This week’s Outbreak Company had me concerned, but it came back and relieved my concerns. The first half of the episode was pretty standard “outsider impresses the insiders with his quirkiness”. And, yes, there was a moment or two where the series slipped into that dreaded “otaku worship” I mentioned last week. We focused perhaps a little long on the fact our “supreme ruler” is lolicon bait. But as we move with Shinichi into this world from our outside view into a more worldly perspective, the series found its true footing, I believe.
I basically want to ignore the first part. It is the expected fare. If you have seen one (harem) series where a doofus is inexplicably drawn into the affections of those around him regardless of rank or temperament, you’ve seen them all. However Shinichi teaching Miusel to write was a nice touch. It’s hard to underestimate the power literacy has. Even if it isn’t her own native language. And I was genuinely touched by Shinichi’s desire to educate her.
But the tea scene.
Holy fuck. The tea scene.
I think that the moment when Shinichi grabs the queen’s arm is going to be the defining moment of this series. Each series has one. They don’t typically come until after the pilot, but in a brief span of time they essentially serve to give the show its identity. A moment you can raise on a flag and wave as the show’s national colors, as it symbolizes everything that it is to be a great show, and inspire that which follows. When Shinichi grabs Petrarca’s arm…the death glare he gives her for her abuse of his servant is chilling, and quite frankly, badass in a series that on the surface would not lend itself to either.
And I am in love with this tone. On the surface, the show tries to be a comedy. That has mixed results, as all comedies do. But there’s a black humor here, in a show that tries to be comedic, while in a setting of illiterate poverty, class exploitation, and child warriors. The characters either ignore, or more disconcerting, simply accept the wickedness around them as life, and try to grin all the way through it.
And while yes, it’s clear that we are in a world more associated with say, 14th century Europe, and there’s certainly a bit of values dissonance in such a circumstance, it’s not an excuse. Just a reason. In many cultures of such a level of technology, illiteracy is common. We don’t even have to go into the past to prove it. But that doesn’t make it moral, and Shinichi, whether he is conscious of the articulation or not, knows it. And this is the saving grace of his character. A more “worshippy” character would say “yes yes, these tragic situations are like what the heroes of manga face!” But Shinichi doesn’t look at it like a labor for his protagonist. It’s not a challenge (game) for him to overcome. He sees it as something that simply must stop. He tries to be as nonjudgmental of this society as possible, but when he must bear witness to it, he simply steps in and does the decent thing. This is what makes him a heroic figure, not his virtue of being the protagonist.
More practically, he is faced with a society that is 80% illiterate, and thus cannot read his “moe culture” material. Even if he translated it into native Eldant, only 1 in 5 would be -able- to experience it, and fewer still would -appreciate- it. How he overcomes that will probably be adorable, and if we’re lucky, clever.
THIS is the stuff I was hoping for out of Outbreak Company, and it feels like it will strike its balance soon. Another overall win.