Ouran High School Host Club
Episodes 19-20

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 19 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?

How would you rate episode 20 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?

Here I find myself again this week with a pair of Ouran High School Host Club episodes that are wildly different in tone and story choices. They even go in opposite chronological directions, with Episode 19 building on several previous beats to create a ‘sequel’ episode of sorts, while the 20th is firmly full-flashback. The saving grace in this case is that both episodes are extremely good at what they do, letting me at least confidently score them highly together, without any pesky need for averages. It's just a little jarring to jump across such extreme focal differences in analyzing each entry. But hey, that's why we writers separate our paragraphs, I guess.

So number 19 brings back the Zuka Club of St. Lobelia Girls Academy, and I have to admit I was holding my breath there for a minute. This trio hadn't been standouts back in their debut episode, and the impression I got from comments I saw was that they were considered pretty annoying overall. Well at least now I've learned the shocking lesson that you can't believe anonymous commentators on the internet because this episode with the Zuka Club is hilarious! Maybe it's the show's comic chops that have grown as the crew have become more comfortable within it, or maybe I've just acclimated more to Ouran's style myself, but I found myself laughing out loud at this one more than I can recall at any previous episode.

It's appreciably one of the fastest-moving episodes of Ouran I've seen so far. Uncharacteristically little time is spent on the setup we're going with here, Haruhi's abduction by the Zuka Club related to the boys after it's already happened and then quickly shown in flashback. That keeps each beat of this moving along at a rapid pace, letting us use that processing time for quick-hit gags like Ranka rolling all the boys into the apartment, Katamari-style (was Katamari Damacy a thing when Ouran was out? Hold on let me check...hey the game had been out for two years by the time the anime hit, so that reference tracks!). In fact one point of this episode's appeal is I think I'm just happy to see Ranka again, especially here in how he effortlessly usurps Tamaki's role as the ringleader of the club's wacky scheme to retrieve Haruhi. This creates a unique chemistry with the group of guys different from what we usually get, which is part of what makes this episode's flavor feel so fresh.

But really, what makes this episode work the best is the show's old standby secret ingredient, Haruhi herself. The Zuka Club's antics can indeed come off as grating, an artifact of the driving idea that they're not that different from the Host Club they claim to stand firmly against. But this means, after dozens of episodes of acclimating herself to the boys who are now her buddies, we get to see the return of the classic dismissive, exasperated Haruhi. The charms of her complete lack of time for these self-absorbed rich people come roaring back, with some delightful new demonstrations like her utterly uninterested acting ability. She's the right character for pretty much every element of this situation, playing the perfect straight-man against the dueling dichotomy of all these diametrically-opposed doofs.

And it all ends in a cavalcade of comic call-back cleverness. Of course I was rolling with the revelation that the Zuka Club had played the Hosts in the long-run with a plot for Benio to pull an “It was me, Dio!” on Haruhi's lips. But the episode had already made a passing reference right at the beginning to Haruhi's actual first kiss, coming back at the end here for the revelation to ruin everyone's day. It's great because that second episode was such a singular, self-contained outing in the same style Ouran usually exercises, that I wasn't expecting it to be deployed for such a riotous call-back here. Ouran actually made full use of its ongoing continuity and development, and it did it purely for laughs. That earns high marks in my book.

So of course I had to settle down immediately after that one for a much more low-key, introspective outing revolving around the Hitachiin Twins, who have clearly emerged as Ouran High School Host Club's secondary male leads right after Tamaki. I'm not sure if this is a case of popularity at the time or just the author realizing how much potential there was in them as they were fleshed out, but their recurring usage can't be contested for how well they work. Also I just think it's rather novel that they're presented as the main alternative option from Tamaki in what gestures the series has made at a romantic plot for Haruhi, given that there are, well, two of them. It's something the story might have to actually explore as it goes further, but that's less relevant in this case since this episode is entirely flashback to middle school, before any of the boys even met Haruhi.

That said, episode 20 is still necessarily dealing with the twins' complicated relationship with outsiders and their own individuality. It feels like we've been flashing back to their formative years spent in their insular sibling relationship in snippets for the whole show, so to have an entire half-hour dedicated to seeing it in long form makes it clear how far we've come as much as the comedic continuity in the previous episode. What's made interestingly apparent this go-around is the idea that Hikaru and Kaoru do have some inkling of the necessity of understanding peoples' tics and habits, apart from the shortcomings on display in the date episode a few weeks back. Rather, their limitations come from their belief that they understand people on a broad, generalized level. They can always assume how others are going to react to their trollish twin-identity guessing game, and that prediction lends them a belief that those they're bullying inherently ‘deserve’ the cruelty they're doling out.

To some degree, I can actually see their reasoning here. It can paint others as shallow who try to get close to the brothers but barely make a token effort to know or even care about who's who. With that in mind, if the populace at large won't regard them individually, why should Hikaru and Kaoru do the same for them? The antagonistic aspect of it is them putting the onus on others to take the first gracious step. It places them again as opposites of Haruhi, who always pays attention to the individualities of others, regardless of the lot they've dealt her. The Hitachiins delight in manipulating people, but at this point they haven't realized that they can't control them. There will always be interlopers, like a criminal maid who beat the boys simply by refusing to play their game, or this goofy guy named Tamaki who approached them in middle school.

This episode also stakes out the dichotomy between Tamaki and the Hitachiins as clearly as the show possibly could: They are mean to people because they find it fun, while he chooses to help people for the same reason. It's a courtesy he's seemingly willing to extend even to the brothers themselves, and their challenge is immediately interesting to us because we know he succeeded in recruiting them into the Host Club in the present, so we want to see how Tamaki actually ‘solved’ their twin-test. There's a twist in that he actually wasn't able to conclusively tell them apart as we know Haruhi eventually will, but we see him winning them over by putting in the effort they think no one will: The repeated scenes of Tamaki declaring distinctions between them he's picked up on are made clear as an element that helped win the two over. He may not have succeeded himself, but like the maid getting one over on them, it made clear that there were actually different kinds of people out in the world, and they would miss out on connecting with them if they kept utilizing the same sweeping judgements.

You see what I mean about the writing realizing how much there is to explore with Hikaru and Kaoru? They provide a robust exploration of the dynamics of twins that I don't think I've seen quite like this in fiction. They aren't my favorite members of the cast or anything, but they've provided some of the most interesting, memorable episodes. There's an irony that these two trolls who would only keep people in their lives if they're interesting are themselves endeared to the audience by how compelling they are as characters. To the point that with them we were able to carry a whole episode that was almost entirely without Haruhi. In that respect, I guess it does play well right after an episode that showed why Haruhi was still Ouran's best overall asset. So perhaps this particular shot and chaser worked out pretty nicely after all.

Rating:

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


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