High School DxD
Poor Hyoudou Issei. All he really wanted out of life was to get laid or at the very least be able to lay hands on a pair of breasts. But the first girl who didn't immediately recoil at his sight ended up being the one who rammed her spear through his chest, leaving him to die.
Fortunately for him, the devil Rias Gremory has taken an interest in the boy and the powers sleeping inside of him, and revived him into the newest member of the Occult Club, a secret club for members of the Gremory family of devils. Looks like Issei's gonna have to get used to a different way of life from now on.
Sounds really dumb, right? Indeed, the FUNimation trailers on other FUNimation titles I own also didn't really do the show any favors. As such, I was all set to give this show a wide berth until ANN's Bamboo Dong gave the show a... well, not glowing appraisal per se, but a curiously positive outlook.
So, my interest piqued, I took a chance on the show. And wouldn't you know it; it's actually a whole lot of fun... for the most part.
As you could probably tell from the synopsis; Issei is a bit of a pervert, a trait he shares with his two pervert friends. They spend their time lamenting the fact that not one single girl has allowed them to lay hands on their chests, and said girls also get curiously upset when the peeking trio tries to get an eyeful of naked flesh in the shower. This has quite understandably made them notoriously unpopular at school, at least among the girls, so when Issei had what he probably thought of as "one of my lucky days" in the first episode, you could probably not blame him for not noticing the red flags. Or the spear that impaled him.
So when Rias dropped by and revived him from his fatal wound and made him join the ranks of a devil family, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Thankfully, for the first half, we get the hilarity of Issei trying to get used to his new job, never mind the fact that his new superior is not only drop-dead gorgeous, but also curiously friendly with him, but not in the same way the girl he just dated to (his) death was. She takes his perversions in stride, sometimes encouraging them in various ways, but she also makes it clear that she has some expectations of him, both as a newly born devil AND as a member of her club.
In fact -- and at the risk of sounding like a pervert myself -- one of the main reasons I ended up liking the show as much as I did is the girls in the Occult club. Granted, some of them does lean a little heavily on recently popular character archetypes, like Toujou Koneko, a slim and relatively small-breasted girl who seems rather unaffected by everything and carries a mean megaton punch. She's not particularly tsundere, but she does spend a lot of time in the first season letting Issei know how little she cares for him. Akeno, however, seems to have an ungodly (no pun intended) amount of patience for just about everything, and she seems positively delighted with Issei's antics most of the time.
And then, there's Rias. Aside from being the president of the Occult club, she's also the daughter of house Gremory, one of the bigger devil's families. Her personality in general seems to be an even mix of a lot of things; she's supportive, pointing out that she took to issei like a big sister to her little brother; she's responsible yet relatively carefree. And, believe it or not, her big sister act for Issei's benefit is actually quite endearing. Predictably, that relationship status will eventually be exchanged with a different one -- more on that later -- but the bottom line is; despite this show having all the essentials of a dumb harem, it really hit paydirt with its characters. In a way, she's a lot like Asobi ni Iku Yo/Cat Planet Cuties's Eris, except kind of a badass as well.
And last on our list is Argento Asia. She shows up in the third episode as... kind of a nun, I guess? She works for the fallen angels at first, but through events which I shall not spoil, she eventually ends up with Issei -- literally; she moves in with him and his extremely confused parents. Asia's a real sweetheart if there ever was one; though her backstory is a bit ridiculous and her falling in love with Issei no less so, her willingness to do almost literally everything for him tends to lead to a lot of hilarious situations, especially since she's maybe the only girl Issei wouldn't dare do anything terrible to. (Though he does still enjoy the times he sees her naked.)
Speaking of nudity; I almost have to admire how completely shameless and unconcerned High School DxD is about the buttloads of boob shots it has. I don't think there's a single girl in the show whose breasts you do not get to see. It would have to be the ones you see far in the background once or maybe twice during the show itself, but the oodles of side characters aside, both Aria and the other devil girls seems strangely unconcerned about whether he looks at them or not, and it's with no small appreciation from me that High School DxD can have a male character accidentally walk in on a girl while she's changing and not have her mash him to a pulp. One of the scenes centered around this actually does say a lot of adolescent male lust; Rias, through kind of a bet, promises Issei that if he manages to land them a contract, she would allow him to touch her breasts all he wants. Contrary to my expectations, he did, so Rias makes good on her promise by basically presenting them front and center (but still clothed) and giving him the go-ahead, albeit with a countdown limit. However, she progressed with said countdown relatively slowly, meaning that had Issei managed to keep his panic in check, he would've had ample time to get some real hands-on experience in what a breast actually feels like. Not that he doesn't already know to a degree; he is rather accident-prone, after all.
Had the show been solely about this sort of thing, I think it would have fared a bit better, but, unfortunately, fighting tournaments once again reared its ugly head an episode or two into the last half. The whole thing begins with Rias making a surprise appearance in Issei's room, begging him to take her virginity. Coupled with the information that Rias is an important member of one of the bigger families of hell, I'm sure you can see what's coming. She's trying to avoid having to deal with an arranged marriage. As big a staple as that is by itself, maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if her betrothed had actually been someone you could see she would WANT to marry, but instead he's more or less a Yakuza; an unbearable thug who immediately unloads his less admirable traits like it was some sort of "make the audience hate me" parade. He makes it quite obvious that he's only after Rias to make her into some kind of trophy wife. Naturally, they end up making a bet over a game -- a devil's game that is basically a, you guessed it, fighting tournament with some strategical elements mixed in. This part of the show gets particularly tiresome, mostly because the dialogue gets especially trite -- a collection of empty promises and shallow pep talks. "Don't worry, Rias. I'll save you", says a right-out-of-nowhere honorable Issei, a promise that plays out more or less like you'd expect. High School DxD actually does this one a bit better by throwing in a neat angle or two near the end, but the season also ends like you'd expect. Not much room for surprises here.
It's not only that I'm getting so amazingly tired of shows centered around melee battles (magic flinging optional), but said parts -- and, admittedly, some of the earlier segments centered around Asia -- kind of give Issei this odd dual personality. He's a pervert and an egoist most of the time, but he'll switch to this almost paladin-like beacon of humility and compassion at the drop of a hat. It makes the character a bit hard to deal with at times, because, despite his general perversion and his habit of pissing off the non-devil girls, he's a fairly good guy with a libido that falcon punches him on a regular basis. This personality makes sense with Asia -- after all, she used to be a nun -- but with Issei, it just seems kind of out of the blue. As does the inevitability that Rias ends up falling in love with him, which wouldn't have been so aggravating if it didn't put her in the role of a damsel during the last couple of episodes, though they did at least have that as her honoring a promise rather than her being incapable of defending herself. I was afraid that this aspect of the show would also bleed into the second season, which I hope will see a DVD/Blu-Ray release, but sources I trust have assured me that this will not happen, so that's good, at least.
One last nitpick about the show; I'm not sure what other people are going to feel about this, but High School DxD seems to have this thing where the devils are the good guys, and the angels are the bad ones. True, aside from Asia, we haven't really met any true servants of the church yet -- the show points out that all the angels who attack our team of devils are all fallen angels; presumably fallen for a reason. However, this still gives this show a rather odd "sympathy for the devil" angle that might also not sit well with everyone. It certainly breaks with the more traditional view of heaven and hell and its respective residents, and this show wouldn't be the first one that takes this stance. Not that all devils are the "good" kind, but it's especially noticeable seeing as house Gremory's members are all honorable, kind, supportive, loyal and generous for the most part. Maybe the true Christian viewpoint could be attributed to Asia, who seems to love (almost) everyone equally, her powers of healing both angels and devils being what brought her into trouble with her original parish, and presumably lead her to join the team of fallen ones before meeting Issei. Mere speculation so far, but food for thought nonetheless... which is always nice when you otherwise enjoy a show.
Visually, the show is pretty nice. The art is pretty well done, and the animation is generally doing those characters all kinds of favors. The character designs are a little bit on the dull side, meaning that the girls stand out because of things like ridiculous chest size or rare hair colors; like Koneko's grayish-white and the Gremory family's blazing red tresses. Failing that, cosplay enters the stage to draw the eye. Minor misgivings aside, the show looks anything BUT cheap, which is good.
The dub is thankfully also mostly great. The English voice actors are a bit of an uneven bunch, but thankfully, the dialogue in the dub keeps itself on a relatively informal level, with gratuitous usage of generally inoffensive sexual slang on the parts of Issei and his two friends. I'd liken his lines and acting to characters like Kintaro from Golden Boy or Setora from Queen's Blade; creative dialogue from shamelessly hilarious perverts, and that alone would have made the show worth the time spent.
Of course, High School DxD is a case of "it's good for what it is", so take my tone of breathless praise with a pinch of salt. I would of course never put this show on the same level as shows like Haibane Renmei, Aria or Natsume's Book of Friends. And if I was asked which one to choose between this and... say, Girls und Panzer, I'd ask you to go for the latter any day of the week. That said, High School DxD turned out to be a really pleasant surprise, and I will certainly look into the sequel if FUNimation ever gets it out the door on disc.
I was actually tempted to let this show squeak by with a four-star rating, but... let's be serious here. It's a strong three-star, weakened somewhat by its second half. On my 'gratuitous T&A shows rating scales', however, this show would be a strong four star. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: To be perfectly blunt; you will barely be able to see the girls for the literal forest of T&A. It's frequent enough at first, but gets downright ridiculous once Issei learns his clothes-exploding spell. Yes, he develops a spell that explodes clothes. That really says it all.
Version(s) Viewed: Region 1 Blu-Ray release
Review Status: Full (12/12)
High School DxD © 2012 Ichiei Ishibumi / Rei Miyama / Fujimishoubou / High School DxD Production Committee
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