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Take the teenaged cast and episodic nature of the old "Archie" comics, strain them through some "Comedy of Manners" novels (I'm thinking of Kushner's Swordspoint and Privilege of the Sword, and Wrede and Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecelia, but their common ancestors, the works of Jane Austen, would probably be even better), add a dash of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and a generous helping of the showiest, wooziest aspects of modern Japanese life. Beat until very, very light and fluffy ... and maybe you'd come up with Ouran High School Host Club.

I actually enjoyed this quite a lot, which is extremely strange, because it has very little in common with the other manga I really love.

Ouran High School Host Club,
vols. 1-3 (review)

The set-up is that Haruhi Fujioka, a poor scholarship student at ritzy, exclusive Ouran High, wanders into the all-male Host Club one day while looking for a quiet place to study. Her clothing makes her look like a boy, and when she accidentally breaks an $80,000 vase (waiting to be auctioned off for a fundraiser), the club members decide that "he'll" have to work off the debt by attracting patrons (almost always girls). Here I finally get to apply the tag line that I felt bad about using with sweet, earnest Fruits Basket: "And hijinks ensue." Because this series, like the Host Club itself, seeks only to amuse.

Plot? What plot? Ouran don't need no stinkin' plot. Basically, there's a series of silly setups. Haruhi and the boys - glamorous but profoundly melodramatic and love-happy "King" Tamaki, vice-prez and saturnine financial whiz Kyoya, flamboyantly gay twins Hikaru and Kaoru, very short and sweetly spacy "Hunny" (who's always toting a plush bunny), and tall, silent Mori (who's there to keep track of Hunny and the bunny) - are tossed into them, and proceed to bounce off of each other and whatever additional elements show up. See the Host Club entertain and later dispose of the bitchy Queen Bee who has it in for Haruhi! See them straighten out the mutually misunderstood lovers! See them celebrate the traditional cherry blossom festival! Snarky dialog and cheerfully over-the-top flourishes ("Pointless flood of roses!" notes a helpful bit of marginalia, as Tamaki suddenly gains a background of blossoms) keep things rolling along whenever the slight plot structure threatens to give way.

Running jokes also help to keep things from falling apart entirely. One of the most persistent involves an invented family where Tamaki is the father, Kyoya the mother, the twins their sons, and Haruhi their daughter. "At the age of 17, I have three kids?" Kyoya muses at one point - "Where has my youth gone?" (Hunny and Mori are not part of this nuclear meltdown family - they get stuck with being the couple next door.) Mori's silence and devotion to Hunny cause him to play the faithful dog in several episodes: Lassie as a 6-foot 2-inch high school senior, complete with the ability to track his master by scent. The boys' fascination with Haruhi's plebeian lifestyle (mostly as they imagine it, fueled by movie and TV dramas) is another never-ending source of gags, leading the boys to experiment with instant coffee and packaged ramen, among other exotic delights.

It's weird, but I even find some bits of this gagfest touching. The motherless Haruhi, whose father works as a bartender, has had precious little pampering in her life. The Host Club boys, as shallow and clueless as they are, nevertheless mean well, and end up assisting her in all sorts of ways. For example, in one episode, a discussion of the best swimsuit to suit Haruhi's nearly non-existent figure reveals (in some of those helpful little notes) that she's wearing a sports bra, "just in case," that was supplied by the club. There's something simultaneously warped and gallant about that, and it appeals to me.

So, as odd as it may be, this series is becoming something of a favorite - even though it makes a really weird companion to Samurai Deeper Kyo and Saiyuki.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 24th, 2007 06:00 pm (UTC)
Ouran rocks. It's just so silly and over-the-top. It's hard to choose who my favorite is, though I usually default to Mori(he and Haruhi are the only sane ones, it seems)

And one could argue that all three of those make for odd favorites...
May. 24th, 2007 06:16 pm (UTC)

Well, the common element (and yes, I found one!) is the friendship thing. It first came out in the episode about the bitchy girl who didn't like Haruhi, and it's not just the guys helping her - it shows up again in the silly incident at the jungleworld underground pool complex, when they think Hunny is lost. So when you get down to it, this about a group of friends interacting and ragging each other and also supporting each other. And you get a lot of that in both of the other books too. (I think it's really funny that SDK, which features a group of guys who are always cheerfully talking about killing each other if necessary, ends up being a huge testimony to the power of friendship ... .)

(It's good to see you back in action! I'm glad you're feeling better. BTW, have you read Sorcery and Cecelia? I think you'd really like it, if you haven't.)

May. 24th, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)
mostly but not completely back in action(Storm Riders perked me up quite a bit, but then, if a couple of hot messed up guys with swords trying to kill each other doesn't fix me, I'm in dire straights) but better than the rest of the week.

And that's one of the big draws of SDK really...that and the fact that they're all looney and most would be bad guys in any other book.

Not familiar w/ S&C, no.
May. 24th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)

That's an interesting observation - that they would be the bad guys in most books! I've often thought about the fact that Yukimura would not approve of Hotaru if he knew him better ... (it's that "you're boring and you're ticking me off ... FWOOF!" - up in flames they go!).

Sorcery and Cecelia - a very amusing and archly written book set in what would be early 19th century England - except they've got magic. Two teenaged cousins, Cecelia and Kate, write each other letters, detailing their encounters with young men, crabby old ladies, dances and shopping - and evil magicians. There's an extensive excerpt at NPR, of all places ... . They describe it there as "children's reading," but Young Adult would be nearer the truth, and I know tons of adults (almost all women) who love it.

May. 24th, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC)
Yukimura and Hotaru wouldn't get along...or Yukimura and Shinrei, probably...and he and Akira would probably kill each other(hmm...maybe there's a good reason Yukimura's usually off doing other things...)

In another book...well, Bon, Sasuke, Akari, Yuya, Tora and Yukimura would probably still be the good guys, but not the others, who'd be ambiguous at best. But hey, when your main character is a murderous nutjob whose favorite passtime is copping feels on a 16 year old girl, the hero/villain line is a little easier to cross.

S&C does sound good.
May. 25th, 2007 10:41 pm (UTC)

I think Yukimura might get along with Shinrei after the ending. I'm not sure about Akira ... certainly Akira would be very jealous of the understanding that Kyo and Yukimura seem to have by the end, since Yukimura has other loyalties, and Akira would never understand that.

Yeah, I think Kamijyo had to arrange that Yukimura would never actually get too good a look at the usual operating methods of the Shiseiten. But he probably saw all too much of the way the Mibu operate ... that's probably behind some of the things he was saying to Taihaku, like "I hate the Mibu with all my heart."

May. 25th, 2007 03:12 am (UTC)
Thank you for explaining to me why I like Ouran. I was really beginning to wonder.
May. 25th, 2007 10:30 pm (UTC)

So all the things I said were reasons that you like it too? Or just some of them? I'm curious ... .

And you, too, should read Sorcery and Cecelia, and also the two Kushner books if you haven't. It's not that they are really like Ouran except in the archness of tone, but between your DWJ likings and Ouran, they might be just your sort of thing.

May. 25th, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)
Pretty much all of them, I think.

Of course I've read Sorcery and Cecilia--did you know that there are also two sequels. And I think the Kushner books are currently out of print, so I haven't had a chance to pursue them; though I did love her short story "Charis" (it was a Borderlands thing--speaking of which, if you haven't read Emma Bull's Finder and War For The Oaks, then shame, shame).
May. 25th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)

Well, I'm sorry to have recommended a book you already know and like!   XD   I didn't think so much of the sequels - in fact, I haven't bothered to get the second one yet ... .

You can try abebooks for the Kushner too. Swordspoint is really excellent, and The Privilege of the Sword is pretty good. The other sequel, The Fall of the Kings, is just weird - much less of the comedy of manners stuff and some actual magic, which the other two pretty much ignore entirely.

May. 25th, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC)
Heh, not meant to be belligerent or nasty, just joking. Ah, I love the internet.

I have to say, I like modern comedies of errors much better than the works of Jane Austen herself--I guess I just find Austen a little too bitchy and a little lacking in human feeling, though her books are somewhat entertaining.
May. 25th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)

Hee, and I didn't mean to be over-sensitive or anything, but given the lack of paraverbal cues (yes, loverly internet!!!), I always apologize if there's even the slightest chance ...

I have a terrible confession to make ... especially as a B.A. in English who was in AP English back in high school ... [whispers] I've never read any Jane Austen!!! I just know that people always cite her as the grandmother of all these things. I really ought to ... maybe I'll buy some paperbacks to take with me to Cape Cod in August.

May. 26th, 2007 01:44 am (UTC)
Heh, understood. I tend to be a veeeery sarcastic person IRL, and I often forget that that doesn't always come across on the Series of Tubes.

Oh dear. If it helps, I'm not in AP English, because we don't have AP English at my weird liberal private school--but I did take an elective in 19th century British lit, so I had to read Austen for school.
May. 29th, 2007 02:24 am (UTC)

I'm impressed that they have such an elective in your program! They don't even have electives like that in the program that the Young Lady is taking, and it's considered a pretty kickass program. But then it's a magnet program in a public school, so there are still limits to what specialties thay can offer.

I've been amazingly resistant to English literature ... I wanted to major in chemistry, but I had some serious issues with math, and had to switch programs. I spent the rest of my first college career avoiding all the typical lit classes, and taking as many writing classes and other oddball things (Anglo-Saxon, Beowulf in the original, Science Fiction, etc.) as I could. Now I may be ready to take another look at some of it. (My second college career was went I went back and got a technical degree at night school.)

May. 26th, 2007 02:00 am (UTC)
I told you you'd love it. To quote: That's what it does. It sneaks up behind you and attacks you briefly, leaving you hyperaware to its cracktastic presence, and if you are weak, it sucks you into the fluffy, floral hive and gently eats your brain.

Hikaru and Kaoru aren't so gay. Just wait until volume 5. I mean, they're pretty gay for each other, but... [ominous trail-off, even though I'm sure that you can figure out what happens re chapter three]

("Pointless flood of roses!" notes a helpful bit of marginalia, as Tamaki suddenly gains a background of blossoms)

Wait until you get to Haruhi wondering, "Was there always a windswept ridge here?"
May. 29th, 2007 02:29 am (UTC)

>> Was there always a windswept ridge here? <<

XD   I'm looking forward to that! This weekend's expeditions turned up no copies of the next few, sadly, so I'm going to have to wait for my next fix!

I can easily see that with the twins, it's a schtick that they do because the girls love it and it probably freaks out the guys who aren't their close friends. They're that type. But they work on it so hard, it seems a pity not to acknowledge it ... .

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


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