Ouran High School Host Club
Episodes 3-4

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 3 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?

How would you rate episode 4 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?

Apart from the melodrama of its shoujo forebears it's skewering, Ouran High School Host Club still seems to be content in these early episodes to continue just being a silly sitcom. Igniting the romance of the arranged marriage back in episode 2 was probably as genuine as I've seen the show so far, with both the third and fourth episode I watched this week seemingly going out of their way to subvert any possibility of seriousness. It does raise the question of how much substance Ouran will actually have by the end of it, especially as it does make motions towards more impactful subjects. But these episodes also lay out pretty compelling arguments for why the show shouldn't get too serious too soon. And I'm happy to go along with that since, for the most part, these ones are also pretty dang funny.

Episode 3 centers on Ouran High's upcoming physical exam and how that might interfere with Haruhi presenting as a boy to work off that debt to the Host Club. This one actually delves less into gender discourse than I had expected, mostly using it as a vehicle for gags. Haruhi herself is actually completely unconcerned with being ‘outed’, thinking this may be a low-effort way of cutting herself loose from the Host Club. The boys, for their part, currently seem to have a weird fixation on Haruhi as the sole (technical) girl in their circle, attaching a novel status to her ‘secret’ and deciding to protect it based on that logic. In particular, this episode and the next make clear that Tamaki is already interested in Haruhi in a romantic manner, kicking off an underlyind subplot about him hoping to convert her to a more feminine presentation and unlock the secret love she no doubt feels for him.

It's honestly all pretty sketchy, especially with regards to Tamaki, but it actually works as a humor vehicle because we see that Haruhi really has absolutely no interest in such elements. Like the theme song says, "Whether I'm a lady or a host, it doesn't matter to me," and she actually seems to believe that the others have the same mercenary approach to gender presentation that she does. They eventually convince her to keep up the host thing in exchange for fancy food.

The section of the episode actually dealing with the exam works pretty well, antics-wise. I got good chuckles out of gags like the gaggle of thirsty girls hoping to catch sight of a shirtless Haruhi or Tamaki absolutely owning himself with his attempted Haruhi cosplay. Said thirsty fangirls actually provoke some interesting remarks from Haruhi, that she feels like she's disconnected and can't relate to girls like that, a similar sentiment she's expressed to the boys she normally associates with. That rounds right back to her philosophy of not basing her identity on gender, but will also lead to some points brought up in the next episode. Unfortunately, while that's all decently fun, this episode gets weirdly derailed towards the end by bringing in the shaggy dog story of some random failure doctor showing up at the school accidentally. There's not much point to the bit beyond providing motivation for a more dramatic showing of how far the Hosts will go to protect Haruhi, as well as some vague insinuations that Tamaki may have some family drama lurking in his own backstory.

The fourth episode, meanwhile, starts bringing in the idea of introducing new cast members, and having some focus on the characters it already has who aren't Haruhi. Wacky new club manager Renge has some pretty funny moments in her introduction, and her status as a media-aware Otome game otaku lets the show pile on layers of genre commentary beyond what it was already doing. It's interesting that she's specifically infatuated with a stock character archetype, something the whole club plays up to some degree, with her targeted crush Kyoya probably being the one who is playing a character the least. This crew subsists on superficial attraction, but part of this episode's thesis seems to be that you can have too much of a good thing. The wildest part is that Renge seems to understand on some level that the guys are only playing at these archetypes, and even sets to ‘retool’ them in more melodramatic ways. However she's so steeped in her fantasy that she's aghast when her beloved Kyoya doesn't act entirely in line with her expectations for his character, prompting a reiteration of the show's “You can't judge people by their appearances” moral.

An odd element of Renge as the show's first unreservedly female main character, as well as Haruhi's remarks about those girls in the previous episode, is that Ouran comes off in places like it's trying to be the “Not like other girls” of shoujo anime. Apart from a few allusions to deeper backstories for its characters, it repeatedly shrugs off any idea of serious romance contending with all those bubbly backgrounds and audible doki-dokis. Ouran's founding concept is its satire, yes, but that commitment to going for gags rather than girly stuff-like feelings means it shortchanges itself on a deeper exploration of its characters and concepts. Despite the ostensible focus on him in Renge's introductory plot this episode, we actually don't learn much about Kyoya here beyond “He can be scarily pragmatic." There's an irony to the show's declaration that judging people based on stereotypes is wrong, when we still haven't learned much about these people aside from the stereotypes they're ostensibly making fun of. It is possible to be funny and insightful at the same time, but so far Ouran mostly seems concerned with being the former.

To its credit though, it is pretty funny. That fourth episode in particular has some absolutely screaming moments, and Renge seems like an amusing addition to the cast, at least. And it makes a strong argument for keeping things light for now within its own text; Haruhi posits that getting to know people slowly, little by little, is preferable to just dumping all their depths out at once. I'll hold Ouran to that for now, that it can at least keep up this level of comic momentum while drip-feeding more compelling concepts.

Rating:

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


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