Weekly Digest 10/13/13 – Outbreak Company, White Album 2, Log Horizon

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Outbreak Company continues to walk a very fine line, but so far pretty effectively.

Outbreak Company – 02

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I see a lot to like in this series – in fact I enjoyed the second episode more than the first – but I’m not sure that’s going to hold. There’s a tenuous divide between satirizing the more preposterous elements of the anime market and trying to cash in on them, and between being thoughtful and calculating.  So far Outbreak Company is having it both ways, because it shows enough wit and charisma to be likeable in spite of that.  But sooner or later I think it’s going to have to state its purposes with more clarity than it has so far.

There’s an eerie and unsettling similarity between the premise here and that of Zero no Tsukaima, which grew increasingly unwatchable after a tolerable start.  We even have the sympathetic maid and the arrogant and selfish noble vying for the affections of the hero – the role of the noble here played by the loli queen Petrarca.  This similarity is of course not coincidental, as OC is passing itself off as a satire of that kind of series, but nowhere are the risks in that strategy more evident than in that character.  She fills a good number of trope roles in the story and quite unabashedly – she certainly annoys the hell out of me – and at what point does this stop becoming parody and officially become pandering for Blu-ray sales?

What salvages the show so far is the way it manages to avoid being tone-deaf to the cliches it’s trying to deflate.  Certainly things got a bit heavy-handed when Petrarca unleashed her racist tirade against Myuseru and Shinichi lectures her about how Japan lives under “equality, freedom and justice” seemingly without a trace of irony.  But he also said that he himself had been a victim of bigotry (for being an otaku, of course) and there seems to be a genuine desire to condemn the patriarchal system of our world where so many are denied the fundamental rights of access to information and simple enjoyment of life for economic reasons.

It the nature to which Outbreak Company exploits superficial moe for its own entertainment value that makes me question both its ultimate sincerity and its staying power, but for now it remains an interesting study in contradictions.  It also manages to be a source of some half-decent meta-culture, like Shinichi reading Shingeki no Kyoujin to Petrarca, Minori turning out to be a fujoshi (favorite anime: “Inazuma Twelve”) and the Hataraku Maou-sama poster he has imported through the dimensional portal for his otaku playroom.  With commercialism, class injustice and otaku pandering in its gunsights there’s plenty of fertile ground to be ploughed for satire here – it’s just a question of the series proving that’s what it wants to do.

White Album 2 – 02

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I didn’t find the second episode of White Album 2 quite as engaging as the first, but it still seems to be a cut above the standard high-school romance material we normally get.  I find it rather refreshing that the story doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to score points with silly or outrageous situations (with one exception), and the behavior of the central cast is still pretty dignified and low-key.  There’s a bit of a Mashiro-iro Symphony vibe so far, and if WA2 turns out to be that good I’ll be more than satisfied.

It took a long time for the series to finally tease out the worst-kept secret of the season, that Touma Kazusa was the mysterious piano player in Music Room 2.  It seems that we’ve been left out of a fair bit of backstory there, as Touma appears to have quite a bit of karmic baggage.  But that will come; the focus so far has been on Setsuna and her developing friendship (that’s what it feels like at this point) with Haruki.  They have a nice chemistry in the sense that their conversations are agreeably open and lacking in the usual artifice, but I’m not picking up a whole lot of romantic spark at this point.

I will say, though, that I find Setsuna even more attractive in her frumpy work clothes and obaa-san glasses, and I found her explanation of why she works a pretty good example of the way this series bypasses theatrics for logic.  Even as Haruki prompts her for a dramatic story about her tragic family life, she breezes past that invitation and straight to the truth – her parents are fine, she just doesn’t want to burden them with the cost of helping their daughter keep up with the social rat race when they’re already sacrificing to send her to an expensive private school.

There were a couple elements of this ep that bothered me, first the fanservice.  I like fanservice, but it’s really all about context.  In a series that carries itself in as dignified a way as this one does, the random undressing, oppai close-ups and panty shots seem a little crass and discordant.  They look great, don’t get me wrong – I love the character designs and art style here, some of the best Satelight has done since Ikoku Meiro – and I’m not saying that fanservice wouldn’t make sense as the series (presumably) take a more overtly romantic turn.  But what we saw this week just seemed tacked-on and a little exploitive.  Then there was Haruki’s trip out the window to spy on the piano player – that was an incredibly stupid thing to do, and seemed a bit out-of-character.  Plot-wise it’s really the only development in the first two eps that’s seemed forced and artificial, a matter of plot convenience rather than internal logic.

Log Horizon – 02

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Log Horizon continues to look a bit like a geekier, less ponderous version of SAO – which sounds like a pretty good thing.  In practice, I’m frankly finding it a bit of a bore.  It’s fascinating watching this in sequence with White Album 2, because it’s a pretty dramatic display of the best and worst of Satelight visuals.  This sort of series really suffers from the subpar art and animation, because world-building is such a huge part of the equation.

A bigger problem for me is that I’m experiencing some of the same issues I had with light-novelist Touno Mamare’s Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, and they make me wonder whether it’s an issue with his writing itself, or with its suitability for adaptation to anime.  As with Maoyuu it seems Touno is trying to do something intellectual and socially relevant here, but can’t resist using extremely tired anime cliche to try and do it.  The phrase I used for the Maoyuu adaptation was “dry as dust” and while it’s too early to say conclusively if that fits Log Horizon, that’s the impression it’s leaving me with – that same combination of too talky and professorial tone and lowbrow reliance on moe and indifferent humor.

It’s too bad, because whatever problems I have with Touno’s adapted work I find myself wanting to like it – I just never quite get there.  I like the idea of a spellcaster/strategist as the hero and I like the concept here, sort of a photo-negative of SAO – the biggest enemy is boredom.  The food is symbolic for the whole experience – bland.  Death is met with resurrection, and there seems to be no larger purpose driving anyone forward – which leads (as happened in SAO for somewhat different reasons) to certain players becoming player-killers, in this instance out of pure boredom.  It’s an interesting premise but the devil, as always, is in the details.  I don’t find myself caring much for any of the characters and there just isn’t much excitement here, with the reliance on expository dialogue, relaxed atmosphere and ¥100 production values.  To an extent it’s the opposite set of problems SAO had, fitting as the scenarios are likewise flipped, but problems nonetheless.



  1. D

    I'm definitely sticking with Log Horizon just because I really want to know what its main plot is actually going to be. MMO shenanigans is fine, but I doubt they've planned 25 episodes solely around that.

  2. b

    While I also did find the window stunt to be stupid, the Setsuna fanservice didn't bother me at all. I understand where this is coming I guess.
    And I like this episode just as much as the first one. Setsuna continues to grow on me, Haruki is also proving to be a good character, black belt lifeline aside, and we now get to see Kazusa's face outside the first few minutes of the first episode(about time). Still one of my favorite shows this season.

    I didn't quite like the references in Outbreak. Pretty blatant. I like my references to be subtle and not shoved in my face every time. And recommending Shingeki to those kids? Props but given it's content, I'm not sure it's the right story to be an entry level for them.

    And SAO comparisons aside(getting tired of this but it's inevitable), I'm liking the development in Log Horizon. It does seem more of the world situation rather than the escape. The skills and the class explanations just adds more enjoyment for me. Hope we get to know Shiroe's past in the following episodes. And Akatsuki continues to be adorable and a strong player. Another one of my favorite shows this season.

  3. D

    Technically speaking, Shingeki does deal with class difference in a pretty blatant way, so it was kind of fitting considering the scene.

  4. t

    outbreak company surprised me (again). 2nd episode brought the racism/slave conflict to the center and it combined well with the otaku and stuff. the episode was funny and flowed well. I can't drop it. at least for now.

    I still stick to log-horizon, however things must be more…sharp. we definitely see enough in terms of MMORPG world, but the main course of events or story..is still floating somewhere..

  5. i

    I in essence, disagree with you on everything.

    With OC (I just realized what those initials could mean to someone whose over 20 in the states) I just refuse to watch it. A show which is without doubt cashing in on anime girls shamelessly, with or without satire, is never going to last long with my patience. The first reason is because satire itself isn't a very funny thing for me (I like my low-brow Gintama) and because I expect when inevitable play dough crafted drama hits the scene it will be as eloquent as a turd. Plus that art hurts my eyes. Those are my problems with watching something like OC, I feel apathy just from the poster and thus I am strongly biased against it.

    WA2 was for me better this episode. Actually that's not true, rather than being better I feel that due to it I like the characters more than I did (natural as I've learned more about them). I really wished that KNIM was something like this: low-key, real but with a touch of anime silliness. The wall walk was certainly a forced element but I didn't mind it considering that it was the first of the whole series, whereas other more popular shows have a dozen facepalm moments after 2 episodes. And I got into it, I was a little bit excited when Touma grabbed him.

    I like Log Horizon a lot. It was exactly what I wanted from SAO, less shouting, less blatant moe, less Mary Stu, less of everything is more for me. You harp about the animation but I don't find it that bad, it's not the greatest by any measure but it's certainly not the worst by a mile. The debatable points the series brings up is also far more original and interesting than apocalypse with moe and GAR SAO (which then repeats itself again without the apocalypse and with a rapist last boss). I won't lie, I prefer intelligent type characters in anime to the usual stupid as a brick wall 'cough' Ichiks 'cough' and Shiroe certainly fits that bill. Log Horizon also has less of a story and more of a life's adventure feel to it. By this I mean that, like players in actually MMORPG's, there is no end point but one just lives in this fantasy world and completes quests, explores the world and those fun stuff. The only difference is that the players can't get back to the real world. I like this over SAO certainly and I like overall a lot. That OP really gets me pumped as well.

    But those are just my choices based on my bias and viewpoints and I just wanted to state them.

  6. R

    Note: I'm not native english speaker. Mind my shit grammar.

    I think the "Setsuna fanservice scene" is more a "Setsuna is dressing up for a date" scene, with the point being that her meeting was not really a date. It was strange that they went to a karaoke to just talk. Even for the MC, who we are show that wasn't too into this thing (the first shot we see from that scene is an static MC, not really participating with the song and feeling out of place). Also, she seemed to continue that stupid attitude where she couldn't state properly what she wants to do. I felt she was leading him into reaching out for her. I feel she's kinda messed up in one way or the other but I can't put my finger on what exactly (for those watching Monogatari Second Season, Ogiso's character feels similar to what we recently saw with Sengoku Nadeko).

    So, I think that the dressing up helped to point out some flaws in Setsuna's character. I feel she's somehow misinterpreting the MC and is trying to seduce him. Motive: I don't know. She looked uneasy in her mirror, as if she were gathering up courage. And her last line ("I'll be okay… this time"), with the camera on a blurred shot of some photos, hinted at something weighting on her shoulders. She did not really reveal all her secrets to our MC.


    Log Horizon: I disagree that the show looks like shit. On the contrary, I think it looks pretty good and its technically effective. It may not be the most visually pleasing of the season, but it doesn't shy away from including smaller details in most of the scenes:

    – Accessories reacting properly to the wearer's body movement.
    – Akatsuki's SLICE, the MC's debuffs, Naotsugu's agro skill. They all look right, very game-y.
    – Item drops.
    – A lot of background+foreground stuff to see, like the Tank petting his griffon or the busy fight against the PKs, where the effective use of the camera showcased how open world PVP feels like (by putting many shots from the strategist's PoV).

  7. There was a lot more than just the getting dressed scene (and seriously – what if they'd showed Haruki getting dressed for a date? Any chance people would have called that normal?) – lots of boob close-ups and butt shots at random moments. It wasn't all that offensive but it just seemed very out-of-place given the otherwise restrained and dignified style of the series.

    As for LH, agree to disagree. I see a lot of jerky animation, very bland character designs and a general lack of any distinct visual style. I'd out it about on a par with Arata as far as Satelight is concerned. That's never going to be a deal-breaker with me, but in this sort of series it does – for me at least – contribute to an overall blandness in the presentation so far.

  8. R

    Had they added giggling meat I would agree more with you but I think it was a fair use of eroticism to make a point, with Setsuna being in control of the camera. The out-of-place feeling may have been the intended effect. I think it worked now but I hope they keep it to this tone, as I also love how elegantly the show is carrying itself in these early episodes.

  9. H

    I don't really agree with you about Setsuna's motives. I think that she's more fallen for Haruki, and is trying to get him to fall for her, not really through seduction, but through being herself. She knows that so many boys like her for her idol looks and status, but Haruki has been the guy that, instead, she's laid bare all her 'secrets' to.

    And I thought the karaoke scene worked on a different level. It wasn't Haruki being bored or stone-faced. It was Haruki being enchanted by Setsuna's singing, which is exactly what she was hoping for (and that was a really good insert song). Getting ready for their 'date' was definitely malegazey, but it is what it is.

  10. A

    Outbreak Company does seem to be doing a splendid tightrope act suspended between brainless fanservice on one side and Serious Social Commentary on the other, and so far it's maintaining a good balance.
    I was glad that Shinichi stopped just shouting stuff out and seems to have developed a more thoughtful character though, and they didn't make a big service point of the princess sitting in his lap.
    So far the show is exceeding my expectations.

  11. G

    I'm really liking Log Horizon. Its nice that we can all have different tastes and find things we like to watch.

  12. M

    I am liking WA 2 and Outbreak, good surprises. Log Horizon is so boring, SAO sure had it's problems but at least the author did know how to keep you interested and enterteined for 25 episodes. Log Horizon hero is ok but the heroine…..she became the protagonist servant in 10 minutes of the first episode and stay half of the episodes making moe faces and kicking the protagonist friend…starting to miss Asuna.

  13. M

    It appears that the 1st episode of WA2 was no fluke and I can't help but expect good things from it.I'd say I enjoyed this episode as much as the 1st one,maybe more because I was eager to learn a bit more about the characters and I got just that.I did expect to see more of Kazusa though but I guess that'll be the next ep.

    About the fanservice bits,it's really tame yea,not anything worth to throw a fit for but I do agree with Enzo on it.This show really doesn't need to rely on that(especially when I hear that the VN is popular as hell in japan) so I hope there won't be many boob & ass close ups in the future.Besides that,I mostly agree with Highway.It's only natural that a girl(or even a guy for that matter) will try to look good for the person she likes and I personally appreciate that – he did saw her in her work clothes too after all.

    All in all,both Haruki & Setsuna are growing on me and they'll continue to do so if the series keeps being this consistent.Need to see & learn more about Kazusa though as we're 2 episodes in a 1 cour series and she had just 2 lines.We can't have a good drama withouth caring about the characters now can we? 😛

    Also,Enzo do you have any idea if anyone plans on picking this up on RC as well?Hopefully it'll at least be mentioned in a podcast,assuming that it'll remain this consistent.

  14. Not as far as I know, but there's a good chance I'll keep up with it here.

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