Ouran High School Host Club, folks. On its outside, it’s a patently ridiculous show about the zany fish-out-of-water hijinks of six super-rich boys who befriend a poor scholarship student. (And don’t get me wrong, I love it for all its ludicrousness.) But once you get the creamy filling, however, it’s a clever satire that deals with big exciting themes like being yourself and gender identity!
In the first episode of this show, we are introduced to the Host Club: the aforementioned six boys use their significant free time and resources to fulfill the romantic fantasies of their female classmates. (Apparently in Japan this is a thing, or at least normal enough that you don’t have to define ‘host club’ to a Japanese.) The club runs the gamut of attractive anime-guy stereotypes: the Prince type, the silent type, the loli-shota type, the twincest/forbidden love type, you name it.
So one day, the scholarship student is looking for a place to study, and, after wandering into the host club’s room, proceeds to break a really expensive vase. Since the scholarship student is by definition poor, they make the student work the debt off by becoming a host too. Thing is, she’s a girl.
From there on out you have a lot of humorously played satirizations of shoujo tropes: the reverse harem, the beach episode, the oh-noes-someone-might-see-her-naked scares, etc. Throughout this, Haruhi plays the sweet young host to a T, allowing the club’s many customers to believe she is a guy.
Okay, but here’s the thing that’s awesome about Haruhi: no matter how many girls swoon over her ‘boyish’ good looks or what the other hosts say about how cute she might be in a dress or bathing suit, she believes something interesting: it doesn’t matter whether people think she’s a boy or a girl, because that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Here, I’d argue, is a different kind of example of a strong woman in anime – and she never picks up a gun or gets in a fight. She’s a more relatable kind of role model, I’d say, because very few high school girls have to worry about keeping their katanas sharp or whether they left their mech on. (Which, of course, is not to say I think literal-ass-kicking women are bad role models; there are just other metaphorical ways to kick ass too.) She’s arguably queer; at the very least her interest in identifying herself according to a gender binary is nonexistent, and she displays attraction to both genders. She gets by on her intellect and common sense, she’s fun-loving but responsible, and (rather than hoping to marry one of the male leads) she wants to be a lawyer like her mom was when she grows up!
There’s more: She is the first person the twins have met who can tell them apart easily. She sees through the boys’ facades and understands why each of the members needs the club for the emotional support and acceptance it offers. And she’s totally accepting of others’ unconventional lifestyles. Her own isn’t particularly conventional after all – since her mother’s death when she was young, her dad has worked as a crossdressing host in a bar (Like father, like daughter?), and that doesn’t make him any less of a father.
Here’s to more girls like Haruhi Fujioka in anime:
Intelligent, caring, and more concerned about their friends and their own betterment than their looks or myriad love interests. And hey, while we’re doing some wishful thinking, maybe we could have more non-objectified girls! Crazy, I know. Throw in a chick with all of the above AND a non-heteronormative orientation, my brain might explode with fangirlish glee.
(And hey, while we’re brainstorming, high school settings are all well and good, but throw this girl into a giant robot or hand her a magic staff and watch my money pour into your pockets. Hint, hint, anime and manga writers.)
This post on Dreamwidth takes a much deeper look into the characters of Ouran High School Host Club and their sexualities/gender identities.
For a slightly different and truly excellent take on Ouran, check out The Queering of Haruhi Fujioka: Cross-Dressing, Camp and Commoner Culture in Ouran High School Host Club. I’ve been meaning to share this link for forever.