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Old 11-22-2008, 05:01 PM
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Default Ouran High School Host Club: Season One Part One

The cover art on the Ouran Host Club box set makes it look like disgustingly cutesy gay-slash-fiction fodder, and up to a point that's a fair enough assumption. On one level, this is just another show about impossibly cute cartoon boys and their adventures in sexual ambiguity.

On another level, though, the series and its characters are completely aware of what's happening on that first level there. This is a silly prettyboy show, but it's also about silly prettyboy shows, and that self-awareness makes all the difference. Host Club gets a lot of mileage out of poking fun at itself, and it has a few laughs at the expense of its intended audience, too, an audience that most of the male anime fans out there would agree is just crying out loud to be made fun of.

Lest this give the impression that Host Club is some kind of complicated exercise in genre deconstruction, though, as often as not it doesn't have any agenda at all. It's just an uncommonly smart comedy, and considering how stupid anime comedy tends to be, it's a breath of fresh air all 'round.

Haruhi Fujioka is the lone scholarship student at Ouran Academy, a baroque parody of a private school for the hyper-mega-rich. Like any quasi-Japanese high school, it has a bunch of extra-curricular clubs, and foremost among them is the Host Club, where half a dozen impossibly beautiful boys amuse themselves by drowning in the adoration of their female admirers.

Through plot machinations so telegraphed that the show actually squeezes a gag out of how telegraphed they are, Haruhi becomes the newest recruit in the club. Haruhi's social status doesn't create too many problems there, but as the careful avoidance of gendered pronouns up to this point might suggest, the fact that she's a girl definitely does.

Obviously, we're starting with a premise that combines a couple of well-worn anime plot hooks. There's the fish-out-of-water, plus the fish-out-of-gender, since Haruhi has to masquerade as a boy while she's on hosting duty. The show isn't perfect on the predictability front, either – a couple of the weaker episodes on this set tend to be dominated by cheesy, obvious gender-switching gags. For the most part, though, Host Club has enough layers to entertain a much bigger audience than you'd necessarily think.

For the Fruits Basket crowd, the boys are beautifully drawn, and there's one for every possible taste. Tamaki Suou is blond and effusive; Takashi Morinozuka is tall, dark, and reserved; the Hitachiin twins do a smirking bad-boy double act; Mitsukuni Haninozuka, or "Honey" for short, plays up his cute munchkin looks for the shotacon crowd. (If you have to ask what "shotacon" means, don't, and be grateful.) The show's animators took Bisco Hatori's relatively generic-looking manga characters and boiled them down to simpler, more versatile designs. They're still detailed when they need to be, and still impossibly pretty, but they have a lot more energy now that there's less hanging off them.

Besides being well-drawn, though, the characters are surprisingly well-written. Lots of anime heroes and heroines claim to be smart, after all, but Haruhi is actually written smart and acts smart – she's a bright, self-sufficient kid with some solid common sense, amd she isn't afraid to tell her supposed social betters exactly what she thinks.

The boys, meanwhile, are recognizable types at first, but that's because the characters themselves are intentionally playing those types for the crowd. Except for Tamaki, who is so brilliantly stupid that he lives his gimmick from dawn to dusk, they've all got a little something going on behind the charming faηade. The twins, for instance, know exactly what they're doing when they lay on the "brotherly love" extra-thick, and it's doubly funny when you realize they're playing up an angle for the girls watching the show at the same time.

That's what gives Host Club legs in the end. It's built around characters as much as screwball situations, and it rarely sticks to playing on one level when it can work as well on two or three. There's still a ton of screwballery – episode four is probably the best on that front, when the club is taken over by a mad fangirl manager who wants to remake the boys in a more angst-ridden image – but the personalities still drive the plot, not the other way around, and the jokes are usually funny in more ways than one.

The whole show works in more ways than one, which is why it's worth taking a chance on. Even if it doesn't seem quite like your thing, the odds are good that Ouran Host Club will find a way to surprise you.
Presentation and Video

This set delivers 13 episodes, half of the complete series, presented in their original 4:3 broadcast aspect ratio, Bones having chosen not to produce this one in widescreen. That's a lot to cram on two discs, even if they're dual-layer, but the video quality doesn't suffer perceptibly. The transfer maintains a neat balance between the show's sharp black outlines and otherwise light, pale color palette, and the video gets enough bits to prevent any obvious compression artifacts from spoiling the picture.

Score: 7 out of 10

Languages and Audio

This isn't a show with a lot of conventional violent action, but the orchestral soundtrack and several moments of especially noisy confusion are well-served by the two-channel stereo mix, on both the English and Japanese voice tracks. The English dub sounds quite good, too – on the commentary track, several of the actors say they were big fans of the show even before they wound up working on it, and you can feel a lot of enthusiasm for the material in the performances. Caitlin Glass, who also served as ADR director for the entire series, delivers an especially effective performance in a tricky role as Haruhi.

The Japanese cast, though, is one of the best you'll ever hear. Mamoru Miyano plays Tamaki in hilariously frantic scenery-chewing mode (although it has to be said that Vic Mignogna is right up there with him on the English track), while Maaya Sakamoto voices Haruhi with the perfect mix of optimism and sarcastic deadpan, and the rest of the boys are similarly well-cast. Takehito Koyasu, representing an earlier generation of voice actors, is probably the standout of the recurring characters – he has a couple of hysterical guest appearances as Haruhi's drag-queen bar-"girl" father. On the whole, it's a great example of how effective good performances can be, even if you need subtitles to understand the details.

In the neither-here-nor-there department, Funimation chose to re-dub the opening and ending themes with new English lyrics. The new versions are fairly close in meaning to the originals, with just enough changed to make them scan and rhyme properly, and the new vocalists sound a lot like the Japanese singers as well. This would have been a problem if the English versions actually replaced the originals, but they don't – the re-dubbed songs appear on the English voice track, while the Japanese versions bookend the episodes on the Japanese voice track. So why bother recording new versions of the songs? Only Funimation knows.

Score: 8 out of 10

Packaging and Extras

Like most of Funimation's recent 13-episode sets, the first half of Host Club fits in two slim plastic keepcases that in turn slide inside a narrow slipcase. It's a very compact package, but it still looks pretty nice – the two keepcases have reversible covers with some great-looking portraits of the main characters.

On the two discs, we get the following extras:

  • Actor commentaries (on three episodes
  • Manga pages
  • Outtakes
  • Textless songs
  • Trailers
Funimation's actors picked three very good episodes for commentary – aside from the first episode, there are commentary tracks on episode four (introducing maddened yaoi fangirl Renge Kamishakuhi) and episode five (the first spotlight on the Hitachiin brothers). Caitlin Glass is on all three tracks, with Vic Mignogna (Tamaki) on episode one; J. Michael Tatum (Kyouya) and Monica Rial (English scriptwriter and the voice of Renge) join her on episode four; Greg Ayres (Kaoru) and Todd Haberkorn (Hikaru) appropriately fill out the track on episode five.

Besides those three commentaries, the discs don't leave much room for any especially beefy extras. The dubbing outtakes are very funny, though, and the manga excerpts make an interesting comparison to the show – it's interesting to look at how Bones reshaped the visual style of the series for its adaptation.

Score: 6 out of 10

Bottom Line

Yes, it's preposterously pink (literally and figuratively, depending on how you look at it). To belabor the point one more time, though, there's a lot more to Host Club than that, and it's worth giving the show a try to see everything it has to offer. Some folks may still be turned off by the total pastel overload, and that's fine, but at least take a look past the cover before you pass this one by.
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Old 02-01-2012, 02:03 PM
SteavenMac SteavenMac is offline
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Host Club gets a lot of breadth out of dabbling fun at itself, and it has a few action at the amount of its advised audience, too, an admirers that a lot of of the macho anime admirers out there would accede is just arrant out loud to be fabricated fun of.
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