Bisco Hatori’s manga series Ouran High School Host Club is a different type of shojo title in how it appeals to not just a female audience, but to a male audience as well. Most series under the shojo genre tends to put a great emphasis on the romance or love triangle between the main heroine/hero and their chosen love interest(s). As Ouran’s focus isn’t on just the obvious canon couple of Haruhi Fujioka and Tamaki Suoh, the series tends to pay more attention to the friendships between Haruhi and the Host Club, as well as the crazy, slapstick humor this series has an abundance of. It’s the kind of series that has a little bit of everything for everyone. What’s particularly great about reading this series is how the usual gender definitions doesn’t apply.
One instance of the “rules don’t apply” that Ouran demonstrates is the obvious appearance of Haruhi herself. When the manga begins, both the reader and the Host Club members presume she’s a boy. It’s only toward the end of the first chapter of Volume 1 is it revealed that the “he” is really a “she.” This little mix up and Haruhi’s choice to wear her hair in a boyish cut and don clothes that would be identified as strictly for a male is of no concern to Haruhi.
As the main heroine, Haruhi is identified as someone who isn’t concerned with labels. She doesn’t feel the need to always wear gender discerning clothes and she isn’t obsessed with girlie things. Haruhi only cares about attending school and living a normal life. Or at least as normal of a life as she possibly can have when you are dealing with the Host Club.
Haruhi isn’t classified as the typical girl in the series and she’s comfortable with that. She may happen to be a girl posing as a boy due to some crazy circumstances, but she doesn’t really care whether the school views her as a boy or girl. In a lot of ways, it may seem like Haruhi doesn’t want to be placed in a box. Not everything needs to be clearly marked and labeled. What matters is who you are as an individual and if you are comfortable in your own skin. Haruhi represents that idea in the series.
Another character who doesn’t follow the usual idea of what it is to be a certain gender is Mitsukuni “Hunny” Haninozuka. This resident Host Club member, with his happy-go-lucky attitude and deceptively young looking face, just loves everything involving cake and cute.
In Volume 7 of the manga, Hunny’s younger brother Chika isn’t comfortable with his older brother’s way of life. He believes Hunny is destroying the family’s reputation with his obsession for cake and fluffy bunnies. Chika thinks Hunny should be showing more restraint and toughness as the most esteemed of the Haninozuka line, whose martial arts school and technique is top rate in the country.
The volume does delve into Hunny’s past as once being a member of the Karate Club. Through flashback, Hunny is seen as disciplined and focused in martial arts, but not being particularly happy. He tries to give up his beloved sweets and stuffed bunny, but in the end, Hunny can’t do it. He comes to the realization, with a little help from Tamaki, that being who you truly are isn’t something you should stifle or store away in a closet. It’s about embracing your individuality and disregarding everyone else who can’t accept who you are. The only one who can really make yourself happy is you. Change if you want to. Don’t change because someone believes you need to act or be a certain way.
Hunny eventually gets Chika to understand he has to accept his older brother as the sweets eating, bunny loving teenager he is. Just because he loves these things so much doesn’t mean he doesn’t take his family reputation and his martial arts skill seriously. The message at the end of this chapter is a positive one. Hunny doesn’t fit the usual gender stereotype of being the tough, macho kid who doesn’t show any emotion and may like stuffed animals a little more than what’s deemed appropriate for a guy his age. In fact, his love of cute things may be perceived as being too much of a “girlie thing” to do.
The Ouran series, at least what I have read of it so far, promotes the idea of acceptance. Whether you dress in boy’s clothes or like having tea parties with your favorite stuffed bunny, you don’t need to push yourself into embodying the typical gender definitions we’re eventually taught to accept as the only truth in life.
A girl doesn’t have to do what is always considered appropriate for a girl, like wearing dresses or putting on makeup. And a boy doesn’t have to do what’s considered manly, like acting tough or liking sports and nothing else. When you put a label on it, it restricts rather than allows openness. The fact that the world of Ouran is a place where everyone is accepted, quirks and all, is a great place to be in and an idea we should put into practice in our every day lives.