At a Glance: Ouran High School Host Club
Ouran High School Host Club is a romantic comedy series that deals with wealth and teenage sexuality. It has a lot of male characters, but I would say it's mostly for girls, as those guy characters are there to be cute and huggable-looking for a female target audience (much like with Hetalia). In the show, Haruhi is a girl with short hair who dresses like a boy. She is attending the prestigious Ouran Academy, a swanky-ass school for the absurdly rich. Except she isn't rich herself, she got into the school by earning a scholarship that is awarded to the top scorer on the entrance exam.
Haruhi is looking for a place to study after school, and she wanders around, ending up in the room where the "host club" meets. She ends up accidentally breaking a ridiculously expensive vase (8 billion yen, which I checked was around 71 million in US dollars!). To pay off the debt incurred from this, she agrees to work for the host club. But to do this, she has to let everyone think she's a boy, because the host club means "cute boys who entertain girls by being cute". Haruhi is shy and nervous, but over time you can see that she'll get used to her new role and grow to like, and perhaps even love, the boys in the host club.
Ouran High School Host Club
Manga by Bisco Hatori
Television Drama (11 Episodes), Live Action Film
My impression of this show is that it's a bright, flashy, manic comedy. It might be ok for certain people, but it seems too juvenile and too fast-paced for me. I'm really past the age where cross-dressing, or identical twin-switching, etc. is really funny, and I'm not someone who goes mad in lust over cute bishounens. But what is there that is good about Ouran High School Host Club?
It can be refreshing, from a female perspective. A lot of anime with high school romance comedy can follow this "harem" anime format, popularized originally by Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina, among other shows. This is a teenage boy wish fulfillment, which is fine, but there's rarely an equivalent anime series that revolves around teenage girl wish fulfillment. I would say there's this, Fruits Basket, Peach Girl, Absolute Boyfriend, and maybe a few others, but it's rare to have one girl and multiple guys.
In Japan, I think it might be something of a double standard in their culture: a woman with multiple boyfriends is a slut, but it's treated better if a man has multiple girlfriends, and there are so many games and anime series whose plot premise revolves around the latter. In Peach Girl, Fruits Basket, and Sailor Moon, even when the female protagonist has multiple boys gunning for her, she's supposed to reject all of them in favor of her "one true love", maintaining her purity. And the shows usually treat it as a big sin for a girl to so much as be seen talking in private with another guy once she's already dating someone. Now compare that to all the harem shows for boys, where nobody blinks twice over a man openly flirting with and dating multiple women... Yeah, kinda sexist.
Contrasting that, even if Haruhi herself doesn't date every boy in the titular Host Club, she gets spend a lot of time with all of them, gets to know them, and she can act as an audience surrogate character, much like a typical male harem protagonist. In the "harem" of the Host Club, you can find pretty much any type of guy you may like; serious and mature, clownish and flirtatious, rebellious, or even adorable and moe. It's harmless fun, and while it may not be for me, I can see how other people appreciate it for being cute, funny, and charming.
Ouran High School Host Club is unique. It's similar in plot setup to Hayate the Combat Butler, and both shows work by playing the streetwise practicality of a poor person against the relative insanity of the super rich. It's also kind of about female lust in general. The whole "host club" thing is basically like being a male escort or male stripper, in a less overtly sexual way. In my opinion, the manga and show are about making fun of how women are sometimes humiliated and degraded by being treated as sex object by showing the gender reverse of this. It's also interesting because Haruhi is lusted after as a boy by girls when she upholds her drag masquerade, and lusted after as a girl by the boys in the Host Club who know she's a girl. Confusing, no?
I haven't seen it all, but I would like to, because the show makes me feel good and makes me laugh. And really, that's all that should be expected from this genre. What I like to impress upon people is not everything has to be all serious and dark like Ghost in the Shell or Evangelion. Is it fun, yes. Is it cute and warm-hearted, yes. Is it sexy? Eh, not so much to me now, but maybe when I was a teenager who had never had a boyfriend before. So while I don't exactly love this kind of show, I understand why this tops some people's lists. If you liked shows I mentioned earlier like:
- Hayate the Combat Butler
- Tenchi Muyo
- Black Butler
- Axis Powers: Hetalia
- Fruits Basket
- Peach Girl
- Sailor Moon
- Absolute Boyfriend
and similar shows, you should definitely watch this one. It's hard to judge comedy and romance because they rely on making the audience feel feelings, and that can be very subjective and change a lot depending on who is watching them. But I do think Ouran High School Host Club is good, and I recommend it for people who are into that kind of show.