Ouran Highschool Host Club is a widely known, classic anime of the shoujo genre. It aired in 2008 and was animated by Studio Deen. The story follows Haruhi Fujioka, an unusual honor student, and her time in the Host Club at the elite school Ouran Academy. Her friends in the club are “high class” and spoiled brats for the most part, but each with quirks that make them lovable. Several classic shoujo shows are progressive in their themes and ideas. I especially mean having LGBTQ characters that are handled without prejudice or stereotypes. Is Ouran Highschool the same in this way?
The short answer is yes. I think the author behind the manga series (Bisco Hatori) must have been quite liberal and free-thinking, and this shows in the anime. However, there is one case where the series made me doubt its sensibility with what it chose to mock (feminism). But before we get into that can of worms, I’ll provide few examples Ouran Highschool being a progressive show.
First there’s Haruhi, who can be considered gender-fluid. In general, she’s heedless of her physical appearance, but she also tells the Host Club members that she doesn’t care if they think of her as a boy or a girl. When everyone mistakes her for a male in episode 1, Haruhi never outright corrects them. Crossdressing as a boy and fooling most of the school about her sex isn’t a problem for her, either. As far as personality, Haruhi is in equal parts “girly” and “boyish.”
Then there’s Ryoji Fujioka, Haruhi’s father. The term used for him in the anime is “transvestite,” which people should be careful with because many don’t like to be addressed that way. The generally preferred term is “crossdresser,” referring to one who dresses as the opposite sex but doesn’t necessarily identify as the opposite sex (if they did, they would be “transgender.”) It’s debatable, but most fans see Ranka as a crossdresser rather than a transgender individual. Terms aside, Ranka is a great LGBTQ character. Ouran Highschool put time into developing him, so he isn’t as stereotyped as similar characters from anime series of the shoujo and yaoi genres.
In Ouran Highschool, there are several examples of close relationships between male characters which can be viewed as romantic. While Kyouya and Tamaki are probably “just friends,” the Hiitachin twins are homosexual, or perhaps bisexual. At the very least, Hikaru and Kaoru are “gay for each other.” What there is between Mitsukuni (Honey) and Takashi (Mori) appears to be more than friendship. The other club members view it as a voluntary “master-servant relationship,” built on Takashi’s dedication to always being there for Mitsukuni. The two are affectionate with each other, though not necessarily in a physical way.
Just as there are hinted gay relationships in Ouran Highschool, there are also elements of girls’ love (shoujo ai). There’s the infamous accidental kiss between Haruhi and Kasuga in episode 2. That was a beautiful moment. Also, the charismatic theater-club leader from Lobelia Girl’s Academy, Benio, is almost certainly a lesbian. She is probably polyamorous as well, having two lovers at the same time. Speaking of Benio, let’s open that “can of worms” I mentioned ealier.
Among people who comment on various anime streaming websites, there is an intense sentiment of irrational, burning hatred toward “Beni Bara” and the Zuka Club. I honestly can’t fathom this. Being mildly annoyed at Benio is understandable, since she’s pushy, makes incorrect assumptions, and is an over-the-top character. Yet she isn’t any better or worse (or less funny) than the members of Ouran’s Host Club. Here are three complaints against Benio and my rebuttals.
Some viewers say Benio is too physical with Haruhi. That’s perfectly correct, but the same can be said of some Host Club members– in particular, the boundary-pushing Hiitachin twins and the possessive, smothering Tamaki. There are numerous examples in the series when they invade Haruhi’s privacy or do things that qualify as sexual harassment. Viewers say Benio is horrible for trying to force a kiss on Haruhi, and this is true; but if we’re being consistent, the Host Club is also horrible for the countless things they force Haruhi to do in the name of repaying her debt. All of these things are supposed to be comical, so I don’t understand getting so angry over them.
Finally, there is a third reason why butthurt viewers preach about the evil of Benio and the Zuka Club. It’s because they are portrayed as feminists. I’ve heard many fans of the show, both male and female, say they hate Benio for being a crazy feminist bitch. As for me, if anything, I was annoyed that Ouran Highschool made such a silly portrayal of such an important and relevant issue. There’s nothing wrong with what Beni Bara and her two sidekicks said about sexism when they met the Host Club in episode 9.
The only thing Benio did wrong was make some bad assumptions– like 1) the belief that Haruhi wanted to leave the Host Club and transfer to a girls’ academy, and 2) the belief that all girls at Ouran would be insulted or turned off by the Host Club’s behavior. The truth was that Haruhi wanted to pay off her debt and, by staying in the Host Club, have opportunities like eating fancy food. She wanted to learn at Ouran because Lobelia didn’t have good programs for aspiring lawyers. And of course, not all girls are offended by the Club’s occasional sexism or touchy-feely acts; there are dozens of female fans and voluntary visitors each school-day.
So, I have two points to make. First, Benio clearly had some faults as a character, but that doesn’t mean she’s worthy of hatred. She’s funny when she’s wrong, and she has interesting or good points like being a lesbian, being a feminist, and being really damn hot if you ask me. The second point is this. If you are like me, a feminist who was a bit put off by the anime’s casual mocking, just accept that Ouran Highschool has a few flaws, and that it’s just anime, and move on.
Don’t forget all the hilarious content in this show, or the examples I gave in the beginning about it being open to LGBTQ issues. Though it does a poor job handling feminism, Ouran Highschool Host Club is still, overall, a progressive and liberal anime series.
7 thoughts on “Is Ouran Highschool Host Club “Progressive”?”
I wish I could see it the way you do. I just can’t like it. Maybe I was watching a bad translation, but (I only watched like 7 episodes) doesn’t it make fun of gayness a whole lot?
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Hmm gayness is treated comically usually, but not derisively, from my interpretation. The relationship with Hunny Senpai and Mori Senpai is taken pretty seriously though.
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Nice read! I was rewatching since coming out and feel that the show is does a really good job exploring themes like sexuality and gender especially outside the binary. Dzuka club is sexist but in a “hate all men” way that’s just funny. Cross dressing, homoeroticism and obviously haruhi’s reluctance to be gendered all seem quite progressive compared to just about any anime I’ve seen.
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i can tell you havent read the manga…. Haruhi’s dad is referred to as the T slur multiple times.
Hey thanks for your comment and for bringing that fact to light. Ever since I made this post a couple years ago, I have realized Ouran hasn’t aged well. It’s still got a lot of phobic elements. I pretty much realized that it’s only “progressive” compared to what I grew up with, and compared to toxic anime in general. Looking at Ouran by itself it doesn’t seem very forward thinking sometimes. But I’ll always appreciate the show deeply for the way it opened my eyes in many regards.