Within Ep 20 - The Door the Twins Opened! comes a peek into the Japanese mindset that will probably make little sense to Western sensibilities. It occurs twice, manifesting in the books Kyoya is seen reading during his 3rd-year of middle school, the year in which he meets Tamaki Suoh. The books are The Setting Sun and No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai.
The books may be personal selections or required class reading. Dazai is a renowned modern writer in Japan and his works are considered classics. Still, the choices beg the questions: why this author and why these books? The answer may lie in what the books are about, how they may relate to Kyoya Ootori and, considering the episode in which they appear, how they may relate to Tamaki Suoh and the Ootori-Suoh friendship.
Osamu Dazai - Author
Osamu Dazai was, himself, born into a wealthy family and understood its conventions in pre-WW2 Japan. An ill mother and often-absent political father left him to be raised primarily by servants, along with his ten siblings. How much loving attention could be granted to a quiet, seemingly self-sufficient boy is questionable. And so, it may be speculated, that Dazai withdrew into himself as a youngster, finding his voice through writing, at which he proved to be talented.
One of his mentors was Ryunosuke Akutagawa, known as the "Father of the Japanese Short Story." Akutagawa's writings seek to synthesize Western ideas with Japanese (or Eastern) ideas with a strong multi-cultural bent and a somewhat misogynistic view of women. These sentiments influenced Dazai, the young writer, who was deeply affected by Akutagawa's eventual suicide. Whether Dazai's descent into a decadent lifestyle was the direct result of this event or just a coincidence is moot.
Dazai's literary talent was recognized early on, but his frail personal health and untreated depression propelled him into debauchery and several attempts at suicide. Some of his books are semi-autobiographical works that, to this day, are considered masterpieces of modern, realistic literature that accurately reflect Japanese culture and mindset. His best known work is The Setting Sun, while No Longer Human is his penultimate, but last complete book. Dazai died in 1948, three years after the nuclear holocaust. It has never been proven whether his death was suicide or murder.
The Setting Sun
Written in July 1947, The Setting Sun is Dazai's best-known work and depicts the sharp decline of the aristocracy after WWII as seen through the lives of a family in crisis as the world they know collapses around them. The world Dazai presents and the emotions therein express the confusion and lack of purpose the formerly wealthy family experiences when culture shock hits hard. Suicide is the pessimistic theme of the book, while embracing the current way of things provides the optimistic counterpoint. The title reflects Dazai's thinking that the "Land of the Rising Sun" was no more and the story his way of dealing with the changes wrought in Japanese society, as well as a storyteller's product.
Certainly, post-WW2 Japan and, more importantly, post-nuclear attack Japan saw a traumatized Japanese people in a way no other nation can understand, although post-911 America may provide a tiny glimpse into what an horrific event can do to a nation's psyche. In Dazai's story, the three main characters handle post-war/post-trauma life differently. The mother gives up all hope and dies from tuberculosis, a disease that prevents one from catching one's breath. The son finds his "nobility" embarrassing but can not adjust to the new Japan and so indulges in substances and eventually commits suicide (a common Dazai theme). The daughter learns to cope with reality, bearing a son as a single parent and deciding to create a future that is as good as it can be given her circumstances. These are the choices of every human being in response to the hardships of modern life, making Dazai's work so relevant to the modern reader.
No Longer Human
Written in June 1948, No Longer Human is Dazai's masterpiece. The literal translation of the Japanese title is "Disqualified from Being Human," a more accurate reflection of the book's meaning. The story is Dazai's most autobiographical in its confession-like but thoroughly unsentimental approach to telling the life story of a man alienated from others. The book is told in the form of notebooks discovered by an "onlooker" who provides the first and last brief chapters. In between are three chapters (or memoranda) that reveal a sexually abusive childhood masked by buffoonery, a debauched adulthood, and a nearly redemptive-but-ultimately-failed later life.
What is most interesting about this particular story is the way Dazai uses characters to either denigrate or uplift the life of the protagonist, who struggles to make connections with others on his own terms, only to learn that connection is an act of mutuality, not a solo endeavor. The protagonist also finds solace in reading great works that celebrate Life's hopeful abundance (i.e. The Rubiyat of Omar Khayam) and comes to believe that the purpose of Life is to learn how to relate to others. Although he ultimately fails in his attempt to make said connections in a lasting way, the lesson is laid bare for the reader.
Is the anime trying to say that Kyoya's life is a potential mirror-image of Dazai's characters? Does Kyoya's affiliation with the Host Club or his reading of the books alert him to the expressed dangers so that he avoids them? Or is it embedded foreshadowing?
Bisco Hatori's line drawing of a young adult Kyoya portrays a "successful suit," legs crossed but tie loose, demonstrating both closed and open body language. He supports a cat in one hand and a can of beer in the other. The cat (pussy=woman as sexual object, in gross terms) is named Noel; interesting, in that Japan's Christmas Eve is an areligious night of merry-making and, ofttimes, sexual excess (much like prom night in the U.S.) Kyoya's family is wealthy, but seeks to maintain the "old order" of zaibatsu vs. the modern-day keiretsu; and Hatori neither confirms nor denies Kyoya's place within the Ootori hierarchy. Kyoya is the Cool Host and is a character depicted as aloof from others and one who keeps notebooks; his mother is a persona non grata and his father a distant, manipulative figure along with his brothers. His sister Fuyumi, on the other hand, is kind and nurturing towards him. Coincidental symbolism or deliberate?
All of Dazai's books focus on how characters connect with others; how such interactions bring forth either the best or the worst in the protagonist, as well as demonstrate the differences in how people deal with Life. The episode The Door the Twins Opened! specifically explores how the Hitachiin twins' closed-off world is opened up to human connection through interaction with the joyful, sympathetic and accepting character that is Tamaki Suoh. The same influence is radiated onto Kyoya, who basks in the warmth of Tamaki's friendship and Fuyumi's kindness. Perhaps such care stabilizes the third Ootori son, making the cat and the beer exactly what they appear to be - mere diversions. After all, as Sigmund Freud once said, "Sometimes a cigar is a phallic symbol and sometimes a cigar is just a smoke."
Another episode where Dazai's work is seen underlying Kyoya's character is Ep 24 - And so Kyoya Met Him! in which the youngest Ootori is seen at a canvas painting his "life." In No Longer Human, the protagonist is also an artist who paints his self-image on a canvas. The difference between the two is that Dazai's character paints a dark monstrous figure that haunts him, driving him to madness. Kyoya paints with limited imagination, at first, being constricted by the frame of his life but eventually breaks free to create a huge multi-colored blossom that extends beyond the frame, expressing his release from the confines of his past. The fact that this episode occurs nearly at the end of the anime series, suggests that Bisco Hatori wanted to show that Kyoya's life is ultimately changed for the better and for good through his association with Tamaki Suoh.
Since the books are unnamed in the manga, it's clear that the decision to use these titles in the anime was deliberate. On the flip side of all this supposition is the genuine possibility that the book titles simply reflect the artist's personal faves or hint at one way that Hatori Bisco sought to diminish the growing popularity of Kyoya's character, not only as a character but as a potential pairing for the then-still clueless Haruhi Fujioka, as she is at the time the anime was produced. The same, of course, may be said of her random forays into Haruhi testing the romantic waters with both Kaoru and Hikaru, as well as Mori, only to return to Tamaki as her leading man.
Like much of what happens in the Ouran 'verse, there is the obvious message and then, there is the message beneath the message (the meta-message). This is what makes the Ouran franchise a classic anime that continues to intrigue viewers of varied cultures, levels of education and ages. The one thing that unites them all: the human need to find meaning in a sometimes meaningless world. And that is what the Host Club strives to do, in its own unique way.