This 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!
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 tomboyish, 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 the series)—Episode 4: Attack of the Lady Manager!