Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ouran High School Host Club DVD Release: Part 01

I've mentioned the Ouran High School Host Club anime a couple of times on this blog for dedicating two episodes to skewering the yuri fandom and the ridiculous things that we do/like, especially when it comes to Takarazuka culture and girls' school shows like Maria-sama ga Miteru. (Otherwise, the show focuses on grilling yaoi/bishonen fans.)

After having first watched and adored the show in 2006, I bought the first thinpak set (containing the first 13 episodes) and settled down to watch it with a sarcastic friend. Even though the show is (self-knowingly) saturated in bubblegum pink, roses, and sparkles galore, both she and I really enjoyed it- which says a lot, considering that she is far less tolerant of shoujo visual flourishes than I am.

For anybody unaware, Ouran is about a lower-middle class student named Haruhi Fujioka who gets into the ultra-posh Ouran Academy on scholarship. Since she can't afford the uniform (uniforms in general tend to be expensive in Japan), she wears normal, grungy-looking clothes that make her look like a guy. (Aided by the fact that she cut her hair short.) She stumbles upon a room being used by the Host Club, a school club of bishonen students who use their, uh, marketable qualities to draw customers. When Haruhi accidentally breaks an expensive vase while trying to leave, she becomes indebted to them and becomes a host to pay off her debt, even remaining a host after they discover that she's a girl. And thus begin Haruhi's candy-coated adventures with her harem: the "king" (Tamaki), the "cool one" (Kyoya), the "yaoicest twins" (Hikaru and Kaoru, who aren't really attracted to each other), the "shouta" (Honey), and the "wild one" (Mori).

Nearly every single frame, every single line in this show was created to pander to fans. Yet, I enjoy it a lot. While the show itself, as far as the first thirteen episodes, has all of the substance of a piece of cotton candy (hello, back-to-back pool and beach episodes), the characters are likeable and amusingly self-aware of their excesses, without being irritating (although the friend who I viewed the show with wanted Honey to die a fiery death), the artistic quirks pleasantly remind one of Revolutionary Girl Utena (it could best be decribed as Utena on a sugar high), and the comedy is funny, even (or especially) to people who aren't fans of the numerous cliches/archetypes that Ouran parodies.

As for the yuri, there is some not-really yuri in how Haruhi's work as a host requires that she charm the female customers who visit the club. But the real deal comes in episode 9, when the Zuka Club from St. Lobelia Girls' Academy visits Ouran Academy for Ouran's annual culture festival. The Zuka Club (with their name derived from "Takarazuka") comes across as a strange hybrid between the Takarazuka Revue and the Yamayurikai from Lillian Academy in Maria-sama ga Miteru. The show uses the Zuka Club and St. Lobelia to mercilessly skewer both Takarazuka and Marimite, as well as the squealing yuri fandom. It isn't any sort of soul-satisfying romance, but it isn't remotely meant to be that. And while the Zuka Club really doesn't like men, that aspect doesn't really bother me as much as it does in Maria Holic or Moonlight Flowers because it's done, as with the rest of the show, in a good-natured "don't take this stuff seriously, please" way.

The translation in general is very good (yay, honorifics!), but some of the lgbt terms definitely should have been translated with more sensitivity by Funimation: "okama" should have been "cross-dresser" or "drag queen", but it was inaccurately translated as "tranny", which is a highly pejorative term for transgendered people (this is especially unfortunate considering that the character in question, Haruhi's father, is otherwise a well-written character); one word that I wasn't familiar with was translated as "queers" (if at all possible, the translator should have gone with something more p.c., like "gay"); and when the twins were called the "homo-homo supporting cast" by a little kid, well, while I normally wouldn't fault a translator for giving as literal a translation as possible, whoever translated that phrase missed the fact that while "homo" can be either non-pejorative or pejorative when used in Japanese, in English it is exclusively pejorative- "gay supporting cast" would preserve the meaning of the phrase in Japanese while sounding less abrasive in English, imo.

Setting aside those niggling translation issues (especially "tranny"), this is a solid, funny series worth any shoujo fan's time. My only caveats are that some people might find this show far too silly and shallow for their tastes, and Funi really needs to iron out their translation in certain areas.

Story: B+
Art: B+
Translation: B
Overall: B+


Erin said...

I agree that a lot of extra thought should be put into translating sensitive terminology. However, I think accuracy is more important than political correctness. Word-to-word equivalence between source language and target language is rare here, which means context is key. I try not to put PC terms in the mouths of people who would be unlikely to use (or even know) them. As a translator, you have to be well-informed on the situation in both Japan and the target country--what does the general public use, what do people who are slightly more informed use, what do people in or friendly with the LGBTQ community use, and so on; maybe this translator wasn't, or maybe they're working on a level of understanding that isn't always obvious. In an ideal world, the general public would use neutral, somewhat-informed terms like "gay"; however, kids in particular can be inclined to use more ignorant or derogatory terms instead.
Just some food for thought, from the perspective of a translator who's been there.

Katherine said...

You're right, I should have considered the context of the speaker using the term and the fact that more literal translations are better, without making exceptions for political correctness. And thank you for your first-hand comments as a translator on the translation of LGBTQ terms in general. I wasn't fully aware of the numerous factors that translators need to consider.