Haruhi walks into Music Room 3 at Ouran High School to find six handsome boys, forwardly trying to entertain them. They back into an antique vase, breaking it and making them a debt slave to the Ouran High School Host Club; where the most handsome young men with too much time on their hands entertain young and rich girls with too much time on their hands. Haruhi quickly becomes the fixation of some of the most powerful students in the school and becomes part of the most wild events and unlikely relationships.
Haruhi is our cross dressing and androgynous protagonist. They are down to earth, from a humble background, and a very diligent student. Haruhi is the only member of the Host Club that is there against their will. In part because everyone else is there because they choose to be, not because they owe millions of yen. Haruhi has this incredible ability to see past the facades that so many characters put on. It was like they were naked in front of them, bearing their souls, whether they wanted to or not. Haruhi had a way of throwing off all the plans of the Host Club in all the ways that it needed to be thrown off. The most predictable card in the deck of jokers and it made the game even more unpredictable.
Tamaki is the “King” of the Host Club. He is the president of the club of entertaining young women with too much time on their hands. I struggle to call Tamaki a visionary because he is kind of an idiot, but he certainly has a vision. A vision that includes doing whatever wild fantasy that comes to mind with all the people he loves. He is insistent on projecting his idea of family onto the people he surrounded himself with. Tamaki is his own emotional rollercoaster. He can be bouncing off the wall one second and suddenly depressed in the corner at the slightest inclination of rejection. This wild ride of emotion was fun to watch and the unimpressed reaction of everyone around him, who were clearly used to it, was hilarious. Ouran’s Host Club’s king will probably never strike fear into the heart of his enemies, but he finds his own special way of rallying the troops to overcome whatever their kingdom faces.
If Tamaki is the bright and glamorous face of the Host Club, Kyoya is the guy who makes everyone’s whims happen. We see him manage the accounting, filling orders, dispatching special police forces, and pretty much anything else that is either not sexy or a tad nefarious. I got the impression that he took a lot of pride in being the “fixer” for the club, making sure that all the problems just… go away. Kyoya is the youngest of three brothers whose family controls a medical empire, among other ventures. He knows he will likely never inherit the family business and feels rejected by his father and his overachieving brothers, despite being well accomplished himself. Kyoya might have the best development of the entire show, but you have to wait a really long time for it.
Kaoru and Hikaru are twins. Not in the way that is cute or wholesome, but in speaking at the same time and pretending to be incestual way. Admittedly, I didn’t like the twins much at all when I started watching the show. I still think I wouldn’t have liked them at the end if Sarah hadn’t encouraged me to pay attention to their development. It was heartwarming to watch the twins struggle to find a place for each of their person in a world where they were only a pair. Haruhi had a big hand in shattering the narrow mindset and exclusive attitude that they developed. I do wish that we had gotten to see the twins get over the hill of their development, but we have to settle with knowing that we can see their trajectory rather than their destination.
Honey and Mori are cousins and polar opposites. Honey is small and cute enough to be mistaken for a grade schooler, while actually being skilled enough at martial arts to take out whole squads of Green Berets. He has a hummingbird like personality and fittingly eats what seems like four times his body weight daily. For my League of Legends fans, Honey is like Anne and Mori is Tibbers. Mori is soft-spoken, intimidating, and Honey’s protector. He does everything from keeping his diet in check to ensuring his safety. Naturally the girls love his protective nature. Mori and Honey got less development than the rest of the cast, Mori less than Honey, but their role is still appreciated. They do a solid job at balancing out the cast and bringing their uniquely opposite personalities to our already comical group.
Ouran is a trip and a half. What feels like a complete whack-fest ends up being a completely methodical gold mine of wealth and gender based comedy. What makes the show even funnier is a complete sense of self awareness. Ouran knows it is ridiculous and plays to it. The viewer is talked to. The episodes are referenced. Characters write teen girls manga about the events of the show. Yet, even as lighthearted and funny as it gets, it has a deeper side with real pain and character exploration. Development feels natural and like it was happening the whole time, you just didn’t realize it. You feel like part of the family that Tamaki creates and I was smiling the whole time. I will say this, and not lightly, Ouran High School Host Club is probably the best comedy anime I’ve watched since Love Is War. If you like to laugh, smile, and usually avoid kicking puppies, you will enjoy this one.
If you somehow get through this show and aren’t taking away big themes of gender and identity, I don’t know how you did it. A large part of Haruhi’s identity, and their family’s, is that their birth sex played a small part of their identity. Haruhi’s dad is a staff member at a cross dressing bar. Haruhi does not care if they are dressed as a male or a female. Everyone else seems to make much bigger of a deal out of it than they ever really cared about. The show is potentially some of the most respectful handling of sex and gender that I have seen, but it certainly has it’s moments of… questionable dialog.
The real world sucks. Destabilized countries, global epidemics, rising home and rent, and the Rolling Stones Top 500 Greatest Songs list are all reasons that we need to escape into the depths of anime for just a short amount of time. Tamaki uses the Host Club as a way to escape reality. He has created a family around him and strives to make everyone who walks into his home happy. All the characters realize that Tamaki lives in his own world, but towards the end of the show that starts to become a worry for everyone. As events converge and characters become more self aware, the magic of the fantasy world rubs off as the clock approaches midnight. It felt like even Tamaki was aware of this and his desperate attempts to keep up the illusion came across as sad sometimes. But also heartwarming. He loved everyone in the show so dearly and just wanted them to be happy together. I can really relate to this given all that is happening in the world. It’s nice to just ignore it all, spend time with friends, and do what I can. When so many people want to talk about politics or the latest happenings, I find it far more tolerable to scroll through anime twitter and smile at fictional interactions. Is that facing what is happening in the world? Not at all. But sometimes I, and others, just need to ignore the world for a while and enjoy the short life that we have. There is some just criticism for this way of thinking, but if I think this way I don’t have to listen to them, now do I?
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of childhood is handling family expectations. If your family is anything like mine, expectations can be crushing, even if you meet them. Kyoya felt the pressure of his family legacy laying on him. Not because his parents expected too much, but because they expected nothing at all. His two older brothers were so accomplished and had done so well in his father’s eyes that there was no need to look at Kyoya. He was irrelevant. He had to fight for any kind of attention or expectation to feel like his father acknowledged him in any way. It was a tough struggle to see because I think we can all see that struggle in our own lives. Most people love or care about someone who can’t or won’t see them as they are. Or won’t see some depth that the person wants them to see. It is incredibly painful to be ignored in this way and Kyoya was no different. Our normally stoic character became angry and violent when confronted with the emotions that came from this. I would argue this emotional dealing was the best in the whole show, the most raw exposure of a character and what they deal with. While many children can find their parents’ expectations suffocating, Kyoya seemed to want any kind of framework of expectation. It was a wonderful idea to explore and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
What starts off as a comedy focused, self aware, parody on wealth and gender with no real direction and an almost episodic pace, decides at some point that it is not satisfied with that. We spend close to the first half of the show learning about Haruhi and what the club does, but we need to wait until the second half of the show to get the development of the Ouran Host Club boys. When we were spending time being introduced to the world, learning about the characters, and enjoying the random things that happened, we got a sense that certain things might happen. There might be a romance. There might be a confrontation with parents. There might be competition between the members. But time passes and we become unsure of that happening. At times it felt like characters got a little lost in their own actions and were set back. The second half of the show made these developments much more clear when the show started to give background and motivation behind the core cast. I enjoyed the switch to a more development focused show, but I wanted so much more out of Tamaki’s portion of the show. It felt like the whole show revolved around him as much as it revolved around Haruhi, but he got two episodes of love. Maybe three. The final push to get his development felt like it was rushed, lacking in the human interactions that he values so dearly. So while the show had fun elements, sprinkled information throughout the show, and developed characters well, I think they could have given themselves a little more time to do that and cut into some of the episodes that were less important so that the ending could be better highlighted.
It is common that anime will be developed from games, or at least take heavy influence from one. I was shocked to learn that this show was original from any game. I was certain that I was going to find some Ouran Host Club dating simulator. Many of the shots in the show had rose print engraving you find on cards that grandmothers buy, but also in dating simulators. All of the characters are created to be pretty, all of the interactions are either comical or unnecessarily romantic, and the protagonist seems extremely out of place. Everything feels simple, but glamorous. The animation has a feeling of importance, as if the animators changed their brush stroke preset to “regal” and just dropped the whole paint bucket on the screen. Then the next frame could completely forgo all of that and convert back to the classic over expressive comedy anime style. Flipping back and forth between the comical and serious…well, as serious as the show gets, creates such a fun dynamic that is really propped up by the animation in all the right ways.
Ouran’s uncanny ability to make wild things canon is the best part of the show. Most of the show takes place in the third music room of Ouran High School, a beautiful Victorian-esque room with crown molding more expensive than Jeff Bezos’ rocket. Yet, somehow this room transforms into Edo Period Japan, a Medieval experience, or Arabian paradise, among other things. But this was not what made the world special. These were planned events explained away by the impressive work of Kyoya and the incredible wealth of the club. What is never explained is the complete monkey business of the show. Literally. There is a monkey that drops bananas that the characters trip on. That is canon. Renge, the club manager, comes out of the ground on a podium like she is about to perform at the Super Bowl. This is never explained, but almost no one in the show is shocked at this happening. The characters speak directly to the audience and speak in full knowledge they are in a show to each other. It feels like common knowledge. We can transition from infiltrating an all girls lesbian school putting on a play with Haruhi’s cross dressing dad to someone telling a character not to be sad because their development episode is next. But there are also little details that matter a lot. Like how the club is for rich girls with too much time on their hands. That is not my interpretation, that is what the characters say, multiple times. It’s like the writers threw every idea at the wall, they all stuck, and in response to the one sober person in the room asking how they can explain away everything that is happening, the response was simply, “We won’t and it will be perfect.”
I can imagine Tamaki walking into a French palace and thinking, this has to be the club music. Like it was some kind of regal elevator music. Never before did I think that ballroom music would be used as a kind of background in any context other than dancing…because that is what you do with this music. But Ouran cares so little about what you came into the show thinking. Ouran will play ballroom music the whole dang show if it pleases and while it never really shines, it fits the mood. In the theme of breaking expectations, the Armchair Anime canon of hating the same song being played at the end of many episodes is dead. Ouran has found this magical guitar riff that finds a way to be sad, uplifting, and ominous, all in different contexts. If ever there was a sound that fit inside the recesses of your heart like some sort of spiritual skeleton key, it would be this one.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||5||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||5||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||5||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||2||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||3||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||3||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||2||3|
I will say, Ouran won’t be for everyone. The comedy has aged a little poorly for the current young generation. Action fans won’t be impressed. Guys with too much pride will find it feminine. But Ouran is a dang good anime. The clever humor compliments the deceptively deep characters and the random bits that the show throws at you. I had a great time with it and I’m pretty sure you will too.