How can you not like an anime where the hero spends part of the finale in an “All Your Base are Belong to Us” T-shirt?
I’m not going to pretend for a moment that Outbreak Company was especially brilliant or profound, but given that I covered a few episodes and I leave the series with a rather warm feeling, I thought I should write a short post now that it’s concluded (and based on the projected sales, for good in anime form). The O.C. is really proof that there’s plenty of room for a series with low expectations to be a pleasant surprise without being a revelation. And while I confess I didn’t expect much going into this show, it comfortably exceeded my hopes.
The finale showed off a lot of the charm and intelligence of O.C.. The fact that Shinichi chooses Crime Edge (from a superb but hardly popular franchise) as his weapon of choice, the aforementioned T-Shirt, the Daiya no A manga in his care package from Japan… Not to mention the Abe Shinzou joke – and not a kind one at that – at the end. The whole key for Outbreak Company was doing everything just a little better than seemed likely – a little smarter, a little more timely, a little edgier, a little funnier. And it doesn’t hurt that the cast – including the lead – are all profoundly likeable, and there’s very little of the mean-spiritedness and lack of dignity that’s common in many of the series this one pokes fun at.
The ending was pretty predictable – I figured the Japanese government would try to take Shinichi out, Minori would come to his aid, and Matoba would turn out to be somewhere in the middle. And this isn’t a series that generally went for profundity or depth, though it was a bit deeper than it might have seemed sometimes. It also did a nice job with the seemingly impossible balancing act of trying to exploit the tropes it was satirizing at the same time it was satirizing them. In the end that probably wasn’t the best recipe for commercial success but that approach was the best for the series itself, I think. Though I think the perspective of the series was ultimately quite sympathetic towards otaku (at witness the Petrarca hikikomori episode), this is not generally a group that wants to look at itself being satirized on-screen in this day and age.
The highlight of The O.C. for me was the episode where Shinichi took Myuseru to Japan with him – it was both the funniest and most heartwarming ep of the series. That relationship was the best of the series too, innocent and very winning altogether (though I never thought for a moment that Shinichi would finish that confession in the finale). It’s a very interesting scenario here, where both Shinichi and Myuseru are subject to discrimination in their own worlds – he for his tastes and she for her genetics – and this is as close to deep as Outbreak Company gets. Neither Eldant nor Japan comes out smelling clean in this scenario, and it’s a simple fact that Shinichi is more at-home in Eldant than in his own country.
Is there an inward-looking element that reflects on the time after Perry and the Black Ships forced Japan to open its doors to the world, and a sheltered population had to confront a new reality full of technologies and cultural influences it was totally unprepared to process? I don’t think there’s any doubt – but like most of the social commentary in Outbreak Company it’s handled very gently, more or less left as something for the audience to ponder if they’re so inclined, ignore if they’re not. Mostly this is just a pleasant, good-hearted and often quite funny series that expresses both a profound knowledge of and affection for the element of its culture that much of “respectable” Japan pretends doesn’t exist. Just because they ignore this spectacularly bizarre subculture doesn’t make it any less remarkable that it exists, and that nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world is something Japan should feel proud of. And that, as much as anything, is the point of Outbreak Company.