I once called Petrarca the weakest link in Outbreak Company. I officially rescind my statement, much later than I should have, but there you have it. Every instance thus far of the fantastic has revolved around her, and with good reason.
Miusel isn’t bad, per se. But she is “the maid”. The simple servant girl who is educated and shown Shinichi’s world of wonder. Her story of growth is mostly fun-oriented, with a bit of emotional disappointment thrown in just to keep it interesting. But that, also, mostly stems from her own innocence. Petrarca, on the other hand, is intelligent, powerful, and has a host of isolating personality issues. Her story is far more complicated, and by extension in this case, interesting.
Admittedly, her development has lacked a certain….logical direction. But I think, certainly by this point, Petrarca has settled into her character.
My favorite scenes, Outbreak Comapny’s little triumphs of “moments of perfect beauty” that make me genuinely hold affection for this show, was the very beginning. First, the bath scene, where Petrarca tries to engage her servants in friendly chatter. But they’re so beaten down by the culture, that they can’t bring themselves to chit-chat with the Human Queen. Giving up, she sends them all (all elves, from the looks of things), off to attend whatever business maids get up to late at night. The image of Petrarca at the edge of her bath, looking over the bathwater in lonely contemplation, was very striking, and an excellent set up for this episode.
I said in Episode 3 that the hostage crisis was the perfect bubble of what Outbreak Company should be about, and this episode is that in spades. There is geeky humor, but it exists as an extension of the major interpersonal dramas going on in Eldant.
So Petrarca, in true fashion of a tween-Queen, runs away from her responsibility as Supreme Ruler. My other favorite moment, was when Shinichi finds her (nice Solid Snake joke, by the way). He opens the box she was hiding in, and she’s curled up with manga. Not gone forever, not trying to start a new life. She just wanted a couple hours to herself, which for a 14 year old girl (or so), is not that big a demand. But it is a huge demand for the ruler of the kingdom. But the expression on Shinichi’s face, when he realizes what’s happening, that she isn’t in danger or abdicating anything, is so wonderful. The animators nailed it. His face is that of a man who knows for the good of everyone, he has to wake her. He has to tell the palace guard that there is no emergency. But he doesn’t want to. He wants to give his friend (and I don’t think I’m assuming too much that Petrarca and Shinichi consider each other friends at this point) the rest she so desperately desires that she ran away from her duties.
And in strolls Galius, who has no such qualms. Actually, he seems like he does have reservations, but after so many years of propping up Petrarca as a tiny adult, you kind of get the sense that he is just too used to squashing his sympathy for his little cousin. It was a good scene.
So following Petrarca’s decision to become a Shut-In (hikikomori for the purists), there are lots of gags that work very well, such as Petrarca deciding she wants a bath and Shinichi complaining “true shut ins don’t take baths”, but going along with it anyway.
Everything really came together well in this episode. Petrarca’s snacking on junk food wasn’t just her having fun, it was the sense of expression, from the dialogue, the way she was drawn, and the backstory we were provided, of a girl who has for the first time been able to experience true joy. Of being able to lay down, because it is HER desire to, and indulge her senses. Even the soundtrack was amazing. And you know things are good when I’m noticing the soundtrack amidst all this fan-wanking.
And, as I mentioned much earlier this season, Outbreak Company didn’t glorify the hikikomori phenomena. It acknowledged its existence, but Shinichi’s explanation to Petrarca after she’s started to grow bored after a day of “nothing”, was eloquent, and the third beautiful moment. His actor nailed the delivery, exactly the right blend of embarrassment, regret, and soul-baring. He doesn’t like sharing about that time of his life, but he knows it’s for the good of his friend. He doesn’t think twice about this plan. As mentioned, what makes Shinichi a real heroic figure is his gut reaction to solve problems and injustices that he comes across. Be that slave-classes, child warriors, or one friend who has finally caved under all her stress.
Hell, I even found the Galius boy-love stuff this week to be endearing and exceptional. I think because Galius acted like a normal human being and not a harem robot. He was professional with Shinichi. Certainly his feelings for him allowed Galius to open up to the outsider about Eldant’s troubled past, and his traitor parents who murdered Petrarca’s mother and father, but he mostly does this as a way to give Shinichi insight into Petrarca’s mindset. It’s for his cousin, for his Queen. It’s only after that the blushing comes, at Midori’s prompting, naturally. Out of all the slashing and shipping this series plays with, I think that might have been the sweetest.
And Petrarca does indeed come around. Because for all the pressure the outside placed on her, as Galius said, she is determined to be a magnificent queen, so that another civil war doesn’t grip her kingdom. That is her burden, that she has always willingly shouldered. She’s just 14, but she’s still a hero. And it’s hard not to root for her after this week. And, wonderful continuity, she is ashamed of the way she treated Miusel in Episode 2, along with almost getting the same killed in Episode 3. Is it reaching to think the way the elf servants were too scared to engage her as a person is tied to her guilt about Miusel and this whole shut-in mess? It would certainly be an interesting development.
So, just tossing this out there. Galius’ parents murdered Petrarca’s parents…is it possible that the portal has been open much longer than we were led to believe? Is this the thing Matoba has been trying to keep covered up, or perhaps even incite again?
Maybe? We’ll find out. I’m not sure how good Outbreak Company will stack against itself by the end of the season, but this week was exceptional, quite possibly the best of the season. Find this episode. Watch it. It is a welcome refresher of why this show is worth the hassle after so many weeks of fluff.