The opening to the Ouran High School Host Club is one of those recognizable tunes to anyone following in the manga/anime shoujo universes. The first images that pops into the minds of fellow otaku is the sweet face of Usa-chan, the classic pranks of the Devil Twins, the flamboyant moods of the Lonely King, the Dog of the Host Club, and lots and lots of pink.
Ouran High School Host Club was created by the talented Bisco Hatori as a manga series between September 2002 and November 2010, issued from Hakusensha’s Lala shoujo magazine in Japan. It is also a ‘fujoshi comedy’, a new genre. The series follows Haruhi Fujioka, a scholarship student at Ouran High School, and the other members of the popular host club. The romantic comedy focuses on the relationships within and outside the Club and satirizes the clichés and stereotypes that endure in most, if not all, shoujo plots out of the Japanese manga/anime industry. Romantic comedies have always had a place in the entertainment genre the world over, so what element helps Hatori-san’s series break away from other storylines that flood the market yearly? In this editorial, I find that it is the actual setting of the story that helps the plot along, and entices the reader to fall in love with the characters. This is due to the fact that the viewer has gained access to the ideal culture of the presumed 1% of the elite rich. To begin to understand how the school setting is a key factor to the plot line, let us review what makes this manga an eye catcher. What makes this unique romantic story so alluring to viewers? What makes Ouran High School stand out from all other institutes of education in the manga/anime universes?
The prestigious Ouran Academy is an elegant institution unique to the ultra upper-crust high school theoretically located in Bunkyo, Tokyo. It is an elite academy that encompasses pre-school through high school educational systems, and also has an attached university program. Most of the students that attend this Academy come solely from elite families, but a scholarship is annually awarded to the individual who receives the top score on a rigorous entrance examination. Haruhi, the heroine of the story and recipient of the scholarship, is overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the campus, as it is the attendee’s own personal elegant playground focused for the super rich. Due to their treatment of “commoners,” Haruhi frequently makes the comment, “Rich bastards.” What catches the eye of the viewer, besides the lively characteristics of the main characters of the host club, is the brightly pink painted structure of the Ouran Academy, with its ornate and highly decorative designs that seems to scream “RICH!” We see the school prominently in the opening and throughout the episodes in order to show location, passage of time, a supportive accompaniment, to express character emotion, and ambiance of mood. The Ouran Academy sets itself apart from any other form of educational institute in the world, fantasy or otherwise. So is there a non-educational structure seen in the real world that resembles the highfalutin building that educates the members of the Ouran Academy students? The answer is yes, but the connection may surprise some readers.
One pink-colored property, matching the flamboyant exterior of the Ouran Academy, that immediately comes to mind would be the “Hello Kitty” themed attractions from cafés and movable amusements that pop up in trendy metropolitan locations in South Korea, Japan, Beijing, Sydney, etc. However, the structure that may have influenced the Ouran school is, in fact, much older. Hidden in the lush, private forest located on the Nymphenburg Palace grounds in Munich, Germany is the Amalienburg, aka The Queen’s Hunting Lodge. The purpose of the architecture in both the Academy and the Hunting Lodge seem to be for the same reason, to show off flamboyant wealth for all to see. Amalienburg was constructed in 1734-1739 by François de Cuvilliés, for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII (Germany) and his wife, Maria Amalia of Austria. It was done in the Rococo style. Now here is the key that connects the two together.
The Rococo style, the design that is seen on the interior walls, ceilings, and even in the framed title boxes of the Ouran Academy, was heavily influenced by the Baroque movement. This movement came about due to the religious wars between the Old Roman Catholic Church doctrine and the New Protestant Reformation ideals. With its flow of lines that intertwine with each other, giving it both rhythm and form, the mind and soul are removed from out of the mediocre terra landscape and into the celestial heavens with its flavored colors and textured golds. The use of these colors visually pull and push, to overwhelm the mind into a world of visual pleasure. Baroque derives from the Portuguese word “barroco” or Spanish “barrueco“, both of which refer to a “rough or imperfect pearl”. This is due to the fact that the style seemed to have every style known to man all mashed together with what seemed to be little sense of regularity and composition.
It was not until the mid-18th century that the artistic style changed, affecting many aspects of the arts for the affluent in Paris, France. Paris is also the home country Tamaki Suoh, one of the flamboyant students that attend the academy, whose tastes are a bit pretentious and over the top. This new style is against the grandeur, symmetry, and strict regulations of the Baroque, transitioning to a more jocular, florid, soft, and graceful approach in Rococo. This concept of superb beauty is mirrored not only in the design of the school but also in the attitudes of attendees of the school itself. This is where the heirs of the rich luxuriate their extensive free time by surrounding themselves with beauty that is hard to find. The word “rococo” is derived from the French “rocaille,” a word used to describe the rock and shell work of the Versailles grottoes. Their style was ornate and used light colors, asymmetrical designs, curves, and gold to create playful and witty themes, just as you see at the Ouran Academy. After the death of King Louis XIV, the new court of Louis XV packed up the Palace of Versailles and move to central Paris and the style took off. It became a rich style that was created by the rich for the rich. Looking past all the historical aspects you can see the tastes that reflect Tamaki’s love of poetry and beauty.
There have been many romantic stories about school student lives where we, the reader/viewer, follow along to live through the eyes of the hero/heroine as they experience the adventure of that world. The Ouran Academy has given us such an experience, with its flamboyant pink buildings that are a character in its own right. The reader/viewer follows the narrative through the support of the new element, being the school itself, in order to learn about the world that they have entered in and to make them stop and stare at the delicate lines and soft color. It speaks of wealth, of gracefulness, and even the fact that this is a world few will ever experience.