I found the anime first, on one of the bazillion streaming sites we now have. The show reminded me a bit of Utena, not in content but in style. Since I love Utena, I was excited to try this show out, even though it lacks the magical realism of Utena.
At the center of Ouran High School Host Club (OHSHC) is Haruhi, a “poor” scholarship student to this prestigious school filled with the offspring of the rich and sometimes (or in certain circles) famous. Because she cannot afford the $3000 uniform, Haruhi attends her first day of school in one of her dad’s old sweaters, which is oversized on her underdeveloped frame. You can probably see where this is going. With her moppy short hair and her indeterminate clothing, Haruhi is mistaken for a boy. She doesn’t much care either way (her dad is a transvestite), but when she stumbles by accident into the Host Club and breaks an expensive vase, she’s told she will need to join the club to work off the debt.
It’s a fairly flimsy excuse for a rom-com, but at least the author doesn’t attempt to stretch the fiction too far or thin; the host club members figure out pretty quickly that Haruhi is female. The key is to keep the clientele in the dark.
For those who are wondering, a host club is a place where beautiful people entertain and flirt with customers. In the usual sense, the women are the employees and men visit host clubs to feel special as these women give them their full attention. (Also, host clubs are typically for adults.) But OHSHC is clearly a reverse harem fantasy, and here the beautiful, rich boys flirt with female students and melt their hearts.
There are seven main characters. Haruhi, as previously described; Tamaki, the idiot “king” of the club; Kyoya, the scheming VP; mischievous twins Hikaru and Kaoru; cake-loving Hunny (who hides great martial arts power within his tiny frame); and strong, silent Mori. Something for everyone, right? Wouldn’t that be the point of such a club anyway—to have the right kind of guy for any possible occasion?
The result is largely predictable fluff. There are 18 total volumes of manga, and the first half of them are fun but largely nothing special. Things take a more serious turn in the second half of the series as family dynamics and other relationships are explored.
As someone who mostly enjoys deep characters, this manga didn’t completely serve my interests. Mori and Kyoya are the closest things to “deep” that we’re given, and they aren’t examined all that closely. Kyoya does get a bit more page time (if that’s a thing) than Mori.
Haruhi is blunt and practical, but overall I was mostly indifferent to her. Tamaki is too over the top for me; I found him to be too much of an idiot to like him, despite his good nature. Since he ends up the focus of a lot of the story, I found myself wishing the spotlight would fall elsewhere. But when it sometimes did, those stories highlighting the other characters often fell flat for me. I guess it’s clear where the author’s heart was, and that’s fair. It’s just that my heart was not in the same place.
Still, this is a fun, fluffy series and a fair way to bide time. I have a video review with more details on my YouTube channel if you’re interested.