Ouran High School Host Club
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 25 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?
How would you rate episode 26 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?
I don't know much, but I've had this tab with Ouran High School Host Club's Wikipedia page open since I started the retro-review adventure of this modern classic, and even I can see that the manga ran past the anime for a good four years. So it always stood to reason that Ouran the anime would end on its own terms, not having the material to wrap up all the character and incremental story arcs it had so studiously adapted during its run. That's likely what contributed to so many beats feeling like they were just getting started, as things like the character drift of the Hitachiin twins would be just fine kicking off this deep in the story if the full thing was only one-third over. But seasons and production schedules were what they are even back in 2006, so Ouran the anime ends with these last two episodes, which resemble more of an attempt at an emotional resolution than something that could be called a wrap in any sort of plot terms.
A quick chapter-summary skim seems to reveal that this last two-part storyline was an anime-original ending concoction, as was the style at the time. It sticks out that way in many regards, having to up the stakes for the finish here, but also in seeming more ambitious for it. For one thing, this is one of the very few Ouran entries I've seen in this journey that actually attempts to juggle multiple plotlines. There's the central threatening thread of Tamaki getting engaged to the manipulative Eclair and preparing to disband the Host Club, of course, but it's backed up with a B-plot about Kyoya's father and the family company, with Haruhi's feelings on the matters running along it all. It does come off impressively complex by the standards of the more typical focused runs of Ouran stories. These various bits do come together in interesting ways by the time the whole thing wraps up, but also suggest why the show hasn't tried this kind of thing much before.
The need to keep all the involved characters in rotation and cut between their various parts in the plotlines makes Ouran come off much busier than it ever has. The series always had energy, especially in service of its comedic elements, but there was still a deliberate element to its pacing. For all my issues with the recurring element of overwrought setup segments in its stories, it provided the characters involved the space to really pause and meditate on what brought them to their situations and the choices they had to make. Here, everyone seems to be making snap-decisions, especially as the show's time-slotted deadline barrels towards us and the characters realize they've barely got ten minutes of show left to chase down Tamaki and reverse his poorly-informed choices powering all this drama.
It's those structural issues plus the characteristic conceits central to this finale that make it a rougher carriage-ride than I was expecting, but there was quite a bit I liked here. Kyoya's been steadily working his way up in charm and appeal after a rough introduction earlier in the series. He comes off exceptionally entertaining for his part in this wrap-up, especially with his jerkwad father appearing in-person to really make him look better by comparison (speaking of the timing of things in these episodes, Ootori-Papa's slap of Tamaki hits so suddenly out of nowhere that it pointedly gave me whiplash). And some of the final character arc elements these episodes get to reflect on are compelling: Tamaki needing to choose between his found family or his obligation to his ‘standing’ with his biological family, or the question of whether Haruhi was so compelled by her time in the Host Club that she'd choose to stay with them even if her debt were suddenly repaid. The series has always traded on demonstrating the fondness all these characters have for each other, and how they express it, so putting it all to clear tests like this makes sense as a final emotional gauntlet for them to run through.
But as I said, the core conceit of that test is where I take issue. For as effectively as Ouran outlines the parental figures in the kids' lives as overarching antagonists, with special shout-out to Tamaki's absolute ghoul of a grandmother, the focal conflict is instead centered around the brand-new character of Eclair. My problem is that for as much of the climactic events of these episodes are laid at her feet, Eclair really doesn't do much. Even with the background we're given, her manipulation of Tamaki into leaving comes off way too simple and easy, and then she merely spends a few token scenes acting cruel to him, Haruhi, and Kyoya so we know how villainous she is. It's remarkably shallow for a show that had been as reflective as I mentioned before, and leaves the series shockingly low on complexity for its finish beyond overcoming the whims of this obvious villain they've dropped in for the finale.
My other major issue with Eclair's driving of the plot is how the writers use her to reframe Tamaki and Haruhi's relationship for this last go-around. Prior to this was the predominant question of whether Haruhi and Tamaki even recognized that they had any romantic interest in each other, complicated by others like Hikaru and Kaoru having their own increasingly-tangled relationship designs on Haruhi. It was, in my opinion, a unique take on the typical shoujo-centric love polygon that made strong use of its uniquely-identified characters and easier pacing. Eclair ‘stealing’ Tamaki away here instead pivots things to a Tamaki-focused love triangle between Haruhi and this new girl, complete with ‘jealousy’ arising in Haruhi that doesn't really jibe with how she's regarded any of the characters regardless of how much romantic tension has been fostered between them. The show actually seems to tease the question of whether someone like Tamaki must be romantically invested in a relationship for it to be deemed important, ostensibly setting its sights on his simpler fondness for Haruhi. But by the end, the implication is that Haruhi had to be the one to pull Tamaki from his imminent departure because the two of them always realized their relationship was just that special. It undercuts a lot of the complex ambiguities I'd liked about Ouran, arriving at something much more the norm than I would have expected from the series.
That's a lot of complaining from me about a story that was summarily ‘fine’, just not really effective in what I'd expect from an Ouran finale. Going in, I anticipated not getting closure of any sort on a lot of the character details that had been built up, or even a true ‘endgame’ as far as the teased-out relationships are concerned (and for all of Haruhi and Tamaki's arm-outstretched leaps of faith towards each other, know there's still nothing concretely confirmed there). But I guess I was at least expecting for Ouran to go out feeling like itself, instead of rushing headlong into an attempt at a big romance-anime finish. I suppose the silver lining here is that the rest of the series can happily be enjoyed as its own sequence of independent entries, spiritually continuing as the story does. And there's always the manga to check out if I so decide. Perhaps that was my main problem after all – that I'd been having such a pleasant time with Ouran that I didn't feel like it needed to ‘end’ in any way.
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