Review: Ouran High School Host Club

Today we’re off to a place where the 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 Music Room #3 as an elegant playground for the super-rich and beautiful. 

Title: Ouran Koukou Hosutobu (Ouran High School Host Club)
Original airing: April 5, 2006 to September 27, 2006
Studio: Bones
Episodes: 26
Duration: 24 mins per episode
Genres: Shoujo, Comedy, Romance, School Life
Source: Ōran Kōkō Hosuto Kurabu by Bisco Hatori

Where I watched: Netflix (English dub and subtitles available)

Watch the trailer here (English version)

Brief Synopsis and First Impressions:

Haruhi Fujioka is a scholarship student at the prestigious Ouran Academy, in Bunkyo, Tokyo. Looking for a quiet place to study, Haruhi stumbles upon the Third Music Room, a place where the Ouran Academy Host Club, a group of six male students, gathers to entertain female “clients.” During their initial encounter, Haruhi accidentally knocks over and breaks an antique vase and is told to repay the cost in service to the club as an errand boy.

Haruhi’s short hair, slouching attire and gender-ambiguous face cause her to be mistaken by the hosts for a male student. After a brief run as such, the Hosts soon realize that she’s a “natural” in entertaining girls and promote her to full-Host status. She agrees since Hosting will help her pay off her debt more quickly. The members of the club discover her true gender one by one, but they keep this fact a secret.

credit: MyAnimeList

Initially Ouran High School Host Club appeared as if it would be another light humorous anime mixed with a bit of romance. Also, it centers around a reverse harem. Now, I wasn’t browsing through anime and thinking “I could sure go for a reverse harem story plot right about now.” Though that might’ve made for a more interesting topic of discussion. Actually, my wife started watching it first (don’t ask me why the idea of a bunch of young guys catering to women intrigued her), then recommended it to me. She promised me that it was very entertaining and that I would thoroughly enjoy it. As it turns out, she was right (lets keep that last bit between us). I must admit that I’m very open to most anime, so long as the plot seems appealing. With that said, I’m not sure if I would have ever made time to watch Ouran had someone not encouraged me to do so.

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There’s debauchery here!

That is because this anime looks very much like a shoujo series from the outside, and shamelessly acts like one on the inside as well. I don’t have anything against shoujo as a genre persay, but something that looked this light and frivolous didn’t seem like a top pick when I had other Netflix anime like Sword Art Online or Black Butler available. High school boys entertaining schoolgirls for money? Just how interesting can something like that be? After getting through this series, I can honestly say that I regret having waited so long to find out.


Story

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As I stated earlier, Ouran High School Host Club is a comedic, romantic type anime. What makes it different is how the writers play up the stereotypes often depicted in anime for the entertainment of viewers. Why do anime series continue to rely on these cliche personas? The short answer is because some people simply can’t get enough of the invincible hero, the confident jock, or the good-natured troublemaker. The Host Club members recognize how these personalities appeal to people as well, which is exactly why they adopt them as a way to entertain their female guests.

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The finest in fee based romance

The initial Ouran episodes bring a sense of satirical humor to viewers. You know the feeling you get when you joke with friends after seeing a serious anime character fall victim to a tired trope? Well, Ouran is like that joke manifested. But while the surface of this anime is meant to poke fun at stereotypes, there is an underlying story that is engaging and relatable for viewers. Without going into detail, these characters deal with issues that cause them to question their true identities. Viewers will likely be able to relate to at least some of these struggles.

The story takes place mainly at Ouran Academy, a private school that caters to children from privileged families. With an abundant allowance and far too much free time, the rich are easily bored. I can completely relate to this. I often find myself growing weary of online shopping and riding my jet ski (only when my yacht is unavailable. I’m not a savage after all). So naturally, a Host Club is established so that a group of attractive boys can lavish attention on girls who are far too disinterested in life; for a fee of course. It is essentially a reverse Japanese tea house, if you follow my line of thinking.

Now, this anime would be rather dull (don’t ask my wife this) if it were only about rich people playing tea house; cue Haruhi. Haruhi is the main female protagonist from an average income family who is admitted to Ouran Academy on an academic scholarship.  From what I noticed, she was the only lower class student at the school. So, the paupers are allowed in to show that Ouran is accepting of all income levels, but only one at a time.

For those of you who didn’t read the summary, I’ll briefly recap: Haruhi wanders into a music room (that turns out to be the Host Club meeting room) on the campus and accidentally knocks over a valuable vase that the club was planning to auction. Mistaking her for a boy, and realizing that Harui doesn’t have the money to pay for the vase on her own, the group decides to let her work off her debt by acting as a host in the club.

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I can’t tell, did she change her hair?

This series is filled with humor and hijinks, centered mostly around the class differences between Haruhi and the other host members, which makes for a light, entertaining viewing experience. As I’ve stated before, one could easily dismiss this as a standard shoujo anime (and I almost did). The reverse harem trope isn’t played forcibly at all though, and a surprisingly small portion of the boys seem to have any romantic interest in Haruhi. While romance is arguably what the group is centered around, the dynamic between its members seems more like a familial bond. As Haruhi beings to develop friendships with the other hosts of the club, their pasts are slowly revealed along with some intense emotional moments. With at least one episode dedicated to each Host Club member, viewers are given an in-depth look at their character and what led to their joining the group.

The story proceeds in a mostly episodic format, with very few episodes tying in directly to the one before, but still follow a loose narrative. This seems fitting for an anime as lighthearted as Ouran, presenting a small problem or challenge each time and imparting some lesson that teaches us a little more about the characters involved. As implied before, the sense of identity and how others perceive a person is an oft explored theme, as is friendship and loyalty. Along these same lines, the anime explores a little about different sorts of relationships, including same sex interests. Now, being a 2006 anime, Ouran isn’t always the most sensitive to these sorts of situations and sometimes plays them for humor or embarrassment. Still, it tends to treat these characters and situations in a more inclusive manner than other anime of its time, so take that as you will.


Characters

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Purposefully appearing as various stereotype for the sake of appealing to their guests, the main characters in Ouran have layered personalities that often reflect traits opposite to the ones they portray. This conflict between superficial aspects and inner feelings becomes a major story theme and the driving aspect behind most of the character exploration. The rich are almost comically obsessed with the superficial in this series and it takes the introspection of a commoner like Haruhi for the viewer to see otherwise.

Haruhi Fujioka is depicted as an intelligent young woman, who is far more concerned with education than appearance. Her (mostly) androgynous attire and short hairstyle attributes to her being mistaken for a boy; hence the premise of the show.  She has a gift for reading people and is conscious of subtle personality traits that pass by others unnoticed. Haruhi is practical, responsible, and modest. She is not easily charmed or infatuated with the other host club members (unlike the rest of the female student body). These special traits are what allow her to uniquely connect with each member in a way that reveals who they are beneath their façades.

As president of Ouran Host Club, Tamaki Suou is essentially a walking manifestation of the’Princely’ type character depicted in Shoujo anime. At first glance, viewers would likely describe Tamaki as narcissistic, exuberant, and prone to occasional dramatic breakdowns. In actuality, viewers discover Tamaki is highly intelligent and selfless; especially when it comes to those close to him, though his interest in Haruhi causes jealous outbursts at times. Towards the end of the series, viewers begin to understand just how complex his life truly is. Through these revelations, it is better understood why Tamaki appreciates the friendships he has built and has fallen for Haruhi’s simple, innocent nature.

Vice-President and Director of the Host Club, Kyoya Ootori is essentially the person who “runs the show,” from behind the scenes. Known as the ‘cool’ type, Kyoya presents himself as self-assured, patient, and logical. Being the intelligent character that he is, Kyoya also has a knack for reading people, but does this from a much more analytical viewpoint than Haruhi’s emotionally intelligent approach. His keen insight doesn’t keep him from learning things as well, however, as his interactions with Haruhi help him realize some things about himself as the series progresses.

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Can you guess which one is Hikaru?

Hikaru & Kaoru Hitachiin are twin brothers; with Kaoru being the younger of the two. The are the residential ‘mischievous’ types of the club.  They are known for displaying ‘brotherly love’ towards once another for the benefit of their female guests. They both develop budding feelings for Haruhi after she correctly (and logically) identifies which brother is which in their favorite game “Which One is Hikaru?” Despite being identical, viewers learn over the course of the series that the two brothers have very distinct personalities which sometimes conflict with how others view them.

Mitsukuni Haninozuka, known as Honey, fulfills the role of ‘boy lolita’ of the group.  Although he is older than the rest of the club members, Honey maintains a persona of innocence and child-like naivete. Like the other characters, Honey has a multi-layered personality that is deeper than what is initially presented to viewers. It is through Tamaki’s encouragement that Honey finds his true identity, learning it is acceptable for him to openly surround himself with cute things and indulge in sweets.

Takashi Morinozuka or Mori is the “strong, silent” type and tends to only speak if something needs to be said. He is the cousin (and best friend) of Honey and throughout the series, the two are practically inseparable with Mori fulfilling the role of protective “big brother.”  In turn, viewers can see that Honey truly appreciates the presence Mori has in his life, especially since Honey’s own brother is disappointed in him.

The other supporting characters come in a wide variety of types, though most have very little involvement outside of the episode they are introduced in. A few exceptions, such as Renge, provide ongoing comedic value throughout the series. She tends to come into play when you least expect it (or at least when Haruhi least expects it) , and I found her small additions to be yet another nice touch in a show that already delivers consistently from the comedy standpoint.


Animation

Being nearly 10 years old at the time of this writing, Ouran High School Host Club is a little graphically dated but that isn’t to say that the animation is subpar by any means. It is standard fare when it comes to anime of its time, but has a distinct look all its own. Take the setting, for example. Ouran uses an array of vivid colors to bring their animation to life, and while the bright hues can be a bit overwhelming to the senses at times (ie: striking pink, purple, and orange colors used together), the colorization doesn’t take away from the viewing experience.  Once viewers become used to this art style, the vivid hues serve to enhance the scenes by adding to the lighthearted, comedic style.

Some of the more tender or tense moments of Ouran are portrayed using muted colors; befitting of the mood. While these moments are unsurprisingly few, it truly adds to the series. As shown below, emotional scenes between the protagonists are colorized using soft blues and browns. Even with use of these subdued colors, the artists are careful to add touches of lighter colors (cream, light blue, etc) to contrast the scenes nicely and keep them from looking overwhelmingly dark. This serves the purpose of allowing the viewer to appreciate the sincere, compassionate moments of Ouran while maintaining the light, relaxed tone that the series is known for.

While the character designs are not striking, they nicely with the theme. After all, Ouran is essentially the exaggeration of typical characters portrayed in Shoujo type storylines and the animation reflects this same style.  The males (for the most part) are depicted as tall with broader shoulders, while the females (Haruhi included) are petite and slim. As mentioned above, the color style is lighter than, say, Shounen art, using softer colors of pink, yellow, light blue, and creams. Overall the artwork is simple; clean lines without too much added detail.

Many classic tropes are also found throughout this series, from voice over intros to chibi-style animation used to highlight emotions. With that said, Ouran also introduces some rather uncommon visual effects. For example, this series uses cutaways to visual illustrations of the point the are trying to emphasize. Other times, points are stressed by the character daydreaming the scenario. Another interesting addition is the occasional blinking arrow appearing on the screen that blatantly draws the viewer’s attention to indicate something important is about to take place.

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Surely that vase isn’t important…

 


Sound

OP: Sakura’s Kiss by Chieko Kawabe (Japanese version), Sakura’s Kiss (English version)
ED: Shissou by Last Alliance (Japanese version), Shissou (English version)

For the opening of Ouran High School Host Club Sakura’s Kiss is an infectious, catchy song that gives the listener a kick of positive energy and sets the tone for the overall light, comedic anime. For the English dub, the opening song was re-recorded by Kristine Sa with  minor altered lyrics. Although there are mixed opinions about the English version (naturally the original is better right?) I thoroughly enjoy it as well. I may be slightly biased since I watched the English dub of Ouran, then later listened to the original Sakura’s Kiss opening in JapaneseRegardless, both versions are worthy of accompanying the opening to this anime.

For the ending theme, Shissou by Last Alliance is truly remarkable. Last Alliance is your tpyical J-Rock band. While they don’t necessarily stand out when compared to other musicians, Shissou has become one of their more popular songs (and rightly so). Just listen to the opening guitar riff and tell me you aren’t instantly hooked. With that said, the English version, by Justin Houston, isn’t nearly as incredible. While I give props for maintaining the awesome guitar riff, the English lyrics just feel lacking.  If you compare the two versions, the English lyrics don’t seem to flow well with the melody and are written in a way where the singer is almost straining to keep up with the tempo. This is one case where the golden rule to “leave well enough alone” should have been followed.

The BGMs in Ouran feature orchestral tones and light, often upbeat swells that add to the overall tone of the anime. Other people have mentioned that the music during the episodes were distracting, but I disagree. While they are played strongly at times, the BGMs only added to the series by reminding viewers that one scene is meant to be humorous (cue upbeat music), while an awkward moment should invoke some sentiment.

Having watched the series as an English dub, I couldn’t leave this section without addressing the amazing English voice acting. Greats like Vic Mignogna, Caitlin Glass, and John Michael Tatum are just a few of the talented actors that grace this amazing cast. Their extensive resumes speak for themselves, but their performance in Ouran was incredibly spot on, capturing the essence of the characters in a way that the original Japanese might not have for me (as I don’t speak Japanese).


Overall Appeal

It’s hard not to find a great deal of enjoyment from a comedy series, as the entire point of the genre is to make you laugh and have a good time. Ouran pulled this off well in every episode, making it a pleasant viewing experience. Unless you’re really turned off by a particular aspect in the series, it seems unlikely that you would get tired of this show. While comedy is a constant companion throughout this anime, I didn’t expect to be so drawn in by the more serious elements as well.

What surprised me most about this series is how deep the story would delve into the obstacles and events that would serve to shape each character’s individual personality. Throughout the series, it is slowly revealed that the shoujo type charisma the characters portray to entertain their female guests are not indicative of their personalities as a whole. Some even seem to take on these personas as a sort of rebellious act in reaction to past events. The psychological aspects are done subtly, letting the animation and dialogue show you how a character might be feeling rather than throwing it in your face.

My only real complaint with the series was its lack of attention to the overall narrative. It isn’t that episodic anime can’t be good or enjoyable, but Ouran left tiny hints of an overall story throughout its run that ended rather awkwardly. Without having spent any time setting up for this conclusion, a somewhat shoehorned plot is used to create tension before the show’s unanswered questions are laid to rest. The tonal shift alone made for a less than remarkable ending to what should have been an otherwise fun-loving series.


Summary and Recommendations

Ouran High School Host Club is a surprisingly fun exploration of all the crazy things that can take place in a shoujo anime. Whether ridiculing over the top stereotypes or subverting genre elements in comedic fashion, the series has plenty of content to enjoy.

For those of you who like popular shoujo themes, like romance and exploration of feelings, this series does take the time to flesh out most of its main cast and emphasizes the importance of seeing people for who they are inside. The romance is light, but not unsatisfying in the way that some teen drama shows tend to be.

A simplistic story and an excellent English dub make this series very accessible for people who haven’t seen a lot of anime but are looking to expand their horizons. The characters are stereotypical but unique all the same, making them interesting and memorable. Vivid colors and the clean animation style make the series attractive to watch, even if charming high school boys aren’t really your cup of tea (or ‘Hescafe’ instant coffee).

Watch if you
Want a simple, easy to absorb series
Enjoy comedic anime
Are looking for a strong English dub

Don’t watch if you
Expect a compelling plot
Are averse to any type of shoujo
Are sensitive to homosexual undertones


My Rating

I don’t think I can express it enough: Ouran is just a lot of fun. A better story would have improved the score, but those that are willing to try it will surely find something they like. It gets 4/5 Haruhis from me.

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Final Thoughts

There isn’t much more to say about this series that I haven’t explained already. Ouran doesn’t try to do much more than be entertaining, but it does so in one of the most unique ways that I’ve seen.

Harui is a minority in this world of the rich and privileged, but at the same time represents a social class that the majority of viewers would belong to. Through her we are able to see how lavish the (admittedly, exaggerated) lives of the rich are. Rather than making these people seem alien, however, her efforts to understand them help the viewer sympathize with their individual problems and forget for a moment that they’re worlds apart in terms of social standing.

It really strives to remind us that people are essentially the same deep down, and its approach in doing so is the furthest thing from being heavy-handed. Because the ‘victims’ of stereotyping are so privileged already it comes off as humorous and entertaining, but at least for me it still left something to think about at the end of the day.

In any case, enough light stuff for a while. Are we ready to get more serious? My next set of shows are much more inclined toward the supernatural, but with mixed success on keeping a serious tone.

As always, you can check out my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows.

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9 thoughts on “Review: Ouran High School Host Club

Add yours

  1. I like the manga so much better than the anime adaptation. It’s complete whereas the anime seems unfinished, and yes, it is not only unfinshed….the ending of the manga is totally different…. happier and sweet. Also, anime developers just couldn’t help but add some fanservice , which the manga doesn’t have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read the manga, but yes, that is a good point to bring up. The anime’s ending doesn’t give you a sense of completion, but then again there wasn’t a major story thread to begin with. I’ll have to check out the manga sometime.

  2. The first time I watched this, I just did not get the appeal. However, after a second viewing when I was in a more receptive mood I found it to be quite a charming series and it has since become one of my favourites to binge watch. It’s just sweet and funny and the characters eventually grow on you.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re quite welcome, this was fun to write. Funny you should mention mood, though. I had a few episodes going while I worked on this to get in the right mood myself.

      Thanks for the shout out on Twitter btw! I don’t use it much myself but KimmieKawaii will surely return the favor.

      Liked by 2 people

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