Easily described as such, Ouran High School Host Club still manages to break its seemingly stereotypical story and characterization to achieve something beyond the typical romantic comedy story. Taking place at prestigious Ouran Academy, scholarship student Haruhi Fujioka is drawn into the world of the Host Club: a group of the school’s most beautiful and upper-class boys that entertain the female population with their wiles. Though annoyed at first with the Host Club’s antics, Haruhi slowly learns to open up to the other members while delving into the hidden people that hide behind the entertaining façade of their club “types.”
Those familiar to the reverse harem genre might easily see the parallels to another popular series, Fruits Basket, though similar wackiness and animation aside, this story borders significantly closer to series such as Martian Successor Nadesico or Lucky Star in its approach to humor. Instead of trying something new and different, Ouran takes every cliché convention of its genre and runs with them, often making self-reference to the clichés they are purposefully evoking. While one young girl declares them a “reverse harem” upon first meeting the club, another decries their inefficient use of the stereotypes they utilize like the “lonely prince” and even the “pitcher” and “receiver” aspects of shounen-ai series. All the while, Haruhi is allowed insight into the people behind the personas, coming across some surprises and poignant conclusions along the way.
Of some note is the cast of this production, both in Japanese and English. With Mamoru Miyano (Death Note’s Light Yagami, Vampire Knight’s Zero Kiyuu) at the head of the cast as Host Club King Tamaki Suou and Maaya Sakamoto (Vision of Escaflowne’s Hitomi Kanzaki, Black Butler’s Ciel Phantomhive) providing the voice of Haruhi, the comic timing is nothing short of brilliant. The English cast, meanwhile, might as well be called Fullmetal Alchemist: The Reunion with Vic Mignogna (Ed Elric) and Caitlin Glass (Winry Rockbell) respectively taking their shots as the lead roles once more and other noted Alchemist voices such as Travis Willingham (Roy Mustang), Aaron Dismuke (Al Elric), and Luci Christian (Wrath) crop up frequently. Those comfortable with either type of voiceover will find themselves in comfortable, well-done territory.
The animation is slick and colorful, as expected with a Studio Bones series, though this time they’ve even outdone themselves. Even the Funimation production crew points out how the bright pink of the Host Club’s room starkly contrasts with the character designs primarily of blue and black and how crisp the animation is. Music is also a delight, evoking a pompous-yet-melodic feel to the scenes, pointing out that the series both does not take itself too seriously yet manages to sneak in some beautiful emotion when one is not looking.
Perhaps the main problem of the show is its episodic nature. Besides the return of the St. Lobelia’s Zuka Club, Nekozawa-senpai, and a two-episode arc with Kassanoda, the order of some episodes could easily be rearranged and nothing lost, which somewhat takes from the nature of Haruhi’s growth as a student that comes to enjoy being in the Host Club. One episode detailing Tamaki and Kyouya’s first meeting is even completely out of place, coming in for no apparent reason other than it is one of the better dramatic stories and thus needed to be told before the series wrapped. Some of those episodic plot threads are also somewhat redundant, as the series likes to stay within the status-quo: Tamaki will act dumb, the twins will tease him, Honey will be cute, and Kyouya will stand off to the side smirking before everything is resolved. Though the series gets by for these interactions being genuinely funny, they can get old if you’re looking for a little more growth or substance after a while.
Of final note are the plot threads. While the series was produced long before the manga started wrapping up its storyline, it still managed to come up with a suitable ending to the show that remained in-character and still works within the continuity set up by the manga. Considering the studio’s penchant for renewing popular series (see: Darker Than Black, Fullmetal Alchemist), it left enough room for the idea of a sequel once the manga finished its run. Cross your fingers.