Thoughts: The Merit Scene in Ouran

When I first watched this scene in episode 5 (of the live-action drama), I’ll admit I was watching it largely for the fan service.

However a few comments got me thinking about it in further detail. As it turns out, there were more than a few outraged viewers who felt Kyouya deserved a slap (and that’s putting it mildly.) And then there were others who thought Tamaki was being sexist when he got angry with Haruhi for not calling for help during the beach scene, which made me wonder if I had missed something or worse, left my brain at the door too long. I’d like to think that my sense of right and wrong hasn’t atrophied, and that I’m not so blinded by the pretty that I’m unable to recognize when someone’s being a complete ass.

So let’s revisit this scene again, shall we? By the way, unless otherwise stated, I will be using the manga as a reference point because a) I am a purist and b) it is the source material after all.

***

Any discussion of the merit scene has to take into consideration the events leading up to it. In a nutshell, Haruhi is pushed off a cliff while trying to defend a girl from three men. The other girls alert the host club members and Tamaki goes in after her while the rest deal with the assailants.

When she regains consciousness, Tamaki loses his temper and berates her for her foolishness:

Tamaki: Haruhi, are you a martial arts expert like Hunny-senpai? Have you won any diving competitions?
Haruhi: No…
Tamaki: Then why? We were right here but you didn’t even call us. Trying to face three men on your own. You’re a girl. Why are you so foolish?
Haruhi: It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, does it? When you encounter a situation like this, you don’t have the time to think about things like that.
Tamaki: You should still think about it, stupid!
Haruhi: I apologize for causing any trouble but I don’t understand why I need to be lectured for something more than that. I didn’t do anything wrong!

It’s necessary to stress that Tamaki isn’t telling her not to fight because she’s a woman and therefore weak. Rather, his point is that she faced three men on her own without any regard for her own safety. He isn’t being condescending – they did overpower and push her off the cliff even though they could have chosen not to do so. What if they had found out she was a woman? What would she have done then? Hope they grow a conscience and back off?

The point Tamaki is trying to make is that it’s fine if she wants to help but she should also know how to make use of the resources that she has. This is advice that applies to both men and women; asking for help doesn’t mean one is weak or helpless.

That said, Haruhi’s position is perfectly understandable as well: she was simply doing what she had to do. If someone is in trouble, you do your best to help them. You don’t waste time thinking about the consequences during an emergency. If she had gone off to look for them, who knows what would have happened to the girl?

They are both not wrong in thinking what they do. However in the case of Haruhi, there is another reason — which Tamaki doesn’t yet realise — why she didn’t ask for help: it is simply not in her nature to do so. We learn about this in the supermarket episode when Ranka relates how her mother’s death has made her so independent and self-reliant that it’s almost as if she doesn’t know how to turn to other people for help: “It’s either that she doesn’t know how to lean on someone or she’s simply that selfless. She won’t give [anyone] the chance to worry about her.”

We get a glimpse of this when she locks herself up in the cupboard during the thunderstorm. It’s telling that she chooses to deal with the situation alone, instead of seeking the company of the rest of the Host Club members. Many people would prefer to surround themselves with friends or people they know when they’re in distress, but not Haruhi. On another note, her self-sufficiency also contributes to an emotional detachment, which means that she is often oblivious to other people’s feelings. The idea that Tamaki’s anger stems from worry never crosses her mind, hence her surprise later in the evening when she talks to the rest of the Host Club after he and Kyouya have left the dining room:

Haruhi: I should have learned karate or something.
Kaoru: It’s cool to be fearless and have a strong sense of justice but even we think you should apologise for your reckless behaviour today.
Haruhi: But I didn’t cause you guys any harm. I don’t understand why Senpai was angry like that. But if it was because I was weak, then I apologise…
Hunny: That’s not it, Haruhi. You should apologize to everyone. Lots and lots to Tamaki too. Apologise for making us worry so much.
Haruhi: Worry…Everyone was worried? I did not know that.

The bottom line is that no one is accusing her of being a weak, defenceless female (as she herself seems to think). No one is saying that she should let the boys in the club protect her. What they are saying is that she should know when to stand her ground and when to get help.

***

Shortly after this little revelation, she starts feeling the after-effects of eating too much seafood and rushes into the nearest bathroom to deposit her dinner. It turns out to be Kyouya’s. Interestingly enough, he’s the only one who hasn’t said anything about the incident at the beach. At first he seems rather disinterested in the whole affair, telling her when she apologises to him that he wasn’t all that worried. And yet he adds almost as an afterthought: “I just had to work a little to tear the twins off from beating those three to death.” And by this he means that he only told the twins to stop when those men were close to being a smear on the ground. The only thing stopping him from allowing them to continue is the fact that “murder would [have been] difficult to manage.” How typical of Kyouya to show his concern in the most oblique manner possible.

And now we come to the most controversial part of the episode. Kyouya tells her that he had to send flowers to all their clients as a token of apology. This being Ouran, those flowers don’t come cheap, which makes Haruhi wonder if the sum is going to be added to her debt:

Kyouya: Since you’re here, do you want to do something?
Haruhi: What do you mean?
Kyouya: Isn’t it obvious…between a man and a woman?
Haruhi: Why are you turning off the lights?
Kyouya: You can pay for the cost of the flowers with your body. [He drags her to the bed and straddles her.] You say that you don’t care about the differences between men and women. As a man, I could attack you anytime and a woman like yourself wouldn’t be able to push me off. Before you say that it doesn’t matter again, think about how much of an easy target you are.

Now, there are two reasons why Tamaki is angry with her. The twins and Hunny have already explained the first one and now it is Kyouya’s turn to explain, or rather, demonstrate the second.

If there’s one thing that the incident at the cliff makes clear, it’s the disparity in physical strength between Haruhi and the three men. This isn’t her fault and no one is blaming her for not being stronger. However behaving like it doesn’t matter is a problem because there are men who have no qualms about exploiting their strength or power — and this is what Kyouya is getting at. Believing in gender equality is all very fine and well but one shouldn’t be oblivious to the fact that such differences do exist between men and women.

What Kyouya does in this scene is highly unorthodox and there are readers and viewers who have taken offence at his choice of action. The way I see it, his goal is to make sure that Haruhi understands, in no uncertain terms, what Tamaki was trying to tell her at the beach. For someone like Kyouya, whether what he does is right or wrong is beside the point. His job is to get the message across clearly in a way that will brook no confusion (whether or not Haruhi agrees with said message is something that she can take up with Tamaki in her own time.)

What follows is Haruhi calling Kyouya’s bluff by telling him that there is no merit in attacking her. There are two ways of interpreting this. The first is that he has nothing to gain from sleeping with her because of her social status. This doesn’t hold any weight whatsoever if you think about it. If rape had truly been his intention, it wouldn’t have mattered whether or not he had anything to gain by it. The act itself would have been reason enough. On a different note, no matter how clear-eyed Haruhi may be about her social status, I find it difficult to accept that she would tell him that she isn’t worthy of sleeping with him. Such an admission reeks of low self-esteem and while Haruhi may be oblivious and indifferent to many of the things that happen in Ouran, she is also someone with a good head on her shoulders. If she didn’t have any confidence in herself, there’s no way she would even have considered applying for the scholarship at the academy in the first place.

Where the notion of merit is concerned, the point isn’t so much that he has nothing to gain but that he has plenty to lose — his reputation, for a start, and more importantly his friendship with Tamaki and the rest of the hosts. If raping her had really been his intention then it would mean that he doesn’t care about what his friends think, which isn’t the case at all. As Hunny notes a few times in the manga, Kyouya cares about the Host Club more than he lets on. Just as Tamaki regards all of them as his surrogate family, so does Kyouya though he is far less open about it. For someone who weighs all his options carefully before he carries them out, it would have been a huge breach of character if he had just done what he did without giving the consequences any due consideration.

***

While I understand the reason for the outrage that this scene provokes in some viewers and readers, I don’t feel the same way. It’s easy to take this scene at face value and fly into a rage but I don’t think Hatori Bisco is suggesting that women are weak or that it’s their fault for not defending themselves if men attack them. What I took away from this scene is that being a strong and independent woman doesn’t mean that one should ignore the fact that there are certain situations that leave one vulnerable to harm. At any rate, these are my opinions and everyone is welcome to form their own.

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5 comments

  1. This is serious rambling friend but I hear you loud and clear. Some of us are watching Ouran for the lulz, I know I am. Just yesterday I finished Ep 8 and was
    in a really happy place because of all the exaggerated over the top scenes. But I do
    agree with you the boys Tamaki, Kyouya, Kaoru even Hunny were just worried for
    Haruhi, I understand the girl, she is so self – reliant, a trait I also had when I was her age. Its just that sometimes people tend to over analyze things and that takes the fun
    out of watching these series. I’m in it for the fanservice but I get a lot of insights too really profound ones,only its bubbled wrapped in laughter. Hugs <3

    1. Well, I wrote this not because I disagreed with the outrage (like I said, I can understand why people feel this way about the scene) but because I was uncomfortable with what some of the comments seemed to imply (i.e. that you’re not a progressive-minded woman if this scene doesn’t make you foam at the mouth.) Anyway, I’ve said my piece and I’m sure no one wants me to ramble on about this any longer.

      Episode 8 was a good one! The police cosplay wasn’t my favourite in the manga but where the drama is concerned, Inspector Ootori can take me in for questioning any time. Haha.

  2. I’m a bra-burner feminist, and I didn’t get outraged at the scene. The reality is that most women do have a physical disadvantage compared to most men, and there ARE men who will take advantage of their strength and power. Haruhi needed to understand that, at the most basic level. She’s not so removed from being a girl that she’s completely oblivious to the dangers of being one. It was a brutal lesson, but dealt with most gently, when you think about it.

    However…

    I do think that scene with Haruhi and Kyouya was dancing on the edge of a knife, for both of them. There’s just too much sexual tension brewing under the surface of their relationship, and something pulls them together, all the time, as if they were magnets drawn to each other. Go through the manga/anime, and where do you find Kyouya and Haruhi? Tamaki can be off fighting with the twins or doing something crazy or stupid, but Kyouya is right there by Haruhi. Even when all that’s going on is people talking, Kyouya and Haruhi are often right next to each other, while Tamaki is…wherever. Sometimes Kyouya finds Haruhi. Sometimes she finds him. But they invariably wind up together, somehow.

    One day, Haruhi might grow up enough to realize why they wind up together a lot of the time. She might also grow up enough to realize that she and Kyouya are two sides of the same coin. Kyouya probably realized it the second he first saw her, but he’s patient enough to wait for her to catch up. Then Tamaki doesn’t stand a chance. And neither will Haruhi.

    1. Hey there,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave this comment. I’m glad you understand what I was trying to say regarding the differences in physical strength between men and women. I’m a bit embarrassed by this post now but at the time, it was something I had to get out of my system because I came across so many people who condemned this scene for being sexist and suggesting that Haruhi was a girl and therefore weak (I don’t for a second believe anyone in the Host Club regards her as a shrinking violet). If anything, I think Bisco Hatori is one of the most level-headed female mangakas out there. She’s not one to include a scene like this just to titillate the reader.

      I do think that scene with Haruhi and Kyouya was dancing on the edge of a knife, for both of them. There’s just too much sexual tension brewing under the surface of their relationship, and something pulls them together, all the time, as if they were magnets drawn to each other.

      You have a point about the sexual tension. I was always hoping the two of them would end up together but alas Bisco Hatori had other ideas.

      One day, Haruhi might grow up enough to realize why they wind up together a lot of the time. She might also grow up enough to realize that she and Kyouya are two sides of the same coin. Kyouya probably realized it the second he first saw her, but he’s patient enough to wait for her to catch up. Then Tamaki doesn’t stand a chance. And neither will Haruhi.

      Well, this is going to have to happen in an AU fanfic. Here’s a rec if you want one :D https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8882864/1/Clueless-in-Ouran

  3. I don’t think the “merit” thing is about social status or reputation. I think it’s more of a reference to how well Haruhi actually knows and understands Kyouya’s personality. Everything Kyouya does is calculated; he doesn’t do anything that wouldn’t benefit him, particularly money-wise. So it’s not that sleeping with Haruhi would be a BAD thing, nor is it about her “not deserving” to sleep with him (because even if he had sex with a rich or pretty girl, what would he gain from that? Nothing). The only potential “gain” would be sexual pleasure, and so there is the underlying assumption that Kyouya does not have such desires (or at least, not towards Haruhi).

    I don’t see anything wrong with Kyouya’s move — he was basically trying to scare her so that she could understand what Tamaki was saying, because she might not have figured it out otherwise. Even if they had explained it to her verbally, she might have taken it for granted since it’s just words (although, Kyouya failed to scare her either way, because Haruhi trusts Kyouya and thinks of him as a good guy). I think it also just goes to show how well Haruhi is able to read the members of the Ouran host club; first she was able to tell Hikaru and Kaoru apart (which no one had been able to do before), and now she’s able to show that she read Kyouya’s personality in an unexpected way, which surprises him and gets him thinking.

    I think this scene in particular is well-written because it’s actually bringing up a controversial topic, and handling it nicely by showing both sides of the argument and coming to a mutual agreement. :) It’s a reminder to young girls that it’s good to be selfless and try to help others, but don’t forget that there are people around who you can and should rely upon. The second part of the message is to not be too reckless, especially because girls are biologically physically weaker and can get raped (this is simply a realistic acknowledgement of facts). Also, the fact that Haruhi brought up the idea of learning karate shows that the writer is also promoting girls to be strong and independent and not be confined to the thought that they are ‘weak’. Haruhi is clearly the opposite of a typical weak shoujo heroine, anyway. :)

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