Continuing with the theme of genres which exist in anime but not in the west, one of these genres is known as “harem”. It sounds salacious, and sometimes it is, but the most basic form involves one character being surrounded by others of the opposite genre. In most cases, it is a man surrounded by lots of women. However, in some cases you can also have harem in which a woman is surrounded by lots of men, often referred to as a “reverse harem”.
One of the best harem anime is Ouran High School Host Club, a romantic comedy broadcast in 2006 which is very pleasurable for us in Britain because it deals with one theme common in both British and Japanese culture: class.
Ouran High School is an educational establishment so well-off that it makes Eton look like a run-down comprehensive that has been successfully fire-bombed. The school’s unofficial motto is: “Lineage counts first, wealth a close second.” Every student there comes from a well-off family with lots of money – except for one, the androgynous Haruhi Fujioka, who got in via brains and a scholarship.
On the first day, while attempting to find somewhere quiet to study, Haruhi goes to “Music Room 3”, only to find it already occupied by one of the school’s many clubs. Oddly for a school however, it is a “Host Club” in which, “handsome boys with too much time on their hands entertain and charm girls, who also have too much time on their hands.”
The club consists of six boys, each fulfilling a different niche to cater for every passing girl. These include the club’s narcissistic and jealous president Tamaki Suou (the prince charming), manipulative bespectacled vice-president Kyoya Otori (the cool kid), mischievous and somewhat homoerotic identical twins Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin (the devilish duo), small and adorable cake lover Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka (the cute one), and his big, quiet best friend Takashi “Mori” Morinozuka (the strong, silent type).
While trying to get away from them Haruhi accidentally breaks an expensive vase. As a result of this Tamaki and the other club members order Haruhi to pay off the debt by becoming a member of the club. However, after Haruhi is inducted, they discover a major problem: Haruhi is a girl. As a result the club has to spend the entire time hiding Haruhi’s real gender. As the series goes on however Tamaki becomes increasingly protective of his new charge and it appears that the newbie and the president might have a loving spark between them.
Much of Ouran, which as you can now tell is a reverse harem, is written as a parody. For starters real host clubs, and hostess clubs which feature women doing a similar service, are more a form of nightclub entertainment. They’re a slightly less seedy version of a strip club, as there is no nudity.
Also, each character is a parody of a different romantic genre, but you don’t need to have seen a lot of romantic anime to enjoy it. We can easily identify the series mocking almost every romantic cliché.
What is funnier for us in Britain is the subject of class. Other than Haruhi everyone in the school is upper or upper-middle class. As a result everyone is fascinated by things Haruhi, and indeed most people, consider normal. For example, Haruhi buys some instant coffee to serve at the club and the rest of the school is so intrigued by it that it becomes a craze.
The best thing about Ouran however is the ensemble cast. Because each character represents a different romantic take, you are almost guaranteed to end up with a favourite one that you will find funny, lovely or both. Each character has the own unique qualities to make a wonderfully enjoyable programme.
The entire 26-episode series is available on Region 2 DVD. The original manga, which is even bigger, is available in English over 18 volumes.