Volumes 1 to 4
Synopsis: Ouran High School is a prestigious academy in Tokyo, attended by the very richest in Japanese society. The sons and daughters of politicians and industry heads come here to learn, but also to indulge in leisure. Available to provide a distraction for an interested subset of the student body is the Host Club, a cadre of handsome (if slightly generic) boys who woo and entertain visitors. Into this walks freshmen student Haruhi Fujioka, a rarity on campus - a scholarship student who comes from far more mundane beginnings. They manage to blunder into the Host Club, break an expensive vase, and are made the club’s indentured servant. But there is more to Haruhi than meets the eye…
I am a big fan of the Ouran anime, and have always wished to pick up the manga but the sheer length combined with my lack of physical space put me off of picking it up. When it went on sale on Comixology, I grabbed a chunk of volumes to see how it stacked up.
The first thing that hits you about the manga version Ouran is the art - it follows the generic patterns of shoujo manga closely as well as packing a lot into each panel, making everything feel highly compressed to an almost oppressive degree. It feels closed off, like something you will not be able to easily penetrate - this is backed up by the general pacing of events displayed. Events feel condensed down and without any breathing room both in a physical and temporal sense, which makes it very hard going initially - I cannot tell if I got used to its’ pacing and found space to squeeze in or if the series itself eased up. Probably a little of both. In short - first impressions were concerning but as the series continued the pressure lifted (or felt like it did, same thing).
I’m going to make another comparison to the anime adaption again (sue me)- that series had a pitch-perfect way of using the material here (which is all present and correct and still very much amusing!) by giving it space to breathe and allow it some comedic timing and spacing. I keep mentioning spacing because a lot of the panelling in the manga is very tight and tends to (where possible) cram in the entire cast into as many places as possible, which makes events feel intensely close at all times. You can’t be allowed to forget about any other part of the Host Club even when they are not doing anything because they are right there in front of you.
Another part of the art that I must mention because it makes me alternately crack up laughing and sigh at is the constant use of the exact same male model pose and expression the cast exhibit. I have tried to find a more defined way to explain this but the best way I can describe it is the face is isometric/slightly tilted to side with an enigmatic smile and open eyes, as if they were trying to charm you from the art of an Otome Game cast key image. It homogenises the cast instantly, and looks flat out bizarre in a series that is fond of lavish “check out these lads!” two-page spreads where nearly the whole cast exhibits the exact same face.
I know I’m overegging this but it made me think that the author has a built-in “Snap to This Face” option set, like in image editing programs where you have “Snap to Grid” where if you move a little too close-BOOP-oops its the exact same face! Don’t worry though, female cast members and children do not escape either as they have massive pupils, the kind of eyes that people reference when they are complaining about “the anime style”. Seriously, they are massive and more than a little creepy. But, as with all things, you get used to it after a few chapters and it ceases being as weird.
Perhaps as a sign of the times and how fast things have been moving, but I found some of the translation in the series outdated in terminology. The translation is a 2006 vintage, and as the series talks quite a lot about gender roles and gender identity some of these related terms and attitudes come through and feel a little “off”, although as a cis male I must admit I am not an expect in this regard. One thing that surprised me was finding the phrase “Tranny bar”, which then led to me marvelling at how long it had been since I had heard it. Overall It felt dated but not offensive, although of course your milage and reaction may vary.
As mentioned, Ouran plays around with gender roles, expectations, tropes of shoujo manga, and also the meta and expectations of these elements. It makes full use of them as background, as a source of tension, and of course as a wellspring of the majority of the series’ comedy. It is more playful with these than this description makes it sound given that it is in its core a comedy series, but for me it works as it is extremely my shit.
The problem now is that there are 14 more volumes left that I now want to buy and read. Oops.
Rating: 4 and a half PSP Otome Game Routes