In full disclosure, I never much cared for shoujo-style anime and manga. That is, any Japanese media made for a younger female demographic. I grew up on Pokemon for a short while, and then I got into seinen genre with works like Cowboy Bebop and Death Note in college. It wasn’t until I learned about Fruits Basket that I learned to appreciate the genre.
However, that same appreciation had mixed results when I found Ouran High School Host Club.
At the prestigious Ouran Academy, a poor student named Haruhi Fujioka accidentally ends up in debt to the school’s Host Club after breaking a priceless vase. Complicating this is the fact that the club is designed for rich men to “entertain” young ladies–and the fact that Haruhi is a girl cross-dressing as a boy at school. What follows is an assortment of quirky adventures as the Club’s President, Tamaki, tries to teach Haruhi their ways (and win her heart) in the wackiest sitcom-style scenarios imaginable.
Haruhi is an excellent negotiator for the group, especially when it comes to helping them navigate the world outside their elite status. It helps that she has her own flaws and quirks to make her likable (such as her obsession with “fancy tuna”). Tamaki is your average excitable, effeminate male, but with a few devious moments that counterparts like Kyoya and the twins aren’t providing themselves. Meanwhile, the cheerful and stoic duo Honey and Mori are mostly there for commentary and bits of random humor, though they have some layers. Even recurring characters like Renge aren’t terrible since they show up for a little bit, state their jokes, and leave as quickly.
The show is an excellent parody of shoujo anime, from rose petals falling over soft-spoken, good-looking male characters, to strange bits of roleplay like the “Alice in Wonderland” episode. It’s the kind of series where characters actively break the fourth wall and talk about fandom terms like shipping and tragic backstories without missing a beat in the onscreen antics or drama. In this case, Renge is a great example of a character who tries to shape the Host Club into her view of what the ideal romantic shoujo cast should look like.
Since I’m on the dub side of the infamous “sub vs. dub” anime debate, I got the pleasure of listening to the voice work and editing as done by Funimation. This meant I enjoyed a host of famous voice actors giving some great performances, such as J. Michael Tatum (Kyoya), Vic Mignogna (Tamaki), and Travis Willingham (Mori). No one gives a bad performance, even if the script is trying to stay faithful to the original Japanese (especially regarding comedic delivery). I love most of the acting in this, though my favorite is Kyoya because I’ll never get bored of listening to J. Michael Tatum.
The detail in this anime is stunning. Not only in terms of animation but in the little asides and discussions of the Host Club’s wealthy lifestyle. This show touches on the finer points of British tea culture, formal attire, balls and galas, and so on. It’d be easy to make this a general view of the upper class, so I appreciate how much research and effort went into the smaller things surrounding Haruhi’s exploration of the club.
Overall, this is one of those shows that is largely based on kanji inserts and repetitive animation for humor. It’s not a bad style considering how much of anime and manga do the same, but after going through shows like Durarara!! or Death Note, it can be a little jarring, if not annoying. This is a minor complaint, really, but I can see how it’d be off-putting for some audiences.
So do I recommend Ouran High School Host Club? Well, yes and no. I don’t recommend it for anyone’s first introduction to anime, but it does work as a cute and lighthearted romp through the shoujo genre. Between its stellar English voice cast and some genuinely funny or touching moments, it’s entertaining in its own right.
The English dub of Ouran High School Host Club is available through Funimation.