Ouran High School Host Club
Episodes 7-8

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 7 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?

How would you rate episode 8 of
Ouran High School Host Club ?

I like when shows like Ouran High School Host Club, which revel in playing with their stock genre setups, arrive at the ‘obligatory’ swimsuit episode, since I get to revel right back by calling attention to it. So what better joy can there be here for me than Ouran actually having two swimsuit episodes, in a row, which line up directly with this week's review block? At last, the multi-episode synergy benefits the analysis of the reviewer! What's that, they're actually wildly different from each other in intent and tone? I'm ruined!

Seriously though, that just means there's plenty to ruminate on across both these episodes despite their superficially similar subject matter. Episode 7 sees the Host Club take a day off for themselves to relax at a cutting-edge resort waterpark, owned by Kyoya's family in one of several links these episodes do share. They go for the most obvious gag fuel first: the Hitachiin twins conspiring to try to get Haruhi into a feminine swimsuit, and Tamaki interfering as his own conflicted feelings on the matter manifest. Since their turn a couple episodes ago made clear the bros might have more serious romantic designs on Haruhi apart from their usual playful flirting, it seems Tamaki has adjusted to regarding them as an actual threat to his own intentions. Oddly, this makes him come across as more sincerely protective of Haruhi from their overt lascivious intent, though his newfound couching of such concerns in acting as her ‘Daddy’ is more than a little off-putting in its own way. It's still funny, because Mamoru Miyano doing anything this ridiculous is always funny and Tamaki continues to not be taken seriously at all. But it still does so in that mid-2000's shoujo way that makes me side-eye how far some of these jokes might go.

Tamaki's not the main event though, as this is ostensibly a focal episode for Honey and Mori, the two club members still pending any development at all. And this episode actually delivers on that need in pretty much the best ways I could have asked it to. Honey has been a complete enigma to me, as I question how much of his childlike persona is as much of a projection as the other boys' character types, obfuscated as it is by the vagueness of his actual age. But the same kinds of depths behind his presentation start coming to the surface here, indicating that he's well aware of his own cute kid nature and how to play it up, and showing that he's very capable of taking care of himself. Mori, for his part, gets some decent development vis-à-vis his loyalty to Honey and how the other characters explain it.

I'm honestly not 100% down with the supposed explanation that Mori is obligatorily deferential to Honey due to his family's past of servitude, but at least Haruhi seems to agree with me on that one. That makes it somewhat sweeter when he assists Haruhi out of what seems to be the same kind of generalized loyalty to his friends. So there's a lot of digging still to be done on Mori's character, but Honey's childlike earnestness still seems to come through in a real way. Despite some odder ins and outs detailing his and Mori's relationship, I dug his appreciable demeanor towards his much taller friend. Honey is a good example of why I've been hoping so hard that Ouran would add more nuance and layers to its characters, since that gives me more reasons to enjoy watching them. Plus there's a scene this episode where Honey single-handedly beats up a bunch of cops. So I might have a new favorite.

The implications of Ouran's relationship developments are decidedly messier to parse in the eighth episode, which takes a suggestion by Haruhi from that previous one and runs with it all the way to a real beach (also owned by Kyoya). This one also sees the club actually performing their hostly duties while lounging around in swimwear, and it's always a delight to be reminded of Haruhi's complete inability to turn her natural swag off. That does dovetail into the overarching conflict this episode, beginning with the boys trying to discover if the perpetually-unflappable Haruhi actually has anything that can distress her, and halfway through turns to... them scolding Haruhi for forgetting the inherent weaknesses she has as a female? Oy.

The one pass I can give Ouran on this plotline is I can't be certain the narrative itself is admonishing Haruhi or if it's just a way to put the guys' regressive views on display. We're still in the single-digit episodes after all, and this series has been nothing but clear about how glacially its character development is actually going to occur. Yet there's a thread of understanding their worries, regardless, in how the story is told, as Haruhi's badass moment of rushing in to save some Host Club guest girls from drunken molesters is kneecapped by her struggling against them and comments about her lack of musculature. A gag series like this, especially one that's already played plenty with the ideas of gender presentation, is kind of the last place I was expecting a cheap intonation of the supposed immutable differences between sexes. Half an hour ago I watched a three-foot-tall kid kick the crap out of a SWAT team, and here everyone's admonishing Haruhi because there's no way a girl could win a fight? I don't buy it.

It doesn't help that the storyline causes dudes like Honey or the twins to start guilting Haruhi like callous jerks, or, in the case of Kyoya, swerve straight into Shoujo dangerous-bad-boy mode. His momentary assault of Haruhi is some serious whiplash in a show that previously never approached that level of seriousness. It does get walked back in a way that effectively reminds us of Haruhi's true strength in being able to genuinely read people, making clear to us anyway that her rushing in was not about ignoring the worries of the Host Club but instead a sign of her trust in them. And I can't argue with this series injecting more drama into characters when I've spent so much time asking for it; indeed, I'm more interested in what's actually making Kyoya tick than I ever have been. But it might have been too much too soon in an episode that was already pushing how it treated Haruhi.

What I can praise episode 8 on is its last-minute development of Tamaki, who not only owns up to being wrong about any gender limitations he accused Haruhi of, but acknowledges the singular life she's lived until now as the real explanation for her attitude and interactions with the group. It's an impressive moment of growth because we can see him starting to interface with Haruhi's philosophy of understanding people as individuals apart from any socially-constructed signifiers. If Ouran is going to attempt a serious romantic thread before its end, then Tamaki's always been the obvious choice for the endgame just going off all his promotional positioning. But this moment between him and Haruhi at the end of this episode was the first place I got the feeling such a thing might actually work. Far from hinting at the potential for character development, this gave me hope for how much the show could pull it off. Plus, it still showed off its comic chops at this early stage by undercutting things and making Tamaki look like a doofus. I could watch them dunk on that guy all day.

So we get an episode with Ouran's comedic ability still on fine display, which throws in some solid character work for the last two main boys that needed it. But then it attempts more nuanced analysis that may not be ready for prime-time at this moment. I can't fault the show for being ambitious, but it's frustrating when those ambitions lead it down a path that undercuts the strengths I so enjoyed about it until now. Trying to put its cast through an emotional wringer while still having silly snake jokes and crab puns perhaps shows a skewing of priorities so early in the series as we are.

Rating:

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


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