Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ouran High School Host Club Manga

Ouran High School Host Club Manga – Distributed by Shojo Beat (Viz Media)
Number of Volumes: 14 (still ongoing)
Genres: Comedy, Reverse harem, Romance, Cross-dressing
Written and Illustrated by Hatori Bisco

“At the private Ouran Institute lineage counts first, money a close second. The wealthy are blessed with idle hours and six handsome, especially idle students have formed a host club to entertain females also burdened by a surfeit of leisure time.” One day, however, the lower-middle class scholarship student, Haruhi Fujioka, accidentally appears and due to clumsiness incurs a debt of $80,000. In order to pay off the debt, Haruhi becomes “the natural host” among these beautiful, young, and disgustingly rich boys. What happens when they discover that Haruhi is, in fact, a girl?


This has become one of my latest obsessions. After watching the entire anime series, twice, I decided to pick up the original story by way of the manga. I am so glad I did! I have yet to devour a manga series as hungrily and as quickly as I have Ouran High School Host Club (Ouran, for short). Putting aside the somehow magnificent fan service for us girls, and the almost non-stop humour, it is just a great story! Love triangles, class rifts, teenage rivalries, and some of the most wonderful characters I’ve ever come across.

There are several elements that are required for a shojo story, and different approaches that can be made, depending upon the type of love story the author wants to write. The wonderful thing about Ouran is that it touches on so many of them that one can hardly limit it to the reverse-harem genre of Shojo, but also include BL (Boy’s Love), fish-out-of-water stories, pauper and the prince tales, numerous iterations of cross-dressing and queer identities… and the list goes on.

First and foremost, though, Ouran is a reverse-harem shojo manga. All the players are listed and accounted for, from the romantic prince to the cool and collected guy with glasses, the stoic strong wild type to the boy lolita who makes you want to pinch his cheeks. Of course let’s not forget the devilish twins who like to cause trouble, and the poor girl caught in the middle. In her own way, she fills the void as both the tragic hero telling tales of her late mother and as the unusual specimen of the common man.

For us girls (and those boys who appreciate boys like girls do) there is this wonderful in the anime/manga business called “fan service”. No, this is not where you use the book or DVD case as a fan, but rather where the artist decides to give the fans a little swoon-worthy material in the guise of shirtless, good-looking young men who aren’t overly muscular, and yet are still well defined. Granted, it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but for those who like it, Ouran has more than enough for any fan of the male figure! Hatori Bisco, in my personal opinion, is a very, very talented artist.

Even though the premise alone does not strike me as original, the treatment most certainly is. This shojo is both a tribute and a parody – a true homage to the reverse harem genre. It reminds of what Wes Craven did for screamer movies with his honestly satirical approach to the Scream trilogy. This approach is observed in several ways, the first of which being the breaking of the proverbial fourth wall. On occasion different characters will either comment on the “previous chapter” or how “something was written”, signifying the meta-fictional awareness. There are also several characters who address the audience directly in a similar fashion to Zach in Saved by the Bell or Ferris Beuller of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, the originator of the style. The second indicator that we are being treated to a satire is apparent in several chapters where an outside character will comment on the similarities between the situation and shojo manga. Finally, there is the presence of Renge, a female student who transfers to Ouran from France just to be closer to Kyoya. After forcing herself into a managerial role within the club we discover that she herself is an otaku – a rabid fan. Renge makes a point of finding whatever does not agree with the stereotype and “fixes” it, or at the very least points it out for the guys to try and correct themselves, often times to no avail.

Essentially, I love this story, and will be sad when it comes to a conclusion later on this year (Bisco Hatori Sensei has stated that she will be ending the series in the next couple of volumes). There is a character for each and every female fan to faun over, appreciate and admire. The situations these beautiful men find themselves in, along with their unwilling female partner, are both heart-warming and gut-splitting, showing off Bisco Sensei’s talent for writing such complex emotions into such stereotypical plotlines. My hat’s off to you, sensei!

Until next time, ja ne!