There are many romantic comedies out there in the world of anime. It’s a pretty popular genre, as it often appeals to both men and women, and can cross many different age demographics. Anime is a business, after all, no matter how much people want to look at it as a pure art form.
Most of the romantic comedies are, well, kinda generic, however. Which made cultivating a list for this month tricky. When it comes to the romance genre, be it comedy or drama, I tend to be pretty picky, what with being a hopeless romantic myself. I wanted to focus on shows that had a little something special to them.
Shows that were better than the average romantic comedy. Shows that played with the rules in fun, or interesting ways.
Toradora, despite sometimes leaning a little too heavily on the cliches of the genre, had a compelling cast, each driven by their own needs, and demons, as well as being one of the better coming of age stories out there. Lovely Complex took every cliche it could find and beat them around in a barrel of monkeys to produce a heart warming story about being okay with who you are. Kimi ni Todoke explored the true meaning of friendship, and love, while focusing on how a simple act of kindness can change not just one life, but the lives of everyone that person touches. My Love Story combined most all of those elements, while also being an amazing story about the power of empathy, and the joy of being accepted for who you are as a person.
Each of these did something different than the usual romantic comedy, often in several ways. Each was a wholly character driven story, and if you haven’t gotten it yet, that’s a big deal with me. The plot should serve the characters, but the characters should never serve the plot. That isn’t how real life works, and it isn’t how fiction should work, either.
Which, I guess, is what I’m really driving at here. Each of the shows I’ve covered this month has managed to do that one special thing most romantic comedies fail at. Be believable.
Ouran High School Host Club does not do that. Nothing about this show is even remotely believable. It’s pure, grade A, snort it up your nose and get high on shojo sparkles fantasy.
So, why is it here with these others, then?
Cause, it damn well belongs.
Based on a manga of the same name by Bisco Hatori, Ouran High School Host Club is a 26 episode, 2006 series from studio Bones, the legendary anime company that has made most of the stuff you love.
No, seriously. Full Metal Alchemist, both versions, Soul Eater, Noragami, Space Dandy, and many more, are from Bones. One day, they will battle Madhouse to see which is worthy of being declared king of the monsters… of anime… studios.
That joke kinda got away from me.
Ouran High School Host Club tells the story of Haruhi Fujioka, a scholarship student who has gotten into Ouran Academy, a school reserved for the children of the most wealthy and privileged. Searching for a place to study in peace and quiet, Haruhi stumbles upon the Host Club, where a group of young men spend their time making women feel good about themselves. Usually by flirting with them.
When Haruhi accidentally breaks a renaissance era vase, the Host Club decides to extract payment in the form of service. Suddenly, Haruhi is at their beck and call, at least, until they discover that the unkempt young nerdy boy they have been sending to fetch their groceries, is actually a young woman capable of challenging all of them on an intellectual level.
Which is where the real fun, and the fantasy, begins. Deciding to have Haruhi pay back her debt by serving as a host, she quickly begins to outpace them, without even trying, and forces each member of the club to face their own inner demons. All while the student body thinks Haruhi is a boy, and the Host Club goes to extremes to keep her true gender a secret, some for financial reasons, others for personal ones.
As the story moves forward, however, all of that quickly falls by the wayside, as the boys of the host Club just want to spend time with her, as a friend.
While that’s all well and good as comedic fodder, Host Club is also a romance, and a reverse harem at that. Several of the boys in the club begin to develop feelings for Haruhi, and her ability to see right through them to who they are, rather than what they are worth in pure monetary figures.
Tamaki is the first to really go head over heels for her. The King of the Host Club, with the highest request rate, Tamaki is a handsome, charming young man with some major demons of his own, and a tendency to become extremely jealous of anyone showing Haruhi too much attention. While he tries to make this about being a father figure to her, it’s really about the fact he is love with her, and just doesn’t want to face it for reasons that become clear late in the series.
Likewise, Hikaru and Kaoru, the mischievous twins, both develop feelings for Haruhi based on the fact that she can always tell which one is which, something no one else has ever been able to do. Even when they tell her she guessed wrong, she explains why she didn’t, often leaving them speechless, not only at their own inability to trick her, but at her own self assurance.
Kyoya, who manages the finances for the host Club, also develops feelings for her, based mostly on the fact that she believes in him, and his ability to handle the business side of things, with complete confidence. This isn’t something he has known before, as his father more or less treats him like a failure without ever giving him a chance to even try. However, Kyoya never acts on his feelings, as Tamaki is his best friend, and in his mind, that is the worst kind of betrayal.
The other two members of the Host Club, Honey and Mori, have a more brotherly relationship with Haruhi, so it isn’t a total reverse harem, just a partial one. Even in fantasy, having every guy in the cast fall for the cross dressing female lead would be considered a stretch, I suppose.
Regular harems could learn a thing or two from shojo manga on this front.
Of course, if that’s all there was to Ouran Host Club, it wouldn’t be making this months reviews. It goes way beyond just being a fun romantic comedy with a good gimmick. Way, way beyond.
First off, there’s the approach the show takes towards gender fluidity. Haruhi is a girl, yes, but doesn’t really care if people see her as such, and is fine with being seen, and treated, like a boy. She’s even fine with being flirted with by, and flirting with, girls. Some of this is because her father is openly bi, lives as a woman, and even works in a transexual bar. However, he also states that the only woman he could ever love was Haruhi’s mother, who passed away when Haruhi was just a child, and has no interest in women anymore. Still, his influence, and Haruhi’s mother’s acceptance of him, is made apparent in Haruhi’s own behavior and ease with herself.
Basically, Haruhi doesn’t give a shit what people think of her, which is actually a pretty great thing to have be a quality in the female lead of a shojo romance series.
That still isn’t all that makes Host Club so unique, however. Of all the romantic comedies out there, this is the one that seems most self aware, and that’s really where the show shines the brightest. It knows full well what the cliches of the genre are, and actively uses them in order to make fun of them, take them apart, examine them, and frequently, cast them aside in favor of allowing the characters to be true to themselves.
First and foremost, the entire male cast is built around the “types” you find in most shojo manga. Tamaki is the princely character, who never acts very princely. Like, ever. Kyoya is the cool, intellectual character, who is actually driven by very emotional needs and desires. Hikaru and Kaoru are the “boys love” or “twincest” characters, although they are really just very shy and withdrawn, trusting only one another, and gradually come out of that by forming strong friendships that allow them to explore their own differences.
Oh, and they aren’t actually gay incest lovers. So, ya know, calm down, Suna.
Honey fills the role of boy loli, though he’s actually older than most of the cast, and a skilled martial artist, as well as being a genuinely kind, compassionate, and gentle person. Mori is the bad boy type, with a taciturn personality that masks a loving, warm person, who just wants to be there for his friends, in whatever way they need.
Basically, the show establishes all these archetypes, just so it can tear them down, and have the characters be much more than what they appear. Which is kinda how people are in real life. We group folks according to personality types, but people are more complex than that, and nothing is ever so simple as we try to make it seem. Human beings are complicated creatures, driven by a mixture of need, want, logic, and emotion. Which is where Host Club goes with each character, as the false face of archetype is slowly shredded to explore the real people behind the image.
One thing that I will knock the show for, very slightly, is that the plot tends to meander a lot. However, much of that is also a false image, as Bisca Hatori spent a lot of time exploring the various cliches of shojo manga, and savagely tearing them apart, all while flipping a giant middle finger at social expectations. Which, by the by, are a much bigger thing in Japan than they are in the States.
Though they are growing less so these days, social expectations have long been a major part of Japanese culture, and Hatori made a point of being as savage with those as she was with the cliches of the genre. Haruhi’s father, and Haruhi herself, as well as many of the recurring cast members, all exist in defiance of social expectations, be it towards gender, station, or anything else.
So, while the plot does meander often, it does so with a purpose, which is yet another thing about Host Club I found quite remarkable. Even in its meandering, it is going somewhere.
The entire drive, and purpose, behind Host Club is to be pure fantasy, but to also exist in defiance of that fantasy. To be a rebellious outcry against the genre that birthed it, and to push back against everything that says it must be this way, or that way. It is it’s own thing.
It is unique, and in that, it is truly beautiful.
In terms of animation, Host Club might not be the most eye catching show out there, but it is still faithful to itself even in this regard. They show mimics the manga as much as possible in terms of look, and relies heavily on the exaggeration of facial features, while also poking fun at how often those exaggerations are used. That said, the backgrounds are frequently very beautiful, and there’s a lot of really gorgeously animated scenes in the show. The character designs are well done, if a little too spot on to the archetypes the show is mocking. Which is probably the only real negative I can give the series as a whole. The character designs fit the archetypes a bit too well, sometimes making it hard to pick the cast from a line up, with the exception of Haruhi, who really is a standout character design.
The series was directed by Takuya Igarashi, who was the director for Soul Eater, and has worked on shows like Bungo Stray Dogs. He’s a freelance director, so what work he gets tends to vary, but really, when you have Soul Eater and Ouran High School Host Club on your resume, I’d think you’d’ be be able to pick and choose what you do. If you’ve seen either of those shows, well, you already know what kind of talent the man has as a director.
If you haven’t seen them, it’s a lot. A whole lot. A metric fuck ton.
Ya know, how it is that the people who have the most talent seem to get the fewest jobs is beyond me. Like, take Zack Snyder. The guy is great with visuals, but when it comes to plots, not to mention characters, he’s not as great. Yet he keeps landing multi-million dollar movies.
Why the fuck is that?
Oh. Right. Cause life isn’t fair, and sometimes, the bad guy wins.
The writing for Host Club was handled by Yoji Enokido, who worked on shows like Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and FLCL.
So… yeah. Not a lot else to say there. He’s a badass writer. Shows, too. The writing is spot on. Of course. Cause he wrote for shows like those. This cat knows his shit.
The music was arranged by Yoshihisa Hirano, who is not related to the gun otaku from High School of the Dead, but is a pretty impressive composer of music. I mean, he’s just the guy who composed the music for Death Note and the 2011 reboot of Hunter x Hunter. I think impressive is a fair term to use at that point.
With Host Club, he relies heavily on classical music, building an entire symphony based score for the show that leans on the super elite nature of the setting and the privileged lifestyles of much of the cast. While it isn’t a soundtrack that does anything too spectacular, it is well done, and rather beautiful.
Sometimes, that’s all you need, especially with a show like this that already is doing so much.
Overall, Ouran High School Host Club is almost the anti-romantic comedy. There’s comedy, and romance, but with a very subversive point, as it challenges the genre itself, and every expectation, standard, and social view it can lay its hands on. It is a scream in a quiet library, that makes you sit up and pay attention to what you think you know, about everything.
Which, to be honest, that alone would be enough for me, but then it goes that extra mile, to have really well crafted characters, who are deep, and complicated, once you get past the first blush of appearances. If there’s any theme I have this month beyond romantic comedy, it would be that, right there.
Sometimes, people are way more than you expect, and every show I’ve reviewed this month, has gotten that, and done fun, interesting, and sometimes amazing things with it. The plot has served the characters, not the other way around.
Next month, I turn my attention to my favorite genre. Fantasy.