Episode 2: The Job of a High School Host!
Although we met all these delightful characters in the first episode, Episode 2 is where we really get to see the club in action. Haruhi’s a full-time host now, and everyone in the club is aware that she’s a girl (although the rest of the school is still none the wiser). However, although she’s a somewhat willing participant, she’s still not very attached to this strange club.
The episode opens as Haruhi rushes to be on time for club, only to open the doors and find a tropical oasis waiting for her instead of the usual room. All the hosts dress for the occasion in Balinese-inspired outfits, except for Haruhi, who prefers to stick with her seasonally-appropriate school uniform.
Today, Haruhi encounters a new client, Kasugazaki Kanako. Although she’s most recently been Tamaki’s client, Kanako has a history of switching between hosts (while most clients stick with the same host), and Haruhi is her new favorite. Seemingly jealous of this development, Tamaki announces that Haruhi should stop dressing as a boy—insisting that he wants to see her as she used to be, with long hair and a girl’s school uniform. Of course, this would make it difficult to pay off her debt to the club, since she’s able to make much more hosting than just doing chores. When Haruhi is also resistant to attending the dance the club is planning for the end of the week, Tamaki proclaims that if Haruhi doesn’t learn to waltz in time, he’ll reveal her gender to the school.
For the rest of the week, Kanako teaches Haruhi to waltz, and Haruhi notices that Kanako has an especial affection for fine china. It turns out that Kanako was betrothed at a young age to Suzushima Toru, the heir to a china supplier. However, the two have drifted apart, and he’s going to be studying abroad soon. Once Haruhi and the rest of the club realize this, Tamaki announces they must enact a new strategy, because the club exists to bring happiness to women. Despite her smile, Kanako is not happy.
The night of the dance arrives, and all their usual clients have turned out for a chance to dance with the hosts, and win the ultimate prize at the end of the night: whoever is crowned “queen” of the dance will receive a kiss on the cheek from the “king”, Tamaki. Haruhi’s usual clients are eager to dance with her, but Kanako snatches her up first—only just before she is literally snatched up by Mori and Honey, and carted to the back room to be part of their plan. They (the twins and Kyouya) have sent a love letter to Toru, and they need Haruhi to meet him in disguise and pretend to be a girl who has fallen for him. She complies, and Toru tells her that he can’t return her feelings—there’s already a girl he likes, but that girl deserves someone much more confident and impressive than him, so he’s working on bettering himself.
Haruhi has a wonderful way of being blunt, and she wastes no time telling Toru he’s being selfish, and that if he likes this girl, there’s no reason he shouldn’t tell her now, so they can grow and change together. Meanwhile, Tamaki has led Kanako away from the party and arranged for her to catch them talking. Although she doesn’t hear their conversation, Kanako is clearly emotional at seeing Toru with a girl (alone in a dark room, no less), and runs off crying. Fortunately, Toru follows her.
The couple makes it outside, and the hosts shine spotlights down on them, announcing that they get to have the last dance. Toru asks Kanako to dance with him, tells her he has always loved her, and proposes to her.
All that’s left is to resolve this kiss issue, and the twins announce that Kanako is the queen—but there’s been a change! Now, the winner gets a kiss on the cheek from Haruhi, instead of Tamaki. Honey points out that this might be Haruhi’s first kiss, and Tamaki rushes to stop it, but he trips and ends up pushing Haruhi into Kanako, causing a chaste kiss on the cheek to become a real kiss on the lips. And that’s how Haruhi’s first kiss ends up being with a girl.
This episode has a lot of symbols, including some old favorites. The blinking arrows from the first episode return, this time highlighting the bananas the twins are eating in one shot, and their empty hands a moment later. Of course, seconds later, Tamaki trips on a banana peel, forcing Haruhi to kiss Kanako. Like in the first episode, the arrows point out danger—but only to the audience. It’s a way of building tension, without interrupting the flow of the episode.
Most of our symbols are visual, but this next one is a bit different. In the first episode, Tamaki made a few throw-away lines comparing himself to Haruhi’s father. This was as he was training her to be a host, before he knew she was a girl, and really felt like a minor part of the narrative. However, in this episode he calls himself “Father,” and whines to “Mother”—whom they assume to be Kyouya, based on his position within the club—when Haruhi uses masculine speech. We’re starting to see a pattern develop, and this family-play is likely to come up again.
The most noticeable symbol in this episode is a teacup. Toru is the heir to a china supplier, and Kanako shows her devotion to him by her knowledge of fine china, specifically the tea sets the Host Club has been purchasing at his recommendation. However, tea cups feature more abstractly, as well. Where the first episode had the row of light bulks, episode 2 has shots of Kanako sitting alone in a ride very reminiscent of the Mad Tea Party Ride at Disneyland. The ride is dark, and she’s sitting alone in one of the giant teacup seats. However, once she and Toru reconcile, the ride lights up, and Kanako is shown happily rejoicing as the ride twirls her around.
We’re still in the beginning of this series, and since we’re still being introduced to these characters, our attachment to them really lives or dies based on these first few episodes. Episode 2 is a great opportunity to show how the characters play against each other, and it rises to that challenge fairly well.
Haruhi retains the qualities that drew us to her in the first episode. She has a big heart, and does seem to care about people once she gets to know them and their circumstances, but is not terribly outgoing just for her own sake. She’s very resistant to the idea of the dance party, and only agrees to go to the dance when Tamaki threatens to reveal her gender and demote her back to doing chores for the club.
She is not bothered by her gender presentation—though she is bothered when Tamaki reveals a blown-up picture of her in middle school, which he has had framed. But she does seem more at ease in a suit than when they put her in a dress (she complains that her face feels heavy in makeup, and the shoes are uncomfortable). 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 Haruhi’s tenure as a host does rely on her identity remaining a secret.
Haruhi is also incredibly blunt, and doesn’t care for artifice. She’s not impressed by the tropical oasis the hosts have set up in the club room, and isn’t interested in the dance party at all. In fact, the only times she shows any interest is when she realizes the dance’s catering will include “ootoro” (fancy [and expensive] tuna), and when she gets invested in Kanako’s troubles.
Haruhi isn’t heartless, she’s pragmatic. She doesn’t care about appearance or reputation, but she does care about people. Fortunately, it seems like the rest of the club does, too.
From the beginning, Tamaki has insisted that the point of the club is to make girls happy, and in this episode, he shows that he cares more about the happiness of his clients than about the prestige of keeping them. Although Haruhi is the first one to observe Kanako and Toru’s connection, and Kyouya is the one to connect the dots, Tamaki seizes on this as a problem the Host Club must solve. Making girls happy, then, doesn’t end at serving tea and providing frivolous escapes from reality.
Although the episode ultimately drops the threat of revealing Haruhi’s gender, it can’t be ignored that Tamaki goes pretty hard on this at one point. He’s blown up a picture of Haruhi with long hair (without her permission), and is very bothered by her using masculine language. Like in the first episode, he refers to himself as her father, and assumes a protective attitude when he tries to keep her from giving up her first kiss. It seems obvious that he’s attracted to her, but he’s not acting on it the way you might expect from a gorgeous, flirty rich boy. Despite his protestations, he does seem to treat her as “one of the boys,” including her in shenanigans and attempting to order her around the way he would the rest of the hosts.
Whatever his feelings are for Haruhi, it’s clear Tamaki isn’t quite sure of them yet himself.
From the get-go, Kyouya has been presented as the power behind the throne, and certainly the one who seems the most organized. He keeps records on students (which is how he knew Haruhi’s gender before anyone else did, and how he knew about Kanako and Toru even though he didn’t mention it until it came up), and seems to be more observant than the other characters; in the first episode, he made an aside to the viewers about Tamaki’s reaction to Haruhi (“could this be the beginnings of love?”).
In this episode, we see that he also can deftly manipulate Tamaki. Haruhi calls him the “Shadow King” (in reference to Tamaki calling himself “King”) after she learns that the Balinese-theme was entirely due to Kyouya leaving a brochure on Bali out where Tamaki could find it. Tamaki also calls him “Mother” in the family dynamic he is building for the club. As a unit, he and Tamaki control the goings-on of the Host Club; even if they’re not entirely united as they do it.
Kyouya is calculating, with a mind to business. He suggests that an “accident” at the end would make the dance party more thrilling, and the twins decide to swap Haruhi’s kiss for Tamaki’s as the prize at the end of the night. Of course, this “accident” could be interpreted multiple ways. Was it Tamaki tripping and pushing the two girls into a full kiss? It seems like what Kyouya meant was for Kanako to happen upon Toru with another woman (Haruhi in disguise), a misunderstanding that led them to share their true feelings. Although he didn’t care enough to follow up on their history himself, Kyouya is invested in their outcome along with the rest of the club, and he even helps the twins write the “love letter” that lures Toru to meet with Haruhi.
Although I’m sure this made the party more entertaining and dramatic for the guests, it almost surely removed a frequent client from their list—Kanako herself says that her host-hopping days are over, so presumably she will no longer be attending the Host Club. Just going by the numbers, it’s not good business to eliminate regular clients. But Kyouya still acted in the best interests of Kanako (and the desires of Tamaki), not necessarily the financial interests of the club.
Still acting as a unit, the twins were even more mischievous in this episode. They basically act as Tamaki’s lackeys, albeit not in a submissive way. It seems clear that they are “down to clown” for exactly as long as their interests align with his. They enjoy pushing people’s buttons—especially Tamaki’s, perhaps because he’s so easy to manipulate (as we saw with Kyouya).
They are involved in the entire episode, but mostly in side rolls. They do Haruhi’s makeup, help write the love letter that Toru receives, and generally assist with the plot to get Kanako and Toru back together. But their biggest role is in the end, when they announce that the queen will get a kiss from Haruhi instead of Tamaki—and potentially sabotage Tamaki with a banana peel, causing him to trip and push Haruhi into Kanako. It’s unclear whether the peel was planted intentionally (it’s in their hands in one shot, and gone in the next), but it certainly seems like a thing the twins would do, whether they foresaw the outcome or not.
We still are only really seeing the twins as a unit. Although they fluctuate between speaking in unison and speaking one at a time, they’re always making statements together.
HONEY & MORI
Like the twins, Honey and Mori mostly act in service to the plot, and they act as a unit. They’re involved, but not to the level of Haruhi or Tamaki, or even the twins. However, they act as a grounding force. When Kyouya and the twins are pointing out Toru’s characteristics (mostly in a harsh way), Honey summarizes with “Toru’s a good boy, isn’t he?” and Mori agrees. It gives the feeling that, if they are involved in the club’s shenanigans, those shenanigans must be for a good reason.
All in all, this episode serves as a good introduction to the club, for both us and Haruhi. We know we can expect elaborate scenery, and we know that, ultimately, Tamaki and the other hosts really do care about the happiness of their guests. Most times, that involves pleasant conversation over tea, but apparently sometimes it also involves elaborate match-making schemes.
They’re also not easily fooled. Just like in the first episode, when the hosts were fully aware that Haruhi was being bullied, 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 Haruhi’s devotion to the club, in Episode 3: Beware the Physical Exam!