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"Ouran High School Host Club": Awwww

You know a show’s good when its appeal transcends its target demographic. Case in point: Ouran High School Host Club, a shojo series (meaning it was originally made for girls 7-18 years old) that has many elements that can be enjoyed by all audiences, thanks to its light-hearted and at times satirical approach.

The set-up has Haruhi, a plain-looking girl new to school, accidentally knocking over an expensive statue at a school host club. To pay for it, she agrees to work in the club. The catch: It’s an all-boys club, so the group dresses her in male clothes and passes her off as a guy. It’s not terribly hard to, since she has short hair and a lack of breasts, and a voice that already dwells in the lower registers. Still, all the girls go ga-ga over her, thinking she’s a pretty boy.

Okay, so the concept is pretty unoriginal. But Ouran delightfully calls attention to the clichés of the sub-genre. It’s not a parody, per se, but it’s hard not to find a show silly when ecstatic girls fawn over every little thing a pretty boy from the Ouran club does; or pop-up text that accentuates a character’s mood for comic effect; or a character who points out all the archetypes that the various club members fill, from the cute shota type to the tall stoic type (and the list could be added to). The show also makes numerous humorous shots at hoighty-toighty society, like a girl mentioning that her father would scold her if he found out she was drinking instant coffee, or a team of doctors and nurses pampering every student on physical day.

Most of the plots in these first thirteen episodes are simple stories but are executed enjoyably. Take, for example, an episode where one of the host members, nicknamed Honey (who looks nine but is actually high school age), gets a toothache from eating too many sweets and must refrain from them for a week. He tries everything, including subtle hints and the pity act, to get people to give him his desserts, but none oblige him for his own good. Another winner is an episode where two host members, the identical Hitachiin twins, have a fight due to wanting their own identities, and it’s up to Haruhi to mend things. However, it’s all a ploy to get Haruhi to say that if they don’t make up, she won’t let them visit her home (after which they immediately go back to being friends). Ah, the con job, always good for comedy. Finally, I much enjoyed an episode where an all-girls school aggressively tries to recruit Haruhi. The Ouran club retaliates by cross-dressing and mocking them. Their act is so ridiculous that Haruhi can’t help but laugh.

However, there are a few moments of character development so the characters aren’t just one dimensional. Haruhi’s independent personality is seated in events from her past, gradually revealed in an episode at the beach and another when the Ouran club shows up at her modest apartment unannounced. Also, Ouran’s positive influence is gradually revealed, as the Hitachiin twins were pretty introverted and moody before they joined the club, and now they’ve become more outgoing and fun-loving. The same can definitely be said for Haruhi, too.

The animation is done by BONES, who you may remember from Fullmetal Alchemist. There are many cartoony moments in the series, and they make this a lot more fun to watch than if everyone just stood around with the same model sheet pose. The character designs can only be described as cute, especially that of the wide-eyed Haruhi. I never thought a short-haired girl in pants and long sleeves could look adorable, but they manage to pull it off. Even the guys manage to be cute, and this is coming from a heterosexual dude. The music, by Yoshihisa Hirano, is of the classical, upper class variety; some tunes even parody famous pieces, and others are played in such an over-the-top manner that they enhance the comedy.

The dub’s another winner comes from FUNi. Caitlin Glass as Haruhi is a nice change from other series I’ve heard her in, giving her a low voice with a skeptical overtone, and it works perfectly for her straightforward personality. Vic Mignogna as Tamaki also fits, though when he comedically yells all I can think of is his more famous role, Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. Luci Christian as the child-like Honey is pinchably cute. The Hitachiin twins, by Greg Ayres and Todd Haberkorn, play off each other well. Overall it’s a fine cast with no awkward, bland, or stilted performances to speak of.

FUNi also does an acceptable job with the first half of the series by offering a good mix of special material. There are 15 minutes of outtakes, which is arguably the most I’ve seen in any anime DVD yet. There is an annoying triple beep during most of them, though, and I’m not sure what purpose that serves. Also present are a couple of commentaries; participants include the aforementioned Caitlin, Vic, Greg, and Todd. The commentary on episode one is the better of the pair, as we hear about the VA casting process and how Caitlin dealt with the stress of being the ADR director. We also get some on-screen pages from the Ouran manga; it’s interesting to contrast the anime and manga character designs. Finally there are the expected clean openings/endings and FUNi trailers. It should also be mentioned that the video quality is pretty good, which is especially impressive since the first disc holds seven episodes.

Ouran is cute without being gag-inducing, fun, and surprisingly gets a lot of mileage out of a well-worn premise. It takes place at school, but schoolwork is barely a factor in the show (if at all), which gives it appeal to even those sick of school-based shows. Best of all, its initial release gives you 13 episodes, so there’s plenty of material here to enjoy, and you don’t have to wait two months for four more episodes.

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