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By way of mokie and to my surprise, I've been watching and reading Ouran High School Host Club (Ouran Koukou Host Bu). It's a hilarious new show with some great art and voice actors, and the writing is spot on. Contrary to its setup as what could be the ultimate wish fulfillment shoujo series ever made, it seems designed entirely to poke every cliche from the genre in the nose. The boys of the OHCC are from every kind of manga fetish -- the princely archetype, the yaoi twins, the stoic martial arts fiend, the "cool" guy, even and especially the crossdressing type. They're filthy rich, which roughly means their romantic pursuits have no budget. There are rose petals everywhere. The characters even go so far as to remind the audience of their "romantic comedy" setup from time to time, which would work... if their lead girl was even remotely interested in any of them.

That's right. OHCC is a shoujo series with a lead girl who has virtually no interest boys. All the remaining -nths of a percent of interest she does have is spent looking very confused.

And this is what makes OHCC really great. Haruhi, our intrepid heroine, not only spends 99.9% of airtime dressed like a cute boy and hits on girls (she has to -- she owes the OHCC 8 milliion yen in debt), she also has the grudging socialization habits of ... well... me? She's like the anti-Christ of shoujo. (You didn't think I'd watch this for a host club of pretty boys, did you?) The creepy shoujo habit of all the surrounding guys developing feelings for the lead girl is enough laughing to make me cry. There's also just no telling what this series will try to parody next. In the first four episodes alone, they've taken potshots at dating sims, fighting group shows, host club fantasies, fangirls, afternoon soaps, even Japanese electronical appliances. It's great stuff, and really watchable. Even for a person who runs through most things only once, I found myself going back and replaying whole episodes. If you can get past the title and the fact the OP's opening lines are, "KISS KISS FALL IN LOVE!" (I nearly wept at that point too, but it is still a pretty good soundtrack), you're in for a nice little surprise.

Of course, being the impatient fiend I am, I went ahead and looked up the manga for this too. There are at least seven volumes to date, published by Hana to Yume. The anime seems to be following the manga pretty closely, though the anime, by virtue of its speed, has the benefit of being quite more humourous. The art style is typical, but good, shoujo. In fact, some of the characters bear peculiar resemblance to characters from other series. Tamaki, the lead guy, reminds me in more than just character of Angel Sanctuary's Setsuna (also by Hana to Yume). The best part of the manga is still Haruhi, confounding her company of cookie-cutter boys with the fact that she is not and never will be a heroine.

It's still a pretty random series, with (as of Volume 4) not much of an actual direction beyond single-chapter long adventures (quite strange in a format that prizes long arcs) of the OHCC crew and their customers. Hitori Bisuko, the mangaka, also has a habit of taking some odd turns into pointless territory with the omake, which is unfortunate. Considering just how episodic the series already is, the bonus chapters supplied could definitely have done more good with the epic cast. It is still good light reading, though I managed to find some of the "commoner" jokes annoying by way of being heartless - then again, this is probably their entire point. As far as redeeming story characteristics go, Haruhi is all grudges about, "those rich idiots." That the series dedicates a whole chapter to deliberately giving each of the characters a dark and terrible past precisely so we can laugh at them says something of the style at use here. So far, characterization is a bit low, though the fact each of the boys is based on a kind of stock character and the blatant pokes at these cliches do make the characters easy to fathom. And as the series poddles on, I wait to see too if either the shoujo element becomes more prominent (it's headed that way...) or if the mangaka manages to retain that tenuous balance of dorky and anti-squee.

The Characters at Large

Fujioka Haruhi - Bespectacled, geeky, immune to girls and completely oblivious to boys. As Tamaki says, "Isn't there a single cute thing about you at all?" Forget those wimpy heroines who spend their time mooning, "Tamahome!" Haruhi doesn't just look great in pants, she has more spine and more sense than any other male members of the cast. (She also has no fear - which kind of irks the boys intent on saving her.) Anime Haruhi was ported over intact. And y'know, she is kind of cute, and the whole crossdressing deal is horribly attractive. Almost makes me worry I'm turning into an old lech. (No, please don't answer that.)

Suou Tamaki - OHHC "Otou-san". The brash, narcissistic and honey-tongued "Prince" archetype. He's a cross between Setsuna (Angel Sanctuary) and Suou (Bloodhound -- incidentally also a host, and he has the same name), who both seem to share some odd physical similarities with him too. All the male characters agree he's the guy destined to fulfill the "romantic comedy" premise of their series by being with Haruhi. True to form, the guy's a Haruhi fanclub and protection service at every opportunity. In spite of his otherwise hopeless personality, he does seem to be quite a respectable guy, and a good judge of character. Comedic foil for Haruhi. Anime Tamaki is currently better-balanced than manga Tamaki, but manga Tamaki is catching up.

Ootori Kyouya - Best friend of Tamaki and OHHC "Oka-san". Every girl's manga has a character like this - the cool, emotionless archetype with the Harvard-trained eye for the kill. Usually, he's meant to temper the fire of the lead guy. Kyouya exists to stop the OHCC from bankrupting itself, by all means possible. And he will take advantage of anything, by all means possible. He won't even hit on Haruhi, because it won't profit him. Needless to say, I like him. Anime Kyouya is every bit as slithery as manga Kyouya.

Hitaachin Hikaru and Kaoru - The yaoi twins. Their selling point really is being incestuously in love in front of girls. Character-wise, they seem quite protective of Haruhi, and are born predators themselves. They provide comedic competition for Tamaki. Anime twins are less psychotic, and less damaging, than their manga counterparts -- I do prefer the manga twins.

Haninozuka "Honey" Mitsukuni - The cute kid archetype cum world-class karate exponent. With Mori (below), among the two eldest members of the OHCC. Anime Honey reminds me of Momiji (Fruits Basket), complete with bunny plushie, and he is really likeable that way. Manga Honey is just too much of a crybaby (except in OHCC parodies of itself when he goes, "Dark Honey", under which case he's everything I like about cold, evil kid characters).

Morinozuka "Mori" Takashi - The silent warrior archetype. Along with Honey, he provides the stoic manservant and his young lord combination for the clients. Doesn't say much, but he does seem to view Haruhi as a kind of extension of Honey, like a little brother. He's likeable, albeit too much of a side character.

Fujioka Ryouji - Haruhi's openly bisexual, crossdressing, host(ess) of a dad. Is really an older Tamaki in disguise. Comes home, finds his kid under Tamaki (they swear it was an accident) and slams Tamaki nose first into the nearest wall. Tamaki, for his part, is doing his best to please his "father-in-law". Looks like a hot lady, and a not bad guy either. So between Ryouji and Haruhi crossdressing their eyes out, and the cool guys in the cast, this could be my ultimate wish fulfillment series! Could be (I won't go for the prince, but I will go for the crossdressers!). Amazingly enough, for a character who has all of two chapters under his belt, I dare say Ryouji is the most well-developed character among the lot.

Overall: If you're going to start on this series and want a good laugh, go for the anime first. The pace is faster and the kinks in the manga's writing have been worked out. The manga does have slightly more characterization, but it also meanders a fair bit. If you are going for the manga, I would actually recommend you try 3.3.7. Byooshi instead, a manga of a very similar vein, but with stronger characters and by far much more solid plotting. Byooshi is not shoujo manga by any means, which takes away the entire problem of all this romantic stuff - though it does poke fun at shoujo archetypes as well. There's also some amazingly expressive art, and Kubou Mitsurou draws some very nice curves. (Byooshi is probably the first shounnen manga I've seen with full frontal breasts -- that it's for an entirely unexpected purpose and person doesn't count!)

Next: Hamp reviews an anime (really the only one) she actually intended to watch this season -- Ergo Proxy. (Dig the gawth.)

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
mokie
May. 6th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
Not sure if this is something your audience minds at all, but you might want to put some of that behind a "SPOILER!" warning. True, they spill the beans on Haruhi before the first episode is out, but...
vampyrichamster
May. 6th, 2006 04:47 am (UTC)
Waffles! *glee*

True dat. *ponders* But even on the back sleeve of the manga, and most of the summaries I've seen out there (including scanlators and subbers), Haruhi is outted as a girl right off the bat. *ponders more* Erm, sorry about the other spoiler I stuck under the cut too, in your case.
mokie
May. 11th, 2006 08:41 pm (UTC)
TAMAKI = GACKT! TAMAKI = GACKT!
vampyrichamster
May. 11th, 2006 08:51 pm (UTC)
Shhhhhhhhhhhh! Not so loud!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )