“Only those with excellent social standing and those from filthy rich families are lucky enough to spend their time here, at the elite private school of 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 as Ouran’s elegant playground for the super rich and beautiful.”
These are the words that greet Haruhi Fujioka, one of the only commoners with good enough grades to actually enrol at Ouran, as she slips into an abandoned music room for some quiet study time. Instead, she finds anything but peace, as the academy’s infamous host club mistakes her for a boy… Thanks to her ultra-short haircut and lack of an expensive uniform… And they assume ‘he’ is there to enjoy some man-on-man entertainment. In her efforts to escape this collection of carefree casanovas, she accidentally destroys a renaissance vase that’s worth more money than several generations of her family combined. And she winds up on the hook for every yen of it!
They recruit her as their dog… Well, we’ll use the term ‘errand boy’ to be nice… And by the time they’ve all realized their mistake, Haruhi Fujioka has already been inducted as an official host! Which unfortunately means posing as a boy for the remainder of her non-compulsary educational tenure.
Haruhi is a practical, level-headed girl, which is the direct result of her upbringing in a low income, single parent household. Her background and thrifty ways fascinate the club’s charismatic president and cofounder, Tamaki Suoh, a half-white airhead who lived in France until the age of fourteen. He’s the last person in the club to realize she’s a girl, and since he’s emotionally unable to deal with his instantaneous attraction to her, he instead decides to adopt her as the daughter of his host club family.
This all works out very well for the highly meticulous Kyoya Otori, the cofounder and accountant of the host club, as Haruhi’s natural chemistry with their female clients presents a business opportunity that he just can’t pass up. The rest of the club is rounded out by the infamous Hitachiin twins, Hikaru and Kaoru, both of whom are troublemakers from Haruhi’s class, as well as the adorable sweets-loving Honey and his strong, silent protector Mori, both of whom are highly skilled prodigies from respected martial arts families.
Together, these six… No, these SEVEN hosts… serve their squealing, insatiable clients as your typical reverse harem archetypes… Tamaki plays The Princely Type, Kyoya plays The Cool Type, Honey plays The Boy Lolita Type, the twins play The Mischievous Type… As well as delivering heaping helpings of implied twincest… And Mori pretty much acts as an accessory to Honey, because aside from that, I can’t really recall anybody actually requesting his company. And now, with Haruhi playing The Natural Type, their harem is complete!
Ouran Highschool Host Club was produced by Studio Bones, the producers of equally popular shows such as Soul Eater, Black Butler, and… Oh man, what was it called? Something about an Alchemist… It doesn’t matter, that one’s pretty obscure. Anyway, in typical Bones fashion, the production is beautiful at first glance, but somewhat unbalanced when you look a little closer at it. There’s fluid, graceful movement going on all over the place, from the characters themselves as well as from the flowers that occasionally fly across the screen. Because of the distribution of the budget, however, it still has the ever-present problem of people freezing into statues in the background, and this isn’t just limited to background characters. It’s a fairly common problem in anime, but in this case, it actually kind of works with the humor style of the show.
This aside, Studio Bones makes up for any technical failings with some of the most captivating art design you’ll ever see. I’ve praised a lot of shows for having impressive detail in their artwork, but Ouran really is a cut above the norm, as it takes the flowery aesthetic that you’d expect from a shoujo manga and uses it to it’s very best potential. The characters and their outfits are designed with bright, lively pastels, and they stand in stark contrast to the much softer, darker pastels that make up the beautifully lit, cleverly shaded backgrounds. Every inch of Ouran Academy, as well as the few other environments that we visit, are detailed from the architecture down to the very last flourished handrail. It’s beautiful, and so is the music, which is conveyed almost entirely with classic style violin and piano. They never seem out of place, complimenting the comedic scenes as well as the dramatic. The only place you’ll see consistent modern style music, like drums and guitar, is in the opening, which stands as probably one of the most well made openings of all time.
Unfortunately, the original Japanese opening is all but absent from the DVDs, only really appearing for one episode. It’s otherwise replaced by an English language version, which may be inferior in the eyes of purists, but it still holds up well on it’s own.
That opening is really the only aspect of the dub that I can see raising some irritated eyebrows, as the acting in the english dub is a very close match to the outstanding Japanese track. Caitlin Glass, who’s mostly known for giving really big, enthusiastic performances, proves she’s just as good on the other end of the scale, going low and throaty but adding just enough femininity to make Haruhi’s exasperated cynicism palatable. Vic Mignona proves to be the perfect man to play Tamaki as a foppish, ignorant spastic that he is, and J Michael Tatum slithers his cool demeanor comfortably into the manipulative, meticulous Kyoya.
The Hiitachin Twins are played by Greg Ayres and Todd Haberkorn, and while they do have significantly different voices, they play the personalities of their respective characters perfectly, while still retaining the same relative pitch, and they complement each other very well. Luci Christian is mercilessly cutesy and childish as Honey, while still somehow carrying a sense of maturity that defies appearance. It’s hard to talk about Travis Willingham’s performance as Mori… Not because he does a bad job, but because he does a good job, putting genuine effort into a character that any talentless shmuck could play. In other words, it’s a job that even Mark Laskowski could pull off, so you can imagine how thankless a job it really is.
There are a lot of minor or otherwise one-shot characters in this show, but the two I’d like to call attention to are Chris Sabat, who plays a tough looking guy who’s sick of people always being afraid of him, and Monica Rial, who plays the group’s excitable manager Renge. Renge often appears on-screen via a mechanical stage that can pop up out of the ground anywhere and everywhere, and she acts as one of the two commentators on some of the many shoujo tropes that Ouran likes to make fun of. She handles fanhoods and character archetypes, shamelessly explaining them to us when necessary. Yes, it’s exposition, but it’s really, really funny exposition. And the other commentator? A little girl, who blatantly points out that Shoujo mangas are full of reverse harems and debauchery.
In my review(s) of Okami-san and Her Seven Companions, I mentioned that Ouran is really good at transitioning between comedy and drama. Well, the truth is, I was underselling it. Ouran can transition smoothly between many different types of comedy and drama, while never feeling forced or pretentious about it. A show like Family Guy falls flat on it’s face when trying to deliver dramatic or serious storylines… The one about Quagmire’s sister was a particular low note… But Ouran pulls it off naturally, as every second of it is used to develop either the characters or the story. Every single character has a rich, complex backstory, with more than enough room to grow. Okay, maybe Mori is the exception. The Hiitachin twins in particular get some of the deepest, most introspective material of all, cementing them easily as my favorites in the cast.
The only time Ouran isn’t funny is when it’s not trying to be funny, and that’s a rare trick to pull off. A lot of it comes from the fact that it’s able to ruthlessly satirize and deconstruct the shoujo genre and many of it’s sub-genres without ever becoming mean spirited about it, so in effect, fans and haters of that material will both find plenty of things to love about it. So even if you can’t enjoy this show for it’s girlish presentation and buckets of cartoony shoujo fan-service, you can still enjoy it for it’s pitch perfect comic timing, chuckling along with the joke as it lampoons those very elements.
If there’s one element that Ouran doesn’t tackle, it’s romance. This is supposedly a romantic comedy, but the only romance that ever takes place is with the occasional star-crossed couple that the Host club has to mediate. There are a lot of affections being thrown around, but when it comes to the main cast, none of these affections are ever really reciprocated. Thankfully, unlike School Rumble, Ouran doesn’t back itself into a corner by making these affections the main hook of the series. Instead, the main focus is on friendship and character development, and while the ending can be a bit unsatisfying from a plot perspective, this is a character driven story, and the subtle maturations of our hosts will still bring you to a very heartwarming place by the conclusion.
Ouran High School Host Club is one of the funniest anime ever made. It’s executed flawlessly, trying it’s hand at a surprisingly large number of tones and effortlessly succeeding at nearly all of them. The artwork, animation and music are all breathtaking, which is clearly indicative of the love and time that went into this project. While it may not carry the label of “Ironically bad-ass” that Princess Tutu has been blessed with, it’s still one of those few shoujo titles that’s just as enjoyable for male viewers… Perhaps even more so… As it is for female viewers. The characters are rich, complex and loveable and care deeply for one another, but not so much that they can’t antagonize and prank each other in the process. So if you’ve got too much time on your hands, then please, step into this series and allow the hosts to pamper you just like their actual clients. I give this series a 9/10.