As entertained as I was with the aspect of Haruhi’s character in Ouran High School Host Club’s introduction, I genuinely wasn’t sure how much I’d be ruminating on the subject of gender as I went through and reviewed the show. It’s been an off-and-on element, but still surprisingly recurring more than I expected from this otherwise simple shoujo-skewering comedy, sometimes more for worse than better, such as in the eighth episode I covered last week. And that fickle spectrum is topical in some way in both these episodes, moreso in the ninth here as the Host Club boys are beset by the invading foreign force of students from an all-girls high school!
The question of what would happen if the club encountered high school girls immune to their practiced playboy charms was at least kind of answered by Haruhi in the first episode, though that was definitely more on a direct-character level, and we all know Haruhi would balk at attributing any of her reaction to her gender. Thus it falls to the Zuka Club (a sort of school-level Takarazuka Revue) to show what kinds of girls would eschew Tamaki and the others: A trio of private-school lesbians falling squarely into an ‘extreme feminist’ presentation that borders on strawman. They love only girls, detest everything about our happy hosts, and want to steal Haruhi away from them!
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Zuka Club are an articulation by Ouran of how the writing sees particular gender ideology or girl-girl relationships. Rather they’re clearly incidental gag characters meant to be funny to the same extremes as the Host Club themselves. Even as the episode is towing the line by briefly portraying them as literal ‘Femi-Nazis’, the point is revealed that all the damning things they say about the Host Club are 100% true. That’s actually a pretty funny bit, especially with Haruhi learning more about how the club operates from these girls dunking on them than she has actually being around the boys for so many months. Trying to portray these as another side of the same coin as the boys’ extremism still doesn’t work as well as it could, not leaning as much into their worldview-limiting wealth (though the instant coffee does make an amusing return) and more seeming to say “Look, imposingly flirty girls are just as frustrating as imposingly flirty guys! It’s equality!”
That core joke rotates throughout a lot of this episode as a premise that feels like it really doesn’t have the substance to carry a full half-hour timeslot. The Zuka Club appear and annoy the Host Club for a bit, prompting a scuffle that suggests Haruhi might be switching teams. But even after a funny realization that she would clean up at an all-girls school and an outlandish drag performance by the hosts, it feels like we’re left with surprisingly little. There is a point brought up earlier as students remark to Haruhi that her presence might be changing the guys (exemplified by the opening-up of the Hitachiin brothers), but that along with the ending only gestures at the broader character implications of Haruhi at Ouran. With the revelation that it was never in question that she would leave the school with the Zuka Club, it makes episode nine feel like a whole lot of time-killing, and most of it isn’t as funny or insightful as it thinks it is. At least this is a particularly nicely-directed entry.
The tenth episode feels similarly simple and superficial, but is at least nicer and more entertaining overall. I think I’ve made no secret of the fact that Haruhi is my favorite part of this show, so learning more about other aspects of her life obviously appeals to me. The premise of visiting her home also sets up some easy humor about the rich kids having no idea how ‘common’ people actually live. That landing strip is laid out early with the revelation of just how opulent Tamaki’s own living situation really is. While I do like a lot of the bits here about how ignorant the Host Club are about indoor shoe etiquette or middle-class tea brewing techniques, some of it still comes off overly condescending, especially in the case of Tamaki. There’s a character-driving sense that he’s trying to learn, but a lot of his efforts are stymied in the name of fueling continually cheap jokes. That’s the opposite of the sign of a good comedy, which takes its opportunities to develop its characters as an equal chance to keep the humor fresh. The main thing Ouran’s characters are making fun of is genre-stock character types, so it undercuts that satire when guys like Tamaki are willfully sticking with the same ‘Rich Idiot’ bit.
Perhaps that’s one reason I continue to gravitate towards Haruhi, whom we keep getting insight into, seeing more of the picture of her upbringing with this episode, and the introduction of her father. Unfortunately the character also comes with liberal use of the t-slur thanks to Funimation’s 15-year-old subtitle script, a downright-inaccurate translation of the fact that Ranka is an Okama- An effeminite, cross-dressing gay man (though he asserts here he’s actually bisexual). The word choice is really too bad, since Ranka’s actually an extremely cool character that the show doesn’t treat badly at all. Rather, one flashback is specifically used as a vector to demonstrate how enduring Haruhi’s kindness has been since childhood. He elaborates on her ‘habit of saving others without realizing it’, tying into the previous episode’s point about drawing out the twins. Was being raised by Ranka one element that contributed to Haruhi’s insistence of not judging people by their outer social signifiers? Probably, and I like this episode’s depiction of their home life as simply cozy and loving, pointedly contrasting the poverty porn that Tamaki dreams of at the beginning of it.
There are other snippets of elaboration in episode ten, namely that Kyoya has been in contact with Ranka, updating him on how Haruhi’s getting along in the club (though given the stunt Kyoya pulled in the eighth episode, I’m not sure he should be inserting himself into her life that way at this point), and an indication that Haruhi herself at least blows off steam about Tamaki while she’s home. Honestly my biggest complaint about these episodes apart from how thin they feel in places is that, even as they seem to be building characterization around Haruhi, she’s left with little to do in these entries beyond getting exasperated and making funny reaction faces. There are points like her asserting her need to stay at the school or following her late mother’s work ethic that indicate the strength of character we know is there. But maybe that character only getting to react to the rest of the cast doing bits is a reason it feels like there’s so little going on in these episodes.
Ouran High School Host Club is currently streaming on
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