Imagine this: it’s 2009, The Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling” plays on the radio, and an iPhone 3Gs charges on the nightstand. One day, I was on the internet, quickly descending into one of those YouTube black holes, and I stumbled upon an anime series called OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB. I binge watched the whole season in one sitting. Since then, I’ve watched it at least five more times. My first anime happened to be my favourite.

Haruhi Fujioka is our protagonist. She receives a scholarship to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country, Ouran Academy. Because of her lack of finances and abundance of brains, she is an outsider. One day, while looking for a place to study quietly, she stumbles upon an empty room (or so she thinks). The room belongs to the Host Club. Haruhi accidentally breaks a priceless vase and in order to pay off her debt, she is made to work for the club.

What I really love about this show is the topics it explored. The show was truly before its time. I watched this show when I didn’t know or think too much about gender, sexuality, drag, social perception, or the importance of female leads. Not only was it entertaining, but I could fall back on this show if I wanted to think about different examples of those topics in media.

Ouran High School: Haruhi’s Gender-Bending

Ouran High School
Image: DeviantArt

When Haruhi first arrives at the host club, she is sporting a baggy sweater, short scruffy hair, and glasses that take over most of her face. It’s because of her appearance that the club members mistake her for a boy. When the members realise that Fujioka is in fact a girl, she tells them that she doesn’t care what gender the world assigns her. She believes that it’s more important to be known for who a person is on the inside and not what sex they are.

Haruhi was one of the first examples of gender fluidity that I saw on television. Today, there still aren’t enough representations of characters who don’t conform to society’s gender roles. And most of the genderqueer characters that are on screen are robots or aliens. Genderqueer humans can’t relate to that.

Haruhi planted a seed. Over time, I got older, I had experiences, and did my research. The seed that Haruhi planted helped grow the way I see gender fluidity. Sometimes people forget that we can be influenced by what we watch. Haruhi is a positive, human portrayal of genderqueer people and that’s why I admire her. She’ll plant more good seeds in more people and hopefully just start a dialogue.

Drag Kings and Queens: Shantay, you stay!

Image: topsimages

When I first watched this show (back in 2009), Rupaul’s Drag Race had just aired. I wouldn’t watch the show until years later. My only knowledge about drag queens at the time was that they were men who dressed up like women and performed. I had no exposure to them in real life and I hadn’t seen one on television or in movies yet. These were dark, dark times, people.

In OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB we don’t know much about Haruhi’s family or what her life is like at home. It isn’t until episode 10 that we get to meet Ryoji, Haruhi’s father. He is a cross-dresser who goes by the name Ranka. Since cross-dressing heavily inspired drag, I learned about both topics from this episode.

Another great example of how this anime was before its time is its diverse representation of characters in drag. In one episode, students from an all-girls school called Lobelia Academy visit Haruhi. The students are the most popular and desired girls from their school. They, too, belong to a club but instead of hosting, they perform and the leader (Benibara) dresses like a man. Not only do we get to see a drag queen but we also get to see a drag king, as well. Drag kings are less represented than Drag queens and a lot of people still don’t know anything about them.

B.I. / A.F. = Before Instagram / After Facebook

Image: topsimages

In 2009, teens everywhere decided Facebook was uncool because their parents were making profiles on it. A lot of my friends were making the switch to Instagram. It would be a little while before Instagram would be the biggest accomplice to my FOMO but making the switch to another platform is just how it began.

Of course, I’m talking about social perception. Everything on social media has to do with social perception. People only allow you to see what they want you to see on social media and that is how you begin to think you know that girl who’s constantly getting on a plane to a more exotic location; or that super fit guy that seems to sleep at the gym and just adores meal prepping; or that couple who’s super in love and all over your feed when you find yourself single.

In OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB, every host plays to a certain “type” of guy. Tamaki is the prince-charming type. He romances the members and always has a bright and cheery demeanour. He never lets on that his upbringing was nothing short of a tragedy. His mother grew very ill and in exchange for her medical bills taken care of she gave her custody of Tamaki to his paternal grandmother. He hasn’t seen his mother since.

At first, this is who we think the characters are, but as the show goes on we get to know them when the customers aren’t there. The show does a wonderful job of portraying what it’s like to be the best version of yourself for the public and contrasts it against the multifaceted characters that are revealed behind closed doors.

Haruhi Leads the Way

Ouran High School
Image: Reddit

From 2009 all the way to 2019 — a span of ten years — a lot of things have changed. But a lot of things haven’t. One of the major reasons OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB is ahead of its time is simply because it features a strong female lead. It only seems that recently we’re starting to see a small rise in female-driven storylines. Haruhi owes the host club an insane amount of money but she doesn’t let the other members boss her around because of it.

She draws a line and makes sure that nobody crosses it. A few times in the show, Tamaki tries to make Haruhi dress like a woman because he has a crush on her. Haruhi voices her dismay and never lets him put her in the ridiculous outfits.

Ouran High School
Image: Pinterest

As the show progresses, Tamaki can’t understand his feelings for Haruhi. He shoves off the idea of romantic love and deems it paternal. Because he assumes the role of a father-figure to Haruhi, he often tells her what she can and cannot do — or at least he tries. Haruhi’s strong stance and unwavering conviction crumple Tamaki’s suggestions and toss them into the waste bin.

A Message From the Future

If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to watch this anime sooner. I’d also tell myself that this anime is very important, but that I won’t understand until later in life. Each time that I re-watch the series, I find topics that aren’t explored enough in television or movies in the US. If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself that OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB is a timeless classic. But you already knew that.

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