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 4: Attack of the Lady Manager!
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.
- 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!