With a lot of shows that go on with multiple seasons over the years, with some sizable gaps between the seasons, you do get a sense of diminishing returns with it. But that core season, that first experience and introduction can remain in your mind as to why you keep coming back to it. Based on the light novel series of the same name by Ichiei Ishibumi which began back in 2008 and wrapped up in 2018 with twenty-five volumes (before starting a new iteration in 2018), High School DxD is the kind of property that delights me as it marries together action and fanservice in a way few shows really manage to do well. I make no bones about enjoying plenty of serious and heady material and the sweet romantic stories out there, but I also have a love that transcends the years with smutty action shows that know exactly what they are and enjoy the hell out of themselves.
When this anime adaptation got underway back in 2012, it naturally played up the sexuality a lot since it obscures the nudity with some cute widgets which thankfully weren’t a part of the home video releases. I totally understand the need for those kinds of things in broadcast editions of shows but when selling directly to the audience that’s interesting, providing the unaltered work is where it’s at. And with no self-censoring going on here we get the beauty of the sexuality, the story, and the fun of the characters. With its first season, High School DxD could have been just another silly and fluffy show, but it manages to really shine here by doing some non-standard approach material.
In a school that has few men overall, Highschool DxD revolves around the character of Issei, a young man whose life is like many young men who just want to get some hands-on time with women. With this school being weighted towards a lot of women, and a lot of foreign exchange students at that, it’s like having a massive harem at your fingertips but not being able to really take advantage of it well. So when you get a pretty boy or two in the mix, the girls are definitely drawn to them over your usual average guys, which is what Issei and his friends are all like. Average in a lot of ways, but very above average with imagination as their views of what women look like under their clothes are pretty varied and detailed.
This brings Issei into full contact with a bigger world, one that begins with him getting killed by Amano. Amano is a pretty small part of things overall, but because of her, Issei gets saved by the beautiful president of the Occult Research Club of the school, Rias, who heads the Gremory household that is one of the few remaining major houses of the Devil world after a war that happened years ago. There’s a big bit of back story that comes into it over the course of the series and Rias and her family and the whole Devil aspect builds up in a really intriguing way since there’s a sense of history about it, but also a sense of change since there was so much fallout from the war. But it’s also all kept very personal as we deal with Rias as she revives Issei and turns her into one of her pawns as there are a few chess analogies used throughout the show.
Bringing Issei into this life is something that the show focuses on a good bit as we see how he tries to do all the right things for her – all while lusting after her as well of course – and there’s a lot to like there as he gets involved in different situations to do the low-level missions of a new devil, get acquainted with the workings of everything and the others in the club that are part of her group and are just as bonded to her as he is now. They all figure decently into the show with the powerful right-hand woman in Akeno, the tough-as-nails knight in Kiba, and the feisty rook known as Koneko. Issei also has a lot of power that gets explored across it as it progresses as we learn that even though he’s “just a pawn”, she sacrificed all her pawn potential in him. When we see another competitor later on they have multiple pawns to fight but they’re weaker. For Issei, he has to learn to unlock his power over time, which is also made intriguing by his Sacred Gear, a red dragon-style piece of armor on his left arm that has sentience about it and also has an expansive and intriguing back story that helps bond him even more.
High School DxD does have a good bit of standard material here as it adapts the light novels with what it does in how it builds the scenarios, the general character archetypes, and the structure of it all. But it also goes above and beyond and draws an engaging story across it as well, which is a big plus since so many fanservice shows spend all their time being silly. Issei here is serious a lot of the time and is doing what he can to grow and change to serve Rias. The story, truly, is what kept me as engaged with the series as I was throughout it and wanting to see where it was going to go. Revisiting it years later, and after several sequel seasons, reminded me why I fell in love with this show to begin with. Yes, the fanservice is a lot of fun and the pervy side of things will always have an audience that should be served, but it’s also more than that. There’s good characterization starting here as it sets up for the seasons to come and engages with them well. It’s fun, it’s sexy, and it’s not ashamed to be – for the most part. I may fall out of the later seasons for various reasons, especially since there are real gaps between some of them, but this first season holds up really well and delivers a very fun experience time and time again.