Review: Ouran High School Host Club

Review: Ouran High School Host Club

Title: Ouran High School Host Club / Ōran Kōkō Hosuto Kurabu桜蘭高校ホスト部

Mangaka: Bisco Hatori 葉鳥ビスコ

US Publisher: Viz Media

Status: Complete

Level: High School

Reader’s Advisory Tags: humor, school stories, shoujo, non-binary character

Anime: Funimation, Netflix, Hulu.

Content Warnings: Some light innuendos, occasional comedic violence.

I’m very biased about Ouran High School Host Club. It is one of my favorite manga of all time, and one that I have the entire set of on my library shelf. I think it’s a masterpiece of the genre, and I’m not alone in thinking so. So, I just want to be clear: this review is totally biased and driven by a profound love.

Ouran is the tale of Fujioka Haruhi, a scholarship student at Ouran High School. Ouran is a prestigious school for the ridiculously rich, which Haruhi is attending to pursue her dream of being a lawyer like her late mother. One day, struggling to find a quiet place to study, Haruhi stumbles across the Host Club: a group of affluent boys who run a club where they entertain young ladies of the school with nothing better to do. Because of Haruhi’s sloppy clothes (she can’t afford the uniform) and haircut (a neighborhood kid stuck gum in her hair, so she cut it out), she appears to be a nerdy boy to the members of the Host Club. When she accidentally breaks an expensive vase, she finds herself in debt- and is forced to do menial tasks for the club. It isn’t until the end of the chapter, after a makeover which gives her the appearance of a cute boy, that the reader and the members of the Host Club are made aware that Haruhi is a girl. What follows, over the next eight volumes, is a farcical comedy of errors and ultimately heartwarming tale of expanding horizons. The Host Club struggles to keep Haruhi to themselves, and Haruhi struggles to understand the boys of the Host Club.

What makes Ouran so unique is the characterization of Haruhi and the various members. Haruhi is actually a very sensible and intelligent character, and sees herself as essentially androgynous. It’s very easy to argue that Haruhi is nonbinary. Her father is a trans woman, proclaiming that he is in fact bi (I use “he/him” for Ranka because those are the pronouns used in the text), and that Haruhi’s mother was the only woman he would ever love. Crossdressing is not unusual as a plot point in shoujo manga. Another classic, Hana Kimi, features a girl crossdressing in order to enter an all boys’ school. What makes Haruhi unique is that her androgynous personality is what throws her into the situation. She’s not a girly girl hiding out to have access to this harem of dudes- in fact, most of the time, she finds them slightly annoying.

Viz Media.

Haruhi is a character who is honest, straightforward, and determined. While all of the male characters inevitably fall in love with her, it makes sense that they would. She gives these rich boys a lot of levity, and understands them in all their idiosyncrasies. She’s the only character allowed to see them outside of their performances.

Each of the boys has a unique personality. Suoh Tamaki is the president of the Host Club, an earnest but dense character with narcissistic tendencies (he’s highly lovable despite being a bit of an idiot). Ohtori Kyoya is the vice president, and the person actually pulling the strings. His strategic maneuvering seems sinister but ultimately has positive goals. Hitachiin Kaoru and Hikaru are twins who are incredibly close and mischievous (there are many similarities between them and the Weasley twins). Haninozuka Mitsukuni (aka “Hunny”) appears to be a cute little boy, but is in fact a senior with killer martial arts skills. Morinozuka Takashi (aka “Mori”) is a quiet and strong young man who waits upon Hunny (their relationship is a callback to traditional Japanese tropes of servitude among samurai). Each boy has an interesting backstory and personality, and expectations are regularly subverted by the text.

Ouran also does a lot of playing with tropes of the genre, and is a direct send up of female otaku culture. The series is a playground of feminine fantasy, while also making clear how ridiculous some of those fantasies can be. The story also blossoms across the eighteen volumes, into a sweet love story and a tale of human connection. Haruhi does eventually fall for one of these boys, but in a genuine way that never sacrifices her personal goals for herself. The ridiculous scenarios are hilarious, and the artwork is gorgeous. Hatori is a master of facial expression, and has a delicate hand. Every illustration is lush and detailed. Images from Ouran are permanently etched into my mind.

I can promise that if you buy this series, it will circulate and that it’s worthy of circulating. Ouran is a classic of the genre and has a lot of meaning for many fans of manga. When I put our set out, I had multiple students thank me for it. It’s an 18-volume series, and it can be cost prohibitive to actually buy for yourself.

I’ll add that the anime is also considered a classic, and is well done. It’s not perfect, and I’m not a fan of how the series wrapped up (it went completely off script from the original manga), but it’s still very good. With Fruits Basket getting a full story animation this year (we’ll talk about Fruits Basket soon), I’m hoping that Ouran may be due for a full story animation as well.

Review: Princess Jellyfish

Review: Princess Jellyfish

Title: Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime 海月姫)

Mangaka: Akiko Higashimura (東村 アキコ)

First Volume ISBN: 9781632362285

US Publisher: Kodansha USA

Status: Complete

Level: High School

Reader’s Advisory Tags: gender, gender nonconforming, identity, fashion, early adulthood, anxiety

Anime: Available through Funimation

Live Action: Information on MyDramaList

Content Warnings: A major plotline consists of a female character drugging a male character and tricking him into believing they had sex while he was intoxicated. She regularly sexually harasses him and blackmails him as a result. This is seen as a villainous action, and there are consequences.

Princess Jellyfish is a delightful josei manga that happens to be on my list of favorites. It focuses on the denizens of Amamizukan, an apartment building in Tokyo. These tenants are all NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who each have their own point of fixation. The tenants call themselves “Amars” (nuns) because they have a severe aversion to men. The tenants have their world turned upside down when Tsukimi, the youngest tenant and a jellyfish enthusiast, meets Kuranosuke. When Tsukimi meets Kuranosuke, he is cross-dressing. Mistaking (or acknowledging) him as a woman, Tsukimi enlists his help in rescuing a jellyfish who is being mistreated at the local pet shop. After Kuranosuke winds up crashing at Amamizukan following the rescue, Tsukimi discovers that Kuranosuke is in fact a man who simply enjoys wearing women’s fashion. What follows is a romp as Kuranosuke eventually teams up with the Amars to save their home and start a fashion line, inspired by Tsukimi’s drawings of jellyfish.

What makes Princess Jellyfish unique is its treatment of gender and identity. Tsukimi and the other Amars are not fashionable women, and for the most part, don’t really care that they are not “stylish”. Kuranosuke is the one most concerned with beauty and fashion, and he has to learn that the Amars are never going to conform to the standards of beauty that he values. While there are makeover moments, the characters are frequently uncomfortable with them, and the makeover doesn’t stick past the moment. However, there is a moment where Kuranosuke explains to the Amars the positive element to engaging in fashion and female performance (and which is affirming to those who chose to present in feminine ways).

© Kodansha USA

When it comes to Kuranosuke’s gender expression, he is obviously gender nonconforming, although the text never uses those terms. While he ultimately falls in love with Tsukimi, it doesn’t deter him from expressing his love for feminine fashion, and it doesn’t go away to make him “straighter”.

The Amars grow through the expansion of their horizons, and Kuranosuke learns to relate to people more deeply.

The other important element is how the text deals with the characters’ anxieties and fears. It’s clear that Tsukimi and the others have varying degrees of social anxiety that is detrimental to their personal growth. There’s no magic wand that makes it go away. Rather, they grow to the extent that each character is comfortable with, and throughout the series establish boundaries.

Also, romance is a theme in this manga, but it’s important to note that it never gets a formal resolution. Throughout the manga, Tsukimi becomes the center of a triangle between Kuranosuke and his older brother, Shū (and at least one other character becomes interested in her. Initially, Shū is interested in an idealized version of Tsukimi that he saw after one of Kuranosuke’s makeovers of Tsukimi. However, he learns to see Tsukimi as a whole person, and not so idealized. Both brothers come to love Tsukimi even as a socially awkward girl in sweats… and Tsukimi realizes that she needs to figure out her emotional self before she can commit to any relationship.

This is not to say Princess Jellyfish is a perfect text. There are moments of sexual harassment, and at one point Tsukimi is forcibly kissed against her will by another character. However, each of those incidents are seen as clearly wrong and as a violation.

Additionally, because I am not trans, I would like to offer this perspective from a trans woman: Trans Women in Media: Kuranosuke Koibuchi.

So, should you buy this manga for your collection? I’d say that it’s a great addition to your high school collection. It might be good for middle school, but I’d be a little cautious because of the plotline regarding the blackmailing of Shū by a woman who convinces him they had intercourse. You also may be in a more conservative school or district than myself, and the queer themes could bring challenges from parents or administration. I myself believe that we have a responsibility to our gender nonconforming students to show them representations of characters that are like them, but you know your school culture better than I do, and should make a judgment that best serves your community.

At its heart, this is a story about a group of people coming together to create things, protect their home, and achieve personal growth. Also, the art is gorgeous!

© Kodansha USA