[In April, the Guttersnipes like to mix it up a little. This month, Romance editor Chris Szego writes about anime]
Only those with excellent social standing and those from filthy rich families are lucky enough to spend their time here in the elite private school, Ouran Academy. The Ouran Host Club is where the school’s handsomest boys with too much time on their hands entertain young ladies who also have way too much time on their hands. Just think of it of Ouran Academy’s elegant playground for the super-rich and beautiful.
Intro from Ouran High School Host Club (English version)
I’ve watched very little series anime in my life, largely because the depth of the genre is a little daunting to the uninitiated. A single, exquisite Hayao Miyazaki movie? Yes please. Thirty-two DVDs worth of Bleach episodes? Um… intimidating. But last year a friend gave me Fruits Basket at exactly the right time. I adored watching it (and hunting down all the manga volumes) and I’ve been looking for something similar since then. A couple weeks ago I stumbled across Ouran High School Host Club. Achievement: unlocked.
The premise is delightfully ridiculous. Haruhi, a brilliant student, has earned a scholarship to the Ouran Academy, the prestigious high school attended by the children of Japan’s power players. Seeking a quiet place to study, Haruhi stumbles into an old music room which is currently occupied by a host club: a group of young men dedicated to making young women feel admired and special. After breaking a priceless vase, Haruhi is forced to work for the host club, first as a servant, then as a host. Much to everyone’s surprise, Haruhi turns out to be a natural at the job. And that’s because… duh duh DUH: she’s a girl.
Like I said, I know very little about anime. I’m not familiar with the genres, the categories and subcategories. I understand those classifications exist; I just don’t know what they are. One of Ouran High School Host Club‘s many pleasures is that I didn’t need to be. Undoubtedly the series was chock full of sly references and in-jokes that went right over my head — and that’s okay. There was still plenty to amuse and delight even a total neophyte like me.
For on thing, it relies heavily on romantic archetypes. And we know how much I like archetypes. The host club boys are even introduced as such, to make identification easy. For instance:
Tamaki: The King The president and found of the Host Club is the scion of a ‘super-rich and beautiful’ family: wealthy, handsome, and spoiled. Tamaki is whimsical, vain, kind, easily roused to joy and/or despair — but emotionally speaking he’s the sun around which everyone else revolves.
Kyoya: The Cool One The description threw me off a little because in this case ‘cool’ refers to emotional temperature rather than social status. The vice-president and co-rounder of the club is extremely intelligent, hyper-competant, polite, and meticulously organized. Kyoya is the grease that keeps the crazy-wheel of the Host Club running (to extend the metaphor, he’s also the gas, the gear mechanic, and often the driver).
Honey: The Boy Lolita You’d never guess at first sight that Honey is the oldest of the male students in the club. He’s half the size of others, and carries a stuffed bunny with him everywhere. He likes cake, naps, and entertaining the many young ladies who can’t get enough of his cherubic cuteness.
Mori: The Strong, Silent One Truth is, in the series we don’t get to know too much about Mori. He rarely speaks, and generally serves as a foil to his cousin Honey’s effervescent sweetness. Mori is very protective of his cousin, and Haruhi, and indeed of all his fellow hosts.
Hikkaru and Kaoru: The Mischevious One(s) Clever, naughty, game-playing twins Kaoru and Hikkau have turned their remarkable resemblance into their top selling point. They often speak in perfect unison, and when they don’t they’re teasing their guests by hinting at a brotherly devotion that’s a possibly a little too close.
The purpose of the club is to amuse, entertain, and please its female clients. Each host uses his natural characteristics to entertain their classmates. The twins tease; Honey charms (with Mori providing the assist as the straight-man); Kyoya soothes; Tamaki seduces. It could have been awful — faked romance at its most commercial — but instead the series is a delight. The romantic atmosphere might not be entirely real, but nor is it entirely fake. The girls are, after all, getting exactly what they want.
But in fact, OHSCH is not really about romance: it’s about friendship. To her surprise, Haruhi enjoys being a host (even if Tamaki’s excesses exhaust her). Almost against her better judgement she finds herself with friends. Her world, which has until now been entirely about drive and duty, begins to open up to imagination and wonder.
Most of the sense of wonder comes from Tamaki. He is occasionally ridiculous but he’s even more charismatic. As the series progresses we watch him draws the other hosts in to his wild venture, even when they think they don’t want to be drawn. In fact my favourite episode is one of the very last, “And So Kyoya Met Him”. As you might guess, it’s the story of how the club founders first meet. It doesn’t go well, as least as far as the hardworking and dutiful Kyoya is concerned. He thinks, not without reason, that Tamaki is insane, not to mention a complete idiot.
But Tamaki sees right through the featureless mask Kyoya presents to the world, then challenges him to live up to his own ambitions. In doing so, he frees Kyoya from a weight he didn’t know he was carrying, and opens the door to a whole new universe. That, the ability to see straight through to the emotional core, is Tamaki’s gift. It’s why the rest follow him, even when he acts like an utter moron. Which is… often.
And then there’s the deliciously meta nature of the series. The characters are often aware of the fourth wall. Sometimes they address the audience directly; sometimes they mention that they’re in the middle of an episode. Arrows appear onscreen to highlight objects that will be important in a scene, and a recurring character appears on a moveable podium to deliver commentary whenever required. Like one of Simon Pegg’s brilliant parodies, OHSCH makes affectionate fun of the tropes of its genre and at the same time uses those very tropes to tell an excellent story of its kind.
Just what this newbie wanted.
Chris Szego wishes she’d been able to watch the series in Japanese, but sadly Netflix didn’t offer that option. Someone get on that, will you?
If you liked Ouran High School Host Club and are wondering what other anime you might like, check out Best Student Council.
I watch very little anime because it just seems so repetitive. I’m sure that I would like more anime if I watched a little more, but I’ve never invested the time to really find much I could latch on to.
But I did watch a few episodes of Best Student Council (I think a few episodes were offered Free On Demand on my cable at the time) a few years ago and I was hooked. Watched the whole series (Thanks, Netflix!) within a few weeks.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting my brother, and my 11-year-old niece (an absolute anime FIEND) was trawling for new anime and I ended up watching most of the first 6 to 8 episodes of Ouran High School Host Club with her over the next few days.
!Jesus de Christo! It’s hysterical! The funniest thing was the bone-stupid views of the poor expressed by the wealthy host club members. And then there was Haruhi’s cross-dressing dad. And the militant feminist club from the other school that wants to take Haruhi away.
I haven’t had the chance to watch the rest, but it is something I want to get to eventually. I don’t have quite the same affection for Ouran as I do for Best Student Council (yet), but Ouran is the only thing that even comes close!
Check out Best Student Council!
P.S. My niece also like Hetalia and always makes me watch a few episodes. It’s OK.
Thanks for the recommendation — I’ll check it out (now that I’m back on land and have an internet connection again).