Reviewby Theron Martin,
High School DxD BorN
BD+DVD - Complete Collection [Limited Edition]
Summer break has arrived and brought with it a vast reconstruction of Issei's family home, which only allows more girls to stay at his place. He doesn't have much time to enjoy it though, because he and the rest of Team Gremory must accompany Rias on a return visit to the Underworld. Rigorous training is on the horizon when an expected Rating Games round for the up-and-coming generation of devils comes about, but other complications arise when a conference with Asgard gets interrupted by a pair of troublesome party crashers, including Koneko's sister. Later, one of Rias's rivals takes a keen interest in Asia, which becomes even more complicated when diabolical forces still loyal to the old regime also decide to make their move.
Based on its first two anime installments, High School DxD is the standard-setter and reigning champ for raunchy harem franchises. Despite being plagued by some production and storytelling issues, its third season does little to dethrone it.
The main problem haunting the series is its animation. Fight animation takes considerable shortcuts at times, but the bigger problem is that character rendering has a much greater propensity to slip off-model in this season than in previous ones, which sometimes results in distorted body proportions. This never happens during fanservice scenes, which continue to get adoring attention and prove that director Tetsuya Yanagisawa keenly understands where the series' main priorities lie. DxD may have a substantial action component, distinctive character development, and a complex storyline, but the detailed nudity is still its #1 draw.
On that level, this season definitely does not disappoint. The very first scene features most of the female cast naked (as does the ending theme), and Issei commonly wakes up to find anywhere from two to four naked girls in his bed. Shots of fancy lingerie, bouncing chests, and other excuses to have female characters expose themselves abound at every opportunity. Unlike some of its recent competitors, the franchise still draws the line at any implied sex, clinging to old-school harem anime propensities. On the plus side, Koneko officially joins the harem at last, rather than just remaining the disinterested observer, and the somewhat older Valkyrie Rossweisse also joins Issei's orbit, although there is no explicit signs of attraction from her yet. Odin turns out to be an especially dirty old man, too.
Fanservice isn't all the series is about though, which helps set it apart from most other dedicated T&A fests out there. The action component fully takes over at times, allowing lots of robust and flashy power displays, with some characters (Koneko, Irina, and Issei) getting significant upgrades. Character development most heavily focuses on Akeno and Koneko, who finally get their backgrounds delved into in detail, including revelations about Koneko's sister and Akeno's true heritage. Various plotlines are also afoot, including Rias's insecurity, Issei's dreams about the girlfriend who once killed him, the efforts of Loki to bring about Ragnarok, the way that new demon Diadora's efforts to woo Asia dovetail into a Rating Game, and the efforts of “old regime” loyalists to stage a comeback.
This all keeps the storytelling pretty busy, though how smoothly it's all woven together is a second major issue. While bringing in more mythologies is a plus, the characterization of Loki is very generic, while Vali and the Chaos Brigade's loyalties seem to shift on a whim. The set-up for the old-guard loyalists definitely could have been done better – they just seem to pop up out of the blue – and Rias's developing insecurities could have used more attention given how important they are at the end; they are detailed at the beginning but then mostly ignored for long stretches. Then there's Rossweisse's incredibly annoying two defining character traits, which are not remotely as funny as the production staff probably intended. Even with all of those factors though, the writing in DxD BorN is still better than most of its closest competitors.
The musical score remains in line with what has been seen in the first two series: ambitious, fully-orchestrated numbers commonly used as backdrops for action or dramatic scenes, while themes for the day-to-day business are vastly more innocuous. The new opening theme is wholly unremarkable, but new ending theme “Give Me Secret” is especially catchy.
While the Japanese cast has remained consistent from the franchise's earlier installments, there have been two big changes in the English dub. Josh Grelle taking over the role of Issei was necessitated by the legal troubles of Scott Freeman, who performed the role for the first two seasons. (It sounds like his voice might still be present in one or two flashback clips, though.) Grelle's voice is a bit deeper than Freeman's but the characterization and style of performance remains consistent enough that the change has little impact. He also seems to be the one singing the “Oppai Dragon no Uta” song in English at the end of the last episode, in which case he sings it pretty well. The change for Akeno is more noticeable, as Kelly Angel (which may be an alias for Bryn Apprill, as it sure sounds like her) can't quite manage the seductive tone that original voice actor Teri Rogers infused the role with. Otherwise, the performance is passable. None of the casting decisions for new roles disappoint, and my opinions of continuing performances have not changed much: I'm still iffy about Jad Saxton as Koneko and find Kristi Kang's Irina to be obnoxious, but Jamie Marchi's interpretation of Rias has grown on me and Phil Parsons still makes an ideal Azazel.
The English script for the series is every bit as juiced-up with American slang as it was for the earlier seasons. Some of the slang choices are questionable (Shogun of Harlem? And does anyone actually say “jabroni” these days?) but none of it is too far out of line with context. The script does use “Booblingual” instead of “Bilingual” as Issei's name for one of his more curious powers, but that seems appropriate considering what it does. Much iffier is the complete replacement of Rias's worry about how Issei only addresses her as President, which is transitioned to a vaguer sense of jealousy in the script. It's essentially the same thing, but that's just the most prominent of several liberties that the script takes.
Funimation's Limited Edition release comes in the standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo back, with both versions in separate cases contained in an art box. The only physical extra is bonus interior art in the cases, while on-disc extras include promo videos, clean opener and closer, and six subtitled-only “Maximum Titillation” OVA shorts; their name tells you all you need to know about them. Curiously, the episode numbering has reverted to 1-12 for this release even though they are still listed as 25-36 on Funimation's streaming site.
While this is arguably the weakest season in the franchise to date, it has enough strong points to mostly balance out its problems and maintains a richness to its visuals and writing that too many of its competitors lack. It's also still hard to beat the carefully balanced variety that Issei's harem offers. Despite its problems, DxD BorN's standing as a premier fanservice harem series won't be faltering anytime soon.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Koneko and Akeno's character development, lots of nudity for fanservice fans, plenty of plot developments
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