Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 20th 2006
Ouran High School Host Club
For the high-class pretty boys (and one level-headed, cross-dressing girl) of the Ouran High School Host Club, life is anything but ordinary. Cool, calculating Kyoya wakes up in a common department store and wonders how he got there. Luckily, Haruhi is around to show him the ropes of middle-class shopping. Later on, sibling rivalry comes to a boil when serious-minded Chika Haninozuka gets upset over the cute ways of his big brother, Mitsukuni "Hunny" Haninozuka. Meanwhile, Haruhi is in for another bizarre girl-on-girl experience when she gets kidnapped by the all-female Roberia Institute for a school play, and the mischievous twins Hikaru and Kaoru tell the story of a childhood event that made them what they are today.
If the goal of a Host Club is to entertain, then the guys at Ouran are doing it right. This volume is a textbook example of how to put on a high school comedy—oddball situations, appealing characters, and just enough development to give it substance too. Best of all, it maintains the most enjoyable aspects of comedy without relying on predictable gags; the humor of the series grows naturally out of its crazy setups. Brothers who greet each other by fighting? A high-class schoolgirl who warrants her own ultra-regimented fan club? Well, that's normal around here, and that's why it's so much fun.
An episodic format usually spells repetitiveness, but not so in Ouran, which thrives on loosely connected scenarios. If anything, the self-contained chapters open up more possibilities for character comedy, and a continuous plot—or even a standard formula—would just get in the way. This volume shows how a freewheeling "what-if" approach can entertain in many ways: What if the boys suddenly went to a department store? What if Haruhi got accosted by those yuri freaks from the all-girls' school? What kind of siblings does Hunny have? That last idea also adds some depth to the light sitcom antics, exploring the characters' backgrounds and motivations. The same could be said of the department store chapter where Haruhi tries to get into Kyoya's head, as well as the twins' childhood story. The Host Club characters aren't just there to play on bishounen stereotypes, but are interesting in their own right.
But sometimes it is about playing on those stereotypes and goofing off—and that's fine too. Don't expect any wild, thigh-slapping laughs here, however; the humor depends more on subtle wit and snappy one-liners that might go unnoticed if you're not reading the dialogue carefully. In a world where absurdity is the norm, it's Haruhi's deadpan attitude that brings the laughs. "Since when did we have a windswept ridge?" she intones when Hunny and Chika's climactic battle suddenly transports them to a dramatic backdrop. The twins, of course, also dish out snarky lines left and right, and the conclusion to their boyhood tale might well be the biggest punchline of them all. When sheer silliness is brought up, it's more for the secondary characters, like Haruhi's cross-dressing father or the blatantly parodical Roberia girls.
Naturally, the pretty-boy world of Ouran is drawn with the lightest of linework and with as many dreamy textured backgrounds as possible, but there are some surprises too. Firstly, it's actually possible to tell the guys apart—quite a feat in a genre usually dominated by swishy-haired clones with smooth chins and piercing eyes. (Okay, so this series has a lot of those too, but at least they have a distinctive look.) Action scenes are also handled proficiently—the fights between Chika and Hunny bounce off the page with energy, while still maintaining that shoujo stylishness and not turning into, say, Naruto halfway through. The free-flowing panel layouts are easy to read, but the constant dialogue has a way of clogging up the space with too many words. It's not like they go into dense paragraphs or anything—it's just that there's a lot of talking involved.
Fortunately, the dialogue is translated in a smooth, conversational style, with enough flavor to capture the characters' snappy comebacks. Because of all the text, however, some of the asides—printed in a very small font—are easy to miss. As a clever little touch, Hunny's dialogue appears in a more cutesy font to match his personality. Sound effects are replaced entirely by English equivalents, but are blended well into the art and aren't that much of an issue in a series that relies on character interaction more than noisy fighting action. Print quality, paper and binding in this volume are all solid, although nothing beyond what's expected; a one-page glossary in the back helps explain some Japanese slang and cultural aspects. The last 30 or so pages also contain an unrelated side story featuring a more down-to-earth romance, which nicely counterbalances the fluffiness of the main series.
Whether you're in it for the pretty boys or the wry humor (or both), this volume of Ouran High School Host Club is sure to entertain. Despite lightweight storytelling and a sometimes overwhelming stream of dialogue, it delivers plenty of laughs along the way, whether through wild tales of sibling rivalry or the madcap machinations of an all-girls' school. Enduring it all is the unflappable Haruhi Fujioka, who manages to have a cool, cutting remark for just about anything that happens to her. And of course, don't forget the other quirky but likeable members of the club, whose inner lives and personalities are gradually coming to light. Ouran High School may be selective about the academic and economic standing of its students—but it's always got a place for comedy.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Appealing characters and wry sense of humor add up to a great comedy.
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