Okay, so just to start with these episodes, I really did not need to know that Hikaru and Kaoru actually slept together, in the same bed, at least partially unclothed. So thanks for that, Ouran High School Host Club, making a liar out of me when I assured my friends that their whole ‘twincest’ thing was entirely a joke. That said, opening on them this way is its own kind of amusing irony, as a major element of both the fifteenth and sixteenth episodes is the growing divide and the divergent characterization between everyone"s favorite trollish twins. We"re soundly in the second half of the show now, and it seems Ouran is starting working on some real, noticeable development for these characters. That already makes them appealing in my eyes, but they"re also just dang good episodes, with novel new settings and situations, as well as playing off a lot of the foundation they"ve been laying down the whole series.

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Episode 15 I wasn"t entirely sure about at first. Yes, it was a point in the last couple I watched that Haruhi has warmed up to the Host Club and the antics she gets to experience with them, but I can understand that she"d still want to get away from them sometimes. So having them crash her peaceful time working at a pension in Karuizawa was a bit off-putting. I understand the stories in this show can"t really happen if the boys don"t show up to act like total goobers, but it just makes them feel a bit tactless and frustrating, even by their standards. As with a lot of similar setup issues I"ve taken with the series, it ends up working out because the resulting plot is plenty entertaining, as well as its implications that the guys are actually trying to be better in some of their own ways at this point.

The fun factor comes from another impromptu contest at least partially spurred by the Hitachiins in their eternal quest to screw with Tamaki and flirt with Haruhi. Given what the show"s even about, Ouran has never exactly shied away from different degrees of manservice, but that"s put on even more potent display here, with the dudes specifically competing over who can provide the most refreshing scenery for Misuzu, one of Ranka"s other cross-dresser friends. It provides opportunities for demonstrating peculiar gaps in the appeal points of guys whose whole job is being hot, like the point that a lot of Tamaki"s appeal goes out the window when he"s trying to do something on his own instead of specifically charming someone. This idea of club members being less-than-great on their off time comes up in a somewhat more serious way next episode, so it"s smart that this one lays the lighter groundwork for the concept.

In fact, a clever facet of the 15th episode is that, for as solid as its own amusing little plot is, it"s doing a lot of setup for the forthcoming entry that you don"t really notice until retrospectively. The bit where the Hitachiins drop the vase is an amusing climax to the contest in a “Did they really set that up?” way of overtness, but it also leaves Kaoru with a scratch on his cheek, entirely so that we, the viewers, have an easy way to know who"s who, as that aforementioned character divergence plays heavily into episode 16. Meanwhile, the whole question of who might win the contest is discussed between Haruhi and Kyoya, hinging on the idea of being aware of people"s quirks and depths, which those two have been trading on well enough, but the other boys have plenty of growing room.

They"ve been teasing that sort of potential for growth the whole show, but to see it actively happen is another story. The 16th episode of Ouran does for depth of character work what the Alice in Wonderland episode did for its visuals. It focuses primarily on Hikaru, mostly apart from Kaoru. It"s novel just from the start, as we notice Hikaru acting saltier than his brother over Haruhi"s enjoyable reunion with her middle school friend Arai, when we"ve gotten so used to them acting almost constantly in unison. It really guides us into getting ready to regard these guys as individuals, not just as a mechanic for this plot, but as an example of how far Haruhi"s presence has affected their personalities in life. That"s called attention to by the characters, a mechanic of the story in the moment, and the specific fixation of Hikaru as he grapples with his new, stronger feelings felt outside his usual invested sibling relationship.

A lot of the characterization in this episode happen around Haruhi rather than directly focusing on her. This is fine for a couple of reasons, since she"s already been the most well-developed member of the cast, and because the bits we get are so entertaining. The revelation that she"s been an inadvertent heart-breaker since at least middle school with Arai is hilarious brings up the question of how invested she even is in the subject of romance. She seems to genuinely feel bad about how she messed with Arai"s feelings, but this made me question if we"ve ever seen Haruhi express anything resembling romantic affection. Her feelings on the boys in the club only recently crested into “Enjoying their company in spite of herself,” while romance seems to serve as mercenary a purpose as gender to her. She of course has no problem being fawned over by girls while on host duty. I"ve alluded to the idea of a coupled endgame several times, but this aspect of her character calls into question how plausible such a resolution would actually be. That"s a good thing, I should specify, since it keeps me guessing as to where the plot elements of this story will go, and also makes clear that Haruhi has plenty of development potential of her own.

But no, the real meat of episode 16"s personality work is owned by Hikaru, who hurdles across one heck of an arc not just distancing himself from Kaoru, but in making clear what areas that means he should be growing in. Some of these emerging dissonances are elements alluded to in the earlier episode, like the point that this supposed professional host is actually at a complete loss for date-based socialization without being able to play up his twin gimmickry with his brother. And the other boys" various, downright obligatory ways of surreptitiously dropping in on their date is the classic kind of Ouran fun I"m here for. But as with the whole of episode 15, this one works especially well when it"s setting up stuff we aren"t even thinking about.

Haruhi"s ability to pick up on people"s personalities and quirks has been a part of her since the beginning, so we"re used to it, but it"s still an inspiring revelation when they roll back and review each time she did it this episode, since we understand that Hikaru is catching onto it himself now. It also brings around some attentive character development for others, seeing that Tamaki is less interested in holding his knowledge of Haruhi"s fear of thunder for himself than he is in making sure she"s safe and taken care of, even by a romantic rival like Hikaru. Between that and the 14th episode I covered last week, I must admit I was remiss in my previous assessment that Tamaki"s character felt too static. And it looks like Hikaru and Kaoru won"t be far behind. Ouran"s second half has already been noticeably strong as it commits to more character depth and real exploration of its ideas. I already had my favorites among the cast and had plenty of fun watching them do their sitcom bits. But now I can feel all these kids really growing on me, I definitely think I"m starting to see where the longstanding love for this series comes from.

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