Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.
What’s it about?
Ouran High School Host Club is a mouthful. Let’s go by Ouran for simplicity’s sake. Recite the name to someone who doesn’t know the series and you’re sure to be greeted with stares that range from blank, puzzled, or a little concerned that you’re a perv. But talk to a person who knows the series and you’re almost sure to find a fan who will tell you about their favorite episode, their love for characters Hunny, the twins, Haruhi, or cosplay plans. Ouran was originally published in LaLa magazine from September 2002 to November 2010. All volumes of the manga have been published in the U.S.
Ouran is both an anime (26 episodes) and a manga series (18 volumes). Each version follows a similar plot. Haruhi Fujioka is a scholarship student at the elite Ouran Academy, a school where money and lineage rule. Looking for a quiet place to study, Haruhi wanders into a music room, only to discover the Host Club, a group of elite, beautiful boys with lots of leisure time. The club entertains young ladies with equal amounts of spare time, putting on lavish events and making constant costume changes. Haruhi quickly attempts to leave, accidentally smashing an $80,000 vase on the way out. Suddenly indebted to the club, Haruhi begins working as a host. Unfortunately, Haruhi is a girl, a fact the boys don’t recognize at first. Fortunately, she’s fairly androgynous and is a natural at hosting. What starts as a jumble of oddball episodes with the Host Club throwing parties, competing with other clubs, and mending relationships between students, gradually becomes a semi-serious romance and a coming-of-age story.
The main cast of characters consists of the seven members of Host Club. Plots generally revolve around one or all of them. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Haruhi Fujioka – Our female lead! Haruhi is down-to-earth and plain-spoken, frequently to the point of being blunt. Her family is relatively poor, with her mother having passed away years ago and her father working full-time in a cross-dressing bar.
- Tamaki Suoh – The self-proclaimed King of the Host Club. Tamaki is depicted as the typical princely character, but is also a drama queen and a narcissist. He deeply cares about the club and his family, and is attracted to Haruhi.
- Kyoya Ootori – Vice President and often referred to as Mom of the Host Club. Kyoya is cold and calculating, only doing what best benefits himself and the club.
- Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin – Twin brothers with a mischievous streak. The brothers often play up on forbidden brotherly love in front of the club’s customers (much to the girls’ delight). Hikaru and Kaoru have created a strong bond, but it’s left them feeling like outsiders when surrounded by others. Hikaru grows to love Haruhi, but does not recognize his feelings at first – a recurring problem for many characters
- Mitsukuni “Hunny” Haninozuka – One of the oldest members of the Host Club, Hunny looks like a young boy. He loves sweets, particularly cakes, and his stuffed rabbit Bun-Bun. Hunny has a dark side that occasionally surfaces and the other students live in fear of these moments. He is an expert martial artist.
- Takashi “Mori” Morinozuka – The strong silent type. Mori is a fan favorite, but often a background character for most of the club’s antics. He rarely speaks and is Hunny’s constant companion.
There are oodles of side characters in Ouran and some very important recurring characters. Fans of titles with large casts will enjoy the extensive amount of people populating the storyline of Ouran.
Ouran is a shojo title, meaning that it’s typically aimed at girls younger than 20 years old. The series works on multiple levels, though, and has a wide-ranging audience. On the surface, Ouran is what’s known in manga terms as a harem comedy; we have a large cast of beautiful boys flirting with girls and getting into outrageous situations. One of their members is a girl disguised as a boy, and though the customers never suspect, they do love it when Haruhi “cross-dresses”. Traditional harem storylines have a troupe of girls falling all over the male lead – Ouran is very much the opposite of the norm, what’s known as a reverse harem.
On another level, we have a romantic comedy that becomes more serious as the story progresses. Tamaki falls for Haruhi almost immediately, but he announces that he feels strictly platonic, comparing his feelings to those a father has for his daughter. Only deep into the story arc does Tamaki realizes he’s been trying to mask his feelings all along. She, on the other hand, is often annoyed with Tamaki’s flightiness and narcissism. It’s even further into the story that Haruhi realizes what readers suspect all along – she loves Tamaki. Hikaru also falls for Haruhi, but his attempts to win her take a very different path than Tamaki’s, as the twin begins to expand his boundaries and take on an identity that’s separate from his brother.
Ouran is typically recognized as being a parody of otaku culture. It spoofs so many genres and character types that it’s difficult to keep track. Yaoi and yuri, bishounen and moe, megane and shota – they’re all there, with countless others. Both the anime and the manga lovingly depcit these different subgenres, but always tongue-in-cheek. Haruhi often serves as the skeptical outsider, voicing reader opinions.
Despite the ridiculous plots and the light-hearted tone, one of Ouran’s strengths is character development. While it’s cliche to have each and every character suffer from some sort of troubled past – Kyoya’s pressured by his father to surpass his older brothers, Tamaki has been disowned by his grandmother and forced to leave his mother, Hunny’s younger brother doesn’t respect him, etc. – Ouran makes it work. The cast grows and changes, more so in the manga than the anime. We see that the club was more than just a way to pass the time – it brought friends together and gave them a family.
Ouran is well-known for parodying a variety of genres and otaku culture. Renge, a rich otaku girl who loves dating sims, makes brief appearances in the manga. She is infatuated with Kyoya, believing he’s the personification of a video game character. While there, she recognizes all of the character tropes and assigns “better” personas to each member of the host club. Bisco Hatori perfectly captures the art and tone of each genre. While Renge is a minor character in the manga, she’s a regular in the anime, often appearing to tell viewers what sort of plot line we’re experiencing and what the typical response should be. Renge’s entrances involve a rotating pedestal rising from nowhere and lots of cackling. The show is worth it if only for Renge’s appearances and exposition.
While it seems that Haruhi pales in comparison to the other club members, she serves as our center. We see through her eyes, and she isn’t shy about breaking the fourth wall to tell you when the plot isn’t making any sense. Hatori also makes several author’s asides to warn you about ignoring certain plot points. What’s unique about Haruhi is that she doesn’t fit the stereotyped female lead. She’s cute, but doesn’t care about appearances or the differences between genders. She doesn’t spend time fawning over the boys and is usually the one to put them in their place. Even as she realizes her feelings for Tamaki, she still gets frustrated with him. Haruhi speaks her mind (with more than a little sarcasm), is fearless (except for thunder), and is treated as just one of the guys, even when most of them are angling for a way to get a date.
Ouran can appeal to fans of many different genres. It’s probably not the best manga to hand to someone who’s unfamiliar with the format, though. The series can be manic at times and, while the characters are easy enough to recognize, it’s an extensive cast. Throughout chapters, characters will make asides, art styles will change, and backgrounds will be flooded with detail. For this reason, I would recommend the anime as a great starting place for this series. It’s better able to capture the fast-paced storytelling and the flair of characters like Tamaki and the twins. There are often sudden transitions between over-the-top plots and serious exchanges between characters; this can feel as if someone suddenly put the brakes on the story. While not seamless, it’s still enjoyable and fits with the style of the Host Club.
Why should you own this?
Ouran is hilarious, with memorable characters and a heavy dose of anime/manga styles that will aid you when someone asks if you understand what yaoi or moe mean. The characters are memorable and you’ll find yourself rooting for them as the volumes wind down. This is also a series that just makes you feel happy when you read it. The art is wonderful and even the smallest scene can leave you a giggling mess.
The anime was completed before the manga series and only borrows stories from the first nine volumes. This means we get a different ending for the anime. Both are good, just not the same. BONES produced the show and, as usual, they did excellent work. The animation is beautiful, smooth, and just as full of detail as the manga. The voice actors are recognizable from a variety of shows, which only makes the otaku spoofing more enjoyable. The theme songs are infectious and bubbly. If you don’t have time to read all 18 volumes of the manga – and they are packed with stories – do yourself a favor and pick up the anime!
Ouran High School Host Club: Complete Edition
Directed by Takuya Igarashi (2006)
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray
Ouran High School Host Club volumes 1 – 18
Written and illustrated by Bisco Hatori (2002 – 2010)
- Volume 1: ISBN: 978-1-59116-915-4
- Volume 2: ISBN: 978-1-59116-990-1
- Volume 3: ISBN: 978-1-4215-0062-1
- Volume 4: ISBN: 978-1-4215-0192-5
- Volume 5: ISBN: 978-1-4215-0329-5
- Volume 6: ISBN: 978-1-4215-0584-8
- Volume 7: ISBN: 978-1-4215-0864-1
- Volume 8: ISBN: 978-1-4215-1161-0
- Volume 9: ISBN: 978-1-4215-1404-8
- Volume 10: ISBN: 978-1-4215-1929-6
- Volume 11: ISBN: 978-1-4215-2255-5
- Volume 12: ISBN: 978-1-4215-2672-0
- Volume 13: ISBN: 978-1-4215-2673-7
- Volume 14: ISBN: 978-1-4215-3565-4
- Volume 15: ISBN: 978-1-4215-3670-5
- Volume 16: ISBN: 978-1-421-53870-9
- Volume 17: ISBN: 978-1-421-53979-9
- Volume 18: ISBN: 978-1-421-54135-8