This anime was heavily recommended to me a number of times prior to my watching it and the first time I tried to watch it I just did not get it. The boys seemed vapid and pointless, as well as stereotypical archetypes rather than characters, the jokes seemed pretty obvious and flat and the plot felt absent other than a set up for the scenario that the animators had in mind. Sure it was pretty and had some bouncy music and lots of close ups of handsome anime guys but that didn’t seem like enough to make it watchable.
I didn’t finish it the first time through. I got, maybe 10 episodes in and just couldn’t take any more vapidness so walked away.
So why did I go back and watch it and how did that then lead to it becoming one of my favourite binge worthy animes of all time? (Note, that is different from becoming my favourite anime though it definitely hits the mark for one of my moods.)
I’ll have to repeat my initial thoughts to explain.
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The boys seemed vapid and pointless. Yes, they are. It’s a harem comedy so of course they start that way. How on earth are you going to introduce a harem comedy and address all six of the guy’s back stories in the first episode? This is a case where the characters aren’t so much developing as they are slowly being fleshed out. Toward the second half of the series, most of the characters get an episode or two specifically aimed at rounding them out and at least explaining some of their more interesting character quirks. They aren’t wrapped up in a neat little package but by the end of the series they are least feel like vaguely plausible human beings.
More importantly, on a second watch I started quite liking Kyoya as a character. He’s in the background a lot but his words and actions carry weight and it is interesting seeing how he interacts with the others. From starting to like one character, I began to see a bit more of the other characters. While Tamaki and ‘Honey’ are never going to be my pick for characters given their overly needy natures, I found the twins (by the third watch through) fascinating. Re-watching for the umpteemth time, any episode that focusses on the twins has become one of my favourites.
Will I argue that these characters have depth and complexity and are outstanding at demonstrating the nuances of the human condition? Not a chance. They are still archetypes but for the context of the show they work and when given a chance they have enough variation to to be more than just cardboard cutouts.
As to the comedy and jokes being obvious and flat, well there isn’t really a counter argument. It really just depends if you are in the mood for yet another he slipped on a banana peel, he just massively misunderstood that, or general mistaken identity humour. Most of the humour relies on overexaggeration which if you are in the wrong frame of mind will definitely come off as more annoying than humorous but when you are in the mood to just relax and not think about much, it can work. More importantly, the humour is consistent. It isn’t that some jokes hit and others miss the mark; it is simply that this is the type of humour they are delivering, take it or leave it.
In terms of plot, it is highly episodic with the overall story of Haruhi paying off a debt. But this is character driven. It is how the characters respond to the challenge of the week and what we learn about them. The events are more of less irrelevant at times and it seems the writers knew that too as many of the transitions and motives for things occurring were dismissed as simply being a particular character’s whim and off they went to the next set or costume change.
What I ultimately like about this show is it isn’t trying too hard to claim any legitimacy. The fact that the boys are using a music room as a host club in a school is never explained other than Tamaki decided he wanted to start one. There is no teacher presence anywhere and only once or twice does studying come up (which given it was apparently part of Haruhi’s motivation for going to the music room in the first place seems a bit odd that they didn’t use that as a source of tension later in the story). The characters are all (except Haruhi) super rich and have connections and any plot point that can’t be explained sensibly gets dismissed as a perk of being rich and having connections. This allows for some fairly extravagant set-ups for otherwise fairly ordinary rom-com events.
Possibly what seals the deal with this anime for me is Haruhi herself. At first she comes off as an emotionally cut-off tomboyish girl with very few defining traits other than intimidated by rich people and smart. That quickly fades and we see how Haruhi deals with each of the events in the Host Club. Again, not a huge amount of development, but she certainly comes out of her shell as the series progresses and learning who Haruhi is can be quite a fun adventure.
The theme song is definitely infectious though so if you aren’t in the mood for a pop song to go bopping around your head for the next week you may want to hit skip on that. However, even the end credits have pretty great music.
My favourite moments include the commoner coffee scene, the ‘date’ with Hikaru, and watching the twins play the which one is Hikaru game.
My recommendation: watch this when you are wanting to seriously relax and just shut off from the world. It’s light and sweet and when you don’t think about it, pretty funny. Don’t watch it if you are in the mood to deconstruct something, because it won’t ever stand up to close scrutiny.
Images from: Ouran High School Host Club Dir. T Igarashi. Bones. 2006.
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