The OF Blog: Bisco Hatori, Ouran High School Host Club

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bisco Hatori, Ouran High School Host Club

Ah, high school.  In a little less than two years, it will be time for my 20th year high school reunion.  Despite being a middle school or high school teacher for most of the past 11 years, some of the high emotions associated with high school have faded.  No longer do I worry as much about my appearance or what I said (and how I said) in front of girls.  I no longer have to try to maintain friendships and cliques (not that it was too difficult for me, seeing how small my rural high school was and how I did play sports and my dad was the school's head football coach).  I have changed, matured somewhat, I suppose.  High school is like a mostly-sweet dream, but one that fades further with each passing year.

Even if I were still a high school student, I would have some difficulty understanding what goes on in Japanese schools.  The sighs, the dating simulations, the group associations, all of that is so alien to my experiences and conceptions of what constitutes high school life.  So it was with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation that I took up a challenge to review the first volume of Bisco Hatori's very popular shojo manga, Ouran High School Host Club (wait until you see the second work I have to review, likely in the next 24-48 hours).  Let's just say that the reading experience was...illuminating.

For starters, I am not very familiar with how to read a Japanese manga, especially those of the shojo type.  After learning that the front is actually the back and that I have to read left-to-right and right page before left, flipping back through the book to follow the story, I was finally ready to begin.  Ouran High School Host Club vol. 1 is actually three adventures combined into one.  The story revolves around a somewhat nerdy "scholarship kid" (meaning that a poor child had his/her tuition paid for to an exclusive private school) named Haruhi.  Haruhi had to get her hair cut after a bubble gum incident and her contacts were lost, so she had to wear her grandfather's old glasses.  All of this combines to make this first year student (freshman, anyone?) look like a boy and she is thus viewed as such for most of this book.  This female-male swap is played up in interesting ways by Hatori; there are some sexual undertones, but surprisingly not of the Sapphic variety in this story.

Haruhi has a rather rough introduction to life.  She stumbles about and breaks an expensive (in the American translation, it is listed at $80,000) vase that belongs to the Ouran High School Host Club, a social clique dominated by the most elite of the Ouran student, the Class A's.  Haruhi is humiliated and forced to work off her debt to the Host Club, as she is to solicit "clients" for them.  This sort of "dogsbody" work serves to create several amusing social clashes between the proletarian Haruhi and the gran bourgeoisie Host Club. 

Ouran High School Host Club is played up as a sort of "screwball romantic comedy," and that perhaps is a good starting point for trying to understand this strange sequence of stories.  Haruhi is oddly desexualized for much of this series, as Hatori chose not to play up her androgynous look as something sexual.  Instead, there is this odd homoeroticism found in how the twin brothers, Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachin, interact with each other.  There is nothing really explicit about it, but the way the two are drawn and how they connect with each other appears to insinuate things that are then left unsaid and not acted upon.  Very odd characterizations for some of the others at first, yet I got used to the brooding, somewhat narcissistic and insecure Host Club leader, Tamaki, and the rest of the Host Club crew as the storylines progressed.

The plots for the three stories are on the surface very conventional.  In the first, the Host Club and Haruhi come to know one another and Haruhi's screwup with the grocery shopping (she buys what she is used to eating, like ramen noodles and instant coffee, things that the rich boys would never have sullied themselves with consuming) leads to mockery changing into a strange sort of respect for the socially-unconscious Haruhi.  The middle episode, dealing with a lavish Christmas party and Haruhi being taught to waltz and told to bring in girls for the Host Club boys, was perhaps the most endearing of the three, although at times Hatori's asides threw the story into a different direction, as this tale (and to a degree, the others when she would do this) was very self-aware and could be seen as a metafictional commentary on said romantic adventures.  The final episode, starring a real otaku, Renge, was almost incomprehensible at times.  The story within a story, with interactions masking other interactions and the intents behind them, was very difficult to piece together at first.  Yet somehow I managed to do this.

The illustrations were fairly well-done, although there were times that Hatori over-indulged with the Batman-esque Smash! and Krang! sequences.  The sometimes otherworldly-looking characters (designed, I know, to underscore their emotions at the time) are perhaps a staple of manga and I presume anime, but it was something alien to me, unaccustomed as I am to these type of stories.  From what I can gather, Ouran High School Host Club is not exactly experimental, but rather a very light-hearted take on some serious high school issues.  Perhaps this is so.  All I know is that the social stratification here was alien to me, as if it were social cliques on steroids and with some divergent ways social betters and inferiors address one another.

Although I would not say that this was a great piece of literature by any stretch of the imagination, I think I could say that "illuminating" would be the most apt word to describe my interaction with this manga.  It was diverting, occasionally amusing, and sometimes even instructional (in a very exaggerated sort of way) of certain elements of Japanese school culture and otaku that I did not know before reading this book.  Although I highly doubt I'll make a regular habit of reading manga, at least this one wasn't so batshit insane/stupid as to make me wish to commit seppuku after reading it.  And now to prepare myself to read a yaoi.  God have mercy on my soul.

20 comments:

Tea and Tomes said...

What a lot of fans of Ouran also overlook is that the story is intended as a mockery of anime/manga fandom at large, too. The stereotyping of the hosts, the plot arcs that arise, the general treatment of characters is all meant to mimic and make fun of the way a lot of fans will treat their so-called favourite characters from other things, especially in fanfiction. Sadly, this went over the heads of many and they just ended up doing the same old thing they always did, completely forgetting that they'remaking a mockery of the thing that's making a mockery of them. :p

And if you're serious about reading yaoi, I recommend Love Mode. It actually has plot and decent characterization to go along with the mansex! (At least if you make it past the first volume. Otherwise it really just looks like, if you'll excuse the term, a one-shot kind of deal.)

Roland said...

I strongly recommend watching the anime adaptation of Ouran. It is gorgeous in so many ways, and also has a very strong character building, especially in later episodes. Also, it's completed.

Derrick said...

Yaoi? You poor illegitimate :-D

Anonymous said...

wow, roland. its amazing how clueless you are about anime\manga.

as most anime are often in danger of going past the manga they are based on or running out of material, they are often resigned to thier own endings (which can sometimes be a damn stupid idea if you ask me). and besides, almost every manga has their own ENDING planned at some point.


sorry to hand it to you roland, but to say an that an anime is better than the manga just beacause its 'complete' DOESN'T make you any smarter than those who know little enough about manga or anime in the first place. (both the OURAN manga and anime are awesome, by the way).

Roland said...

Sorry to rain on your parade, "Anonymous", but I never said anything about the anime being better than the manga. I do prefer anime to manga, usually, because it digresses less into fanservice (I still chuckle at the thought at chibi-Alucard in Hellsing), but in this particular case I haven't read past the first volume, so I'm not comparing.

Also, not on topic, but I think FMA for example became really good AFTER it deviated from the original story. That's just a random example, and I'm pretty sure those for the opposite result are more, but still...

As a side note, thank you for your premature qualifications. Just thought I'd mention that I've been a chief editor of an anime/manga magazine back in my home country.

Next time try and read more carefully what others write, before jumping to conclusions ;)


http://rolandscodex.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

nice one, roland. guess now ill have throw in my ace in the hole while you celebrate your own 'parade'.

about FMA. if i were to choose between the original series and BROTHERHOOD, id choose the latter since like the manga, IT ADVANCES THE STORY FURTHER and GIVES THE ACTUAL ENDING INTENDED. seriously, if i wanted the whole story, ID CHOOSE THE MANGA. yeah, didnt expect that one did you. even i too liked the original show till the movie shat bricks on just about EVERYTHING i liked about the first series. oh, id give ANYTHING to pretend the movie didnt happen.

so you know more than i thought. well done, but even that wont stop you from being viewed as an ASSHOLE(especially what you said about scott lynch and his hard times). and you know what, i dont even care if you think im reading your words right back to you. just dont shoot them right back into my mouth.

Larry said...

You know, I'm totally confused about whatever the two of you are talking about right now. I don't mind admitting my ignorance when it's better than pretending otherwise, but perhaps the minutiae of this argument might be lost on the majority of others reading this?

Roland said...

I'm explaining right away, Larry.

There is this insanely elitist thinking typical of many hardcore otakus, that manga is somehow superior to anime. That IS sometimes the case, but not nearly as often as they like to pretend. But to many "true fans" it's a point of honor to despise any anime adaptation of a good manga (which basically mean most anime ever made) and use every opportunity to express said disdain any time a cool anime based on a good manga is mentioned. You can easily find those, by stating (the obvious) that for example Death Note is way better in anime form than in manga. Since it's a literal adaptation with absolutely nothing missing from the original, if they start acting enraged, you know you're dealing with a "true fan".

Me, I find the whole argument ridiculous, but to me the medium of manga is just not good enough in itself, so I try not to argue too much as I'm obviously "biased".

"Anonymous", I am afraid that I could hardly care less whether you prefer the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, first or second anime. It was a random example of what I consider a good anime that deviated seriously from its original material. Nothing more, nothing less.

Also, I don't appreciate random CAPS-LOCK douchebag out-of-context comments concerning stuff I've written in other places, especially from people who can't even put a name above their attacks.


http://rolandscodex.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

*sigh* and to bring another person into this.

ill address this one time and one time only. people can have thier own opinions about different things. you think anime can be better than its manga and i respect that. of course my view is different and even i think anime sometimes are more awesome than the source material. but to call somebody an 'elitist' and a 'douchebag' beacause of somebody having a radical viewpoint is just being plain dumb. and while i like anime and manga, i dont proclaim myself a hardcore fan. just immersed in it, that's all. so with that said, do you wanna pop my words right back to me or acknowledge the truth.

other than that i'll stop contributing to what is already forming into an internet boxing-match. i apollogize to larry for being pulled in.

and i dont need a name to prove my point.

Derrick said...

Wow Larry, looks like this turned into a typical anime/manga forum :-)

Roland said...

Uh, stating the obvious - the word "douchebag" had nothing to do with your opinion of anime/manga, of which I am vastly uncaring. It had, however, to do with the completely random dropping of Scott Lynch's name out of the blue.

It is almost hilarious the way people skim through posts. It's like they INTENTIONALLY want to misunderstand you...

http://rolandscodex.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

on scott lynch: being a regular on pat's blog, i can name drop a lot at random (my own fault, really).

ugh, why are we even still fighting. its over, roland. im out. (you do have a nice blog yourself though).

Roland said...

Glad you like it. And I'm not arguing, I'm clarifying :p

http://rolandscodex.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

well thanks mate (i have to say, that was quite an disscusion there and i apologize for that).

Charles said...

Another way to view the manga is in the context of its sub-genre, namely that it's a harem manga (in this case, one girl and several boys, although "shonen" manga also uses this trope in the case of one guy and several girls). You'll notice that the members of the Host Club for example cater to different personalities much like that each member of a boy band will appeal to a certain demographic.

Anonymous said...

As mentione, Ouran is really a very... Meta thing. It's a parody of genre conventions and I can't really see how it would make much sense unless you are familiar with said conentions.

Once you ARE it becomes uproariously funny.

Pam S said...

I'm just going to say I enjoyed Ouran, I enjoyed both the manga and the anime. I think that both had their individual merits and I was able to relax and enjoy a work of fiction.

Now I'm going to leave the pissing battle alone as those two scare me. :D

venessawink said...

I'm extremely pissed off with the ending ! Seriously ? Tamaki is immature !!!! I think Haruhi should be with Hikaru ... I mean C'mon ! He is just so sweet .. I pity him a lot ... the ending is really sad if u asked me .. :'(

venessawink said...

I am gonna criticize you EVERYDAY BISCO !! I mean I LOVE Oran high school host club .. But I think the ending is SUPER-DUPER SAD !!! I'm just saying that i think , Haruhi and Hikaru ARE MEANT to be together ... Haruhi spent more time with Hikaru than anyone else .. and those who WANTS Takami to be with Haruhi are damn lame .. Sorry if i offense you .. I'm just being honest .. You won't believe that i cried more than a year just because of Haruhi and Hikaru ... Please just make another Season ... For the sake of your fans ?

Jem said...

I think what you are missing is the background culture of manga and anime...and Japanese schools, as you said. What I get from your post is...that you are totally taking it too seriously. It is important to recognize that a major category of Japanese expression and humour consists of extremely exaggerated parodies and situations. You're NOT supposed to SERIOUSLY consider the "homoeroticism", for example. As another commenter said, it was a nod to the "yaoi" and BL culture popular nowadays. Or the "social stratification"; again, it is portrayed in the "extremely exaggerated" manner, you're not supposed to take it at face value. However, Japanese language and culture DOES have elements of social betters and inferiors AND modes of address; the author has merely put it to use in different situations (again, exaggerated parodies and satire)..like them calling Tamaki Tono. Your review was just way too serious, which shows that perspective is completely linked to a sense of humour

 
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