I’d be lying if I told you that every single thing about this manga and anime is ground-breaking or original. Let’s face it: the human race has been around for a long time, and we are running out of totally new and innovative ideas.
So what makes Ouran High School Host Club, an anime and manga series that does not present some groundbreaking, completely new and innovative plot-device, so special?
It’s a gender-bender and a romantic comedy, and it is most definitely shoujo. Neither of those characteristics are anything new.
The idea of a gender-bender wasn’t even new in Shakespeare’s time when he wrote Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, and that was nearly 500 years ago. And romantic comedies? Please. Just go to your local movie theater and pick out the latest chick flick and 99% of the time you’ll find a romantic comedy.
So, again, I return to my original question. Why is Ouran High School Host Club, a series relying upon clichéd plot devices, such an amazing series? The answer lies in the fact that it takes pre-existing ideas and breathes new life into them.
Let’s begin with the gender bender element. The idea of a student going into a school and secretly attending it as the opposite gender is a pretty common plot device in manga. But Ouran’s approach is a bit different.
Usually, the main character who is cross-dressing, is attending a school only open to the opposite sex, and he or she will be expelled upon discovery. This always leads to suspense and heartbreak, so the whole series revolves around keeping the protagonist’s sex a secret.
In Ouran High School Host Club, the protagonist goes to a school for both sexes, and in the very beginning, there is no reason whatsoever for her to hide that she is a girl. She just shows up and is mistaken for a male because of how she is dressed, which is really just a result of her being too poor to purchase the proper uniform.
It’s only after she breaks a super-expensive vase that it becomes important for her to hide her sex, and this is only so that she can pay back her debt while acting as a host instead of being an errand boy for what surely seems like the rest of her life.
And that’s it. If she’s discovered, she won’t be expelled from school, and her life goals won’t be shattered into a million tiny pieces. She’ll have to wear a dress, which is obviously a fate worse than death and Hell itself, and she’ll probably have to work for longer to pay back the Host Club, but it’s not like her life will be ruined. This series doesn’t support itself solely on the drama created by a gender-bender – if anything, it relies on it for gags.
The shoujo genre, as I mentioned before, is also nothing new, but the series is a massive satire of its genre. Before you crack open the first volume of the Ouran High School Host Club manga or pop in the first DVD of the anime, you need to understand that nothing (and when I say nothing, I really mean nothing) is sacred. Flower petals will dance through the air to overly-dramatic classical music, and incredibly attractive men will sparkle. However, it’s all in such an exaggerated fashion that it’s hard to take it seriously.
It also pokes fun at rich people and at female fans of anime and manga in general, and while I won’t go into details, since I don’t want to completely spoil the series for you, I will say its commentary rings very true. Ouran High School Host Club is a great social commentary, but it does so without boring the audience or taking itself too seriously.
The romantic comedy aspect of Ouran High School Host Club is not in itself anything special, but it is the final link between gender and shoujo satire. The combination of these three elements makes for a delightful and fun series that strikes a chord in almost any viewer. Almost everyone will find some part of the satire with which they can identify.
And the series is hilarious. Even without the gender-jokes and the satire, this series will have you laughing yourself to tears. Its writing is fantastic and it is by far one of, if not the most, funny anime/manga series I have ever seen or read. It is one of the few series that has merited for me the purchase of the manga and anime in full instead of simply watching it on Netflix or borrowing it from a friend. I have read the manga and watched the anime over and over again.
MANGA OR ANIME?
Now I’m sure you’re wondering whether to read the manga, watch the anime, or do both; each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The Ouran High School Host Club manga, just like its anime version, is absolutely amazing. The humor is no better or worse than its anime counterpart. The main differences lie in the art style of the manga and its completion of the story.
Bisco Hatori has a very distinct art style. I watched the anime first, and when I started reading the manga, I was rather shocked by how different the artwork of the manga was from that of the anime.
The second (and in my opinion more important) difference between the manga and the anime is the anime was completed long before the manga. The 26-episode anime covers the events of the first 6 volumes of the manga, and the ending is very different from the manga’s ending.
The anime introduces a character and a conflict not present in the manga at all, and while the anime’s ending is certainly in the spirit of the manga, the viewer may be left feeling that the ending is rather incomplete. Because the anime only covers the events of six of the manga’s 18 volumes, the character development is a bit lacking, and that the relationships between the characters have only begun to blossom.
That said, the anime also has its advantages.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the manga’s art style, the anime’s style is smoother and more pleasing to the eye. The proportion between body parts is more realistic and the animation is rather charming. It’s also more clearly a parody, as the sparkles and the fluttering of rose petals are much more detailed when animated.
Another advantage of the anime is its amazing voice cast. Miyano Mamoru as Tamaki Suou is a match made in heaven. I cannot think of another actor who could so perfectly capture Tamaki’s many idiosyncrasies and his somewhat manic nature. Maaya Sakamoto plays a perfect Haruhi— she flawlessly portrays Haruhi’s blunt, but kind personality, and she manages to pull off the difficult task of sounding androgynous. The twins, Hikaru and Kaoru, are played by two different actors, which allows each twin to maintain his sense of individuality, but when needed, the two are so in sync that telling the twins apart becomes nearly impossible.
The anime also features a gorgeous soundtrack. Most of the soundtrack is classical music tailored to reflect different scenarios in the anime. This gives the anime a certain sensitivity that the manga does not always achieve, and the viewer is enveloped in the opulence that is Ouran High School.
In my opinion, it is best to both watch the anime and read the manga, as each brings a unique flavor to the series.
In short, whether or not shoujo, gender-bending, and romantic comedies are normally something you find interesting, give this series a chance. It’s worth a try, and more likely than not, you’ll enjoy it.