Before I get to this review, I must warn you that even I think that some of these ideas fall in the category of “fan theory.” Not that I’ve ever had problems speaking on controversial issues before, but the themes that arise from whenever I watch this series are things that I continue to struggle to answer for myself to this day. My intention for talking about this series in such a way isn’t so much about dividing fans, but to unify them, in hopes that we can all enjoy the things we do, no matter what they are.
Having said that, Outbreak Company, to me, has a tone that is a defense for the otaku community. Whether or not you agree or identify as one is moot. But let’s also not forget: this is a comedy series, so let’s try to keep this review fun and interesting, while also getting into a little bit of the in-depth discussion. And while I am on the fence about identifying as “otaku,” since that word means different things to different people, I can’t help but think that I might love those people after having watched this series… maybe.
Outbreak Company brings our resident hikikomori (shut-in) Shinichi Kano into the world of the Holy Eldant Empire. Here, the tropes of a fantasy realm exist, including dragons, elves, dwarves, and a tsundere princess; and of course, Japan has exclusive contact to this country from another dimension. Having recently been hired by the Japanese government for his exceptional knowledge on all things anime, manga, and light novels, Shinichi must establish himself as the evangelist of the otaku culture in Eldant.
Sounds like a challenge? Maybe. Except that even Shinichi didn’t count on one huge detail: the mission to spread otaku culture goes TOO well!
Content-wise, this is a show that pays homage to a lot of tropes within the realm of “Cool Japan,” particularly of the manga, anime, light novels, and video games (Cool Japan also includes J-pop, fashion, and other things that make Japan trendy to the rest of the world, but those aren’t covered to as much of an extent here). Every other scene contains a trope from so many anime and manga before it, and references to trends in fan culture also coat the dialogue of this series. Not only are terms within the otaku community used, but they are explained well enough so that someone who isn’t so familiar with the jargon can understand it. And since we’re talking about otakus here, things can get pretty niche.
But if they’re going to explain something like zettai kyoiku and haitenai, they’d better explain seme and uke, too. We all know who you are. (If you’re that curious to know what these are, I recommend watching the series before googling it.)
Of course, not everything is pretty about this world, nor about otaku culture. Shinichi learns soon enough that Eldant’s political and social system is far different from Japan’s, and establishing something as simple as a school challenges the very norms of Eldant’s culture. Shinichi has accepted a lot of free thought from reading a variety of manga, but something like the inferiority of elves to humans seems too foreign to him. In one scene, Petralka even finds it difficult to understand “equality,” a value that seemed so commonplace to someone like Shinichi.
Shinichi has a very naive worldview that happens to fit with values we may consider “more civilized” than say, a kingdom like Eldant. But even then, the very values of an otaku culture must be examined, as it is also not perfect. With the success of a school and spread of the Japanese language, the people of Eldant demand more manga, anime, and video games, and even pick up some of the nastier habits that some fans have here.
But whenever these conflicts arise, Shinichi and his friends find a way to work things out so that they can laugh it off at the end of the day. Otaku culture serves as recreation for the people of Eldant, but too much exposure to it might lead down to other frowned upon actions, such as one’s unwillingness to work or never leaving one’s own bedroom.
At this point, I would like to say this is the SPOILER portion of my review (but you should already know that’s just what I do), and when the demands for the so-called “otaku culture” go too far, Shinichi learns of his true purpose as the ambassador of otaku culture.
The Japanese government knew that Eldant was a secret to the rest of the world, and taking control of it would not be as easy as using political force or making trade agreements, as those will be recognized rather quickly internationally. Having said that, the government opted for a cultural invasion, and knowing that otaku culture has made an impact on niche cultures around our world, that seemed to be the best solution to eventually win over Eldant. And since Shinichi is an hikikomori, no one but his already ashamed family would really miss him if anything were to go wrong.
Long story short, the government never really trusted otaku culture to begin with, yet another trope in anime and manga that actually has some truth to it. But if otaku culture has the power to win over others so quickly, then it can be a very powerful tool in terms of spreading cultural value.
But since this is a comedy series, of course Shinichi has a clever solution to his conundrum. And this particular solution, in my opinion, can get very controversial among manga and anime fans in general.
For the purposes of this argument, I am defining anime as animation that is produced and distributed primarily to Japan and Japanese audiences. Otaku culture latches onto anime and its similar media such as manga and light novels parasitically, and there are plenty of foreign otakus outside of Japan. But if the demand to import such media becomes too high, then it’s probably time for foreign media to adapt similar techniques and values to their own culture, hence the purpose of an exchange.
It sounds ideal, but this solution is a double-edged sword. That means that anime, according to Outbreak Company, isn’t limited to just Japan, and the values attached to it are not exclusively Japanese. The very spread of otaku culture under the Japanese name may be more detrimental than beneficial to Japanese culture as a whole. So what is it that foreign anime and manga fans have been so attached to all this time?
I’m not one to argue this point well, but I do believe that there is one thing that is good about the values found in anime and manga: its potential to heal. As much as I love this media, I know that not everyone will agree with me on this point, even within the various fan communities. And if there is any real defense for otaku culture that Outbreak Company can show to a culture like the Holy Eldant Empire, it’s that there is that potential for us to understand each other, and make bonds that we may not have thought were ever possible before.
To me, that is the strength of the otaku culture, and what anime, manga, video games, and all that other stuff has to offer to the rest of the world.
So if you would like to find a series that paints a somewhat idealistic, yet positive outlook on anime, manga, and otaku culture, watch Outbreak Company. And if you thought this was too serious, don’t worry. I’ll have something humorous very soon!