When scholarship high school student Haruhi Fujioka starts the new year at the prestigious Ouran Academy, she has no idea what she’ll be getting into. After accidentally stumbling into the unused classroom in which the host club entertains its female clients, she breaks a vase and must join the club to pay off the debt. Haruhi, apparently a natural at hosting, spends the rest of the series keeping up with the club’s hijinks, presenting as a man so that she can continue making money for them, and developing close relationships with the other members of the host club.
By focusing on a group of teenage boys whose primary goal is entertaining their female counterparts, the one-season Ouran High School Host Club, based on the manga of the same name, addresses young female sexual desire in a way that seems encouragingly direct for those of us used to the roundabout moralizing of Twilight and its ilk.
In a self-aware parody of shoujo fiction, the boys all inhabit different “types” (the boy Lolita, the strong and silent one, and the prince, for example), and cater to their clientele by playing up those aspects of their personality. Their willingness to put on a show for the benefit of others contributes to the show’s many subversions, and both in terms of gender presentation and sexual orientation, Ouran High School Host Club is one of the queerest shows I’ve ever watched. How does it manage this? Let me count the ways:
1. Multiple straight characters openly lust after someone they’re holding up as a male sex symbol
Sure, every now and again the boys will squeal over how cute Haruhi looks in dresses, but for the most part their over-the-top, only-semi-joking flirtations happen while in uniform, easily and without hangups. That other students may be watching and are unaware of Haruhi’s situation matters not at all. They’re obsessed with her, and it’s marvellous.
2. Haruhi sometimes refers to herself with the masculine pronoun, because it fits just as well
After getting mistaken for a boy on her first day, Haruhi decides that using male pronouns works just as well, and with one well-placed shoulder shrug, continues on her merry way. One of the few representations of fluid gender presentation I’ve ever seen (and definitely the only non-alien one), it’s fascinating to watch Haruhi go back and forth, unconcerned with how others might view her genderbending.
(For the purposes of this article I’m using “she,” since Haruhi tends to default back to presenting as a woman when not at school, but I could just as easily have been switching back and forth, which is in itself pretty great.)
3. Haruhi’s fluid gender isn’t a major plot point, it’s just part of the premise
So why did Haruhi cut her hair short and start wearing men’s clothing? She got gum in her hair over the summer, got a haircut, and just went with it. There’s a complete lack of fanfare, and aside from an overly complicated plot to fool the school doctor, nothing much is made of her decision. She isn’t hiding, living a lie, or anything so dramatic. It’s just a choice she made that fits her well.
4. The club is headed by “Mommy” and “Daddy”
Club President Tamaki Suoh refers to himself as Daddy, and Vice-President Kyoya Ootori as Mommy. It’s an ongoing thing, and it’s adorable. Club parents!
Twins Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin have a special “type” all their own, and that’s playing up a homoerotic element of their close relationship. Their clients go bananas when witnessing these “stolen” moments between taboo maybe-lovers, and these two take the show from commentary on shoujo media to full-blown yaoi. To be fair, there’s something about objectifying homosexuality that’s problematic any way you slice it, but the pair are given space in the show to have personalities outside of their fetishized roles, and they undoubtedly make the show sexier.
6. Haruhi’s first kiss is with a girl, and she ain’t even mad
A strange sequence of events sees Haruhi sharing her first kiss with another girl at the school, and her reaction is basically “meh, no biggie.” Have you cottoned on to the fact that Haruhi is my hero yet?
7. Haruhi’s dad is a bisexual drag queen
EVERYTHING IS PERFECT ABOUT THIS.
Again, this show manages to do things still considered incredibly scandalous (at least by North American standards) and makes them into a complete non-issue. A widower who heads up his own drag show? Great parent. I love it.
8. Rival school Lobelia Girls’ Academy. All of it.
When students from Ouran’s rival, Lobelia, come for a visit, the host club is introduced to the girls’ academy’s most popular students, who basically make their school seem like a beautiful sapphic paradise. They invite Haruhi to transfer, pretty heavily implying that she’d be a shoe-in for all their lady-loving action.
9. More drag!
When the host club guys realize that Haruhi might be swayed by Lobelia’s offer, that she might in fact want more women in her life (either romantically or not), their first impulse is to show her that they can fill this area of her life, too. So break out the drag! Logic! It’s in there somewhere! That their efforts are framed as just another costume change is refreshing, as is the normalization of flexible gender presentation. Drag for all!
What it comes down to is that I love this show, and it’s on Netflix so everyone should be watching it.