Reviewby Theron Martin,
High School DxD Hero
With the matter involving Diadora and Shalba having been forcefully resolved and Issei pulling back from his out-of-control Juggernaut Drive transformation, priorities have shifted to the second-year students' class trip to Kyoto. Though Issei and crew get involved in various sexy shenanigans, Issei also finds time for introspection with the past wielders of the Welsh Dragon. A plan by the adults to make a treaty with the local yokai in Kyoto also goes awry when the local nine-tailed-fox bigwig gets captured by the Hero faction of the Chaos Brigade, which also draws the Gremory family devils into conflict. The Rating Game against Sairaorg Bael awaits their return to Kuoh Academy, an event which garners pro league attention. Meanwhile, Issei has become a virtual celebrity in the Underworld due to the popularity of the “Grabbin' Dragon” song, and his relationship with Rias is reaching a turning point.
For those who did not follow the series weekly, Hero is a little different from previous installments in the DxD franchise, in that it does not start where High School DxD BorN left off. Instead, it starts with an episode 0 that effectively replaces episode 9 of BorN. The last arc of BorN is ignored entirely as the story spins off in a different direction, though Rias's lingering doubts about how Issei actually feels about her, which was the centerpiece of that arc, do factor into the second arc of this series. In the process, some content from the original manga was skipped over, though the first arc clumsily shoehorns in one relevant moment from a skipped battle scene to explain why Issei should know one of the new bad guys involved. Devoting a few minutes of the first episode to that might have been a smoother way to handle that character, but he's such a minor player overall that handling it this way is hardly disruptive.
A substantial staff and studio change between seasons resulted in some significant stylistic differences for Hero, some more welcome than others. On the plus side, the animation job by new director Yoshifumi Sueda and studio Passione is a distinct improvement over the erratic quality provided by TNK for BorN. Accompanying that is a character design shift that's most evident in how characters' chins are drawn, but it's unfortunately an aesthetic downgrade. More debatable is Asia's increased chest size, which is too extreme to be explained away by her going through a growth spurt. I consider this a negative because it disrupts the fanservice variety that's long been a point of pride for the series (Koneko is now the only regular character with anything close to a modest bosom), but mileage will vary on whether or not this is an issue for fans.
The way Rias is handled in this series is a much bigger problem. Though Rias still retains her appeal on the surface, part of her charm has always been an imperious personality flavored by a devilish seductiveness. However, that barely shows in this series. She's generally far more passive if she's present at all (she's only briefly directly involved in the Kyoto arc) and comes across more as just the primary love interest in Issei's harem than a character on her own. Character development for anyone other than Issei is thin this season, with the only real update being Irina convincing herself that having a child by the Red Dragon Emperor would count as supporting Michael, so she's now getting involved in the harem antics as well. Sairaorg, one of the two primary antagonists (but not really a villain), actually gets more development than anyone other than Issei.
This series fares much better in terms of plot. The trip to Kyoto allows for a fresh venue while still keeping the content familiar, as the gang tries to arrange peaceful relations with other supernatural entities while also battling contrary forces in flashy displays of power. It also introduces Kunou, a fox girl cutie who's bound to end up in Issei's harem once she gets older, and she allows for some pleasant downtime antics. After an initial reintroduction in episode one, Sairaorg becomes the focus for the second arc. While the Rating Game premise does carry the scent of a tournament arc, the series thankfully keeps most of its fights brief so it can focus on setting up Sairaorg as a likable antagonist and playing out the climactic battle in full. It also deals with the lingering issue of Issei and Rias's true feelings for each other in a satisfying fashion. Between both arcs, the lore about the Red Dragon Emperor also gets greatly expanded as Issei's connections to past wielders is explored.
Of course, the main draw of DxD remains the same: action scenes and fanservice. The former is in no short supply, with both arcs featuring at least one epic battle and a number of lesser ones. Though not a top-shelf series when it comes to action spectacle, the animation in these scenes is a slight improvement with a satisfying amount of flash and variety. The frequency of the fanservice has definitely decreased, in part because this series eschews the gratuitous panty shots that populated earlier installments, and at times Hero seems to be forcing nudity in just for the sake of having fanservice rather than making those scenes flow naturally into the story. However, the series still finds plenty of opportunities for lovingly animated chest jiggling and Issei getting buried under barrages of girls, and the second half of each episode's eye catch always shows the featured girl topless. The series also gets more mileage than ever out of the silly extents of Issei's perversity, though it also shows how his “Booblingual” power can be used to help people too.
One thing that's remained constant throughout the franchise has been a surprisingly high-quality musical score for a harem anime. Unlike most of the rest of the staff, music director Ryosuke Nakanishi returns to maintain the dramatic, symphonic sound that defines this franchise almost as much as its supernatural action and fanservice elements. Sadly, both the opener and closer are more typical tame fare than in previous seasons, though the closer does feature the female cast in swimsuits.
The English dub for the series carries over the cast changes from BorN. Among the new additions, Sarah Wiedenheft is a good fit as Kunou and Clifford Chapin makes an excellent Cao Cao, but there isn't a weak choice among the new roles and the voice actors consistently sound like they're having fun. My one quibble is that the English script tries too hard to populate the script with hip lingo and creative sexual references; this has always been the case for DxD's English dubs, but Funimation's crew does seem to go overboard with Hero.
Funimation has also given some extra effort to the physical release. The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, accompanied by a code for the digital version, comes in an chipboard box with a booklet containing character concept art and a collection of all the series' eye catches. It also comes bundles with a set of chest-baring art cards of key female characters by alternative artists, a mini-wall scroll featuring Rias and Koneko in their swimsuits from the car wash-themed closer, and the true feature piece: a 52-page light novel. Though its artwork features characters from the current series, the story is actually about the birth and rise of Sirzechs, Serafall, and their compatriots as the four Great Satans, ending with Rias' birth. The writing quality is not high, but it's still a recommended read because it explains some of the circumstances present in the current series, including the activities of the Satan faction and why the fact that Sirzechs wrote the “Grabbin' Dragon” song is actually important. It also hints at some potential plot threads that have not yet appeared in the anime adaptations. On-disc extras include an episode commentary, clean openers and closers, and the 12-minute featurette “High School DxD: Boobies and Heroes,” which features Jamie Marchi (Rias), Josh Grelle (Issei), and Jad Saxton (Koneko/ADR director) talking about the series as a whole.
Between its action, fanservice, occasional humor, and big hooks for future story arcs at the end, this fourth season provides a largely satisfying dose of not-so-clean fun.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Lots of uncensored nudity, some good action sequences, Rias and Issei finally reach a resolution
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