Monday, May 30, 2011

Ouran High School Host Club

This is another series that's high on my list of all time favorite series. If you haven't watched this one you're probably wondering why that is. It's a reverse harem anime, right? And a flighty story about a bunch of rich guys catering to the whims of a bunch of rich girls in a fancy high school for the rich? Geez! Can you get more derivative and boring?

The answer is that this is definitely not a derivative and boring series. It's seriously funny, in places it's hysterically funny, and the plot is surprisingly deep along the way.

So yes, Ouran High School Host Club is a reverse harem anime which takes place in a high school for the extremely wealthy. The main characters are the sons of extremely wealthy families plus one displaced special student (seated in the first picture) who is railroaded into joining their Host Club. If you haven't seen this anime series and plan to do so, go watch the first episode before reading any more of this blog because I'm about to spoil a great first episode.

Fujioka Haruhi is a poor student who is attending Ouran on scholarships and who doesn't even have money for a uniform. In the first episode Haruhi is disheveled and nerdy looking. Quite by accident, Haruhi runs afoul of the Host Club. This first episode is absolutely priceless, as each member of the Host Club comes to the realization that Haruhi is a girl, not a boy. In this picture to the left she's wearing girl's clothes and is obviously a girl, a look entirely different from her original one. It's amazing how long it took me to come to that realization the first time I watched this series. After the Host Club members all realize it, they decide to keep the deception going and have Haruhi join the Host Club as a Host.

The plot line in this series is exceptional. The surface, obvious plot is just the activities of the Host Club, including the various cosplay the Hosts do and their interactions with other students and between themselves. However, the real plot lies much deeper than that and is why I enjoyed this series so much. Each of the Hosts is an interesting individual with unique gifts and unique problems. The Hosts include: Suou Tamaki, who's father is the school headmaster, and who created and leads the Host Club; Ootori Kyouya, who's family owns multiple hospitals, medical supply businesses and a small private army, Hitachiin Kaoru and Hitachiin Hikaru, who are twins that no one can tell apart, (seen in the picture to the right above); Haninozuka Mitsukuni (Honey), who is the heir of a martial arts school and a martial arts master; and Morinozuka Takashi (Mori), who's family has been allied with Honey's family throughout history. Honey is shown in serious fight mode in the picture to the left below. These individuals are brought together by Tamaki to form the Host Club, and along the way in the series, the background of each one, and Tamaki's interactions with them is revealed.

Tamaki and Haruhi are the most interesting characters in the series from my perspective. Haruhi's mother has died and Haruhi lives with her father who works as a cross-dresser in a bar. Haruhi is pretty intuitive about people, and is quite straight-forward and accepting of other people and their idiosyncrasies. Her only real interest in attending Ouran is studying and doing well and the Host Club to her is a massive waste of time when she gets sucked into it. Also despite her general intuition about other people, she can be oblivious to social mores. She is also the only person in the world who can tell Kaoru and Hikaru apart.

Tamaki is the most fun character (picture to the right). He vacillates back and forth between being apparently totally clueless and then making incredibly astute readings of the other characters' needs and desires. He comes across as such a soft-hearted airhead that his insights into the others characters and problems is really brought into sharp focus. He is the driving force behind the Host Club; he brought them all together originally and he keeps them together. Along the way it is revealed that he has problems of his own. It turns out he is the half-Japanese, illegitimate son of the school headmaster. He is not accepted by most of the Suou family, but he is the only son of his father so he is tolerated as the possible heir.

When Tamaki decides to form his Host Club he starts with Kyouya who is already his friend. Kyouya may be my favorite character in the series, shown here to the left. He's the 'shadow king', the power behind the throne, if you will. He handles all the finances, makes all the arrangements and just basically facilitates whatever Tamaki has decided to do. He's a financial wizard and his abilities become apparent at the end of the series. His back story about his early interactions with Tamaki is also my favorite subplot to a series that has several good ones.

Each of the Host Club members has a 'schtick' they play off of as Hosts. For Tamaki, it's his looks and his incredibly suave moves with women. For Kyouya it's his megane-looks and his cool reserve. Haruhi "plays off" her rookie status and her ingenuous behavior, which actually turns out to be basic Haruhi rather than a role. The Hitachiin brothers, play off 'brotherly love' for the Host Club, as well as other people's inability to tell them apart. They switch places with each other regularly, which works on everyone except Haruhi. These Host Club members are second year high school students, with Haruhi, Kaoru and Hikaru being in the same class and Tamaki and Kyouya being in a separate class. Honey and Mori are the third year student members of the Host Club. Both are martial arts experts and although in the Host Club they play off Honey's little kid looks and Mori's cool aloofness, they are surprisingly the muscle behind the Host Club when muscle is necessary. Mori is the tallest Host, shown here towering over Haruhi in her Host uniform, and Mori and Honey are usually a pair.

Overall, the story is about the various antics of the Host Club, but more than that, it's about the growth of the Host Club's individual members, and the ways in which clueless Tamaki affects and changes each of their lives. This is about a group a friends, basically, how they became friends and how they help each other along the way. The series manages to make this basic story fun and interesting. If I had to cite a negative, I would say the music is only so-so. However for entertainment value and a great story, the series is well worth watching.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ergo Proxy

Hmmmmmm. The new series are too new to blog about. I haven't formed a definite opinion of any of them yet. So once again I guess I'll go back and review an old series. The series I picked to review this time is Ergo Proxy.

I liked Ergo Proxy. I watched it three times, and still probably missed nuances. To say the plot was complex would be a massive understatement. I didn't figure out what was going on until the end of the series the first time I watched it. If you've read previous blogs, you know how I love a series that keeps me guessing. This one did that . . . in spades!

Ergo Proxy is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The world is frozen, bleak and inimical to life. The people who are left exist in sterile domes run mostly by computers and robots. The robot population is susceptible to a virus that attacks their logic functions and essentially causes them to go insane. The people mostly live their lives without considering anything outside the domes, and police and laborers deal with the robot population when necessary. The story follows three main characters: a spoiled rich girl named Real (pictured just below), a poor immigrant laborer named Vincent (to the left below in the orange) and a small robot girl child named Pino. Important side characters include the dome's head physician, Daedalus, the chief of police, Raul, and Real's robot companion and guard, Iggy. At the start of the series a monster is loose in the dome and is slaughtering people. Real and Iggy are investigating the murders. Vincent is implicated in them because of several clues and because the monster, known as a "Proxy" chases him specifically. Also wherever Vincent goes another Proxy appears. Vincent ends up chased by the police, and to escape them he leaps from the dome, along with Pino who helps him.

Vincent and Pino survive their leap and find that humans are living outside the dome. Real comes outside to find him, and becomes infected with a virus that kills most poeple who leave the dome. Raul wishes to get rid of both Vincent and Real, however Vincent finds a way to return Real to Daedalus in the dome and at the same time he makes his escape with several other people on a small ship (called the Usagi) that glides above the frozen world using wind power in it's sails. Real's life is saved by Daedalus, and he sends her on a mission to kill Vincent because Vincent is a "Proxy".

Vincent, Pino and a few of the outside colonists travel on the Usagi for weeks across frozen wastes. Along the way everyone succumbs to the cold, loneliness and lack of food until only Pino and Vincent are left. They finally come across another group of people in the remains of twin domes that have been fighting each other for as long as anyone can remember. While there they discover two more Proxies, and Vincent discovers that he himself is a Proxy, a Proxy known as the Ergo Proxy. He has no memory of being this Proxy, but realizes that he becomes Ergo Proxy whenever there is another Proxy present. As Ergo Proxy, he kills these others as though it's his reason for existence.

After Vincent and Pino leave the twin dome ruins, Real and Iggy catch up to them and when Real tries to send Iggy home, he succumbs to the viral insanity and tries to keep Real for himself. He is defeated, and Vincent, Real and Pino continue the travels together, discovering abandoned domes and abandoned and dying populations. They continue on, trying to get to the dome which Vincent came from when he immigrated, looking for answers to what he is and what is going on with the world.

At the same time at the home dome, Daedalus is under house arrest for sending Real on her mission. Daedalus and Raul meet and agree to work together, and it's not until much later that you realize that neither of these men is sane. Along the way, Raul fires a nuclear weapon which destroys Vincent's home dome before Vincent, Real and Pino get there. So at that point the three travelers turn around and head back to the original dome. Raul is pictured to the right and Daedalus is below on the left.

For most of the series there is no explanation of what a Proxy is, and what is going on. Add to that, several of the episodes or parts of episodes occur in the various characters' dreams or states of altered consciousness. Often it is hard to tell what is really happening and what is not. "Reality" is basically subjective. . . or more subjective than usual. It's difficult to accurately portray the ambiance of this series and the detail of the plot. If you've ever seen the movie Blade Runner, that civilization gave me a similar feel to this series. At the end, and believe me, it's much more complex than this, but at the end what it's all about is this: the world was abandoned by the majority of people after they destroyed it, leaving it a frozen waste. The people who abandoned the world left several domed cities of people, with a Proxy in charge of each of them. The Proxies were meant to try to keep a living population alive on the world, but so many centuries passed that Proxies died, went insane and just generally lost their way, and thus most of the domes also died. At the end of the series, Vincent as Ergo Proxy destroys the original dome also, just as the people who abandoned the world begin to return. Real, Vincent/Ergo Proxy and Pino survive and leave the area of the dome on the Usagi, ready to deal with the returning people who abandoned them so long ago.

This series is a psychological tour de force, investigating people's conscious and subconscious minds. Everyone in the series does what they think is the right thing, even Raul when he fires a nuclear weapon, and Daedalus when he keeps cloning Reals. My favorite character in the series is actually Pino, shown here on the right. She's so matter of fact and so accepting of everyone and everything. She knows well before Vincent does that he's Ergo Proxy, and she still stays with him and helps him. In many ways she's more "human" than the humans in the series. Along with the very complex plot, I liked the music in this series and the characters. I could have wished that Raul and Daedalus had lived, but given their lack of sanity at the end, it's probably for the best that they didn't.

Obviously it was a decent series if I watched it three times, but mostly I was trying to understand exactly what was going on. Also, some scenes are so dark that I can only really watch them after it's dark outside if I want to see them at all. This was probably my least favorite thing about the series. I really hate really dark scenes. Togainu no Chi does this also, as does Deadman Wonderland. If you don't want to make something visible, don't put it in the scene, don't just make the scene so dark the viewer can't see it! Mataku!

Anyway, that's Ergo Proxy. I recommend it, but you'll need to pay attention.