January 6, 2009
Ouran Host Club mocks all your shoujo stereotypes while simultaneously utilizing those same stereotypes to create a wonderful series. I’d say that takes talent.
STORY – I avoided this series for a long time just because the premise didn’t interest me, and from a distance, it seemed like one of those parodies that would err on the side of taking itself too seriously. I’m really glad I ended up giving it a chance though; Ouran High School Host Club manages to be hilarious from the get-go and is surprisingly adorable. It’s perfect in portraying the handful of stereotypes that appear over and over again in shoujo and doesn’t shy away from blatant self-references and mockery to make sure it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And yet, the series somehow still manages to have a captivating “serious” side and great romance potential to boot.
I like to gripe a lot about anime adaptations of manga that aren’t finished too, but Host Club has an excellent and concluded storyline (with huge potential for a sequel!) despite the still-running manga. Admittedly, I haven’t read much of said manga yet, but from what I can tell, the anime follows it pretty damn precisely. Many of the episodes are very silly and episodic, and there’s also the predictable handful of episodes dedicated to each character’s backstory, but there’s rarely a dull moment. It’s entertaining and fun through and through.
CHARACTER – For a cast conceived entirely of over-used stereotypes, Host Club really does an amazing job in keeping everyone interesting, especially since it isn’t afraid to point out those obvious type molds. There isn’t really anything particular or unique about Haruhi, but that’s exactly what makes her so easy to relate to. Her androgyny only furthers this by destroying that gender barrier, and honestly, I’d love to see more reverse traps in anime. Haruhi is great at balancing characteristics that are considered typical of both men and women, and she’s also endearingly oblivious. Never underestimate the power of stupidly endearing characteristics… Tamaki is a fun character for all the same reasons.
He has tons of little quirks — many of them are common, but that doesn’t stop them from being effective when they’re so well done. Everyone gets those obligatory background episodes that explore their personalities beyond the stereotype. It’s a tricky thing to give a parody a personality; how do you give them depth without seeming pretentious or just like the cliches you’re trying to mock? I’m really not sure, but somehow Host Club manages. The twins have a completely generic emo backstory, but I’m still compelled to sympathize with them and to empathize with their friendships with the rest of the club. Kyouya has a similarly generic sibling angst story, but I still like the bastard. Mori and Honey weren’t as interesting to me personally, but I can still see where their appeal would be for others.
In the end, it isn’t so much the originality of the characters that make them so good — it’s their interaction with each other. Everything feels natural. It’s just entertaining to watch them go about their shenanigans and to hear them mock one another, their genre, otaku culture, and random other things. And the subtlety of their strong friendships is what ties the whole series together. As the episodes build on, it gets clearer and clearer just how important those friendships are. Yes, this is a satire and a comedy, but there’s a good story about friendship buried under all that too. It’s a simple and somewhat generic kind of story, but it’s a good story all the same.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – I really love the style and animation used in the opening theme. It’s clean and cute and pretty unique-looking. Hell, the opening in general is just adorable and fun to look at, and it’s one of the few that I actually sat through and watched more than a half dozen times. The style in the series itself is pretty generic, but as most of the characters were designed to be generic, this really isn’t too big a deal. Indeed, all the characters perfectly master the visual charm that made their stereotypes so widely popular to begin with. And at the same time, the designs somehow manage to also capture the personal quirks that each character still has — the twins are typical badboys, but their emotion is still there; there are probably twenty billion characters that look exactly like Kyouya, but somehow, he still feels like his own person. It’s interesting (maybe it’s the uniform?).
There are also lots of nice backgrounds in Host Club. It’s a very fancypants and elaborate academy after all. Sure, a lot of the wide exterior shots and some of the interiors are recycled a lot, but they’re still intricate and pretty backdrops. The animation is pretty average. There’s nothing particularly spectacular, but I don’t really think there’s really anything that needs to look spectacular. Funny thing about shoujo, there aren’t usually too many fights that need to be animated super smoothly. XD
MUSIC – The opening theme, “Sakura Kiss” by Chieko Kawabe is a really cute song. It’s upbeat and fun and just an all around fitting theme to the series in general. For the dub, the song is translated into English, and it works surprisingly well. The voice sounds exactly the same, and I really thought the singer just had two versions of the song at first. The translated lyrics work pretty nicely too. I didn’t like the end theme as much as the opening, but that usually seems to be the case because they’re just generally not as exciting.
The soundtrack in the series is nicely varied. To emphasize the rich, upper class and noble environment, there are often classical instrumental themes; the moods are often exaggerated with very shrill, high-tension violins for the action and drama and soft, melancholic piano for the emotional and tragic scenes (cheerful, everyday scenes are usually accompanied by flutes and strings). It’s good to note that even the music sticks with the over-the-top and satirical nature of many of the scenes. For more serious bits, the music follows suit and calms down to more traditional melodies, including several instrumental versions of the opening theme and the piano themes that Tamaki plays. As a fan of classical music, I tend to be drawn to soundtracks like this, but either way, I think everything suited Host Club very well.
VOICE ACTING – I saw the first half of the series dubbed (all that was available on DVD at the time) and the rest subbed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a dub first, but Host Club’s dub seriously impressed me. Vic Mignogna is the perfect Tamaki. He nails every line and every emotion, and it’s just a very convincing performance overall. One of my biggest voice acting peeves is when actors don’t change their voices between roles, which gets really annoying really fast in English dubs because there’s such a limited talent pool. When Tamaki is acting flustered or funny!angry, he sounds a bit like Edward Elric, but for the most part, Mignogna manages to give the character a distinct voice, and I found that to be very impressive. Caitlin Glass as Haruhi was also pretty amazing, and I was again really happy to hear a distinct voice for the character. Honestly, the entire cast was excellent and all the voices were wonderfully suited to their roles (the only annoying voices were for the annoying characters!).
It seems that the English dub is aimed very much for an otaku crowd as well. A few honorifics are carried over without explicit explanation, particularly “senpai” and “-chan,” and the cute shortening of names before attaching the “-chan” (like Haru-chan or Hika-chan) is also kept. It was really weird hearing it at first, but all things considered, I think it turned out pretty well. It doesn’t feel overly unnatural, and those little speech habits really keep characters like Honey and Haruhi truer to the original. (Now if only they could figure out a way to translate distinct first-person pronouns like “ore”…) It’s fitting since Host Club does so well to mock otaku culture, and it definitely added to the experience to hear such lulzy culture-generated terms like “twincest.” The translation felt very relevant and in-touch to the English-speaking otaku scene which was fantastic.
The original Japanese cast is pretty good too, but I don’t think I like Mamoru Miyano as Tamaki as much as I like Vic Mignogna. While Mignogna only occasionally strays to Ed’s voice, I often hear a host of other characters when I hear Miyano… of course, that might just be because I’ve heard more of Miyano’s roles than Mignogna, but all the same. Maaya Sakamoto as Haruhi was better, and I found it hilarious that Haruhi’s poor singing skills are emphasized when Sakamoto is such a lovely singer. I prefer the Hitachiin twins’ Japanese voices to their English counterparts because they’re easier to distinguish from one another, and that’s one of the easiest ways I had to tell them apart. Since much of the rest of the cast is very stereotypical, their Japanese and English voices were about on the same level; the actors sounded typecasted, but that works just fine. Sometimes, I just get tired of reading subtitles, so while the original cast is good, I think Host Club’s dub is one of the few I’d choose to watch over the sub if given the choice.
OVERALL – I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a sequel for a series as much as I do for this one. The ending is predictable but adorable and practically begs for a follow-up series — how is it that Ouran High School Host Club mocks so much of what’s common in shoujo, but somehow manages to use all the same formulas to make you love it? I suppose it’s proof that even the most tired of cliches can be given new life if done right. There are no original ideas left, but there are still new, fun, and interesting ways to twist around what’s around there. To all the skeptics, I highly recommend giving this series a shot. The entirety of the series is available streaming on FUNimation’s video site, both subbed and dubbed, so there’s no excuse!