Reviewby Theron Martin, May 30th 2009
Ouran High School Host Club
DVD - Season 1 Part 2
Haruhi still has more debt to pay off to the Host Club, so her pretending to be a male host must continue. The Newspaper Club decides to do an exposé on the Host Club, although its President fails to realize exactly what he's up against. Haruhi's attempt to escape to Karuizawa for some much-needed studying alone fails when the guys follow her there, but at least they don't leave her stranded in a mall like they do Kyoya. Later, Honey's brother Chika shows up to challenge him in their family's traditional internal rivalry, while the girls from Lobelia Academy have their sights so firmly set on Haruhi that they even resort to a little kidnapping. The twins and Kyoya, in turn, contemplate their pasts and how they came to join Tamaki's grand endeavor, in between which a Halloween test of courage puts a good fright into some of them. A yakuza heir gets involved with the Host Club when he first approaches Takashi for training and later falls hard for Haruhi after discovering that she's a girl, but a bigger problem awaits: Tamaki's grandmother, his family's matriarch, lays on Tamaki a proposition that he cannot pass up, one which could mean the end of the Host Club!
The first half of Ouran is such pure, unadulterated fun that even cynical souls might find the host club's antics amusing if they give it half a chance. Much like The Wallflower, it takes many common elements of shojo reverse harem series and exaggerates them to the point of making the series a self-aware parody of the genre. Ouran stakes out its own distinct territory by the way it handles Haruhi, though. Reverse harem manga series where the heroine has a minimal figure and boyish looks are not unusual (see My Heavenly Hockey Club for another example), but original manga-ka Bisco Hatori made a brilliant break from normality by leaving Haruhi completely unperturbed about being mistaken for a boy or having to pretend to be one, and went further by suggesting that Haruhi's calm acceptance of her predicament might have something to do with having a transvestite father. That makes her stand out against a cast otherwise populated by stereotypes, and her dour behavior provides a nice contrast to the silliness present in the rest of the cast.
While the second half of the series does continue the established pattern of free-wheeling comedy, it also much more frequently injects bits of seriousness into the content as it explores the backstories of the club itself and several individual members. Kyoya gets two feature episodes, as do (more or less) the twins, and Honey get his turn in the episode featuring his brother, although his is decidedly less serious than the others. Each of these backstories showcase what the host club means to its members and reveal how the seemingly idiotic Tamaki managed, in his own way, to give each of them a new perspective on life. The allusion to the host club being a family (at least in Tamaki's view, anyway) has been made before in the series, but this span of episodes much more forcefully drives that point home. It arguably peaks with the final flower painting shot in episode 24.
Handled more clumsily is the two episode close-out story arc concerning the school festival and the potential dissolution of the club. Compared to earlier serious content which was, at times, even touching, this predictable gimmick seems forced and rushed. Granted, the series has dropped just enough hints along the way to justify that storyline's existence, but it hits with no dramatic build-up and feels like it was stuck in just to give the story some sense of genuine non-episodic conflict to round out the season. Especially deficient is the foundation for Haruhi's earnestness in certain scenes in the final episode, as the series has never even hinted that she harbored those kinds of feelings.
On the upside, the comedy aspect delivers some great scenes amidst all this seriousness; Haruhi's imagined yakuza tattoo is a classic, and that's far from the only sputter-worthy moment in the second half. Other highlights include Kyoya's reaction to Tamaki “calling” for him in the mall episode, the depths of Honey's devotion to cake in the episode with his brother, and just about every non-serious moment involving Kasanoda.
If the structure and character archetypes present didn't suggest shojo origins, the artistry would. All of the host club members have that “dashing (or cute) bishonen guy” look about them, down even to Haruhi's boyish look, and the background art uses quite a bit of pink. (Really, a pink-tinged clock tower?) All of the cosplaying costume changes and visual gimmicks keep the look fresh and fun, however. The animation is often limited, but it is good enough to make all of the slapstick jokes work. Overall, the series has an attractive but not spectacularly pretty look.
The same can be said for the soundtrack, which relies heavily on piano-based classical music themes mixed with the occasional more light-hearted and dramatic numbers. The opener and closer impress far less, and this is one case where Funimation's song dubbing falls flat. The singing was not that great to begin with, and these performances did not help.
Otherwise Funimation produces a very solid dub here, although its interpretations of some characters in English are a bit different than the Japanese versions; Vic Mignogna's Tamaki certainly captures the spirit of the character, for instance, although his vocal style is enough of a departure from the original that it may throw some viewers. Caitlin Glass (who also directed) is exactly on the money as Haruhi, and J. Michael Tatum gives a wonderful performance as Kyoya. And who else but Monica Rial could do the role of Renge justice? In fact, no role is a significant let-down compared to the original Japanese versions. The English script rewrites some jokes entirely to conform to more American context, such as a batch of jokes about certain characters being in another character's "five" (a reference to a series of commercials from a well-known U.S. phone company), but it still keeps the jokes on subject. All things considered, this is one of Funimation's better recent dubs.
The two thinpacked disks in this volume each have reversible covers and come in a slipcase which includes a mini-calendar for 2009 featuring the host club team in their assorted cosplay fineries. On-disk Extras include a collection of outtakes and textless songs on the second disk and a total of three English commentary tracks split between the two disks and accessible only through the Episodes menu. All three feature Caitlin Glass and a rotating pair of English VAs dependant on the episode in question; episode 18 has a deeper-voiced Aaron Dismuke (Honey's brother Chika) and Luci Christian (Honey), episode 22 has Travis Willingham (Takashi) and Christopher Sabat (Kasanoda), and episode 24 has J. Michael Tatum and Vic Mignogna. The conversations in this are mostly inane and often silly but do at least generally stick to the episode content and related production issues.
With these thirteen episodes the series actually shows some depth, but for the most part they stick to the series' strength: shallow, silly fun. In that sense, they work just fine.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Solid English dub, often quite funny, some serious bits are good.
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