Art & by: Bisco Hatori
Published by: Shojo Beat/ Viz
Ouran High School Host Club is billed as a romantic comedy, but the emphasis is clearly on the comedy. Haruhi is a poor-as-a-church-mouse scholarship student at exclusive private school Ouran High. While searching for a quiet place to study, she stumbles upon a Host Club, a place where rich, idle, handsome men provide companionship for rich, ideal, pretty girls. While there, Haruhi breaks an $80,000 vase, and to work off her debt, which she could not possibly pay, she agrees to serve as a host, concealing from her eager fans the fact that she is indeed a girl. The girls who visit the Host Club merely see Haruhi as a particularly pretty boy (very bishie!), but the inevitable cross-dressing confusion is only half the fun.
[ad#longpost]Here in this first volume, Haruhi arrives on the scene and the basic plot is set up. We also get to see the wild themes the Host Club entertains, as well as their massive Christmas bash, their New Year’s costume, and how they handle a real female fan (and a group of male fans) for Haruhi. The mix of characters and personalities provide most of the fun. Haruhi, while possessing the requisite good heart, is refreshingly blunt and honest, a splendid change from the usual shy, overly modest shojo heroine. The King, Tamaki, is way too cute for his own good, and concentrates on being a diva, ruling over the other boys. Twins Hikaru and Kaoru play off the mysterious relationship of twins, Kyoya is the intellectual power-behind-the-throne, Hunny is the oldest, but youngest looking, cutesy member of the group, and Takashi is Hunny’s sardonic, strong protector. Each character’s foibles are played for laughs, and it’s nice to see characters each have their own shtick.
The rest of the comedy is provided by prole vs. nobility, such as when the Host Club members ever-so-bravely try both ramen and instant coffee, much to the strained amusement of Haruki. It’s also interesting in a sociological sense to see a group of what are essentially male geisha, trading their elegance, charisma, and charm for a bit of entertainment and coin. Topics such as quasi-prostitution, poverty, and snobbery that are basically un-funny are actually meat for lampooning here, but in a very funny and not at all mean way. In fact, girls who dearly deserve their comeuppance get it more quickly than you’d ever bet, which is mind-bogglingly delightful after the endless and tired “evil friend never gets discovered” tales so rampant in shojo. Hatori’s artwork is nice and clean, and even makes a few meta-statements on some shojo clichÃ©s, like “pointless close-ups” and the ubiquitous roses-filled backgrounds. This manga understands how to make fun of itself, which is a good thing, as delightfully cheesy as it is in places.
If you have no sense of humor and prefer to revel in your oh-so-post-Modern jaded sophistication, then skip it. You won’t get it. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a light-hearted, fluffy antidote to the likes of Battle Royale or the endless pseudo-goth angst of Model or Demon Ororo, then pick this one up. Fans of Hana-Kimi and Wallflower will find this one a natural, but if you ever find yourself amused by shojo hijinks, then this is one of the funniest and most interesting of the lot. It may not make you think or give you a fresh way to read Camus, but it is harmless, innocent fun that will take your mind off the state of the world for at least a few minutes. No, it’s not earth-shattering, but that’s not always what we want when we curl up with a volume of manga and some strawberry Pocky. It’s surprisingly funny, endearing, and, like Tamaki, is probably far too charming for its own good.