Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
The original idea for this review was to discusses why you shouldn’t always judge a book, or in this case, anime by its cover and branch out into new territory if you are one of those folks who watches only one or two genres. Unfortunately, that version of the review came out poorly and fairly condescending so rather than make the entire review about that, it’ll just be a part of it with the main focuses being why Ouran High School Host Club is well worth your time.
When I was first starting out with anime I held myself to a lot of the same type of show. I first watched Host Club back in 2015 which was when I finally began to really branch out. Here’s a good example of what I had watched so far (no particular order, I didn’t keep great records then):
- Sword Art Online
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
While there is some variety in this list, I was watching a lot of action oriented shows with maybe an extra layer or two. Clearly, it was time to branch out. I like funny things so I turned to the internet. I wanted something so totally different and what was suggested to me was none other than Ouran High School Host Club.
I’m not going to lie to you here and say I didn’t have the initial reaction most people do when they see what this show looks like. Don’t let looks fool you though because Host Club subverts your expectations and plays with its genre quite a bit. If you are one of those people who would pass on this for it looking, “too girly” or whatever, here’s a Twitter poll I ran with my audience and the results may just surprise you.
Granted this poll does have hundreds or thousands of results like a bigger outlet may receive, but my point remains the same, Host Club clearly isn’t just for girls.
Host Club follows Haruhi Fujioka, a first year student attending Ouran Academy, a private school that a lot of rich people send their kids to. Just one problem, Haruhi isn’t rich and is only here on scholarship due to good grades. One day Haruhi stumbles into a host club run by some students (for those who don’t know, here’s a link) while looking for a place to study. During this chance encounter Haruhi happens to break a very expensive vase and is thus employed by the club to pay off the damages.
This is where I wanted to dive into why exactly this was funny and how Host Club subverts many of your expectations as each of its plots plays out but its something I’m just not equipped to explain at the level I’d like to, so I won’t because somebody has actually done this already. I’m going to point you to an ANN article written by author, Rose Bridges to finish off on the, “more than it seems” point. Herein she explains a lot of the ideas I had originally wanted to discus but a lot better than I really would have done.
Comedies can be a tough to talk about because sometimes explaining why something is funny undercuts why it’s comical. Additionally, there is the factor of cultural difference from a Japanese to Western audience. I’ve spoken once previously about such a show that was able to do so in a previous Anime ABC’s article, “Anime ABC’s D is for The Devil is a Part-Timer.” Host Club is no exception to anime that cross that bridge fantastically. You don’t have to take my word for it though because Funimation actually has the entire series (subbed) available legally and freely on YouTube.
The quality isn’t amazing, but for the sake of sampling it’ll do. I would like to note that this is one of those shows that definitely performs better in English vs Japanese, which is rare for a comedy, but again, for the sake of example we’ll use the sub. With that, let’s check out the first episode!
So right away things look exactly like you might expect with the OP. It’s a lovey-dovey sounding song titled, “Sakura Kiss” by Chieko Kawabe. If you are watching in Japanese like we are here, then the song is in, well, Japanese. However, if you watch the dub the song is actually translated and sung in English! You can give that a listen here. Kind of incredible and not something I’ve ever really seen elsewhere… but the song performance is pretty awful. An A for effort Funimation, just not the greatest execution. Might be why we don’t see this but I digress.
OP’s done so back to the episode. Things are already kind of absurd with the whole school being vibrantly pink but pay special attention to the direction of these opening moments. Framing is something that Host Club excels at whether it be for serious or silly bits and something you can immediately appreciate. The flip from isolated sad Haruhi to the flourish of roses revealing the hosts sets the tone quite nicely.
Here’s another thing to pay attention to with this anime. The way it sets up and delivers its punchlines. I’m sure exactly what I mean will be made obvious in a few moment, but also more subtly as the episode plays out. For now just note the arrow and the light bulb thing.
Right now I should probably mention one complaint I have with the series and that’s how Tamaki, the blonde host who seems to call the shots, is kind of rape-y. The, “Daddy” thing later doesn’t help his case. It isn’t even overly off-putting or something you might even notice on an initial watch, but on my third watch with my anime hating sister, it definitely stood out. However, that didn’t stop us from enjoying it. She hasn’t finished it yet but she does like it, so this is a minor complaint but one worth mentioning.
On with the episode!
Now Haruhi is tossed into the fabulous world of he Host Club. Already I’ve had a couple of good laughs rewatching this first episode, “with you” so-to-speak. It is ridiculous to me that Ouran Academy allows a Host Club to even exist in the first place; if that doesn’t set the tone I don’t know what would.
For the next while we setup the running gag about how Haruhi is a poor person, which you would probably imagine could be distasteful or offensive, but it actually is one of the best running jokes in the series. Beyond that, this is some character introduction time. We’ve already had a taste before but now that the club is open we’ll get a better idea of everyone’s respective roles and personalities.
This isn’t abundantly clear in episode one, but will be made more clear in episode 4, “Attack of the Lady Manager!” that the characters play with the idea of their respective troupes by flipping things on their heads. It’s one of the main ways Host Club plays with the expectations of the audience based on the assumptions made at first glance. Each character really gets their chance to shine and develop throughout the 26 episode run.
If you’re wondering where I’m at with this episode, it’s with that woman who I don’t like. She just made a comment about how Tamaki won’t like the, “coffee.” She’s, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, the antagonist of the episode. I’m going to let the episode play out some and jump back in with comments a little later, so enjoy until about minute mark 17:12.
During that whole sequence I wonder if you noticed something Haruhi asks, “Men, women, appearances, and such? What’s important as a person is what’s on the inside, right?” This is a really great concept that the show is going to run with in a lot of interesting ways, but is another one of those things that I’m not the best at discussing myself. There have been numerous OWLS (Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect) posts regarding Host Club for this very reason, so you may want to check those out if that’s something that interests you in particular.
The antagonistic girl is jealous of Haruhi and exacts her revenge. Here’s a small example of a more serious moment that Host Club likes to use to break up the comedy and propel its narrative and characters forward. It’s something that I quite like about the series because you can get something out of it outside of the laughs, it can be meaningful. This shouldn’t be too surprising if you know me, the same can be said for other series like Chunibyo as an example.
While we are the subject of this stretch of the episode, might I add that the animation looks really good. Generally it has that whole Shoujo vibe going on, but even then Host Club is so visually unique and striking that you’d be hard pressed to be unable to pick it out from a lineup of other titles.
Circling back to expectations, were you able to figure the twist of the episode? This is just a small example of how Host Club isn’t going to be run-of-the-mill and continue to play with expectations. The introduction of 4th wall breaks too, which some hate but I love! By introducing Haruhi in this manner it signals to the audience that this won’t be a reverse harem or melodramatic love story, while it might play around with those ideas in humorous ways later, it will be putting comedy at the forefront wherever possible.
That wraps up episode one. My favorite episode is the next one actually, I just really like the story and some of the jokes there, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. As the series continues, Host Club develops into a fairly unique experience I haven’t really had replicated since. There are some pretty wild moments that have me chuckling as I write this even, just you wait! While it has diminishing returns on future viewings, I still can’t help but consider this one of my favorite comedy anime that I’ve seen to date.
I hope you’ll give the rest a try on your own and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show too! You can watch it on YouTube or Crunchyroll subbed and for free too! Alternatively, if you pay for a Funimation or VRV account you can watch the dub (subbed too of course) which is what I recommend if you can. There is some spectacular voice work, especially from Vic Mignogna (known for rolls such as Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist and Rin Matsuoka from Free!) as Tamaki. You may just find yourself surprised, so give it a shot!
Here’s the end…
I didn’t know where else to put this but here’s a fun fact for you! Did you know that in 2007 a visual novel based on the anime was released on Playstation 2 in Japan? It would later receive a Nintendo DS rerelease that was fully voiced in 2009 [source]. I thought that was really interesting but didn’t know where to slot that in.
Thanks for joining me for this installment of the Anime ABC’s series! Again, let me hear your thoughts on Ouran High School Host Club in the comments below. If you enjoy the working I’m doing here please hit the button below to donate a few bucks to me so I can feel extra good about myself (also I’m poor T.T). As always, I hope to see you back here again at Jon Spencer Reviews soon!