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 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:
- good looking gay boys
- the incest taboo, and the play between friend/more-than-friend sexual tension
- 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. In narration, Kaoru asks (probably rhetorically) when they started playing their Which One is Hikaru game.
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 watching Hikaru watching Haruhi walk away, Haruhi is shown as a disruptive force in their lives. The episode concludes with more of Kaoru’s narration, this time wondering if Hikaru has noticed that this is the first time someone has really penetrated their world. 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.
- 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 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!