Director: Takuya Igarashi
Genre: Comedy, Romance
It’s been years since I saw Ouran High School Host Club, and I recently found it again while I was browsing through my Netflix queue. Upon seeing it again it brought back plenty of memories about how much of a good time I had watching its crazy antics. It also brought back the lovely characters and their unique personalities. I too had forgotten the sublime art direction, the set designs of Ouran High School, the elegant character and costume designs, the majestic musical score, and the endless [visual] homage to anime as well as manga featuring strong independent ladies like the ones in Princess Knight, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and The Rose of Versailles. Though, I’m sure Bisco Hatori, the author of the source material was also heavily inspired by William Shakespeare’s 12th Night to drive the premise of the story.
Our heroine Haruhi Fujioka, a poor scholarship freshman student at the prestigious Ouran Academy, on her first day of school happens to stumble across The Third Music room as she looks for a quiet classroom to study. She instead finds the Host Club; an all-male club dedicated to entertaining the female student body. This accidental visit turns for the worse for Haruhi when she accidentally breaks a vase because the members were making advances towards her. She is instantly hired as the Host Club’s “dog” in order to pay for the vase valued at 8 million yen. At first the members of the club all think she is a guy because of her dressing manners as well as her shaggy hairstyle, and thus decide to hire her as an official “Host,” as a way to pay for her debt. One by one upon realizing that she is a girl decide to keep her as one of them while maintaining her secret.
The first thing that comes to mind after watching an episode of this series is how much it tries to whisk the viewers away into its world by entertaining them to no end. With its character archetypes, Ouran High School Host Club has more than its fair share of satire and wit. We have an all-male cast of characters comprised of every stereotype in the “Shojo Handbook,” if that’s even a term. We have Tamaki, the Host Club’s “king, father” and typical heartthrob of every girl-oriented anime/manga out there. We also get Kyoya, the club’s “mother,” financial administrator, and the cool/cunning character. We have the twins Hikaru and Kaoru, the mischievous characters who exploit their looks in order to have the crazy shonen-ai/yaoi fan girls designate them. Then there is Mitsukuni Haninozuka, often called “Honey,” who is the shotacon and lolita character archetype as well as a master of martial arts. He is also the Host Club’s “item” and is usually seen with the final character I’ll introduce. Takashi Morinozuka or “Mori” is the strong and silent type, as well as the “noble” and stoic “bear” when coupled with his “item” cousin, Honey.
Bisco Hatori, the manga’s original author this anime is based on is primarily responsible for the preposterous situations and the hosts’ comedic antics. Surely once Hatori found out who would be responsible for adapting her work, she was quite comfortable in handing over that responsibility. I’m sure Hatori highly approved that none other than Yoji Enokido was to adapt her manga to the screen. Honestly, I cannot think of anybody better for the job. Enokido was primarily in charge of writing the screenplay for Revolutionary Girl Utena, hence the obvious similarities between the two series. Both feature headstrong young women who are pulled into situations they don’t want to be in. There is also the theme of twisting the gender roles in both animes. In Ouran, Haruhi doesn’t mind assuming the role of a male host in order to “flirt” with her fellow female students. In Utena, Utena must assume the role of a prince in order to save Anthy and finally meet her prince herself. But this isn’t a thesis on comparisons between the two. I am simply trying to pull away on Enokido’s simple yet intelligent craftsmanship on the ironically lighthearted screenplay.
Yoji Enokido isn’t the one primarily in charge of this similitude, because I also notice the obvious homage to stories which were inspired by Shakespeare’s 12th Night. I’m referring to Princess Knight from Osamu Tezuka and The Rose of Versailles (which itself heavily inspired Revolutionary Girl Utena), but the most obvious being Utena. The nobility found in all three titles is a source of power more than wealth itself in Ouran High School Host Club. I believe the characters mention at one point or another that wealth is secondary to family background. Furthermore, there is a club within the anime called the Zuka Club that resembles the Host Club itself. I’m quite confident that Enokido along with the staff at Bones were not only trying to self-parody, but to also closely follow the aesthetics and style of Lady Oscar from Rose of Versailles but more prominently Revolutionary Girl Utena.
It wasn’t just Enokido like I mentioned before, but a conjunctive work between himself, art director Norufumi Nakamura (Soul Eater), cinematographer Shuichi Heishi (Angelic Layer), composer Yoshihisa Hirano (Death Note, Hunter x Hunter Remake), and of course director Takuya Igarashi (Soul Eater). I noticed that for particular moments, like the Zuka Club’s introduction, all of these individuals worked in unison too well in order to fully realize the emphasis and importance of Utena’s presence all over such a scene. The Zuka Club itself is comprised of three girls who also entertain the ladies of rival Lobelia Academy, an all-girls school. Whenever they would come onscreen, a theme song of strong Utena-esque influence would play in the background as the girls would spin their way into the scene. Meanwhile, rose petals would suddenly rain from the skies and the Zuka members would chant a long-winded introduction, all while the camera would focus entirely above them and from a side-angle to maintain mystique. There are brilliant moments such as this one that impressed me, and it’s obvious director Takuya Igarashi was busy executing the pastiche as best as he could.
Aside from the smartly written screenplay from Enokido, Ouran’s towering architectures found in its art direction were perplexing to behold. The clock tower in Ouran Academy is amazing to look at as well as other locations around campus. The Host Club’s classroom itself is doused in intricate patterns found in the ceiling, and all are painted in pink. I suppose red and its sister colors symbolize beauty in this series, as these colors comprise more than 75% of the art direction in Ouran High School Host Club. The giants clocks, the hallways, the cafeteria, the club room, and even the home of several characters are pigmented in these colors. Oh, and I’m leaving out the heavy emphasis of roses everywhere in this series. To strongly accentuate the importance of beauty and sophistication, roses are placed virtually everywhere to not only please the club’s customers, but also the viewer. Having said that, remember again that Ouran is also penned by Enokido… and roses were crucial plot devices and symbolism in Revolutionary Girl Utena. Certainly, Ouran is a sight for sophisticated eyes.
Adding more refinement to Ouran’s impressive report card is Yoshihisa Hirano’s musical genius. Hirano is more than willing to provide Ouran with its own musical identity without having to resort to completely rearranging or reviving classical operas from Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. Hirano doesn’t resort to these immortal musicians, and yet manages to sound almost like them. He directs his orchestra to add more than manners and finesse with his string rendition of the already infectious enough opening theme “Sakura Kiss” by Chieko Kawabe. He also adds a piano version in, along with minuets, rhapsodies (particularly Renge’s), and waltz, all exemplifying why I consider the score of Ouran to be one of its most elegantly omnipotent aspects. Hirano’s music box heightens the goofiness, campiness, and the lunacy of whatever matter is presented. Aside from that he also chips in a tune every now and then that syncs perfectly with the scarcely dramatic scenes scattered throughout.
The drama found in Ouran High School Host Club is strong and effective notwithstanding the fact that it isn’t a primary source of entertainment. Even then, I still found the anime’s ending to be rather weak. This would be my one and only concern with this otherwise excellent series. The ending is pretty “typical” considering how damn atypical the entire series is. It’s just a disappointment, though I suppose I should have known better considering I was aware that the manga at the time this adaptation aired in Japan had not finished its run. I sometimes wish the entire staff behind this anime would band together again and finish adapting it without actually adding in unique plotlines to the anime; even if they’re written and directed well. This truly is the only thing I can really complain about here, as there is not much else to talk about besides the voice work.
And what voice work it is. Maaya Sakamoto (Escaflowne, RahXephon, Wolf’s Rain) plays Haruhi here and this is one of her very best performances. She brings such unique qualities in tone to Haruhi’s sexual ambiguities, since she makes her sound quite neutral on several subjects, and even candid in others (such as love, the concept of fangirls, and the Host Club members themselves). She truly is the one to watch for in this anime, though Mamoru Miyano who gained fame for playing Light in Death Note, is also quite good here. Good because unlike Light, I actually heard some feelings other than disdain for those around him. Kenichi Suzumura as Hikaru is also a strong revelation here. Hikaru was definitely the funnier of the two twins and he was also the most immature, in part due to Suzumura’s witty impersonation. Besides them, everyone else adds to their own weight at some point. I also want to add as an aside that the English dub for Ouran is actually quite good also, though not as fresh sounding as its original source. It is mostly because nobody really stands out, yet they’re still a good accompaniment to the original voices.
We all know that when a story is preoccupied with poking fun at itself, with its endless parodies of fan behavior and otaku culture, the result might be a mixed bag. Mixed because the idea can wear thin rather quickly if individuals not as talented as the people involved here weren’t the ones handling the jokes. In addition, Ouran High School Host Club expertly pokes fun at the fangirl behavioral model over yaoi/shonen-ai material and surprisingly it’s one of the funniest things about it. Perhaps, I might be reading too much into it and I wasn’t supposed to analyze it as I did, although then I wouldn’t know how. How am I supposed to look at an anime that makes fun of squealing fangirls and shojo genre stereotypes, while it aesthetically presents itself in the vein of classic shojo and William Shakespeare? Yoji Enokido, the unsung hero, deserves all the praise for faithfully adapting Bisco Hatori’s homage to Lady Oscar and more evidently, Utena Tenjou. The director of Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara must be very proud.