Ouran High School Host Club / Ouran Koukou Hosuto Kurabu
Haruhi Fujioka is a special scholarship student at Ouran High School (part of the Ouran Private Academy), a wealthy and prestigious high school in Japan. After venturing into the Third Music Room, she stumbles upon the Host Club, a group made up of six male students who entertain the girls of the high school in return for a nice profit. After accidentally breaking a vase worth 8 million yen, Haruhi is forced into service by the club, told that she will be a “dog” for the club in order to pay off that large debt. Initially thought to be a boy by much of the Host Club, the members soon discover her true identity and from there on hilarity and satire ensues.
Ouran High School Host Club is a shoujo romantic comedy/reverse harem that satires many of the stereotypes and clichés often found in shoujo anime. Filled with sometimes nonstop and often laugh-out loud comedy, a large portion of which is slapstick, Ouran is an amusing and yet heart-felt look into the lives of the rich and powerful. Consistently funny, charming, and often over-the-top, the show is highly entertaining and will certainly bring a smile to almost anyone’s face.
The story is centered on the day-to-day activities of the Host Club (which has evolved to seven members with the inclusion of Haruhi) while focusing on the relationships between the members within the club as well as their relationships with people outside the club. Indeed, Ouran is a very character-driven anime, and even includes several “character-specific” episodes in the latter portion of the series. The Host Club itself consists of some varied and unique characters, each playing a specific “role” in the Club’s many activities. At the helm, and considered the “King” of the Club is Tamaki Sou, a narcissistic, naïve but sympathetic sophomore who immediately takes a liking to Haruhi, though strangely not as a love-interest but as a obsessed father-figure. Then there is Kyoya Ootori, also a sophomore, the cunning and calculating “Shadow King” who takes care of most of the Club’s finances, and the mischievous Hitachiin Twins (Kaoru and Hikaru), freshmen who seem to enjoy toying around with others, including Haruhi. Finally there is the cute and childish but freakishly-strong senior Mitsukuni (“Hunny”) Haninozuka and his quiet, mysterious and always-by-his-side companion (and cousin) Takashi Morinozuka (“Mori”). And of course, there’s Haruhi, the girl dressed as a boy whose academic brilliance is matched only by her absolute indifference and ignorance toward romance.
Haruhi’s peculiar situation (a “commoner” at a school for the nobility, and a girl who everyone outside the Host Club thinks is a boy) offers many comedic opportunities, from pure slapstick, to clever parodies. In fact, I can honestly say that this is one of the funniest shows I’ve watched in a long time. And while the show is predominantly episodic in nature, it does show the development of these characters and the impact that Haruhi has on each of their lives. The mood isn’t always silly either. There are genuinely touching and sober moments in the series, which are done in a way that does not distract from the comedy, but serves to make the show more dynamic in tone.
On the surface, the entire show can be seen as a parody of shoujo and harem anime in general. But yet there is more to the show than meets the eye. Beyond the obvious references, and beyond the unambiguous satire, the more than obvious stabs at typical stereotypes, there is heart and soul to this anime. Perhaps the nature of the show is a metaphor for the nature of humanity as, at its heart, Ouran shows us that money can’t buy happiness and that the smallest joys in life can be the most satisfying. We see that while there is a major difference between nobility and commoners on the surface, deep down each is human, and each has emotions, desires, and dreams. This is one of the really impressive aspects of the show: the fact that it is able to tackle serious, real-life issues and yet do it in such a way that will leave a big smile on your face. The comedy never leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and the drama never feels cheesy (unless of course it was intended to be).
Another impressive aspect of Ouran is its overall presentation. BONES, the studio responsible for shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Eureka Seven, and Rahexphon has done a great job with the art and animation. While not as technically impressive as some of their previous outings, the animation is crisp and colorful. The bright colors in particular help this anime stand out, making it pleasant to look at and also helping to set the correct mood and/or atmosphere in a particular scene. The character designs, which are clearly “Shoujo”-inspired, are also surprisingly charming and appealing. The voice talent is quite impressive: each voice is well-suited for their characters with Maaya Sakamoto (who voices Haruhi) and newcomer Mamoru Miyano (who voices Tamaki) delivering some particularly dynamic and enjoyable performances. The music is excellent as well, with a great soundtrack and recurring theme which remains one of my favorites to date.
There aren’t many things to dislike about Ouran High School Host Club. Almost everything about this series is well executed and well designed. However, there is some minor inconsistency in terms of overall episode quality, especially in some of the episodes during the last two thirds of the season. While the show never dragged or became boring, there were a few parts that seemed a little out of place and unnecessary. For instance, the “Alice in Wonderland”-inspired episode “Haruhi in Wonderland,” while clever in concept, doesn’t turn out quite as well as you would think. Also, there are a few places where some of the gags were reused a few times too many. But even then I’m grasping at straws.
Whether or not Ouran High School Host Club is seen as one of the best anime of all time is yet to be seen, but it definitely is one of the best and most impressive series of 2006 (even though much of the hype may have been stolen by another Haruhi.) While it may not be necessarily entirely original and while it may not have an amazing storyline, Ouran’s amazing cast, brilliant hilarity, heart-felt social commentary, and undeniable charm elevates it far above mediocrity. It may be too soon to call this a truly great anime, but for anyone out there with even a passing interest in romantic comedies or enjoyable shows in general, Ouran is a must see.
Note: a version of this review was previously posted on Animetric.com