「皇帝陛下の憂鬱」 (Koutei Heika no Yuutsu)
“The Melancholy of the Supreme Ruler”
A young ruler, her parents long murdered and the weight of an entire kingdom bearing down on her tiny shoulders, begins to buckle under the stress. And then comes Shinichi…
Show, Don’t Tell, and How Outbreak Company Does It Properly
For those who aren’t aware, I’m a storytelling nerd. I analyze every story I come across, I dissect them to learn more about the form, and use what I learn to write fiction in my free time. I say this because when I (repeatedly) say that Outbreak Company is a very well told story, I come at that from a position of some authority. It does basic storytelling very well every week, and its a strength which is thrown into even more stark relief when Infinite Stratos 2 is the show I most often watch right before this.
Let’s compare these two shows. While in IS2 this week Kanzashi talked out loud about how she was frustrated and feels inferior to her onee-san, when it came time to show how isolated Petrarca was they did it with a surprisingly subdued walk off (last episode) or by surrounding her with overly-deferential maids in a massive bath she’s utterly dwarfed by this time. Outbreak Company tells its story through the situations and environments its characters find themselves in and their reactions to it, not soliloquizing while in the shower or dumping back story in the middle of a fight. It tells its story naturally and without feeling compelled to make itself absolutely clear, which makes what happens far more powerful than it would be otherwise.
Grand Vizier Good Guy Garius
Another great thing about Outbreak Company is that while its embraces and uses tropes often, it also defies them, and in ways that are both interesting and line up well with the characters its introduced. Consider Garius, the supreme ruler’s most trusted adviser and second in line for the throne. If any of you know anything about history ever, you know this is a recipe for murder. By all rights Garius should be a full-on evil Grand Vizier (trope! – and read that page quote, it’s perfect), but he’s not. The punch came when, just as I was about to praise Garius for not being the evil bastard he so easily could be – and I still do that, by the way – he reveals that the scheming grand vizier-types were his parents, and that they murdered Petrarca’s parents to try to put their son on the throne.
Hello Outbreak Company, these are my emotions. Why are you holding a knife? Hurk! This episode revealed plenty of extra depth in Petrarca, but there was some for Garius too. The one thing I regret is that Shinichi didn’t insist that Garius start treating Petrarca less like the supreme ruler and more like his cousin and friend. She needs people she can talk to as equals, and she needs family, and while others can step in on the former point, when it comes to family he’s all she’s got. Maybe he wouldn’t have been able to do it, but I would have liked to see Shinichi try. She needs more than just Shinichi, though he’s a good start.
If The Boss Has To Work Every Single Day, You’re Doing It Wrong!
Permit me to go off on a business rant, but if the supreme ruler can’t take off a single day because everything will pile up too much, then they’ve set up their government wrong. I see this more in private companies (if only because I work in the private sector), but companies that require the boss to be there every single day need to restructure and delegate out some of what the boss does so they don’t suffer a nervous breakdown and immolate themselves alive on a pile of backlogged paperwork. Give the girl a break or you’ll get…well, exactly what happened this episode.
Don’t Fight It – Master Hikikomori Shinichi
Shinichi’s tactic to lift Petrarca out of her hikikomori funk – which was a hilarious turn of events, by the way! – was a very smart one. A little tip on persuasion: if you’re arguing with someone, you’re almost certainly not going to persuade them of anything. Argument is combative, and when people get into a win-lose situation they fight to win, even if they might in a less passionate moment realize their side was wrong. In other words, no one is really convinced by other people, they only convince themselves. Instead of trying to convince Petrarca to stop being a hikikomori, Shinichi decides to push her further.
Brilliant. This is brilliant for two reasons, the first of which is that it lets Petrarca experience the lifestyle without guilt or shame. While it was forbidden it seemed wonderful, but there was a chance – and this is what ended up happening – that once she knew what it was really like she wouldn’t choose it. Petrarca got to unwind, have fun, and Shinichi got to look cool for the dumbest reasons, all without making Petrarca defensive.
The other reason this was brilliant was because it let Petrarca learn about and even experience the dark side of being a hikikomori. Shinichi’s explanation struck me as both kind and sad. He didn’t judge hikikomoris, and the way it happened to him was perfectly natural and even understandable, yet when he talked about how most hikikomori fall into it and can’t get out, or the weight of the bedroom door… I could feel the darkness, and felt it so well I had to step outside so that it didn’t press in too much. Petrarca had her fun and then she delved into the darkness, and she learned a fundamental rule of humanity – it’s hard to run away from work. You can take a break certainly, or choose not to do a particular sort of work, but we humans aren’t happy when we’re idle for too long. That’s why I go to my full-time job, then come home to write here and work on my fiction. It’s an empty life, doing nothing but goofing around, and I think Petrarca realized that, along with how she still cared about all her subordinates and her people, just as those guards cared about her. And thus she grows up a little more and chooses her responsibilities rather than merely having them thrust upon her.
Myuseru is Broken!
Mostly this was a more introspective and even touching episode, and it very much evolved Petrarca’s (and others’) character, but the gag that consistently and unabashedly had me laughing was broken Myuseru. I for one was glad she didn’t go all yandere, but instead succumbed to the shock, blue screened (trope!) and began committing culinary travesties. Much funnier that way! It also subtly emphasized a point – while Elbia may be fond of Shinichi, she wasn’t especially worried that he was going to be gone for the night, whereas Myuseru couldn’t function for it. Elbia may like Shinichi, but Myuseru really does love him. Where Petrarca stands in that continuum is hard to say, but she’s easily closer to Myuseru to my eyes.
Looking Ahead – Swimsuit Episode!
This is becoming an odd show in that its great at telling a story through the development of its characters, and it’s funny as hell besides, but it’s hard to see where the underlying plot is going. With four more episodes and the next one slated to be a swimsuit one, I don’t know where any plot is going to kick in, or whether I even want it to. After all, this is working, right? Either way, next time is swimsuits. I guess I can live with that!
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – The darkness of hikikomori. Petrarca cracks under the stress, but Shinichi is there to save her. But now Myuseru is broken too! #ob_c 08
- Bluk’s wife! I noticed her in the OP and was wondering when she was going to appear (along with thinking that OP scene was criminally sweet), but for some reason I expected them to meet during the story, not always have been married. This works a lot better though because honestly, we don’t have time for a minor character love story at this point.
- Jinzaburou is a stellar comedian sometime. For example, when he smoothly says that Shinichi is practically synonymous with hikikomori, ZAM! Beware the middle-aged beleaguered, for he has seen much and has zingers for most situations.
- I was going to comment during this episode that we weren’t getting much in the way of the political / diplomatic angle, but it popped back up here again. Not too much though. I’m still looking forward to all the crops they’ve been planting being reaped to marvelous effect. Soon, soon…
- Not important to this episode, but a side note in general: I love Minori’s hairdo. It’s a nice combo of a professional bun + tiny twintails. Professional twintails? I like it!
- Actually, I take back what I said earlier – probably the best gag was Shinichi distracting those two guards with eromanga…and not once, but twice! Those long pauses, them staring the eromanga down…then “Woohoo!” and pounce! Sometimes the silliest things are the best, haha!
- The door may be heavy, but it’s easier to just get it over with, if you’re strong enough. Petrarca is strong. And hopefully next episode, in a swimsuit, woohoo!
Check out my blog about storytelling and the fantasy novel I’m writing at stiltsoutloud.com. The last four posts: On writing fast, writing well, One short story, one week – buzzer beater, Writing challenge – one short story, one week, and Novel update: editing & short stories.