Ouran High School Host Club
Episodes 17-18

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 17 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?

How would you rate episode 18 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?

So is everyone going to get a chance to go on a date with Haruhi now? Just after Hikaru spent the day with her and learned a little about himself along the way, episode 17 of Ouran High School Host Club sees Kyoya cruising the shopping center with the humble honor student. It's admittedly a good way to signal how the characters have all grown closer as the show has gone on, while creating new avenues to develop them. So there's a curiosity as to how these could keep playing out. What would a date with Kaoru be like compared to the one with Hikaru? Would Mori come along if she went out with Honey? Will Renge get a turn? Burning questions, for sure, but for now the focus is on the club's shadow leader and resident secret bad boy, Kyoya.

Ouran's effective habit of sprinkling hints of characterization throughout episodes means I'd already guessed that Kyoya had some sibling issues motivating his internal strife, and while that turns out to be partially true here, it's decidedly more of a family affair. His older brothers are mere background elements that his father measures him against in his absurd standards for success. It makes for an interestingly surprising depth to reveal to us while still playing off the information we'd already been drip-fed, and does a decent job highlighting one of the classic fictional rich-kid plights. Kyoya's wealth meaning he doesn't want for much is hardly addressed in light of the sheer amount of effort he has to expend to maintain that paternal approval and have a shot at anything to do with the family medical business that sustains both life and lifestyle.

It's an interesting play since this characterization is walking an effortful tightrope to make us feel sympathy for a character who's both ridiculously well taken care of and, honestly, kind of a jerk. Kyoya's not yet had a relapse into his alarming assault attempt from earlier in the series, but he's still pointedly cold and detached from the actions he and the others partake in. Tamaki and the Hitachiins may gawk goofily at the amenities of ‘commoners’, but at least they let themselves have fun with it. Kyoya regards a fast-food cheeseburger with undisguised disregard, and can't even revel in the attention of others in a public setting if he's not getting something out of it.

His lunchtime conversation with Haruhi leads to the point of the episode I found absolutely rife with compelling reads: The question of what Kyoya's personality actually is and how it compels him to do things. He declares that he's an egoist, a fair read of his cold, pragmatic personality thus far, but there's a knowing connection between his character and Haruhi's beyond the immediate recoil you'd think she would have in the face of such unabashed self-interest. I've remarked plenty in these reviews on Haruhi's knowing deployment of her own charms and abilities in working as a host to attain the value and success she needs (out of debt, in this case). That's really not that different from Kyoya, who sees any station as something to be exploited for gain whenever possible. His position is to counter with the point that he would never stick his neck out for other people the way Tamaki does, and there's a tacit understanding between him and the rest of the hosts that this is the extent of their business-interest ‘friendship’. So does that put Haruhi at a natural midpoint between Tamaki's impulsive acts and Kyoya's pragmatism, especially with her less opulent means necessitating some level of prudent self-preservation apart from always helping others? Or is Kyoya actually closer to the idealist end of the scale than he'd care to admit?

The answer isn't confirmed, but worked towards with the episode's most clever trick. The date with Hikaru was all about teaching him the ways of Haruhi's ability to observe people, but that power is another thing her and Kyoya actually have in common, so their date turns into an exercise in dueling powers of observation. Kyoya seems to be trying to pick up especially on situations in this impromptu mall-crawl he can make use of and tries to make that clear, while Haruhi keeps turning onto elements that could indicate a more altruistic heart within his motives. The endpoint paints a surprising possibility: That Kyoya's stoic pragmatism is in fact a character he's playing up for effect, like Tamaki's princely demeanor or the Hitachiins' brotherly love. It's a delightful revelation this late in the story, and raises interesting questions as to who it's for, though the likely suspect is the all-business father who expects this level of commitment from the son with the most to prove. It fits perfectly considering the earlier revelation that Kyoya was the guy who heard people complimenting his looks and immediately turned it into a business opportunity. And it presents just enough of a mysterious edge around him that I can be compelled by his character without worrying too much that he's going to shove Haruhi down onto a bed again.

It's a good thing episode 17 leads with all the dense character work, because the 18th is an unfortunately more shallow affair. It's a real crime because of all the promise it has, starting as it does with Best Boy Honey getting into a martial-arts duel with his estranged younger brother Chika (who is, of course, taller than he is). It's sibling issues all the way down! The quality of the preceding episodes had me all geared-up for a more dense deep-dive into the diminutive dessert-devourer, but what I got instead was frustratingly more similar to the earlier episodes of Ouran. This included a whole establishing element to the episode that took up nearly half its runtime, spending all those minutes explaining Honey's past to supposedly make clear to us why his relationship with Chika is the way it is.

The problem is that what we get doesn't delve into Honey's depths nearly as much as we've gotten for the likes of Hikaru and Kyoya over the past couple episodes. It's hewing much closer to pure comedy this go-around, making more effort to mine the kid's effortless moe appeal than to show us areas where he might be seeking or needing growth. Yes, it is adorable that his efforts to become more manly only made him cuter in the eyes of his admirers, and there's something appreciably salient about the advice Tamaki gave him in the past- The idea that true strength is remaining honest with the things you love and how you want to be for yourself. I'll also applaud the show here for actually using Honey's fun-size huggability as an actual plot-point, showing how struggling to reject that only to ultimately embrace it led to the style of situation we see the little guy in today.

But the episode only waves in the direction of those ideas and spends far too much time deflecting with gags when things get too serious for it. I know, Ouran's primarily a comedy, but the jokes in the previous episodes worked better because they were flowing along with the situations and characteristic revelations we got. In this one they seem to keep breaking out simple absurdities for the sake of deflation. Chika seems to take serious issue with the way Honey carries himself? Actually it's because he regards his brother as an alien! Is it because Honey's way of life is fundamentally different from his? No, it's because it turns out he's been eating an even more inhuman amount of cakes than we previously thought! There's little weight or development that gets brought out of it, though they try to lend in a few more complexities like the notion that the brothers' relationship, expressed through fighting, actually does have some loving sibling give-and-take powering it. And even if it just results in more distracting momentary gags, there's something to the idea that Honey's exaggerated character traits which Chika takes issue with were specifically fostered by the Host Club encouraging him to play them up. But in the end he's as much of a darling little enigma as ever. This was a sillier, lighter episode than I was expecting, which was too bad since I was hoping for more of that lately-dense character work for Honey. It's cute, but not as good as the last few episodes.

Rating:

Ouran High School Host Club is currently streaming on Netflix, Funimation, and Hulu.


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