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Review: Ouran High School Host Club

Ouran Private Academy is defined by three attributes: prestigious families, wealth, and prosperous students with too much free time on their hands. The Ouran Host Club is therefore about handsome guys giving hospitality to lovely ladies, and profiting by the transaction.

Imagine, if you will, every bad stereotype of shoujo manga and anime. A calculating financial genius who can be incredibly charismatic–when he finds profit in it. A cute little guy who looks and acts about a decade younger than his true, upper-teen age. A blonde, ditzy bishounen with personal attractiveness beyond any bound of reason. Yaoi twins. A taciturn loyal servant continuing a generations-long tradition of service to a particular family even in this modern age. Characters with hidden, unnaturally acute talents. Put it all together, and it sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Actually, all it really needs is an authoral team with a talent for parody, and it becomes quite enjoyable. The setting–an exclusive high school populated by the children of the ultra-rich–allows the authors to get away with nearly anything. After all, what can you safely say is impossible when you’re dealing with people with access to ludicrous amounts of money that they didn’t personally earn?

The characters, as a rule, fall into one of four categories: unimportant background, important background, main characters, and Fujioka Haruhi. The unimportant background characters are more or less identical, and exist to give the impression that this ultra-exclusive school for the ultra-rich actually has a student body in the hundreds if not thousands. That population is necessary to support the notion that not only have the main characters established a for-profit business disguised as a club, without any of the faculty noticing, in an unused music room; they are also making a tidy profit doing so. The important background characters exist solely for the purpose of plot development and are treated with the precisely correct amount of attention. The main characters are hugely exaggerated, and generally quite entertaining. So far, there is a deft hand at work on the characters, but one element exists to draw everything together.

That element is the show’s star: Fujioka Haruhi. She’s the only developed character who isn’t a personification of a stereotype, even though she feels like she is. She’s in some ways a composite: she looks like a female version of the guy from chobits or the guy from love hina; she has the brilliance and part of the personality of of the heroines of any number of romantic series, but she’s mostly defined by a practical streak a mile wide which enables her to survive the excesses she’s surrounded by. Her intelligence is a story necessity; she had to be brilliant and self-starting in order to become the only person at this school due to merit instead of money; accordingly, the series never really pays much attention to it. She does an excellent job of providing a counterpoint to the zaniness around her, and really brings the show together.

This series is truly funny; it would have scored much higher were it not for a few blemishes. Mostly, the problem is that it can’t resist the temptation to stray occasionally from its humorous strengths and attempt to be serious, and very little about this series is enjoyable when it tries to take itself seriously. Additionally, I couldn’t help but take points off for sexism; even Fujioka is portrayed as totally helpless in a moment of crises, and she’s the strongest female character the series has.

This series should appeal to most people who can stomach the initial concept, though only people who’ve watched a lot of anime will get certain jokes. Overall, it’s a good show, in no small part because it avoids deviating too far towards either chibi or fanservice.

Genre: screwball comedy
Emotion: I need to go back to Japan
BTFS: .77

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