cite his own directorial pet projects (I.E: Minami-ke, Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai!) that are apart of the same pantheon. Certainly, it is a more frivolous example of amusement, yet unlike many shows that jam in it the viewers face and wear out their welcome quick, Outbreak Company attempts the subtle and coy root, which actually works to some effect, especially if you can “spot the reference” or see where things are headed. The formula works spontaneously and unabated for a great spans of the series, but since episodes themselves lack strength in the sequencing they are set in, many sort loss their bite in later episodes as the series attempts to change its tone slightly.
Highly reminiscent in terms of character designs, artwork, and animation of 2012’s Dakara Boku wa, Ecchi ga Dekinai (So, I Can’t Play H) that dealt with a similarly constructed world – sans the themes, cosmetically, the series does very well of capturing the fantasy atmosphere. Granted that most of the character designs are quite generic, saved from that fact that most of the fantasy races are unique, the scenery and background designs are the only thing worth taking interest in as well as what stood out the most to me. The musical score is actual impressive as well, with much thanks to Keiji Inai. Sharing a few similarities with his past work on Nurarihyon no Mago with respects to tone and instrumental arrangement, Outbreak Company is more of the same, expect most tracks are divided between heavy fanfare – sporting a lot of woodwinds and horns, slow melodic pieces focusing on piano, and one bizarre track in particular that is the highlight of the series. Not sure what Inai’s inspiration was for N↓DA↑GI↑NA↓DA☆, but the retro sound effects coupled with the weird scat singing and off kilter tempo, has to be on the most creative tracks; but just like the others, fits perfectly into whatever mood the series shifts to.
At the very least, if don’t admire Outbreak Company for its clever humor, thoughtful storyline, or affable and imaginative world, it can at least be appreciated for making you think of what brought you into anime and the many of faucets of Japanese culture in the first place. There are a ton of parody and satirical works out in the growing compendium of anime, but by far, I would have to say that this is the most viewer friendly and amusing to watch without having to rack your brain trying to find the crux of the joke. No, Outbreak Company has a simpler mission in mind: laugh it, with it, and for all the ridiculous antics, just enjoy it at your own pace. If you want to and can do just that, I rightfully think that you have a great time with a remarkably charming comedy.
Pros: entertaining narrative, great instrumental score, background/foreground designs, likable cast of characters (recommended title).
Cons: pacing and episode sequencing, generic character designs