Ouran High School Host Club Blu-ray Review

The Ouran high school host club is filled with young attractive wealthy men who, for a fee, will happily entertain every girl who arrives at their club. There’s the prince-like Tamaki, the cool-headed Kyouya, The identical Hitachiin twins, the burly Mori and the loli shota Hani. Together their charms are almost irresistible. One day a feminine looking boy called Haruhi enters the host club room by mistake. Most of the students in Ouran high school are from high bread rich families. Haruhi on the other hand is a poor student who receives a scholarship and was admitted to Ouran for having very high grades. When Haruhi accidently breaks an expensive vase there is only one way for this poor student to repay the debt – become a host!Ouran High School Host Club Blu-ray Cover

There’s just one problem. Haruhi is actually a girl. However, the girls visiting the host club don’t seem to notice that fact and Haruhi is a natural charmer. The hosts are doing their best to hide her secret too. But some of them begin to secretly harbor romantic feelings for her, which are sure to make the host club an even more interesting place.

Ouran High School Host Club boosts a novel idea and executes it in a believable manner. The host club members are all stereotypical types, but this fact is forgivable given the light comedic nature of the series. The hosts’ skits with their clients and their new member Haruhi never fail to amuse, and sometimes really made me laugh out loud. It’s clear from the get-go that the hosts are running their club to have fun, and that Haruhi isn’t really going to suffer at their hand. In fact one of Haruhi’s bad traits is her inability to let loose and have plain simple fun. She is a rather gloomy type and never seem to really open up to her peers. The same cannot be said for the hosts themselves. The hosts drag Haruhi around and never cease to be energetic goof-balls. As the series progresses we learn more about each of the hosts, which in turn makes them more likable and easy to attach to. Sadly not all the hosts are well made characters. I found Kyouya, Mori and Hani to be completely undeveloped one-line characters. Kyouya and Mori have very basic traits and never stray from their stereotypical molds. The series makes little effort to develop them, making them appear only when their stereotype calls for them to make a stand. Hani has two whole episodes devoted to his background story, but his story is so far-fetched it only serves to alienate the viewer from him even more. It’s a good thing than that Tamaki and the Hitachiin brothers are such well-developed characters. Tamaki follows no real stereotype and is the most emotional character of the bunch. He follows his heart and can be funny and lovely at the same time. The Hitachiin brothers might seem annoying at first glance but their characters develop the fastest and their background story is the most interesting. Furthermore, since the twins have always been quite lonely and only recently began to understand what it is to be a part of a group most of the subtle refined emotional scenes in the series concern them. Another character that surprised me for the better is Renge – an otaku girl and the self-appointed manager of the host club. Renge isn’t one of the main characters, and is in fact one-dimensional, but manages to steal the show a few times. Most importantly Renge’s ultra-feminine behavior and looks come as a direct contrast to Haruhi’s manliness. She indirectly helps show the uniqueness of Haruhi and makes us appreciate her more.

The Ouran host club activities consist of elaborate tea parties, garden picnics and balls. The hosts further spice things up by cosplaying different roles each time and using their individual charms to their max. The host club’s activities are the backdrops for the story, but the main fun comes from seeing the interaction between Haruhi and the hosts. The hosts keep cracking jokes about Haruhi being a poor “commoner”, yet at the same time they are fascinated by the “commoners’ culture” and try to persuade Haruhi into teaching them all about it. It’s hard to stay indifferent at the sight of the rich hosts trying instant coffee for the first time. Their bewilderment at the existence of such a form of coffee is both genuine and laughable. The jokes and puns used in the series are mainly visual. Although the series is full of hit-or-miss jokes they blend well with the overall progression and never grow stale or inappropriate.

The series is full of contradictions. The story can be interpreted as a reverse harem – a mundane not very attractive female is surrounded by good looking capable rich men, some of which fall in love with her for no apparent reason. Yet it is far from being a harem show, mainly because sexual innuendo is non-existent. So much so that when the guys appear topless their nipples aren’t even drawn. No fan service is ever shown and there are no revealing clothes for the female characters. Some boys and girls fall in love with each other, but it is always love of the pure unrealistic type. The purpose of the Ouran high school host club itself is ambivalent. On the one hand it is supposed to be a gathering place for the crème de la crème, and only the children of the strongest and richest families are accepted as hosts. On the other hand all they ever do is flatter ladies and eat cake, which seems like a complete waste of time for children who were disciplined to be sharp businessman. The boys and girls participating in the club’s activities almost seem to be acting their parts. A host will relentlessly explain to a girl how deeply he loves her, only to turn to the next girl when his appointed time is over; And the girls nevertheless return for another appointment with glee. In truth the entire host club hangs on suspension of misbelieve. You shouldn’t ponder too much about the how and whys, the overall feel and personal interactions are what’s important. It’s easy to forget the limitations of the series when characters like Tamaki and Renge do hilarious stuff or the Hitachiin brothers peel another layer of their complex personalities.

The amount of detail that went into the Blu-ray sleeve cover and DVD case are no short than amazing. The Blu-ray comes with a premium sleeve which features all the hosts on a pink background surrounded with flowers. The front and spine of the sleeve have a shiny coating finish which makes the sleeve stand out on your shelf. Even though the sleeve itself isn’t reversible upon removing the DVD case from the sleeve I noticed that the inside of the sleeve depicts small teddy bears and Ouran high school crests. The details don’t stop there. The outside of the DVD case shows a nice portrait of the members of the host club “inviting” you to have fun. Inside the DVD case you’ll find three Blu-ray DVDs on the backdrop of a lovely picture of the entire host club and a list of all the episodes in the series. By now it should be clear that this Blu-ray edition is a labor of love.
The good news don’t end here. The visual quality of this Blu-ray edition is spectacular. This set used the same line-sharpening technique FUNimation previously used for its FLCL Blu-ray, only this time the transition is flawless. Ouran gains a lot from this well-done upscale. All the characters look sharp, vases and tea sets can be clearly discerned in the background and the ceiling tiles and arabesque that adorn the high school are admirable. There is, however, one drawback to this upscale. The back of the Blu-ray sleeve claims that the series picture aspect ratio is 16:9. The main menu for the series is indeed in 16:9, but the series itself uses a 4:3 ratio. Misleading isn’t it? And of course, since this is a Blu-ray the aspect ratio is preset and you cannot change it to widescreen (as opposed to the DVD version). I’m sure this important fact can be a deal breaker for some, but it shouldn’t. While the black bars on both sides of the screen can be a bit distracting the Blu-ray version definitely looks way better than its DVD counterpart. The background music audio track is also superb. The entire series feature orchestral classic music which is outright fantastic when you first hear it. Both the English and Japanese tracks use Dolby True HD 2.2. The Japanese voice cast is comprised of nothing but famous actors (and one famous actress). The same cannot be said for the English dub. I had a hard time listening to the English dub, mainly because none of the English cast sound like their Japanese counterpart. FUNimation also dubbed the opening and ending themes and I have to tell you, these are the worst English opening and ending themes I’ve heard in my life. Did FUNimation really pay people to sing those? They sound like YouTube covers! Regardless, the English dub for the series itself isn’t bad and is quite accurate. It all boils down to whether you would prefer to hear an all-star Japanese dub or a reasonable English one. This Blu-ray set comes with two English subtitle tracks – one for dialog and signs and one for signs only. There are two major issues concerning the subtitles. For starters the English subtitles use a high linguistic level, which sometimes sounds cumbersome or unfitting. Furthermore the subtitles are white, but the subtitles’ black shadow is too thin. For those of you who are not well versed in the subtitle creation process, white subtitles have to have a black shadow under them or else they will blend with any white picture behind them and become illegible. This Blu-ray feature subtitles with a very thin shadow, too thin in fact. This, coupled with the fact that most of the backgrounds in the series are bright and white, makes it very hard to read the subtitles. A look at the FUNimation credits reveal that no less than three people worked on the subtitles. How did three different people let this embarrassingly elementary error slip by them in the editing room?
The subtitles were so disturbing I wound up watching most of the series in Japanese without subtitles, but this choice obviously will not be possible for most viewers. The Ouran Blu-ray set contains a variety of extras: several episode commentaries by the English cast, dub outtakes, textless opening and ending themes (in both English and Japanese), trailers of other series from FUNimation, and even scans of the first few pages of the Ouran manga (courtesy of VIZ). The Ouran Blu-ray is definitely one of the best overall packages I’ve seen to date. It preforms above the expected in almost all the possible categories.

Ouran High School Host Club is a funny and very enjoyable series. Even though it mainly relies on comedy and slapstick to further its story the drawing style and overall visual and audio qualities are top notch. The way FUNimation upscaled this SD series into HD material is remarkable. The problematic nature of FUNimation’s subtitles for this release is also remarkable. All in all Ouran is highly entertaining and very well executed. It won’t blow you away, but will likely pull you in with its subtle charms.

 


Pros:

-          Highly entertaining and at time quite funny.

-          The orchestral music is a real treat.

-          Superb Blu-ray treatment.

 

Cons:

-          Aspect ratio is 4:3 and not 16:9 as FUNimation claims.

-          The English subtitles are very hard to read.

-          Some of the main characters remain undeveloped stereotypes.

 

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

 

Product Information: Ouran High School Host Club: The Complete Series Blu-ray. Published by FUNimation Entertainment. Release Date:  March 30, 2010.

Review Equipment: Samsung 32″ LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PlayStation 3 using an official Sony HDMI cable.


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