Haruhi is a hard-working girl, who earned a scholarship to the prestigious Ouran High School. All her classmates are the kids of wealthy and influential people, so she is a bit of an outcast -- especially because she takes her studies seriously, while the rest of the student population seems to regard school work as a minor distraction. Instead of the designed uniform, which is too expensive for her, she wears trousers and loose-fitting sweaters. She also cut her hair just before she entered school, and she is commonly mistaken for a boy. (In one episode, she is called 'Miss A-cup', so it's not like her body gives lots of clues about her gender either.)
In search of a quiet place to study (all the libraries are filled with loudly chatting students), she stumbles upon the Third Music Room, which happens to be the base of operations for the Host Club. The Host Club is where pretty boys serve tea and cake to the female student population, who pay a handsome fee for the pleasure of their company.
Haruhi is confused, and accidentally breaks a vase -- a vase that costs 8 million yen (about 53.500 euro). Obviously, she can't compensate the Host Club, and so she is made to be the errand boy. But when her glasses come off, the Host Club sees how cute she is, and she is made a Host! Obviously, this means that her true gender needs to be kept a secret...
And so it begins. All the rich guys make much of her supposed poverty (a great deal of fuss is made about instant coffee, or "commoner coffee" as they call it), but they all have their own troubles. The life of rich boys isn't as easy as it seems: the twins Hikaru and Kaoru don't have anyone who can tell them apart, forcing them to stay some sort of single entity. Little Hanizuka ('Honey-sempai') is actually a world-class martial artist but likes cute things better. Kyoya is always scheming -- as the third son, there is little hope he will inherit a position of power, and thus he is always seeking to use people to his own advantage. Tamaki (the 'King' of the Host Club) is the illegitimate son, which means it's by no means sure he will inherit his father's position. But with her common sense, Haruhi manages to work her way into the lives and hearts of her fellow Hosts.
The series is quite episodic: each episode there is a small crisis for the Host Club to solve -- often instigated to do so by the chivalrous Tamaki. Some of these are quite bizarre, such as when Haruhi is kidnapped by the student council of Lobelia Girls' School, and the gang has to get her back!
This bizarreness and the complete lack of common sense from the Hosts serves as the main source of comedy, and it works very well. The series is funny, in a bizarre way -- what to think of the trouble the Host Club will go through to guide Haruhi through her physical examination without revealing that she is actually a girl and not a guy? Also, I dind't think I would be able to laugh at repeated banana peel jokes, but I did.
The series pokes a great deal of fun of the female otaku. The Host Club fills several stereotypes (the twins play at twincest, Honey-sempai caters for the loli-shota lovers, etc), all to extract money from the pockets of they female admirers. The whole slash phenomenon is cunningly exploited by the Host Club -- and funnily enough, one of the premier fan sites didn't get the joke.
There are some serious moments though. Haruhi talks with her fellow Hosts about their lives, and we get some glimpses of her friends' troubled lives.
As for the style of the series, there is nothing to complain about. Animated by Bones, the designs are deceptively simple but quite detailed. There is a lot of animation -- it's not just talking heads, but every of Tamaki's antics is rendered in detail. Visually, it's quite appealing.
The music is merely OK, but the voice acting is, again, superb. Maaya Sakamoto voices Haruhi in a most pleasant manner, but the rest of the voice cast is also delivering a superb performance. There is very little shouting, and the cast can really work on their voices.
It is not often that so much budget is spent on a romantic comedy. And it is not often that a romantic comedy manages to be so funny without having to resort to pantyshots and breast jokes.
If I must have a single complaint, then it is that the series ends at a 'local maximum'. At the end of the series, a genuine crisis develops. The disaster is diverted, and afterwards the Host Club continues as it did before, without any resolution of the underlying plot threads.
Apparently there's more manga -- I hope that will be animated in the future.
- Genuinely funny;
- Pokes great fun of fangirls;
- Touching at times -- it's not all fun all the time;
- Excellent production values.
- Too short.
All in all, I recommend this series highly. I will award it a 9.