Synopsis: Haruhi Fujioka is a honors student recently transferred to Ouran Academy, a school for the rich and fabulous. One day she accidentally wanders into the school’s host club, which is a group of pretty boys who spend their time serving ladies, and ends up getting indebted to them. She’s forced to join the club and also serves as a host for the girls, while the rest of the club tries to conceal her actual gender.
Ouran is considered one of the classics of the mid 2000’s and the most notable pioneer in the reverse harem genre. It’s a show I’d never quite gotten around to as it’s only in recent years that I’ve taken more of an interest in shojo series, and though I tried it a couple of times in the past that barrier took a while to get past, preventing me from getting that interested in it. Though having now seen a fair share of solid shojo series and a couple of other reverse harem shows, I figured that it was about time to revisit this and give it another go.
Right off the bat, the show gives off a sense of charm that’s hard to ignore with it’s characters. Each of the guys more or less fills a certain archetype (which the show is self aware enough to frequently point out) such as main guy Tamaki being attempting to come off as a “prince”, though really being more of a goofball than anything else, while the twins Hikaru and Kaoru are whimsical trolls. Haruhi herself on the other hand comes across as a pretty down to earth heroine, though she doesn’t always play straight-man to the hi-jinks of the other characters as her general lack of concern over half the things that happen is played for laughs just as much.
Aww, look at him! He’s so adorable…and deadly. Very deadly
Most of the episodes revolve around the club members helping out their guests with their personal problems or delving into the backstories of the club members. Some of the stories involving the guests are hilarious, others fairly touching and most being a mix between the two. Much of it is pretty standard fare for a harem series, but the show really plays up the reverse aspect of it quite a bit and plays it to the fullest. It doesn’t always knock things out of the park in terms of humor but it’s charming enough to stay fun even when it’s not at its funniest.
However the show is also pretty good with how it handles some of its drama. Specifically, the club member backstories as each of them has their own hurdles to deal with and being in the club has helped them to broaden their horizons and open up more thanks to Tamaki’s influence. Not all of them are handled that seriously, but a couple of them such as the story behind the twins can be genuinely heartwarming . Despite being the main character, Haruhi’s background isn’t focused on quite as much as the others, but even she is slowly shown to progress from being incredibly straight-laced to learning how to get more enjoyment out of life, which is a theme the show puts a lot of emphasis on.
Someone just give these two a hug
Interestingly though, what doesn’t get quite as much emphasis on the other hand is the actual romance aspect of the series. Or at the very least not in the way that would usually be expected. A couple of the club members such as Tamaki and Hikaru are shown to be interested in Haruhi over the course of the series (especially Tamaki, who’s fawning over her is constantly used as a joke), but the attraction is generally looked at from their perspective rather than Haruhi’s which is a bit odd for a shojo series. In fact, Haruhi more or less never shows any serious romantic interest in any of the guys (except Tamaki…maybe) and generally doesn’t like to put much emphasis on her gender which is kind of refreshing.
Haruhi herself is actually one of the strongest aspects of the show in that respect, although it does make a couple of missteps to undermine her somewhat. The beach episode where she’s berated by the other club members for stepping in to save a couple of girls from some thugs since she’s a girl as well, comes across as a bit sexist. While it’s obviously meant to demonstrate that she’s not invincible, and her fear of thunderstorms which is introduced in the same episode reinforces that fact, it puts an unnecessary emphasis on her gender that otherwise didn’t really need to be there, and it felt as though the show could have found another way to emphasize that point without taking away that’s generally an incredibly strong example of a heroine. Thankfully it’s the one and only time the show ever brings it up but it’s something that feels unusually problematic for what the show otherwise does with her.
And just where were YOU when she needed help? Huh, Tamaki?
However, more so than romance related to her, the relationship the show instead decides to focus on the most is the group as a whole. All of the group members have their own problems and the glue that holds them together as people are the other club members, specifically Tamaki. They give off the illusion of a hilarious, but also somewhat broken, dysfunctional family more than anything else although, as the show goes on and how they view each other changes, some of the characters do notice that the illusion’s in danger of being shattered. Unfortunately things wrap up before it can show the end results of that aspect, but it does end on a high note as it highlights the importance of that bond, and how much personal freedom they’ve gained because of it.
BONES, who’s been well known for gorgeous looking shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater, handled the animation for this series, and it mostly shows as it’s a consistent looking production, although far from their greatest. The character designs are pretty typical for shojo and look a bit dated as a result but the show is generally nice to look it. However the music for the series is mostly forgettable and is hindered by Funimation’s decision to do english covers for the opening theme “Sakura Kiss” and the ending theme “Shissou” as both are pretty badly performed and to the point of being downright skippable.
Funimation’s dub for the series on the other hand is a solid effort, as normally expected of their work in those days. Catlin Glass does a great job of making Haruhi sound androgynous and Vic Mignogna delivers on a spectacularly hammy performance as Tamaki, which has gone on to be one of his most iconic anime roles next to Edward Eric in Fullmetal Alchemist. None of the performances are particularly stand out but all of them are well handled and a lot of fun to watch. Interestingly this show is one of the few instances of a Funimation dub using japanese honorifics and they blend in well for the most part, though the script being so literal occasionally leads to a few jokes being lost in translation though not enough to take away from the dub entirely.
Ouran is one of the most iconic shojo series out there and the most heavily referenced when it comes to any mention of reverse harem stuff. It’s easy to see why the show is so beloved as the characters are pretty fun, and the show itself is a pretty solid comedy. It hasn’t aged perfectly as the designs are a bit dated as well as a couple of view points, but where the show excels it excels well as it’s an entertaining ride, and has the right amount of depth to it to keep it from being forgettable. It’s not a flawless show by any means, but it’s stood the test of time as a classic for good reason, and it’s definitely something worth looking back on.
Available on Hulu, Netflix & Funimation.com