Reviewby Theron Martin,
High School DxD New (Season 2) [Limited Edition]
In the wake of breaking up Rias's engagement to Riser Phoenix (see the end of the first season), Issei now finds himself cohabitating with both Asia and Rias, mostly to his delight. He also needs to rely on regular attention from Akeno to suck out the dangerous build-up of dragon energy in his left arm. He eventually learns from Ddraig and others more about the history of the Red Dragon and his ages-old conflict with the White (aka Vanishing) Dragon, whom he later meets, but other plots are afoot. A mess involving missing holy swords arises, one which Kiba has a deep past connection to and which brings both Freed and a leader-class fallen angel, who is bored with the lack of war, into the picture. That results in a startling discovery about the workings of the metaphysical world and the acquisition of a second knight for Rias – who is, of course, also interested in Issei. Akeno is falling for him, too, which creates some tension with Rias. Rias's other Bishop, who has long been locked away due to a difficult-to-control power, also finally emerges, and further trouble arises when leaders of the angels, fallen angels, and devils all gather at Rias and Issei's school for a peace conference.
If there is a current gold standard for fan service-focused anime, it's the High School DxD franchise. Yes, other series which have debuted in the 2010s have had copious amounts of nudity and sexy behavior, but no franchise exceeds it for quality, variety, or the smoothness with which it portrays its prurient content and few even rival it when it comes to portraying interesting characters and storylines. (And none of them have characters equivalent to Issei's parents, who are an awesome addition too rarely seen in harem series.) Its second season, which adapts the third and fourth of the original novels, offers no letdown on any of these points, other than having a much weaker final act.
One of the non-fan service strengths of the franchise has been the development of its cast beyond the male lead. In the first season Rias and Asia were the primary beneficiaries; in this season Kiba, Akeno, and to a lesser extent newcomers Xenovia and Gaspar get that treatment. Granted, these are hardly deep, complex character analyses, but they do flesh out the cast a bit more, help justify better why the female characters might have an interest in Issei, and toss in some additional subtexts. Chief angel Michael and fallen angel honcho Azazel are also interesting additions, and seeing Rias's brother Sir Zechs actually encouraging Issei (rather than being overprotective of Rias) is a welcome change. Contrarily, Serafall Leviathan, the elder sister of Student Council President Sona and one of the four Devil Kings, is obnoxious in her proclivities, not credible in her power and position, and ill-used in general.
The other big content strength is the development of the metaphysical picture, which takes a major jump with this series. Dedicated Christians should be forewarned that some of those developments are quite profane, going well beyond just making devils into heroes. The bold direction those elements go certainly put some interesting twists on standard metaphysical structures, however, ones whose implications will hopefully be explored more in the future. In fact, while adding intriguing ideas is a strength, developing them properly is actually a weakness. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the introduction of the holy sword Durandal, which can supposedly cut anything but then is hardly ever used in that capacity.
New does have a few other issues, too. Chief among them is that, on multiple occasions, the series gets entirely too chatty in the middle of a fight scene. This is an especially bad problem in the last couple of episodes but also happens towards the end of the first story arc (i.e., episodes 5 and 6). It also has a bad tendency to toss in characters who are supposed to be awesomely powerful and yet never let them do much of anything (especially true with Serafall, who otherwise has nothing about her besides her title which suggests immense power). The antagonist group for the last couple of episodes is also a generic, disposable bunch who are quite disappointing about radiating a serious threat level, and the way that conflict resolves is not fully satisfying. Fight animation is also disappointingly limited, too.
Of course, that is to be expected when the bulk of the artistic effort is firmly focused on the series' main selling point: fan service. Free of censorship, the series is a festival of bare-breasted and/or bare-bottomed nudity, lingerie shots, sexy behavior, risqué outfits (the “sexy apron” look comes up, and Issei's mother actually helps Asia and Rias with it), nipples showing through clothing, clothes being shredded in battle or because of Issei's perverse trick, and provocatively-posed nude eyecatches, all lovingly-detailed with plenty of animated bounce. With the addition of new regular cast members, viewers have even more variety to ogle, with someone in the cast sure to please almost any taste. Like the ultra-petite loli look? Koneko. Prefer petite blondes? Asia. Favor medium builds? Newcomer Irina or Student Council President Sona, depending on whether you prefer longer or shorter hair. Busty but athletic? Newcomer Xenovia. Full-figured? Rias, Akeno, or Student Council Vice-President Tsubaki, depending on whether you prefer redheads or long black hair without or with glasses. Even those who favor girlish cross-dressers have an option in new addition Gasper. This release even includes 2-3 extra minutes of animation per episode compared to the original broadcasts, mostly just to get in additional fan service. (The rest are expansions to action sequences, such as segments in episode 5 where Koneko now goes one-on-one with a Cerberus and Xenovia duels Freed prior to drawing Durandel.) The most recent To Love-Ru series might have a slight edge over New in pure eroticism, but taken as a whole package New still trumps it.
Beyond the fan service the artistry is generally good, though it does have some occasional minor quality lapses. New character designs are typical anime style except possibly for Michael, and even he does not stray much. (He does not, however, even hold a candle to the imagining of Michael in Rage of Bahamut: Genesis.) Animation is very ordinary beyond what is mentioned above, save for the second closer, which features Rias and most of her subordinates dancing in skimpy animal or devil-themed costumes. Battle scenes have a fair amount of flash and some sharp moments but are still hampered by the animation.
The soundtrack, which primarily reuses musical themes from the first season, is stronger and more consistent at setting the right moods, whether that mood is sexy, dramatic, romantic, or action-oriented. Each of the two six episode arcs has its own pair of opener and closer. The first opener, which is easily the better of the two, also features a little nudity, while the first closer, with its off-style art, is almost entirely nudity. The second pair are tamer, although there's nothing modest about the outfits that the dancing girls wear in the closer.
Funimation's English dub returns its entire cast from the first season. As before, Jamie Marchi's rendition of Rias, while not bad, is the most distinct departure from the original performance in voice type and vocal style. Others are plenty close enough, including the casting for new roles, with Phil Parsons and apparent newcomer Ramona Newel being particularly good fits for Azazel and Xenovia, respectively. Ms. Marchi's zinged-up script takes quite a few liberties, including altering some minor details, but nothing that creates a major change or causes an interpretive problem. (Besides, content like this tends to be more flexible anyway.) Factor in good to great performances across-the-board and this is one of 2014's stronger English dubs.
The physical release is Funimation's standard DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack, with the Limited Edition version using separate cases for each and containing them within a sturdy artbox. Both disk cases have bonus interior art, while on-disk extras are entirely lumped onto the second disk for the Blu-Ray and mostly onto a third disk for the DVDs. They include clean opener and closer and two six-part sets of bonus videos. The first set, which totals close to an hour, features seiyuu Yōko Hikasa (Rias) conducting a “class” for the actresses voicing three of the new roles, which mostly consists of inane but somewhat amusing activities like playing charades or a challenge where they have to study a school nurse's office and then come back later to identify what has been changed in the interim. (The way it was conducted here could actually be a fun game for a small party.) The second set is a collection of promo, preview, and first series review clips totaling about a half-our in length which are masquerading as something actually substantive. The DVD transfer seemed to include some minor visual flaws, such as some lines coming out looking a little electronically ragged, an effect also noticed in the Blu-Ray but to a much lesser (and less frequent) degree.
Despite a big stumble in the last two episodes, the story here is actually a slight improvement, in part because some of the crucial character relationships are already firmly in place and others (particularly Akeno coming on to Issei and thus throwing Rias into Jealous Mode more readily) offer new promise. With the action being passable and the fan service holding up its end quite nicely, that makes New a strong entry in the harem field. For further DxD adventures, see the third series, due out in the Spring 2015 season.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Lots of quality fan service, good English dub, Issei's parents.
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