So this is a high school themed Dungeons & Dragons right? Best get my d20…huh…it isn’t? Oh well, see what it’s about…
…well, it will have an audience…
What They Say :
A war between heaven and hell is raging on Earth – and a hot mess of hormonal fury is raging in Issei’s pants. The guy is dying to get some action. Which is funny, since his first date ever turns into a winged monster and tries to kill him. Fortunately, ridiculously curvy redhead Rias comes to his rescue. She’s president of The Occult Research Club, a club that doesn’t actually research the occult. They ARE the occult – and Rias is a Devil. Rias takes Issei as a more-than-willing slave and begins training him to use magic in battle against the Fallen Angels, the long-time enemies of Devils everywhere. If Issei can improve his mystical skills, he’ll be able to help his hotter-than-hell master and her scorching supernatural schoolgirl friends defeat their foes. Even better, he might end up with a few sexy slaves of his own.
Set in 5.1 English, and 2.0 Japanese (the extra episodes only in Japanese) with a 16:9 – 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio video wise, colours were clear and eye catching, and no issues in terms of video to audio on a 16:9 aspect ratio, no problems video wise with subtitles synching, no video freezing or any slack animation when pausing the show, audio wise I didn’t feel that it was a 5.1 release on my stereo system as the difference between the English and Japanese audio was very miniscule – there was a difference in terms of background noise but in terms of the main audio, not much difference.
On the left side we have the selections of Play All, Episodes, Setup and Extras, whilst on the right side we have Issei and Rias, with Rias leaning on Issei’s back in a seductive pose. No problems with selection from the main menu or from the show itself to return to the menu screen, nor from any of the sub menus – straight forward, and surprisingly for a fanservice show, doesn’t really use any in the menus.
Very impressive selection of extras for this first season which was quite surprised by. First of all we have a couple of dub episode commentaries, one for episode 1 featuring Jamie Marchi (Rias/lead writer), Felicia Ogelle(Raynare) and Terri Rogers(Akeno) – what was fun was the fact for Felicia and Terri it was their first FUNIMATION project, so Jamie talks about how she felt on her first role, and the other girls compare – how different it is to regular acting, how overwhelming it could be but also how fun it was (especially for Terri who is an anime fan so trying not to be a geek) Discussing the dual sides of the characters, about the fanservice and their favourite lines – it is quite a fun commentary and a rare one where we get to hear the points of views from two actresses who are literally doing it for the first time, both as a commentary and in a show.
The second commentary is on episode 8, which is also goofy but not as informative – mainly it’s the guys being ‘distracted’ by the fanservice – poor Jade Saxton (Koneko) has to deal with Scott Freeman (Issei) and Tyson Reinheart (Matsuda)being distracted whilst they discuss how the characters impact in different ways as the show develops. There is actually some decent talk in the later parts, but it is mostly for comedy especially with Issei’s VA in there.
And speaking of distracting fanservice, the other main extra is a segment called ‘Fantasy Jiggles Unleashed.’ These are a set of short episodes (6 in total, total length combined about 26 minutes) – these are short OVA style episodes which REALLY ramp the fanservice that was already pretty strong in the episodes. Basically things verge on hentai territory in the way things are set up – for example there is an episode where there is spilt cream from a parfait in an Akeno episode which is definitely how shall I put it…bukkake ish. Much more emphasis on the breasts in various episodes, one which is very tentacle-ish, one which is practically a yuri episode, and one where the most innocent character Asia tries to be more bold and be much more…outgoing shall we say? It definitely raises the bar on an already raised bar when it comes to ‘how much can be get away with without it becoming hentai?’
We get another segment called ‘New Material from Ichiei Ishibumi’ where the two side male characters and sometimes Issei introduce the main girls in how they fit a specific type (Asia – nice girl, Akeno – large breasts, Koneko – loli, Rias – bit of everything) and then discuss who they prefer in particular. Nothing new on the characters per say, just more a general introduction with their defining characteristics…told by 2/3 perverts.
We also get a promotion video in Japanese, a trailer in English, a commercial collection and the textless opening and closing songs (the closing song in particular is one of the best animated closings I’ve seen…and it has the girls lap dancing….)
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Looking at the trailer and menu of High School DxD, to say I had low expectations would probably be an understatement. Harem shows are quite low on my popularity meter, more so with leads who take a wimpy back seat to the more interesting females. However, whilst High School DxD has a lot of that, it actually manages to pull some surprising character development in a short time that just manages to pull ahead of other shows out there like Rosario Vampire as a prime example with a similar supernatural motif.
The guy in question, Issei, is initially that type of stereotypical male lead – perverted, clueless, not that interesting outside of this mind on nothing but girls. So the fact he gets a date in the first episode was a surprise.
Asking if he would die for her…and then her actually killing him…was also a surprise.
Just as I wondered how short this series would be, a girl who appeared earlier in one of his fantasies, a red haired girl named Rias (who just so happens to be the idol of the school) appears as he prepares to die…before waking up with no injury much to his shock. The girl who tried to kill him, Yuma, is a fallen angel, and apparently there are ‘devils’ also in the area…and Rias just happens to be one of them. So when someone knows that there are angels out there and tries to kill Issei again, Rias saves him…
…and they seem to end up in bed together. To say this was a confusing episode 1 was an understatement, but fortunately things do get explained.
Rias seems to have claimed an interest in Issei and he is now a ‘devil’ thanks to her powers. She gets him to join her in the Occult club, alongside the school male idol Yuto, the loli girl Koneko, and the big breasted vice-president Akeno. Each of them have powers attributed to them as devils as Rias explains their situation, the rules of being a devil, and what he is to her now that he is quite literally her pawn (she uses chess motifs for each of her ‘family’) and his power, the Sacred Gear allowing him to transform his arm into weaponry against the fallen angels. It does whiplash between being summoned for bargains with otaku to suddenly getting attacked by fallen angels…
We get some interesting development when Issei meets with a beautiful young nun named Asia, as Issei and Asia actually become friends despite one being a devil and one on the side of God (and Issei obviously being into the young girl as well) but her boss, an exorcist named Freed, senses the devil energy and nearly kills Issei but Asia stops him. It does lead to her being taken by fallen angels including Yuma, going by her angel name of Raynare, is going to sacrifice Asia as part of a ritual. Rias allows Issei, Koneko (as her rook), Akeno (as her queen) and Yuto (as her knight) to try and rescue her which leads to showcasing the powers of each of the characters – Koneko in particular is a mini super strong girl and Akeno an overpowered pillar of magic, whilst Issei as a pawn can promote himself if he gets too deep into the territory and use the powers of another piece which allows him to defeat Freed. I was surprised how technical and intricate they bring the powers into play, whilst also keeping a lot under wraps as a mystery. It does lead to Asia being sacrificed but Issei actually getting into the depths of his feelings to unleash his Sacred Gear to defeat Raynare (and a surprising twist to the old ‘evil character goes back to good human side’ idea), and brings Asia back to life, with the fun twist of the nun now becoming a devil, and also the bishop of Rias’ crew as a healer character.
Surprisingly, the show does well in mixing plot with comedy, even in filler like episodes (a fun one when one of Issei’s clients is an American who is a Japanophile, played brilliantly in English by Monica Rial who has fun with some gratuitous Japanese) because there is a combined dynamic of student/teacher as well as potential romance between Rias and Issei. Issei is a pervert, but Rias seems to be able to keep him in line and it slowly brings him a much more credible character, especially as he becomes much stronger in his role. This sets up nicely for the final arc when Rias’ fiancé Riser basically stakes to claim her as his property, which leads to a challenge between Rias’ and Riser, in a ‘chess battle’. It basically builds up with a battle sequence as Issei uses techniques, both powerful and perverted (or both) to help defend the king (Rias) which leads to the inevitable challenge between Riser and Issei. Surprisingly, Rias’ actually loses but it does set up for a last episode finale…
Without spoiling too much, what is really surprising about this show is how well Rias’ and her group work well as foils and comrades for Issei, and Issei actually grows as a character…though doesn’t love his perverted edge. This can be both a positive or negative depending how much you like the comedy involving Issei but the fact he has concrete thoughts of all the characters (he gets a friendship with Yuto and Asia quite quickly, he even holds a lot of his thoughts away from Asia despite he clearly is into her) and it does evolve with Issei becoming quite the badass in both battle arcs – I love how all the chess motifs equate into different powers and that Issei’s pawn ability can easily be the game changer…but like a real pawn it takes time and patience.
Rias is also a very welcome character – she is very sexual, but at the same time whilst she is manipulative and knows what she wants, she comes out also as very caring almost from the get go, being a rare vamp type character who is showcased right from the get go as being a good person, rather than just having a hidden heart of gold. There are some very fun moments with most of the cast as well albeit aside from Asia, most of the other characters are nullified (Koneko steals the scene though everytime she has a line or action) which makes this rank a bit higher than your average fanservice show.
What does sadly stunt it aside from the usual issues harem series suffer from (overdependence on a male lead, and whilst Issei isn’t as wimpy or uninteresting as others, he still has chronic annoying lead syndrome at times and isn’t worth the girls attention half the time), is the fact that the moments of action and character development are far too short in comparison to the fanservice. This is fine if this is all you are looking for, but the fact the potential for storylines (the emergence of devils, Rias’ family, the potential for more pieces, etc) is nullified by this is pretty obvious. The issue of aside from Rias, Issei and to start Asia, no-one really gets too much development, Raynare seemed to get more and she got taken out in the series quickly half way whilst all the other villains hardly have enough screentime to really be showcased as a threat or someone to take interest in.
That said, I can’t say I hate this series. It could easily be a guilty pleasure because the elements that are fun, entertaining and plotworthy just about override the annoyances and over-reliance on fanservice. I can’t exactly recommend it on its own merits, but it is one of those series that if you like the harem genre, maybe a surprise edition thanks to its supernatural elements, a male lead that does at least get interested, a female lead with a lot of character, and a lot of fun and action packed moments. Not for everyone for certain, but might be a surprise in your collection…
Whilst High School DxD didn’t make me get my dice out, it did at least keep my interest. Rias is a real star whilst Issei whilst can be annoying, did at least get some laughs out of me and even get some character going. The Asia arc was good with Asia a standout, but sadly most of the cast outside who I mentioned will hope there is a sequel because there is definite potential here, the harem aspect does hinder it a bit but the supernatural element of the devils combined with potential future plotlines at least makes this show one to pique your interest in.
Content Grade: B-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: A-
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: May 26th, 2014
Running Time: 300 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.