Ouran High School Host Club Series Collection
Format: Blu-Ray, DVD (Reviewed)
Release Date: September 5, 2012
Price: $69.95 – Available Here
Adapted from a manga of the same name by artist Bisco Hatori, Ouran High School Host Club enjoyed one long run on TV back in 2006. Now, the 26 episode long series can be found in one single collection, for the first time here in Australia. Animated by Bones, who also worked on the hugely popular Fullmetal Alchemist anime, Ouran High School Host Club has itself found great success and has developed into a fully-fledged cross-media franchise, with CDs, a visual novel, a live action TV series and a Film also having been released.
The series is well known for breaking the fourth wall with the audience, while also including and parodying many subcultures found within Japan. The setting of a host club lends to the thematic use of Yaoi (“boy’s love”), Yuri (“girl’s love”) and cross-dressing aspects of the overarching Otaku culture, which refers to people who have a keen interest in all things uniquely Japanese in origin and style. Being new to this sort of media, I can see how this will alienate some Western audiences, however it did not do so for myself. Read on to find out if this anime really is for you.
Ouran High School has it’s very own host club, who’s activities we follow throughout the series. It’s members include: Takashi “Mori” Morinozuka, a 3rd year student at the academy, Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka, the youngest of the group, the effeminate twins Kaoru and Hikaru Hitachiin, who put on the Yaoi act for their “clients”, Kyoyo Otori, Vice President of the club and Tamaki Suoh, son of the school Chairman and founder and President of the host club. One day, a poor bookish “commoner” named Haruhi Fujioka, who is attending the academy on a special scholarship, runs into the host club as she looks for a quiet place to study. After an awkward encounter with the boys, she accidentally bumps into an expensive vase that falls and breaks on the ground…changing the course of her time at the academy forever. The vase happens to be worth 8 million yen! Haruhi realises then that she is in debt to the host club, who proposition her to become the “host club dog” and become a host for them, giving her a quota as a means to pay off her large debt to the group. Of course, they do not realise that the short-haired, tomboy isn’t actually a boy!
And so Haruhi’s time at Ouran High School begins in quite the unexpected manner. It doesn’t take long for the figurative, and literal (as a visual device) light bulbs to turn on though, as the boys figure out, one-by-one, that Haruhi is in fact a girl. Of course, the naive Tamaki is the last to get it, and actually starts to blatantly develop feelings for Haruhi. Almost immediately, she becomes quite the popular host, garnering some jealousy from her peers. As the show wears on, Haruhi takes part in shenanigans to avoid a physical exam, experiences her first kiss – which is with a girl, unwillingly plays host to the group at her “pathetically small, commoner’s home”, gets a part time job at a pension and gets kidnapped by the lesbian Zuka club members. Through all of these events, and along the way to earning her way out of the club, Haruhi discovers that the group of boys she dreaded spending time with have actually become her best and truest friends.
It’s in the dynamic of the relationship between the host club members that the best comedic moments arise. Although there are hysterical moments outside of this dynamic. During a flashback scene, of which there are a few to flesh out the backgrounds of certain characters, a younger Renge skips out on tea with her Father after deciding on a whim to fly out and find the boy she wants to marry. She becomes dressed and packed for a flight in an instant, and then a plane seemingly takes off from the ground floor of the very building they were occupying like a car in a garage. Words can’t describe how perfectly executed this was. And each character is so well defined that they bring their own personality and quirks into every scene and interaction. The show may start off on a slow note for some, and may frequently seem aimless in what it’s trying to achieve, but it picks up, and the episodes get more diverse and interesting as the series progresses.
Ouran High School Host Club is very colourful, and animation studio Bones did a great job with the animation itself. The facial expressions are so well defined and expressed, it’s quite impressive. The design and colouring of the school is so effective in creating a rich air about the place, communicating how extravagant and expensive this private school is. The purple, red and pink tones are a constant and scream a sense of royalty and sophistication in the characters. At times, and there are very few of them, the backdrops can look slightly flat, although there are less instances of this as the show goes on. Something I loved were the labels and signs that pop up during introductions and/or events. The English translations, being purposely humorous and not funny through mistranslation, made me laugh quite a bit. For instance, as Haruhi pours the club four cups of instant coffee, the label’s subtitles read “Demonstration of commoner’s coffee, by a commoner”.
One thing I couldn’t stand was the use of flashing arrows to point towards objects of interest. They are meant to be a funny device, but are actually an unnecessary distraction as the camera angles frame the focus of a shot quite well as it is. Thankfully they are not used often at all, appearing maybe a bit more than a handful of times all up. The DVD itself is in a 4:3 aspect ratio, even though I had read online that it was in a 16:9 full screen anamorphic format. Watching it on a big screen, the image does look somewhat stretched at the sides, with no black bars. Overall, however, the image quality is good, especially when considering it is a DVD release of a 6 year old show.
The audio for the series collection is in Dolby Digital, with no major issues in the mixing, or volume levels (except for the commentary tracks, which I’ll go through in the extras section). Of course, there are Japanese and English audio tracks to choose from, which you can switch between in the main disc menus. This may be one of the few instances where the English voice overs are just as good as the original’s. I think this can mostly be attested to the fantastic work of Caitlin Glass, who did the voice of main character Haruhi Fujioka. Knowing that Caitlin is also the ADR Director of the show, many might scoff at the fact that she has effectively placed herself as the focus of the show. However, once you hear her work, you’ll know exactly why it was the right choice. The rest of the cast are also fantastic, with great performances all around. When viewing with the Japanese language track, the subtitles appear in yellow at the bottom of the screen. The music is very fitting for the overall mood of the show, with the opening theme, entitled “Sakura Kiss”, and the closing theme, entitled “Shissou (Sprint)”, the original by Japanese rock band Last Alliance, both sounding very well produced, and catchy to boot!
The collection features some very good extras spread across all four discs. On disc 1, there are commentary tracks for episodes 1, 4 and 5, featuring the show’s ADR Director, and voice of lead character Haruhi, Caitlin Glass – who contributes to each of the commentaries found in this collection. Alongside her are such talents as Vic Mignogna – voice of Tamaki, J. Michael Tatum – voice of Kyoya, Monica Rial – voice of Renge and also ADR Script Writer, and Greg Ayres and Todd Haberkorn – voices of the twins, Kaoru and Hikaru respectively. On disc 2, you will find outtakes for the first 13 episodes, textless versions of the opening and closing sequences and a package of trailers for other animated movies and series. On disc 3, there is the lone commentary for episode 18, featuring Aaron Dismuke – voice of Yasuchika, and Luci Christian – voice of Mitsukuni. The final disc includes commentaries for episodes 22 and 24, with Christopher Sabat and Travis Willingham, voices of Ritsu and Takashi respectively, on episode 22 commentary duty. Mr. Tatum and Mr. Mignonga rejoin Ms. Glass for the final commentary. Disc 4 also harbours a second set of outakes for the second half of episodes, the same textless opening and closing, and a new bunch of trailers.
Peculiar, right off the bat, was the absence of the show’s subtitling during the commentary episodes on discs 1 and 2, as discs 3 and 4 did in fact have them. I don’t know why the subtitles would be used in only half the commentaries, but the inconsistency definitely disappointed me. Also, while most commentaries provided sufficient insight, episode 4’s commentary was basically a high school reunion, with constant laughter between the guests and very little talk of the creative process. Unfortunately, when there is valuable information to be given pertaining to certain dialogue or voice acting choices, the show’s audio is turned down so much that you can’t even listen to the dialogue the guests are commenting on. I can’t be expected to remember each and every line they are vaguely referencing when I can’t get a refresher and hear it for myself. The volumes just could have been balanced better.
The outtakes, however, are great all around. Really funny to hear the screwed up lines, and the relationship between the actors as they bounce off of each other. My favourite blooper came from the second episode when Kanako, a regular host-hopper, who gets past her relationship issues and is to receive a farewell peck on the cheek from Haruhi, and is told by her fiancée that “it will commemorate your graduation from being a total whore”. Of course, the real line is much less insulting, and is actually supportive. All around, there are approximately 30 minutes of outtakes…that’s quite a lot! That leaves the textless opening, closing and trailers which are what they are, nothing noteworthy there.
Ouran High School Host Club is a very funny show that, although at times can get quite awkward (looking at you twins!), does unabashedly speak to the Japanese sense of humour. The DVD transfer on this series collection may not be the greatest, but the show is quite a few years old now and if it’s an issue for anyone (which it shouldn’t be), there’s always the blu-ray option which undoubtedly has the better visual quality. The extras on this release especially impressed me as I’m a sucker for a blooper reel, and the featured outtakes for Ouran are long and hilarious. Also great to hear commentary for 6 episodes, although at times it can come across as shallow and self-indulgent. None-the-less, the passion of the creators for the series is palpable throughout. Ouran High School Host Club Series Collection is a great 4 disc set that is well worth it. Just remember, the themes may not be suitable for those under the age of 15…unless for a laugh, you want to see them utterly confused!