The strongest episodes in the Ouran High School Host Club are essentially nothing more than character development. In them, the show will take one of the characters and crack his very soul open for all to see. The standouts are by far Kyouya, a self-proclaimed egoist who ends up being anything but, and the identical pair of twins, whose need for personal individuality conflicts with their inability to relate to anyone else.
Unfortunately, excluding both the brilliant beginning and the fantastic character-building episodes, much of the storyline feels uninspired and dull by comparison. While watching through many of the middle episodes of Ouran, one gets the feeling that the writer is complacently leaning too much on his characters. The biting satire of the first few episodes eventually gives way to safe and surprisingly routine comedy, a problem that is compounded by the fact that there is no significant plot until near the end. Worse still, the wonderful character development is limited to only a handful of episodes; in the rest of the show, the characters remain tragically static.
The result is somewhat uneven. There are superb episodes, but sadly, Ouran is not quite the superb show that I was hoping for. At no point is the plot ever bad, but with more ambitious writing, Ouran could have been the best of its genre.
The character designs are appealing and colorful, which is almost all that a shoujo show really needs to be good. However, Ouran also happens to excel in other departments as well. Backgrounds are detailed and lively, and movement is never jerky or awkward. However, the best part is probably in the surprisingly clever and creative visual humor. In particular, I enjoyed the deliberate overuse of roses and sparkle effects – a nod to the visual techniques of other shoujo shows.
One cannot mention Ouran’s characters without praising the remarkably talented seiyuu behind them. Put simply, these characters would have only been half as likeable with lesser voice acting. The most obvious case of this is with Haruhi. Due to the character’s transgendered nature, voice-acting the character in a way that was at the same time believable and pleasant is something that few seiyuu could actually do. However Sakamoto Maaya (who was equally wonderful as Lark in Gunbuster 2) pulls off the feat fantastically. The rest of the seiyuu are nearly as impressive – there isn’t a weak link anywhere.
The music is serviceable without ever standing out all that much. Suitably wacky songs play during the (numerous) comedic moments, while pleasant instrumental music is used for the more serious moments. I enjoyed the OP, but didn’t like the song enough to actually download it.
The characters are easily the best part of Ouran Host Club. For one, in an age of generic, unmemorable shoujo leads (the interchangeability between Full Moon wo Sagashite’s Mitsuki and Fruit Basket’s Touru comes to mind), Haruhi stands out as a unique and thoroughly loveable protagonist. As in other shows, she serves as a “normal” grounding to contrast with the comparably wacky supporting characters. However, at the same time, she is anything but average. Equal parts intelligent, blunt, and pragmatic, her piercing wit doesn’t ground the other characters idiosyncrasies so much as puncture them. The result is always hilarious, and makes for one of the best characters of the year.
For the rest of the characters, the show brilliantly recognizes the numerous archetypes of the shoujo genre, and manages to build its characters in a way that both lampoons and transcends the stereotypes. To mock these shoujo “staples,” the anime’s characters cynically play to them in an effort to garner popularity among the girls of their high school (one character deliberately acts like he’s eight for the lolicon points).
On the other hand, to transcend the stereotypes, all of the characters in the show are far more complex than they initially appear. Beneath each one-dimensional façade is a compelling, loveable, and unique character of surprising depth and believability.
Ouran Host Club is a good show that could have been extraordinary. Anyone who watches the first episode can see the amazing potential in the show; the premise is clever and feel-good, the characters are loveable and unique, and the seiyuu are just plain wonderful. Oddly enough, only a lack of ambition on behalf of the writers really prevents the show from rising to the amazing heights of shows like Azumanga Daioh and Princess Tutu.
However, the fact that this anime could have been more doesn’t change what this anime is: an undeniably witty and charming shoujo comedy. If you enjoyed Fruits Basket, there’s very little chance that you won’t love this.
Ouran High is a school for the extremely wealthy or, in Haruhi's case, the extremely talented. But no amount of talent will help when Haruhi accidentally drops an eight million yen vase in a music room. The vase was the property of Ouran High School Host Club, a group of attractive young men who, for a fee, provide their time and affections for their lovesick clientele: the female students. Fascinated by this strange new specimen, a poor and clumsy commoner, they force Haruhi to work for them until the debt is repaid; but they get a lot more than they bargained for...