Ouran High School Host Club is a shojo manga series that both embraces and pokes fun at the storytelling conventions that diehard manga readers have come to know, love, and occasionally mock. The protagonist, Haruhi Fujioka, is a poor but brilliant scholarship student attending the posh Ouran Academy. Haruhi is so blasé about her appearance that she doesn’t bother to purchase a girl’s uniform, and is thus generally mistaken for a boy. When she accidentally breaks a costly vase belonging to the Host Club, the school’s most elite and eccentric school club, she’s forced to repay her debt by becoming a member–first by working as the club’s gopher, and later by becoming a full-fledged host. Surrounded by bishonen with lots of wealth and little common sense, Haruhi discovers first-hand how the other half lives.In early volumes, the clever use of shojo manga tropes is what made this series worth reading. Creator Bisco Hatori caters to her readers just as much as the Host Club caters to its paying customers. Just as there’s a host for every taste, there’s a shojo manga convention for every reader, such as “brotherly love,” megane, dating sims, cosplay, crossdressing, school festivals and trips, and bishonen galore. At the same time, Hatori’s use of these tropes is always sly. By taking these familiar plot devices to ridiculous extremes, Hatori creates incredibly funny situations where sensible Haruhi is inevitably the straight man to her fellow hosts’ bizarre antics.
This meta-commentary on shojo manga is very entertaining, but it’s also the sort of joke that can quickly get old. Fortunately, Hatori eventually gives readers other reasons to stick around. In particular, the other club members have slowly become more than one-note jokes, and by this point of the series they’ve developed into complex characters that readers can really care about. In volumes 9 and 10, the two characters who really shine are the Hitachin twins, Hikaru and Kaoru. Although the twins’ tricks generally revolve around other characters’ inability to tell them apart, Hatori has made it clear from the beginning that they aren’t interchangeable: they are distinct characters with their own personalities and wants. Volume 9 gives readers insight into the twins’ past by showing how they met Tamaki, while volume 10 shows how their feelings for Haruhi are causing complications in the present.
The other highlight of these two volumes is the introduction of a new recurring character who, for once, is not a bishonen. Mei is the rebellious daughter of a Fujioka family friend, and her entry in Haruhi’s circle of acquaintances provides plenty of fresh opportunities for the host club to be their usual ridiculous selves.
These two volumes come with the usual assortment of extras, some of which are more entertaining than others. “Love Egoist,” a short story included in volume 9, is nothing special, but Hatori’s sidebar comments are quite funny and occasionally enlightening. (Ever wonder how to tell Hikaru and Kaoru apart? If so, don’t miss Hatori’s instructions in volume 10!) The pictures of Ouran characters by other manga creators (including Matsuri Hino of Vampire Knight fame) are also nice treats for fans.
In conclusion, it’s encouraging to see how this series is only becoming more and more interesting as it goes on. The series is just as funny as it always has been, but now it’s also occasionally moving. I look forward to seeing how the storylines–especially those involving Haruhi, Hikaru, Kaoru, and Tamaki–develop in future volumes. Highly recommended.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com