“Ouran High School Host Club:” 18 years later


Tiger Media Network

This review is based on the English dub of the anime

During my sophomore year at Salina Central High School, the entire student body was given Chromebooks to borrow for the whole year as a means to incorporate Google Classroom into our school routine. In the beginning, it was like the Wild West. Students would use the computers for a myriad of things as there was no initial website blocker from the school. While the school would eventually block streaming services and even YouTube, I would use my Chromebook to watch anime. I used that Chromebook to watch anime like “Danganronpa,” “Durarara,” “Soul Eater’,’ “Fairy Tail,” “FLCL,” “Death Note,” and more. 

Among these was a series close to my heart that I shared with my family and have since watched many times – Takuya Igarashi’s 2006 adaptation of Bisco Hatori’s “Ouran Highschool Host Club.” The anime tells the story of Haruhi Fujioka a student who was able to gain access to the illustrious Ouran Academy through scholarship, upon looking for a place to study they stumble across an old music room only to find the Ouran Host Club. Club President Tamaki Suoh describes it by saying: “Only those with excellent social standing, and those from filthy rich families, are lucky enough to spend their time here at the elite private school, Ouran Academy. The Ouran Host Club is where the school’s handsomest boys with too much time on their hands entertain young ladies who also have way too much time on their hands. Just think of it as Ouran Academy’s elegant playground for the super-rich and beautiful.” 

Haruhi stumbles upon the club and quickly after meeting them accidentally knocks over an expensive vase causing them to become indebted to the club. While at first, they run errands to pay off their debt to the club, Tamaki thinks they may make a good host and have Haruhi start working as one. Haruhi, whom they assumed was a boy, is later to have a different gender assigned at birth. They say “Listen Senpai, I don’t care whether you guys recognize me as a boy or a girl, In my opinion, it’s more important for a person to be recognized who they are rather than for what sex they are.” 

The boys dress up in drag after meeting some TERF’s

What makes “Ouran High School Host Club” stand out among its various animated contemporaries is the role it serves. This show, much like “The Golden Girls,” is a comfort show for many. Like the aforementioned iconic sitcom, this show has had its problematic moments that are indicative of some of the sensibilities of the time; these would need to be addressed if it were remade today. A line that encapsulates this is letterboxd user elliot>:)’s review which reads “number one homophobic gay anime,” which garnered nearly 700 likes. The way it handles its TERF (Trans exclusionary radical feminists), queer, and women characters sometimes veers too far off course or are sometimes backward. While on the other hand like in Haruhi’s quote from earlier the show serves some interesting conversation-starting ideas.

Renge and Misuzu remind Haruhi of each other

The show is similar to the Korean drama “Coffee Prince” in many ways, this is mostly due to the similarity between Eun Chan from that show and Haruhi Fujioka. Like in the case of the reading of Eun Chan as conceding to the pressure to conform, Ouran can be read as containing characters with those backward ideals of their time. The show’s main cast is filled up with boys from wealthy families who often believe, engage in, or sometimes challenge prejudiced actions. Moments like Kyoya getting payback in episode three and saying “I’m sorry I just don’t think I’m supporting cast, homosexual or otherwise,” the toxic masculinity/misogyny in episode eight, and Haruhi defying those established standards in the last episode (all in different intensities) are examples of this back and forth of good or bad ideas presented. For many queer people watching this show growing up, Haruhi Fujioka may be their first exposure to a queer character.

That being said, it is those shining moments (while also examining the prejudice in people close to the main protagonist) that keep me coming back to watch this show. This is not a show in which I as a queer viewer was simply going to adopt every idea presented, I don’t think we should go into media with that mentality. Earlier this year I had written in previous reviews and my notes on Park Chan Wook’s “The Handmaiden” harsh criticisms of the work while noting some merit to the film’s production. Unlike listening to Azelia Banks’ music at the very least Chan Wook’s film had some merit. 

What I’ve learned from my experiences as well as examining my own feelings is that many queer people attach to media that have aspects that represent them while also can be problematic or are downright against them. In this case of media that have problematic or poor taste moments for me, it was Ouran, for others it might be queer characters in “One Piece,” objectification in “The Handmaiden, transphobia in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and more.

The strengths of this show happen when it strays from ideals and offers more universal lessons, but it always gets pulled away from its potential. Haruhi’s Dad and Misuzu are both iconic and have impactful interactions with the club but are called transphobic pejoratives. Haruhi, who defies what they are told they are supposed to do or be because the others see them as a girl, is still being put into a box. It is this potential that makes “Ouran High School Host Club” ripe for a complete remake to not only serve stunning animation but to correct its dated shortcomings and extend the story. While Kyoya’s backstory taught us that in order to be happy we must paint outside the boundaries we have been framed in, the show frames itself. Like many queer pieces of media Ouran’s incredible moments become stifled by being a product of its less progressive time, as it is Ouran shows us a story that allows us to connect to others by sometimes confronting prejudice and sometimes conceding if it were to be reimagined for today the overall message should encapsulate the message of not being framed in.

Haruhi after jumping for Tamaki

The Ouran Host Club is a place we love to visit. Like Blanche’s Miami home in “The Golden Girls” or even the warm home of a close relative, it is a place we go to for comfort and often find it. Yet it is the sudden moments in which comfort is lost that is jarring. The moments that represent an underlying tug of war with goodness you see in someone and their prejudice. It is important that we criticize our favorite media when it deserves it, especially the entries from our formative years as they affect our development. I look back fondly at “Ouran High School Host Club” not wearing rose-tinted glasses but able to see the good, the bad, and the potential. If the show ever gets picked up for a remake I hope it breaks free from its frame as I believe it should confront the reductive ideas it serves with its progressive one. What I take away from this show, nearly 20 years after its original release, and from this experience is the hope for a brighter future. One might say, “That’s a very intriguing notion in its own way” – Kyoya Otori.