With a lot of fans enjoying isekai anime when they first started hitting in a big way, it didn’t take long to feel like we were being inundated with them. And that caused folks to miss out on some good ones because it was easier to just ignore the lot of them – and for good reason for a lot of fans. One that I think too many people missed out on was the Outbreak Company series. The anime was based on the light novel series by Ichiro Sakaki which began as light novels in 2011 and wrapped up in 2018 with eighteen volumes. The novels saw translation through J-Novel club but the manga didn’t get a release. The anime, landing in the fall of 2013, didn’t have a huge amount of material to work with but plenty for a season, and that, unfortunately, is all that it got. With a sense that the show is similar to other titles like Log Horizon and Sword Art Online, it’s easy to overlook it because of that. But when you get into it and realize the trick of it all, it’s a very appealing show for what it does and how it composes itself.
The series takes place in the present day as we’re introduced to Shinichi Kano, a hikikomori who is still in high school but has abandoned family and friends due to his inability to handle rejection by a girl. He’s managed to eke out an existence in his tiny apartment, but a job of sorts has sort of fallen into his lap with the government that’s right up his alley. Since he’s a pure kind of otaku with a love of anime, manga, and more, he has the skills and knowledge that they’re looking for. While he can’t believe he’s hired for this mystery job, it fits in with him wanting to get out of the lifestyle he’s in. As a hikikomori, he’s not that bad off overall because he can actively leave his place and interact with others, something that we’ve seen as a lot more problematic in other shows. The trick of all of this though is what the government wants out of him because it involves him being knocked out and whisked away.
What’s been discovered, quite accidentally, is that there’s a portal hidden away in Japan that leads to another world and more specifically into the Holy Empire of Eldant, one of the bigger nations of the land. With a little trick of magic to allow communication between both sides, Shinichi has been brought in to be a cultural ambassador to Eldant by introducing the best thing they have with anime, manga, and more. He gets assigned a maid with the cute half-elf Myucel, and has to interact properly with the sixteen-year-old ruler, Petralka, who is struggling with her position and her age in the way some treat her, but also some of the losses that came in gaining this position. There’s a little bit of politics and the like that comes into play with the story from time to time, but it’s mostly kept as some set dressing as opposed to anything with meaningful impact. It simply serves to explain away certain character motivations.
While Shinichi gets his needs taken care of thanks to Myucel, he works his time in Eldant with the help of Minori, a JSDF woman with a real affection for boys-love material. What Shinichi gets to do, after he struggles to understand it, is to have the JSDF bring over through the portal everything he needs to introduce his culture to them. The government has its own deep, dark agenda here that comes through in the last couple of episodes, but the bulk of the show is about the light fun, and real affection for these various properties that are sprinkled throughout in a very good way. We get lots of parodies to be sure since they don’t want to call things outright, but sharp-eyed fans will figure a lot of it out and some of the on-screen subtitles provide nods and casting quirks that help to clear up some of them, especially when dealing with directors and actors that worked together in previous shows or are making fun of themselves. But even while it does that, there’s still a lot of fun to be had with the show overall.
Throughout it, we get a lot of silliness in general with what it does even as it plays to some of the cultural differences that exist. There’s a class/caste system in Eldant that gets touched on through the students that Shinichi teaches since there are humans, elves, dwarves, and the lowest of the low with half-elves. But Minori points out that such things exist in Japan as well and their goal is not to turn Eldant into a place of chaos by rewriting their social structure. This has some potential for decent exploration, but it’s given a light touch because it’s not trying to be a deep series. Thankfully, they do wait until the ninth episode before we get a swimsuit episode, but with the series being aware of things due to Shinichi, they have fun with it overall while mixing the serious into it. With soccer matches, beach time, class time, and even a trip back to Japan for a bit with Myucel, it ticks all the right boxes and just has an enjoyable time with it all.
Because of the execution and the nature of the characters’ interaction, Outbreak Company gets to move past some of the usual things we get from isekai anime. The show goes in its own direction with what it wants to do and plays more to otaku culture and the bridges it can create as opposed to just continually powering up and trying to be a blunt instrument in the world. There’s not a mean bone in its body with what it wants to do and that helps a lot because it feels more like a cute love letter that just wants to have fun with its characters, touching on tropes and acknowledging them but also showing some fun smart angles along the way. There’s a really enjoyable fanservice angle that gets played from time to time without being obnoxious and the series as a whole simply delights, though it is also just a bit too superficial in some ways.