Ouran is a funny, funny show about quirky, barely functional characters interacting in amusing ways. The originality of it resides in its surprisingly good animation, its surprisingly good characters and their surprisingly good backgrounds. Indeed, Ouran is by far the most surprising anime of its season. Oh, by the way, just in case you couldn't tell from the flyer: it's a shoujo.
Animation - 8/10
Ouran's animation is overall very clean, colorful and pleasant. Whether it's showing static backgrounds with super-deformed silly characters doing silly things or more dynamic, interesting scenes it always keeps a distinctive style setting it apart from other anime. You can't tell from screenshots, you have to see it. The "sets" vary a lot from episode to episode while maintaining a particular style and the characters hardly wear the same clothes for more then a single episode, in spite of it being about high-school kids who in other anime would be wearing the same uniform throughout the show.
While it's easy to write Ouran's animation off as the typical one-size-fits-all Japanese animation, that's not the case. After all, we're talking about BONES; while nothing about it is high-tech or anything jaw-dropping, it's very, very nice.
Sound - 7/10
The anime's characters pretentiousness is echoed by the baroque music playing most of the time. It does fit nicely, but the few breaks from that trend are always welcom: while there's quite some variation in the score, it all feels repetitive.
Story - 8/10
Haruhi, a poor student, manages to enter the prestigious Ouran High School and accidentally stumbles on the Host Club, a club where beautiful rich kids flirt with beautiful rich girls for money. He accidentally breaks an incredibly expensive vase and is forced to work for the club as a host (that is, one of the beautiful boys) to repay his debt.
As he deals with both the customers and the other hosts, Haruhi manages to find a place inside of everyone's heart and as a result all the backgrounds of the characters are exposed for the viewer to see, creating a string of entertaining self-contained episodes. Occasionally, external characters happen to become part of the stories. Ouran is all about those backgrounds and the quirks of the characters' personalities but it never becomes too philosophical or overly serious; instead the story keeps switching from the "comedy" genre to the "slice of life" genre, creating all sorts of funny situations and then suddenly handling serious moments so well it's unbelievable. The focus rests firmly on the characters throughout the series as their stories are revealed in more and more detail.
As a result, the novelistic frame isn't particularly interesting, but many of the little stories within it are original and compelling enough to warrant a recommendation.
Characters - 9/10
A lot of gender-bending takes place in this anime, like in many other shoujo, but for once it's so funny sometimes you might have problems avoiding a painful fall from your chair. Ouran has some of the best comedy I've seen and the characters are entirely responsible for its success. While it may be easy in the beginning to underestimate them because of the way Ouran uses them to make fun of their respective archetypes, if given time this anime, while appearing light-hearted throughout, really goes in deep. The amount of character development is, at least for some of the characters, absolutely surprising.
The effectiveness of Haruhi as a link between the viewer and the other more eccentric characters is also praiseworthy. He's entirely up to the task of giving us a safe place we can return to after every dive into one of the other character's barely-functional personality while being as interesting and likable as any other guy in the show.
I feel this show could have been better in the character section if the parts about side characters and about the introduction of new characters were handled differently. Most of the time characters belonging outside of the little world of the Host Club and its customers appear either too stereotyped or downright uninteresting, although thankfully Haruhi's group is always there to provide some comic relief making those scenes much more likable then they should be.
Personal judgment - 7/10
I laughed, I was a little bored, then I laughed again. An entertaining experience, but definitely not my kind of show.
Overall - 8/10
A must-see for any shoujo fan and a recommendation for everyone else. If you like shows like Fruits Basket you're probably going to like this one, although it's not as serious until the last episodes.