>> Tuesday, October 11, 2011
As with Fruits Basket, my daughter was behind my adoption of Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori. "Mom, I want you to watch this anime with me." Once again, before the first disc was over, I was hooked (first disc rented via Netflix). I didn't bother buying the discs for her, just for me. Then I read the first manga of the series, and didn't fall in love. Although some of the characters can be drawn quite well, I didn't get the same impact that I'd had with Fruits Basket. However, it was definitely funnier. On a whim, I looked on line at my daughter's suggestion and was just interested enough to borrow more books.
Part of the charm is that the manga doesn't take itself too seriously and spends a great deal of time making fun of otaku (obsessive behavior, such as my own manga mania) culture, particularly cross-dressing and moe (fascination with youthful video game or anime characters). The main romantic lead is also the main comic relief, which is both charming and occasionally frustrating (given that he frequently comes across as an idiot).
A particular point on the anime. I really liked this one and could listen to the person speaking for Tamaki all day long. And have.
Anime: Yes Volumes of manga: 18 Status: Complete
My rating: Gotta have 'em all (anime, too)
Age range: I wouldn't personally have an issue for 12+ kids, but I'm pretty progressive.
Taboos and "warnings": Cross-dressing, sexual innuendo (including "incestuous romance" between the male twins for the benefit of the crowd), but no overt sex or sexual come ons. Violence is minimal and mostly caricature.
Premise: Scholarship student at a very expensive/prestigious private high school stumbles across an after-school "host club" where boys entertain female students (get your mind out of the gutter) with flattery, fantasy and tea. Said student breaks an expensive vase she can't pay for and, mistaken at first as a guy, gets drafted into the club to pay her debt. When her gender is discovered, everyone decides to carry on the illusion that she's male so she can continue to pay back her debt.
What works: Did I mention it didn't take itself too seriously? Everything is paradied, poked fun at, lampooned, from the excesses of the fabulously wealthy (who have never heard of instant coffee), to professional transvestites, to overprotective parents, to otaku culture, to video games, to romantic fantasies, to shojo manga plotlines, to, well, pick it. Although it is not devoid of the occasional tender moment, the humor is never far from the surface - but it's a very humane humor, not a mean one (despite the constant picking on Tamaki).
Although Haruhi is the de facto center of the story, Tamaki is really the center of attention and, really, he wouldn't want it any other way. Tamaki is overtly insane and so desperately flamboyant one could never take him as a real character, except somehow the author manages to give him depth and inner brilliance, insight into others and a bone-deep compassion that leavens his dramatic excesses. No one can bring him a problem without his resolving to fix it. No one could be more protective or supportive. No one could be more sensitive (he will frequently break into copious tears at the slightest provocation).
His love for people is unmistakable and his narcissistic tendencies entertaining swooning crowds of girls are really the offshoot of making others happy. If you don't get this, you will never really appreciate the manga. If you do, you'll forgive the crazy guy anything, as Kyoya (the cold impersonal member of the troop) is ample proof of.
Tamaki is the spearhead of sheer humanity and generosity that wafts through the manga, giving and devoted to making others happy. The buffoonish humor keeps it from getting preachy or too heavy. His enjoyment in doing so is the openhearted delight of a child, from his obsession with "commoner" food and drink to his interest in learning magic tricks to the extravagant over-the-top entertainments (often involving cosplay) his club provides.
The devotion his fellow club members have toward him, his natural leadership, is evident at the most unexpected moments and provide many of the most endearing and touching bits, including when the generally selfish Kyoya wastes his entire "field trip" tracking down Tamaki's mother so he can tell Tamaki how she's doing. That same devotion is soon shared with Haruhi for the same reason - she really gets to know who the club members are and appreciates them.
I loved the ending. Loved it. And that goes for both anime and manga, though the ending isn't the same.
The artwork had to grow on me. The settings and scenes, particularly of the lush costuming, are beautiful. The main characters tend to be, too, but the drawing is line drawing and doesn't always have as much power as some other artists. Many of the girls all look alike to me.
Favorite character: Tamaki. Love 'em all, including Kyoya, but it has to be Tamaki. Call it a spoiler but I would NOT have been happy if the romance had turned another direction.
I didn't include quotes because they just aren't the same out of context. I frequently laughed my butt right off. More than once, I cried. But it's not the same as prose.
What I didn't like: Some of the "twincest" was cloying. There was an antagonism toward female homosexuality as opposed to male homosexuality, which I didn't understand. I'm pretty open-minded on that topic, but would have preferred, given it's preponderance, not to make judgement calls about one type vs. another.
Pacing was occasionally slow, particularly during Tamaki's hiatus from the club. Conflict also suffers because no one is "really" bad.
Note: Often manga are available on-line, particularly for on-going ones where English-speaking fans may be years away from keeping up with the series as it's published in Japan so fans put up their own translations. OHSHC is available on-line through to the end, whereas we still don't have a publishing date for the last volume. Translations (and scans) vary in quality, but it can be nice to see what's going to happen if you're really hooked. As always, I'm an advocate for purchasing the books if you love the series.UPDATE: All the books are now available in English. And, yes, I have 'em all.