Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Ouran High School Host Club, vol. 1
The story: Haruhi is a scholarship student at the ubër-prestigious, private Ouran Institute. One day, while looking for a quiet place to study, she stumbles into a very special club of the school's best, and handsomest, male students. Amazingly, it's modeled after a host club, where young, handsome men entertain women! When Haruhi breaks an expensive vase, she finds herself indebted to the club. To pay back them back, the club members -- who are yet to recognize the androgynous Haruhi as a girl -- force her to become a host. What hijinks will ensue and can Haruhi endear herself to the club enough to get rid of her debt?
Reaction: What's not to love about this slapstick comedy that has the chutzpah to send up some of the best shojo manga tropes? There's a host club member for every fetish -- whether it's shotacon, twincest or the exotically handsome type -- and Haruhi is the perfect straight man for all the other characters, especially since she's just a "lowly commoner." I also liked the other students involved in the story. From an arranged marriage to a fangirl, the side characters bring some much-needed variety to what could easily devolve into a simple gag comedy.
Deep thoughts: In this volume, there's an arranged marriage between two Ouran students. While this is a traditional practice in other countries, it is unheard of in mainstream American culture. While the divorce rate in the U.S. is 50 percent (the highest in the world, I believe), arranged marriages have a lower divorce rate. Whether this is due to commitment to an arranged marriage as opposed to "love matches," or if divorce is simply not considered an option, is still uncertain and merits further research.
Artwork: Since this manga is a satire of all things shojo, the art definitely reflects that. From abundant screentone use to panels with flowers bursting at the seams, there's a lot of the visual trademarks of the girly genre. There's also plenty of blushing cheeks, chibis, doe-eyed looks and extreme close-ups. Thankfully, it's not all pretty boys and girls; Bisco Hatori also does a great job with the many costume designs and the elaborate setting of the private high school.
The verdict: Required reading. This is one of the best shojo series out there, with its entertaining plot and character dynamics. Bisco Hatori really outdoes herself here with a tongue-in-cheek satire of the genre, while still entertaining its committed fans. If you only ever read one high school shojo manga, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining read than this one. Ouran High School Host Club is available in the U.S. from Viz.