Starting today, you are a host! Those with the wherewithal--first, in social standing, and second, in money--spend their time here, at the private Ouran Academy. As such, ouran host club is where handsome boys with too much time on their hands entertain and charm girls, who also have too much time on their hands. It is the school's own personal, elegant playground for the super rich.
Talk about a show coming out of nowhere, catching you off guard, and bucking any expectations. I knew little to nothing of 'Ouran High School Host Club' when the assignment fell into my lap. The cutesy artwork on the discs, as well as the packaging and synopsis details, led me to believe that this was most certainly not an anime aimed at male audiences, and the very first words greeting me to the show were the theme song blaring "Kiss, kiss, fall in love!" So...yeah... Sure, I've seen a few non-mecha, non-gun-fu Japanese animation series in my time, it's just...well, they're usually not explode-y enough for my tastes, and often times, they are so entrenched in cultural nuances that a foreigner to the ideals on display will miss the layers of depth on display...when they're not just cutesy, pandering piles of...
Anyways...this is one of those times where judging a book by its cover will only lead one to miss out on one of the better anime series available on Blu-ray. I cannot begin to say how far off my expectations were from the realized stories and characters on display in this show, which can easily hold the male attention, despite the occasional seriously disturbing moment. 'Ouran High School Host Club' seems like a show aimed at the teenage Japanese demographic, playing on the themes of tradition, family, friendship, and class distinction (and a whole lotta' privilege!), but I can certainly see adults falling for the manner in which the tale unfolds, as the diversity of characters and stories involved create many relatable scenarios.
Adapted from the manga series created by Bisco Hatori in the 'Lala' magazine, 'Ouran High School Host Club' follows the (mis)adventures of Haruhi Fujioka, who is thrust into an un-winnable situation due to the accidental destruction of an extremely expensive vase. Haruhi's choices are to pay off the over eight million yen price tag that the relic would have fetched at auction, an impossible task due to her commoner status, or pay off the debt by working for the host club, a group of male students using their good looks and charm to put the privileged ladies of Ouran Academy into a stupor. The twist, though, is that Haruhi is no male, but she's going to have to pretend to be. As the debt is slowly cleared, it becomes clear that there's more to the host club than just throwing lavish parties and stroking one's own ego, as the group of eccentric future economic leaders are the closest thing to resembling a family that they have.
It has been a long, long time since I found an anime truly hilarious, and in all honesty, this may be the first time where said humor didn't disappear into a painful mess around the halfway mark. 'Ouran' is just so utterly bizarre that it doesn't even necessarily have to try to be funny, rather, it just goes for the odder and odder random moments that work far more often than they miss.
The biggest plot, naturally, is of romance, as Haruhi is constantly courted by the host club leader Tamaki Suoh, the unbelievably uncouth big brother/father of the organization. The thing is, the twins, Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin also seem to have a liking for the commoner girl, and the occasional bit character finds himself falling for her hidden feminine charms, as well, at times even luring them unknowingly when they don't know she's a girl, presenting internal conflict in her suitors. In taking the job of entertaining others in such a manner, it sets up natural jealousies and competitions for her affections, despite the fact she hasn't ever expressed any interest in partaking in such a matter with her employers. For the majority of the show, we get the feeling we see so often in sitcoms, where the lead female and either the lead or secondary male actors court each other, yet their awkward advances often lead to them pursuing other interests, leaving the audience to pull for the "obvious" perfect relationship that buds and formulates in a forbidden fashion.
There's more to 'Ouran' than just lampooning shows of its ilk (and it does, often) and playing a love story, as the diverse cast of the host club all have their unique roles, personalities, and expectations that create who and what they are. From the intellectual and business-based leadership from vice president Kyoya Ootori, to the odd pair of martial arts cousins with completely contrasting personalities (the small in stature yet big on personality, outgoing and cake loving Mitsukuni "Honey" Haninozuka, and the muscular, silent type Takashi "Mori" Morinozuka), the oblivious pretty boy leader, and the twin-cest duo (whose displays of brotherly love obliterate "the line," as it were), to the sweet, innocent, fish out of water Haruhi, there's something for everyone, male, female, young or old, in the main characters. These young children of power and wealth have such great expectations on their shoulders, but you rarely see it bother them, as they want to just have fun in one of their last windows to do so before adulthood.
It is odd, watching a Japanese show about being in high school, without any real focus on schoolwork, determination on succeeding, or studying, considering the educational climate and pressure there, but 'Ouran' is an escape, for viewers and characters alike. It takes twenty four episodes before we get any real conflict requiring resolution, as each and every minor obstacle found in earlier episodes is like a minor drama, that help us shape who and what the characters are, and they're beyond rich, as the show does nothing but establish their various quirks and mentalities. It's really a fun character study, cliche as the characters may be, and as predictable as episodes may be (as the show realizes it gives each character their very own episode at some point). We get the introvert thrust unwillingly into the world of extroverts and borderline perverts, and we get to see how she changes her personality and herself due to what she has learned and experienced. It's really quite fulfilling, despite the randomness of the show up until the climax, which has a dramatic tone change, but still works.
'Ouran High School Host Club' is the kind of show likely to draw raised eyebrows and befuddled looks as often as it is a hearty guffaw. It's weird, there's no arguing that. But sometimes, it takes being weird to truly be great. From the opening episode, where lightbulbs are lit as each host club member learns Haruhi's secret, we get a very random sense of self-awareness, with a show that constantly references itself (mentioning previous episodes, for example, breaking the fourth wall). The windows that pop up expressing random emotions characters are feeling are beyond funny (think 'Annie Hall,' in a sense), while the constant ability to slip on a banana peel, no matter where, is just so left field that it easily helps induce chuckles. There are a few really bad episodes, but then there are some (like 'A Day in the Life of the Fujioka Family!,' which deals with the prejudices the rich kids have towards Haruhi's upbringing, and the mother of all shockers, concerning her father) that are so far beyond hilarious that they have to be seen to believed.
Odd as it may look, I cannot begin to express how much I would recommend you to take a walk to the abandoned Music Room #3 to partake in the curiosities and hilarity that is to be found in the 'Ouran High School Host Club.' Anime conventions are turned on their ear, as characters so brazenly defy logic with their random inanities that it's impossible to not be sucked in, even if only to see what bizarre scenario will unfold next. The payoff is huge, the risk is low. Simply put, 'Ouran' has to be seen to be believed.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Ouran High School Host Club' arrives on Blu-ray spread across three BD50 Dual Layer discs, that are Region A/B encoded. Each disc has a single trailer in front of it that cannot be skipped with the next chapter button (but top menu does bypass them). Since the screeners provided for this title were disc only, and I have yet to see a store locally stock this title, I cannot comment on the packaging, other than to say the pictures make it look really, really pink. At the end of each disc, there's a five to ten second screen showing disc authoring credits.
"You're even cuter than the rumors!"
Presented in 1080p with an AVC MPEG-4 encode (in the old-fashioned "full screen" ratio of 1.33:1), 'Ouran High School Host Club' may be an upconvert, but it may very well be the best damn upconvert FUNimation has created. Sure, this may dismay 'Samurai Champloo' fans even more, as this effort would have made that release a must own, but who are we to complain when signs of progress in the right direction are staring us right in the face for 26 episodes straight.
'Ouran' may be a traditionally animated (no blatant CG, though it is mentioned in the credits) show, but it has the pop normally reserved for the best computer created films that have hit Blu-ray. Colors are amazing and bold, with the most fulfilled and realized reds and blues I've seen from this studio ('Evangelion' withstanding). Saturation and clarity are just remarkable. Transitions in colors are often indistinguishable, the palette is diverse in nearly every moment, and there's nary a single color that has any problems reaching out and blossoming before our very eyes. The natural aesthetic of the show has some occasional light ringing and bleed, but it is minimal.
All that said, this isn't a perfect release, step up that it is. There is the tiniest hint of artifacting, while horizontal lines and fluttering banding can be found almost every time we see the blue Academy uniforms. Blacks are very meager, and suffer from the same horizontal lines and gradients that the uniforms do. Subtitles (for those watching in Japanese) have a tiny bit of jaggedness that can be hard to ignore at times. Still, this one is top notch, and deserves great praise. 'Ouran High School Host Club' may be the best looking full-length anime put out by FUNimation, period.
There are two audio options for 'Ouran High School Host Club,' and neither is likely to draw all that much good will looking from the outside in, as both the Japanese track and the English dub are given Dolby TrueHD 2.0 mixes (with the only subtitle option being English). That said, not only does this show not need a widespread, room filling audio mix, but it somewhat thrives on what little is expected from this little train that could.
There are few differences between the two language tracks, other than the obvious voice acting discrepancies, and the fact that viewers will have their own opinions on which is preferable. Funnily enough, the biggest difference has to be the fact that the opening and closing songs for the entire show are dubbed into English if one views the program on the defaulted dub mix, a gesture not shown too often. Both tracks have the same great bass in the opening song, that disappears as soon as the program starts, but a different kind of atmosphere is required to sell the show, and, honestly, the theme songs aren't very befitting of the show.
Dialogue is always crystal clear, without any whirs or hums, no distortion, no problems standing out in front of some busy rooms or louder soundtrack moments, and a nice little bit of range on display, particularly for some of Honey's screeches that can literally pierce the ears. The show has a somewhat soft, cotton candy-like presence in the speakers, as sounds somewhat float through, instead of pound their points home. It can be odd being in absolutely crowded rooms and not getting all that much atmosphere, but this is just one of those times where actual vs potential are little more than conjecture. I cannot help but note that I found both mixes equal in every manner, except for the obvious sync issues on dialogue in the dub (and at times, they are way, way off), and that viewing this show in either language is likely to have a nice surprise waiting for those readily dismissing it for its lack of a lossless 5.1 mix. This one's a sleeper. You go in expecting so little, and pow, right in the kisser.
This is not a release with just a single extra or two, as FUNimation has given 'Ouran High School Host Club' a few choice goodies on the side. While the commentaries are found on each disc, the remainder of the extras are in the tab on disc three.
On disc two, there is a single commentary, for episode eighteen, with the actors for Haruhi, Chika, and "Honey." We hear a funny anecdote concerning high range voices, and the attempts to maintain said capabilities with age (think alterboys), and get plenty of random British accents, annoyingly, that are completely out of the blue. Pass. Again. Pattern?
On disc three, there are two more, with episodes twenty two and twenty four being graced with insight. Twenty two has Haruhi (yet again), Casanoda, and "Mori" yet again doing a typical anime commentary. They go off on random wild tangents, and observe the show rather than analyze it the entire time. The last commentary in this set has Haruhi, Kyoya, and Tamaki. They compare 'Ouran' to 'Star Trek,' discuss the differences in recording original tracks versus recording to match body movement and still have to be original, and again chatter about random inanities. Sure, there's a whole plethora of commentaries here, but they really don't add up to much, considering.
'Ouran High School Host Club' may scare off potential buyers with its excessively pink packaging and girly synopsis, but damn if there isn't a great series here waiting to be explored. The characters are hilarious, the story works, and the mood is always fairly enjoyable. This show is a few bad episodes removed from a perfect score, it is seriously that good. The Blu-ray release from FUNimation is also pretty damn good, with their best upconvert to date, and a surprising 2.0 track, while the supplements aren't just the quick and dirty textless songs, even if the commentaries are all a big waste of time. This set comes highly recommended.