5: Alone Together

mainpicThis is a part of the Great Ouran Analysis, an ongoing, episode-by-episode critical analysis I’m doing of the anime Ouran High School Host Club. If you’re just tuning in, I recommend you start with the introduction post.

Episode 5: The Twins Fight!

Yay, it’s finally time for the twins! As you’ve noticed, I’ve been putting them off for awhile, because they’ve mostly been in the background so far. While the twins are often instigators of the plot (usually at the cajoling of Tamaki or Kyouya), this is the first episodes where we’re able to really get a sense of them as characters. Individual characters.

This episode was the first turning point for me. Up until this point, I kind of disliked Hikaru and Kaoru (and had trouble thinking of them as distinct entities). Sure, they were entertaining, but they felt too much like icky queer-baiting fanservice. Queer-baiting, if you haven’t encountered the term, is essentially the act of setting up characters as potentially gay to appeal to a portion of your audience, while never actually making them officially gay, and often while throwing in excuses and roadblocks to assure the rest of your audience that they’re straight. The show Sherlock is a great example. The term is used more for American media (from what I’ve seen), but works well for yaoi (aka guy-on-guy) fanservice in anime as well. “Fanservice” is, as you can probably guess, imagery and plot (and sometimes whole characters) thrown in entirely to entice a particular audience; in this case, straight women.

The twins explain their appeal pretty succinctly in this episode, so I’m just going to paraphrase. They’re basically a triple threat, playing into three potential straight-female fantasies:

  1. good looking gay boys
  2. the incest taboo, and the play between friend/more-than-friend sexual tension
  3. the idea of being part of a pretty-boy sandwich (or a dramatic love triangle)

We’re pretty used to thinking about these types of fantasies in the context of straight male porn, but women have these fantasies, too. Japan has different mores when it comes to sex and sexuality, and so anime tends to play up fantasies less abashedly than American media aimed at the same demographic. That’s one of the reasons many parents get kind of scared of anime; it’s more frank about sex than we’re used to dealing with. I’m not going to debate who’s right or wrong, or which culture has the healthier attitude, but know that characters like the twins are not unique to Ouran–at least, not as archetypes.

What makes the twins special is, of course, that they are also individual, fully-formed characters (I could argue the most fully-formed characters by the end of the series, but that’s a debate for much later).

We get our first hint of this by their voices. Now remember, I’ve only seen the Japanese, so I’m not sure how the dub handles it, but the original Japanese cast uses separate actors for the twins. You may not notice this right away, because they mostly speak in unison, but it becomes a lot clearer in this episode. Hikaru has a slightly deeper voice; Kaoru is a little more soft-spoken. As Haruhi says, Hikaru’s actions are about 10% meaner (or harsher) than Kaoru’s. Hikaru tends to play the dominant partner when they’re play-acting for customers (remember, Renge switched this up a bit in the previous episode). They also tend to part their bangs in a telling way, Hikaru on the right, Kaoru on the left, although they also use this to fool people. (I find the easiest way to tell them apart is their voices, but the hair usually works too)

Alright, I’ve rambled enough: lets talk about the actual episode. The twins are bored, and seize on an off-hand comment from Haruhi to launch into an episode-long quarrel. The legitimacy of the fight can be debated, but they definitely use it to entertain themselves, create some drama for their fans, and eventually convince Haruhi to promise to invite them over to her house.

Throughout the episode, we get very little of the fan-service-y twincest angle; most of the time, it’s just two brothers having a fight. This is refreshing and reassuring.

Now, the real crux of the episode comes from the very opening scene (which is also this week’s main symbol), where we see the twins as children, alone on a bench, hand’s clasped. We learn that people have always had trouble telling them apart, and they’ve used this to distance themselves from the rest of the world. They look down on other people, and consider them mostly beneath their notice, except as playthings. They’ve literally made it into a game that they play with customers; a rigged game that really no one can win, since it usually comes down to guessing. Haruhi is the first person who’s successfully been able to tell them apart; the first person who’s seen them as individuals. (Spoiler alert: this will come up again)

From the beginning, when Haruhi tells them apart, to the end, when we see Kaoru glance at his brother as they watch Haruhi walk away, Haruhi is shown as a disruptive force in their lives. She has broken through their defenses, without them realizing it, and has perhaps started a chain reaction. They are not alone together anymore.

This episode is far too short to give us more than a small glimpse into the twin’s characters, but it’s a promise that we will get more later. And I’m promising that too: they will get deeper episodes, and they will get them individually. Although they’re set up as playthings for our enjoyment, we will get to see these young men change throughout the series. Ouran High School Host Club is about growing up, about figuring out how you fit into the world, and Hikaru and Kaoru have a long way to go.

Other Observations:

  • Judging from the scene with Haruhi’s photoshopped images, Tamaki is still pretty set on wanting to make her all girly, despite all evidence to the contrary. He’s also super protective.
  • That said, Tamaki is also loyal and protective of his club fellow hosts, not just their customers. He has some insight into the twins’ characters, and, although we may be giving them more credit than they deserve, he seems legitimately concerned for them.
  • We got to meet Nekozawa in this episode! He’s a super fun character, and will come up again.
  • Renge’s still around–and now she has her own motor-powered platform, perfect for dramatic entrances.

And that’s it for now! Next time we get some insight into Tamaki’s character in Episode 6: The Grade School Host is the Naughty Type!

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Hello, 2017

Alright, I realize that New Years posts are a bit of a cliche…but I think there’s something nice about having an excuse to assess your goals, and reflect on things. If it has to be a bit of a cliche, then so be it.

I try not to do “resolutions” because they seem too inflexible, but I like setting goals. I’ve been in a bit of a slump for the last year, and I think I could use some goals to liven things up. So, lets get to it!

Create More

This is my big goal for 2017. More specifically, to create things that I can share with people. I’ve done plenty of writing over the last few years, but everything is in very rough-draft format; I’ve not done anything that’s really polished enough to share with people. And that’s fine; those projects are coming along nicely, and I’m not unhappy about where they are. But I miss that joy of sharing projects with others.

On the blog, I’m going to continue the Great Ouran Analysis, because honestly that’s been a ton of fun, and we’re still just barely getting going. I got kind of derailed this Fall (work in retail, and you know the true pain of the Holiday Season), but I’m hoping to bring this series back and start updating more frequently.

Part of this is, I feel I’ve tried to compartmentalize myself a bit too much. I started this blog in grad school, in the height of my obsession with YA books (just as the genre was becoming a big, talked-about thing), and I still feel like this should be a book blog, primarily. But it’s not. It’s just not. I love books, and I love reading, but I haven’t felt much like reviewing things recently, and I’m not getting through books nearly as quickly as I was in grad school. That’s why I made the subtitle of this blog “with occasional detours into Movieland, Televisionland, and Gameland.” I want this to be a pop culture blog, and a bit of a catch-all for the things I care about. Now, I need to put my money where my mouth is, and actually blog about those things.

Write More [Often]

Ok, this could be part of “create more,” but I thought it deserved it’s on spot. I’m not concerned so much with quantity or quality; I’m concerned with frequency. My goal is to make daily writing a habit. I’ve challenged myself to write at least 300 words a day. That’s, like, 10 minutes a day. I really have no excuse for not doing that almost every day.

I don’t think writing daily is absolutely required to be a writer, but I’ve found that when I work on a project daily, even for just a little bit, it keeps my mind in the project. I don’t have to sit down and reread what I wrote during the last session; I can launch straight in where I was. It keeps me more consistent, and it keeps me mindful. That’s one of my favorite parts of Nanowrimo, and I want to be able to keep it up year-round, even just in small amounts. Of course, ideally I’ll end up writing more than 300 words most days, because usually starting is the hardest part.

Cook More

This is more of a personal goal, but I’ve been trying to assess my eating habits, and work on eating a better balance of all the good things. Not a diet per se, because I kind of hate diets, but just a focus on what I’m eating, not necessarily how much. The easiest way to control this is to cook more. I enjoy cooking when I get in the habit of it, but it quickly feels like a chore when I get home from work and just want to relax, sew, write, or get on with the things I need to get done. But it can be relaxing. And it can help save money. I’m tired of eating a steady diet of ramen, quesadillas, and leftovers.

I have two ways I’m going to tackle this goal. The first is that I’m going to push myself to cook new meals. I have this cookbook I love, the Healthy College Cookbook, and it’s great for healthy meals that are also pretty easy, and from what I’ve seen so far, pretty tasty. I’m going to try picking a new recipe a week, and see where we go from there.

The second thing I’m going to do is go to the damn grocery store once a week. I hate grocery shopping. The stores are always too busy, and the lines are always too long, and I get major stressed out when I don’t know where to look for something. But, it’s mainly big shopping trips that stress me out. If I go once a week, I’ll only be buying stuff for that week’s meals, and stocking up a bit on staples, but I should haven’t to do any huge, hour-long trips. Hopefully this will make it easier to cook (because I’ll always have enough ingredients on hand), and will help make both things more of a habit.

Well, that’s it for this year! Three goals that I think should be pretty easy to keep up. So far I’ve been doing really well on the daily writing; I usually miss a day a week, but I can handle those odds. We’ll see how the other things pan out!

 

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4. Level Up

mainpicThis is a part of the Great Ouran Analysis, an ongoing, episode-by-episode critical analysis I’m doing of the anime Ouran High School Host Club. If you’re just tuning in, I recommend you start with the introduction post.

Episode 4: Attack of the Lady Manager!

eps4

We’ve made it to episode 4! This is a big deal for me, because it signals the upswing of the series. We’re almost through the establishing episodes, and ready to dive in to real character development! But first, we have to watch them be judged and evaluated by that most discerning of critics: the fangirl.

I have a special fondness for this episode, because I used to really dislike it. I thought it was just part of the necessary evil that is the early establishing episodes. It wasn’t until I’d watched the series a number of times, that I realized how important this episode really is.

But first, the premise. Renge, a spoiled member of the French aristocracy (though I believe her family is Japanese, and they just live in France), is obsessed with a romance-simulation game called Uki Doki Memorial. She’s especially obsessed with one character in particular: Miyabi-kun. Who, incidentally, looks exactly like Kyouya. Renge’s father does business with Kyouya’s father, and when Renge sees a picture of Kyouya, she decides that she’s going to marry him. She instantly jets off for Japan, and once there, appoints herself manager of the Host Club.

Renge’s motives are varied, but basically, she thinks all of the Hosts (except Kyouya, who is in her mind perfect) are uncompelling, tepid versions of what they could be. She takes it upon herself to rewrite their backstories. Fortunately this turn of events sits well with Tamaki (despite being the first person whose character she attacks), because he’s been feeling like he needs an overhaul anyway, since Haruhi is mysteriously immune to his charms.

Renge’s pretty annoying, short-sighted, and delusional. She’s also kind of right.

We don’t know these characters yet. So far, they are weak archetypes, lacking depth, or, as Renge would put it, darkness. There’s no drama to the show yet; no real stakes.

Renee’s rewritten backstories are a little over the top, but they’re kind of genius.

Aside from Kyouya, everyone gets re-written. Tamaki is too free with his kindness, so he becomes the Lonely Prince, someone who’s idolized but feels utterly isolated (Tamaki loves this idea). The twins are cast as codependent basketball stars. Honey becomes a bully, with Mori as his flunky, and Haruhi his victim. Kyouya gets to stay the kind, shy, generous character we all know he isn’t.

Naturally, this goes alright for awhile (and does lead to a compelling video which Kyouya later monetizes), but ultimately leads to Renge learning via Haruhi that you can’t make assumptions about people; you have to get to know who they really are (Haruhi also sneaks some poignant words to Tamaki about how she prefers him how really is…as he’s much less annoying when he’s not a lonely prince).

This is one of those episodes that is so aggressively targeted to anime fans that you’re really reminded how self-aware the show is. Renge practically has a shrine to her favorite character (aka her entire bedroom), and she lives in a pretty delusional world, even by the standards already set by the outrageous world of Ouran Academy. She lives in fandom; that is her world. Even the characters call her an “otaku”—which can mean “shut in” or “obsessive fan” depending on who you ask. And the new backstories she concocts are basically a list of anime (and to an extent, general rom-com) cliches.

Anyway, the fascinating part of this episode isn’t how wrong Renge is, but how right. She may be going about it wrong—you can’t rewrite the backstories of actual people—but she’s spot-on when it comes to anime pacing. So far these characters are flat comic relief; in order to care about them, we’re going to need to see their “darkness.”

I can’t really go into depth about most of the characters, since we haven’t gotten to any of the backstory episodes yet, but lets look at Haruhi.

In Renge’s world, Haruhi is an honor student who’s being bullied. Sound familiar? That’s more or less the plot of the first episode, when Haruhi was being bullied by whats-her-name. And it did help build depth to the character. If Renge’s right about that, what else is she right about? There is a certain desperation to Tamaki’s energy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the twins as codependent. Honey and Mori are each kind of one-note at the moment.

Basically, this episode establishes the character arcs for all the characters (well, maybe not Kyouya), and establishes some standards for character development. We’ll talk more in depth as the series unfolds, but this is not an episode to forget.

Other Observations:

  • The main symbol for this episode is a little obscured by all the re-casting, but I think it’s Renge’s video game. Multiple times, the show will flash back to scenes with Miyabi-kun, especially when Renge learns her lesson at the end (thus leveling up at life). Renge lives in this video game world, and as artificial as it may be, it’s important to her. Maybe I’m just especially nerdy, but I can totally relate to that.
  • The main complaint the twins have about their backstory is that they’ve been miscast, with Hikaru as the submissive one and Kaoru as the dominant one (the english subtitles recast this as a “pitcher” and “catcher” dynamic…not sure what the dub does with it). If you’ve been paying attention to who is who, which I don’t really expect you to have yet, Hikaru almost always play the dominant roles and Kaoru the submissive during their queer-baiting. This is one way to tell them apart. But as always, we’ll get to them more later. (I promise, eventually we’ll be talking about them so much that you’ll beg me talk about Honey or something…which, don’t hold your breath)
  • Kyouya’s still totally in control. He allows Renge’s obsession to take over the club so that she’ll make them some shiny new merchandise, but shuts it down as soon as it takes a turn towards violence, something that could besmirch the club’s good name. He also shuts down Renge, which causes Haruhi to come to her rescue, which causes Renge to switch to being a Haruhi fan (and thus have a reason to stay in the series).
  • Tamaki’s jealousy continues. Although at first he hopes that Renge and Haruhi will be friends, and thus Renge will bring out the girly side of Haruhi, he gets very upset at the end when Renge’s switched to obsessing over Haruhi (guy Haruhi, in her mind).
  • And speaking of Tamaki, we got our first look at what I like to call “Angry Boyfriend Tamaki” when Haruhi and Renge are having a tiff with the Yakuza kids. We’ve seen Tamaki upset before, but always in a funny way. This is the first time he’s seemed actually, genuinely angry.

That’s it for this episode! Next time we’ll finally talk about the twins in Episode 5: The Twin’s Fight!

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3. The Kite

mainpicThis is a part of the Great Ouran Analysis, an ongoing, episode-by-episode critical analysis I’m doing of the anime Ouran High School Host Club. If you’re just tuning in, I recommend you start with the introduction post.

Episode 3: Beware the Physical Exam!

ep3

Episode 3, guys! We’re making progress! This is another episode that is really about establishing the basic world of the school and of the Host Club. It opens with the club in full swing, at a cherry blossom viewing party (notice a selection of teacups, which we can appreciate thanks to the previous episode). The hosts are in their element, each playing up their gimmick to the nth degree. (Just…I’m sorry about the twins. We’ll get to them eventually)

This is the first episode that actually tests Haruhi’s devotion to the club. The school’s annual physical exams have arrived, which means she’s basically going to be outed as female, unless our heroes are able to concoct a devious scheme to prevent it. Plans are hatched, lines are drawn. Haruhi, however, is not terribly invested in the outcome. She admits that it would be harder for her to pay off her debt to the club if she can’t work as a host, but she shrugs that off. It’s not until they bribe her with o-toro (tuna belly, a delicacy) that she shows any real interest in their machinations. Haruhi still feels distant from the club. She’s getting to know its members, but she’s still there under duress.

Also prominent in this episode is Tamaki, and his growing obsession with Haruhi. He even points out himself that this is a romantic comedy, and he and Haruhi are the main characters. However, he’s also forming the club towards a family metaphor, with him as the father, Kyouya as the mother, and Haruhi as his beloved daughter. It’s a weird analogy, given his clear interest in her, but it works with the dynamic of the club. Get used to it; it’s not going away.

Speaking of the dynamic of the club! By this point, they’ve established a pretty clear pattern. Tamaki is the ideas man, but his ideas are usually fairly terrible. He’s also easily swayed, either by Kyouya or the twins. The twins are probably better at planning than Tamaki, but they don’t care the way he does, so their plans lack follow-through (basically, they’re likely to get bored). Really no one can compare to Kyouya, and his involvement can really make or break the success of a plan. Honey and Mori are kind of just there to have fun, usually helping with whatever scheme is being concocted, but not being major players themselves.

Kind of like last episode, the established “challenge” of the episode—keep Haruhi from having her gender discovered—is not really what the episode is about. It’s solved pretty easily—Kyouya has arranged for a special doctor to examine Haruhi privately, so that her results will not be revealed to the general populace (one assumes the school must be aware that she’s female—they’ve got to have her medical records on file, right?). No, the conflict of the exam is really all just a set up for Tamaki to help a lost doctor who’s looking for his daughter, and who has stumbled into this crazy academy completely by accident. Because this episode isn’t about how they keep Haruhi’s gender from being discovered—it’s about whether or not she cares.

Lets talk about this week’s symbol: the kite. It’s not one of the strongest symbols in the series, but throughout the episode we get glimpses of a kite flying above the school. It dips up or down depending on how Haruhi is feeling about the club—or more specifically, how annoyed she is with Tamaki. It plummets when she’s pissed at Tamaki for his completely stupid plan (dressing up in a black wig to take her exam for her, which everyone instantly sees through, of course), but eventually soars when Tamaki helps out the lost doctor. It’s in this moment that Haruhi says she’ll take the private exam—she had already agreed, but now she emphasizes that she’s not doing it because they’re bribing her, but so she can stay in the club. This is pretty much the first time Haruhi’s shown any agency when it comes to keeping her secret.

Honestly, at first I thought the kite was Tamaki’s symbol, not Haruhi’s, and I do think you could read it that way also. It does ebb and flow with his emotional outbursts, but we get reaction shots from Haruhi as well, and the fact that it finally soars after she’s been impressed by Tamaki (and has outwardly expressed her desire to stay with the club) pretty much cinched it for me.

We’re almost done with this episode, but I wanted to briefly touch on a few things. Firstly, Dream Haruhi. That is, the idealized vision of Haruhi that Tamaki has in his head. He seems to think that if Haruhi is revealed as female, she’ll start wearing the girl’s uniform, and basically transform into a different person; girly, submissive, passive. We already know that this is not Haruhi. She’s very independent, fairly tomboy, and not afraid to speak her mind. If Tamaki thinks those qualities rely on her dressing as a boy…well, that gives us some interesting gender dynamics to chew on.

It’s also interesting to note that this show pretty much coincides with the Japanese school year, which begins in April. We know this from the season (Spring, with the cherry blossoms in bloom) and the physical exams (which, as I understand, usually happen towards the beginning of the year). This would be obvious to a Japanese audience, of course, but I didn’t know it at first; I assumed Haruhi just transferred in mid-year. But the beginning of the show is also the beginning of the school year, and of Haruhi (and the twins) first year in high school. The seasons will continue to shape many of the episodes, so keep them in mind.

Next time, we’ll look at what I think is one of the most important episodes (at least in the first half of series)—Episode 4: Attack of the Lady Manager!

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On the Hunt


“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”

-Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: The Musical

There are some moments where you feel like you’re part of history happening. Sometimes those moments are big and revolutionary. Sometimes, you’re playing Pokemon GO.

Wait, stay with me here.

I started playing Pokemon Go the week it was released in the US, with very little hesitation. I’m not the most hardcore player, but it’s definitely become a part of my week. There was at least one week where I specifically went out to parks to play it with friends almost every day. My friends and I have made the Tualatin Commons are standard meeting ground most weekends, and we walk around and chat while stocking up on Magikarps and Charmanders (yes, we all have a Gyarados at this point). Occasionally, I have one of those out-of-body experiences, where I look around at what we’re doing, and think: how weird is this?

To other people (non-players), we must look kind of crazy. The Commons is a man-made lake, with Pokestops sprinkled all along it (which are almost constantly lured to attract more Pokemon), and every night there are players out there for hours just walking around, phones out, stocking up on items and catching Pokemon. Occasionally, something rare will pop up, and you’ll hear the murmurs take hold (“Snorlax!” “Did you get the Dragonair?” “There’s a Magmar that way!”). More than once, we’ve taken off running, quickly joined by other players we’ve never met. It’s fun. It’s exhilarating. It’s like being a little kid again.

And yes, it is a little weird.

But it’s also special. I don’t know how long this game will hold this fascination for me, or for anyone else. I don’t know if this is a trend, or a change in how we, as a culture, approach games. Either way, I feel especially privileged to be at this point in its history. It’s new. Not all the original 151 are even released yet. The pros are still figuring out all the little tricks and Easter eggs in the game, while the rest of us are still just trying to “catch ’em all” as best as we can. There are countless features that haven’t even been announced yet. This frustrates some players, but I think it’s kind of awesome. We’re seeing it build itself, and our use of the game will help influence how they build it.

This game isn’t like previous Pokemon games. It isn’t like any game I’ve ever played before. I couldn’t imagine caring about Pokemon again, at age 29. Of course, it’s not like it was when I was 12, and it’s not the same as if I’d been part of the fandom for years, but it’s amazing to me that it drew me back in after so long. What impresses me even more is how many people I know who are into GO, but have never played a Pokemon game before. It’s creating a new audience. Whether that audience will stick or not, or transfer to other Pokemon games, is yet to be seen. But it’s definitely creating something new.

Some people hate the game. Most of these people have never played it, and are just reacting to the hype, or to the image of people walking around glued to their phones. But it really is a social, interactive experience. And a consuming one. It’s not like other app games, which you can play in minute chunks when you’re bored. Pokemon GO requires you to get up, move, go to new places. We make an evening out of it; starting with dinner (usually a restaurant we’ve never been to before), leading into hours of walking and chatting (yes, with an eye on our phones), often ended with ice cream or even a movie, when we get tired of walking. Along the way, we meet people, discover new stores, and get a good amount of excercise. It’s helping people; it’s helping the economy.

And, remember, this is only just the beginning.

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2. Teacups

mainpicThis is a part of the Great Ouran Analysis, an ongoing, episode-by-episode critical analysis I’m doing of the anime Ouran High School Host Club. If you’re just tuning in, I recommend you start with the introduction post.

Episode 2: The Job of a High School Host!

ep2Congratulations, we’ve made it to episode 2! If you’re still with us, you deserve a big hand. This strange little show may not be for everyone, but I love it, and I hope some of you do, too.

Like most of these early episodes, episode 2 focuses on establishing the Host Club; setting up “normal life,” if you will. These episodes are probably the weakest part of the series, but they’re necessary to really get a feel for the setting of the show. By episode 4 or five things will start picking up!

In this episode, we get our first real chance to see what a regular week at the Host Club looks like. Haruhi is still settling in, and Tamaki is having trouble accepting her comfort with continuing to be mistaken for a boy. In fact, with an approaching host-sponsored dance, he announces that if she can’t master the waltz in a week, he’ll reveal her gender to the school and force her to go back to doing regular errands for the club, since she’ll no longer be able to work as a host. The show—and probably Tamaki himself—are a little unclear as to whether Tamaki is jealous that Haruhi has stolen one of his regular customers, or if he’s just really attracted to her and wants her to dress as a girl full-time. It doesn’t really matter which, at least for this episode, since this plot line is dropped pretty quickly; it’s really just a plot-device to force Haruhi to attend the dance party.

The customer Haruhi accidentally “stole” from Tamaki, Kanako, has a habit of switching hosts on a whim. As Haruhi gets to know her, the club members figure out that the reason for Kanako’s host-hopping is that she’s trying to catch the attention of her childhood love Toru, who, despite them being betrothed, doesn’t seem interested in her anymore. They concoct a scheme to try and figure out Toru’s true feelings, and in doing so reveal another level of “purpose” for the club. They may be there to entertain, but their real goal (or, at least Tamaki’s real goal) is to make girls happy. Most times, that involves pleasant conversation over tea, but apparently sometimes it also involves elaborate match-making schemes.

Our main big symbol for this episode is teacups. They pop up a lot throughout the episode, since Toru is heir to a china supplier, but are also featured in our big cut-away symbol: Kanako sitting alone in a giant empty tea cup ride, very reminiscent of the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. Indeed, once Kanako and her fiancé have reconciled, we get a shot of the ride all lit up, with Kanako happy instead of dejected. Not the most powerful symbol this show has to offer, but effective nonetheless.

As far as development of our main characters, we do get a few snippets. Tamaki probably benefits the most from this episode; we see that he cares more about the happiness of his clients than about the prestige of keeping them, and that he has pretty lofty goals for this club, beyond just wanting to pass the time and flirt with girls. He’s also pretty into Haruhi, but doesn’t seem to be acting on it the way you might expect a gorgeous, flirty rich boy to. He’s also kind of uncomfortable with her dressing like a boy, and freaks out when she uses male speech patterns (the word “ore” which Tamaki calls her out for using, is a masculine version of the word “I,” and is rarely used by women). Part of their plan to fix Kanako’s relationship revolves around Haruhi wearing a long wig and a dress and pretending to confess her feelings for Kanako’s finance, and it seems like the show is pushing the comparison between Girl Haruhi and Boy Haruhi. Haruhi is much more comfortable in her usual blue blazer than in the dress and heels they foist upon her, but Tamaki is pretty blown away by her transformation. And although nothing comes of Tamaki’s threat to reveal her identity (and really, not much tension is built around it), it does serve as a reminder that Haruki’s tenure as a host does rely on her identity remaining a secret.

All in all, this isn’t the meatiest episode, but it serves as a good introduction to the club, for both us and Haruhi. We know we can expect elaborate scenery (they set up their usual room as a tropical paradise, complete with foliage and animals), and we know that ultimately, Tamaki and the other hosts really do care about the happiness of their guests. They’re also not easily fooled. One thing I didn’t mention from the first episode was the subplot where one of the guests tries to get Haruhi kicked out by pretending to be attacked (not to mention bullying Haruhi in previous scenes). Just like in that episode, where the hosts were fully aware of their guest’s devious side, they don’t take Kanako’s host-hopping at face value. They see that her cavalier attitude is really covering up an insecurity, and they work to help her.

Next time we’ll get to know even more about these characters, and get to see a test of Haruki’s devotion to the club, in Episode 3: Beware the Physical Exam!

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1: The Door Opens

mainpicNow the fun really begins! This is part of the Great Ouran Analysis. If you missed it, check out my introductory post first. And beware, there will be spoilers ahead. This post will also be a tad long, so settle in.

Episode 1: Starting Today, You Are a Host

ep1 (1)

Ideally, you’ll have seen the first episode of Ouran High School Host Club by now, because while I’ll try try not to give too much away all at once, there will definitely be spoilers for the first episode.

Go on, it’s on Netflix. I’ll wait.

Being the first episode, this is where we get our first taste for this strange show, and we’re introduced to it along with our reluctant heroine, Haruhi Fujioka. She stumbles into the Host Club on accident, and soon finds herself roped into working for the club to pay off the price of a vase she accidentally breaks. Haruhi is dressed in sloppy jeans and a sweater, with messy short hair and exaggerated glasses, and most of the characters (and the audience) at first assume she’s a boy. A first Haruhi is simply tasked with manual labor and chores, but when they discover she’s actually attractive behind her glasses, Haruhi is dolled up to be a “rookie host,” and made a full member of the club.

Unlike the rest of the students at the prestigious Ouran Academy, Haruhi comes from a modest, lower-middle class background, and finds the host club and its students as alien and occasionally offensive as we do, at least at first. We’re meant to be intrigued by the characters in this episode, but we’re not meant to necessarily like them yet.

If you’ve not watched much anime, this is going to seem like a pretty strange premise to you, but it’s actually a bit of a cliche in shoujo stories. The term “shoujo” means “girl,” and is used to refer to media—usually anime and manga—aimed at teen and tween girls. These shows typically have ridiculous scenarios, and are often based in something like reality, focusing on school drama and first love. It’s not unusual to find a series with a heroine who’s crossdressing in order to be close to her crush. Ouran reminds me most of a series called Hana Kimi, which follows a Japanese-American girl who moves to Japan to attend an all-boys school in order to meet the famous track star she has a crush on. These stories usually have multiple male love-interests in a “reverse-harem” formula (a “harem” anime, in comparison, features a male main character with lots of female love-interests…it in no way indicates any actual sexy-times, although sometimes that does come up, depending on the age range for the series), and there’s generally a lot of drama surrounding the main character’s true gender—and a lot of energy spent trying to keep it a secret.

Ouran is a satire of these tropes, going bigger and better as a send-up (and commentary) on the genre. The boys surrounding Haruhi are different types, naturally, but they are fully aware of it. It’s literally their selling point as a club. You can pick whatever type of guy you prefer, and spend an afternoon drinking tea with them. It’s important to note that host clubs—and they’re more-prevalent all-girl equivalent, maid cafes—are a real thing in Japan. Though granted, probably not in high schools.

With each character a clear and self-aware type, the real challenge of the show becomes taking these walking archetypes, and developing them into real characters.

So without further ado, lets meet our cast.

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