Reviewby Theron Martin,
High School DxD
BD+DVD - The Series [Limited Edition]
Issei Hyodou is a pervert who, whether on his own or with his two best friends, constantly obsesses over breasts. He thinks he's caught a lucky break when a sexy girl asks him to be her boyfriend and goes out on a date with him, but his luck turns sour when she turns out to be a fallen angel actually intent on investigating his apparent possession of a Sacred Gear and then killing him. While bleeding out, Issei inadvertently summons Rias Gremory, his school's most admired and desired sexpot, who turns out to be a devil and heir to one of the few remaining great pureblood houses of devils. To save him she turns him into a devil and makes him one of her Evil Pieces – a pawn, specifically. (Evil Pieces are lesser devils bound in service to a noble devil and imbued with power akin to their chess piece namesakes.) Yuuto also gets drawn into the Occult Research Club, which also includes busty queen Akeno, pretty boy knight Yuuto, tiny but powerful rook Koneko, and later the ex-nun bishop Asia Argento, and functions as a cover for their devilish activities. As the ORC deals with stray devils, answers requests from human would-be pact-makers, and occasionally fights off fallen angels and their minions, Rias and Issei's mutual attraction gradually grows. However, a bigger problem emerges: Rias's noble devil fiancé Riser Phoenix, who is fully determined not to let her out of their arranged marriage.
2012 was arguably the best year in recent memory for connoisseurs of nudity in anime, as it saw no less than three series which delivered copious amounts of lovingly-detailed T&A: this one in the winter season, Queen's Blade: Rebellion in the spring season, and So, I Can't Play H! in the summer season. Like the other two, High School DxD is remarkable for not just being a fan service vehicle; it has an actual story and distinct character development, too, enough so that one might even be able to appreciate it without being enamored with the fan service content. Add in respectable visuals and a good music score and we might even have a trend here towards such hard-core shows becoming more sophisticated.
Of course, one cannot belabor the point that this is, first and foremost, a fan service show. Its regular opener shows its entire principal female cast naked within the first few seconds, other characters later on, and plenty of “bounciness” throughout. Its closer features its principal female cast as pole-dancing strippers strutting their stuff. All of the eye catches show female characters in erotic poses, sometimes completely naked. And not a single episode goes by without lots of bounciness, nipples prominent under clothing, a significant amount of exposed nipplage – whether from transformation scenes, battle-damaged clothing, showering, or waking up naked in the male lead's bed – and a fair number of panty shots and provocative situations, too. (The series does not obsess on panties as much as some do, though.) Want variety? The principal female cast covers the gamut, from the busty Akeno and voluptuous Rias to the very petite Koneko, with Asia falling in the middle, and various villains and supporting characters who pop up over time offer additional options. As one might expect, the OVAs in the Extras are even more brazen, and that's saying something.
Beyond the fan service, entertainment value can come from a number of flashy action sequences, character development and some related drama, and even humor. The battles do not disappoint in giving all of the more combat-oriented characters a chance to show off, though the series offers nothing exceptional on this front. Character development in this season focuses almost entirely on Rias, Issei, and Asia; Yuuto will be more of a focal point in the second season, and Akeno gets a little herself then, too, but Koneko remains comparatively undeveloped beyond basic personality traits. Rias distinguishes herself by actually not being a tsundere, instead being a more dignified noblewoman (yes, even when nude) who gradually starts to be attracted to Issei for his unqualified admiration and devotion, while Issei is more typical as a pervert who still has a basically good heart, is clearly falling for Rias, worries that he is not good enough with his powers and duties, and acts protectively towards Asia despite himself. Asia is also a fairly typical helpless, innocent, kind-hearted moe type, one who becomes interesting in part because her transition from being a nun to being a devil is fraught with problems; a running joke is that she occasionally forgets that praying to God while being a devil has painful consequences. Another running joke is that the duties that the devils get summoned to perform are often laughably mundane, a point emphasized heavily in one of the OVA shorts. Issei's interactions with his perverted best friends are also occasionally good for laughs, as are his own reactions to situations and his amusing alarm clock. (Real-life otaku would kill to get their hands on something like that.) The humor is ultimately more a sidelight than a strength or focal point, however.
Plot-wise, the set-up distinctly resembles that of So, I Can't Play H!: a boldly perverted young man winds up in a relationship with a sexy, magically powerful, red-haired noblewoman from a figurative underworld, whereby he makes a life-saving pact with her. Over times he gradually develops his own powers, which are fueled by his perversions, and gradually grows a potential romantic relationship with his contractor. He also gathers a bevy of other beauties who have varying degrees of romantic interest in (or disgust towards) him and ultimately winds up helping out his contractor with a crisis in her home world. (Given that the first DxD novel preceded the first H! novel by two years, that the other one may be partly a copycat of this one is reasonable speculation.) Plentiful battles involving flashy applications of magic also ensue. The main differences here are that Rias and Lisara, the female lead of H!, have distinctly different attitudes and personalities, no female childhood friend is involved, and a second male character figures prominently amongst the regulars, though the romantic interests he attracts are not competitive with Issei's. This one also has a more developed theology which spins its own unique interpretation of Christianity and how things actually work. (Again, the second season goes more into this than this one does.)
Like with its aforementioned kin, DxD makes no bones about where the emphasis of its artistic and animation efforts lie. Studio TNK is hardly known for its artistic achievements (its major titles include Destiny of the Shrine Maiden, School Days, and the UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie franchise), but this is still one of its best-looking titles to date, with such loving devotion to its portrayal of nudity that even one of the female English VAs, speaking in one of the commentary tracks, had to admire its attention to detail in renderings of breasts and nipples. Issei may have a generic Male Harem Lead look, and Yuuto is a fairly standard bishonen, but young female cast members are universally distinctive, attractive, and sexy in different ways. (One has to wonder at the school uniform for girls, though, as it seems specifically designed to emphasize a girl's breasts.) The series also has some pleasingly vivid uses of color, especially in some early depictions of bloody, intense violence. The greatest animation effort goes into the jiggle factor of bigger-breasted characters, with an ordinary level of animation otherwise. Overall this is an appealing-looking artistic effort but not a top-tier one.
Despite an opener and a closer that are both much more remarkable for their visuals than their songs, the musical score is possibly the strongest technical aspect of the production. Ryosuke Nakanishi, who later did a great job of producing atmosphere in The Devil is a Part-Timer!, does a wonderful job here. He essentially ignores the sometimes-sleazy nature of the content and instead aims for a more sophisticated sound reminiscent of a movie, one which relies heavily on orchestral pieces and does an excellent job of playing up the tension and drama of the darker scenes but still nimbly enhances the more comedic scenes.
Funimation's English dub features a lot of newcomers in key roles but is anchored by two veterans: Scott Freeman hits the mark in a very enthusiastic performance as Issei, while Jamie Marchi often does not sound quite right as Rias even though she performs the role well. (The quality of her voice is not an ideal match for the role.) Likewise the newcomers are a mix of hits and misses, with the star-making performance being the debut of Chloe Daniels as Asia; a more perfect fit for the role is hard to imagine, as Daniels has already mastered the kind of soft, diffident voice typically associated with Stephanie Sheh. (Prediction: She will swiftly become one of Funimation's dubbing regulars.) Relative newbie Felecia Angelle also works well in the varied tones and delivery styles of Yuma/Raynare, as does Krishna Smith as Grayfia, but Teri Rogers makes Akeno sound cheerfully friendly without ever really infusing in the suggestive and sadistic undertones. More minor performances generally fall in the middle, with Jessica Cavanaugh in a limited role as Issei's mother being another stand-out. And yes, that is Sonny Strait as Issei's father. The script, courtesy of Marchi, goes all-out to juice up the dialogue with inventively racy slang, and even beyond that sometimes sacrifices accuracy; those who watch it both ways should expect some minor differences in details, though the spirit of the dialogue typically remains consistent. Curiously, the English dub almost completely washes out direct references to God or Lord, which appear regularly in subtitles. The franchise is quite profane in many other ways, though, so that is the least of the factors that might bother devout Christians.
Funimation includes both DVD and Blu-Ray versions in their standard release, with the Limited Edition version also including an artbox to contain both cases. The step up from DVD to Blu-Ray does not gain much on the audio front but is a distinct upgrade on the visual front, with visibly sharper pictures and richer colors. Physical Extras only include bonus sexy interior art in both cases, but the disks are well-stocked with treats. Included on the first disk are a pair of English audio commentaries, one for episode 1 featuring Marchi, Angelle, and Rogers and one for episode 7 featuring Freeman, Jad Saxton (Koneko), and Tyson Rinehart (Matsuda). Both are entertaining in their own ways but neither is particularly insightful. The second disk includes six “Fantasy Jiggles Unleashed” episodes, which are 3-4 minutes shorts composed of minor side stories; a trio of prerelease promo pieces featuring characters from the series; clean opener and closer; and a bevy of promo videos, commercials, and trailers. Conspicuously absent are episodes 13 and 14, a pair of unaired episodes which were released as Extras bundled with novels.
Evaluated as a general release series, High School DxD has enough going for it to be a little better than average. Evaluate it as a fan service-focused series, though, and it is one of the top recent titles of its type. Unsurprisingly, it was popular enough in Japan to earn a second season in the summer of 2013, one which develops some storylines only barely hinted at in these twelve episodes. If nudity is something you appreciate in anime then this title is a must-have.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Lots of eye-pleasing nudity and other fan service, good use of color, musical score, some interesting character developments.
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