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Review: High School DxD Season 1

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Devil's chess with fanservice

Sometimes, companies like FUNimation license certain titles that meet a certain kind of demand. And there’s no beating around the bush for these shows: sex sells. Although these fanservice-heavy anime rarely feature actual sex; usually, it's just some nude scenes and sexual humor. High School DxD is one of these titles.

Unless you are a connoisseur of fanservice anime, however, you might not know that a lot of these types of shows go beyond the fanservice. In fact, it's with that in mind that I say High School DxD is surprisingly on the more ambitious end of the spectrum, due to its somewhat unusual harem setup. Of course, the hot and sexy bodies are the main course; the feature that attracts most viewers to the show. Remove these sensual elements and the nudity, however, and what's left to see in High School DxD?

Yep

High School DxD Season 1 (Blu-ray/DVD)

Studio: TNK
Licensed by: FUNimation
Release Date: August 20, 2013
MSRP: 64.98

Well, not so fast; how can we, for a review of High School DxD, skip over the fanservice? I think if you enjoy sexy dynamite bodies, lacking a better term, you will like this honest and straightforward boobs anime. The Japanese promo material on the second disc, available as bonus content, says as much--it's a boobie anime. If you like them knockers, this thing has it. I would even go so far as to complement on Rias Gremory's design in general--both dressed and undressed, she has a really well-done character design. It happens when the character's silhouette works so well that the shape of her hair draws your attention to her fierce, but perfect face (and on down).

It's good that she's a well-designed character, since High School DxD features Rias an awful lot--both in terms of marketing material and also how the anime puts her in some pretty cool still shots. Alongside her are Akeno, the Japanese, Yamato Nadeshiko-type; Asia, the innocent sister; and Koneko, the smooth-and-flat representative of the bunch. There are others, but not as important (well, save for fellow club member/demon brother-in-arm Yuuto). While I can't hurl as many complements to the rest of the gang purely on a visual level, I think the group rounds out the fanservice elements sufficiently.

Face

For me, the lead male character often makes or breaks any kind of a harem setting. In High School DxD, I think Issei gets a pass. He's earnest and hard to dislike. The guy is humble enough and knows to play it like a shy boy when it's appropriate, on occasion borrowing the best attributes from classic playboy heroes like Kintaro Oe. For better or worse, however, High School DxD sets him in a “must get stronger” sort of story where Issei has to step up and pull his weight for the team. It's frankly kind of dull, but the simple vehicle doesn't get in the way of the fanservice, and is inoffensive for the most part.

There is a consistent team theme going on throughout the story. The way High School DxD sets up the primary relationships in the first season has to do with how Rias grows her demon family. Like vampires, I guess, the demons in High School DxD can resurrect dead humans and turn them into “reborn” demons. Demons can also give birth to other “pureblood” demons. The demons fight against angels, fallen angels (who may team up with other agents, such as human demon hunters and combat priests), and among themselves, in a three-way balance of power. While season one of High School DxD doesn't get into the setting too much, one thing we do learn is that humans are randomly bestowed with "sacred gears," and all these faction fight over humans with good ones. As you've probably already guessed, our protagonist happens to have an extremely powerful sacred gear.

The story focuses on how Rias establishes her family, and also Rias's own role in the society of demons, including the whole Rating Game business where fellow demons compete for societal status in a game of human (demon?) chess. By bringing in Asia and Issei into her family, Rias establishes herself not only in a way that is meaningful to her position, but also in a way that meets her emotional needs. In turn, Rias's guidance and vulnerability complement Issei and Asia's needs too. As the only romantic triangle in the first season, this is a subtly interesting angle to present.

Asia best Asia

And maybe it's for the best. Unlike most harem anime, there are little reasons for High School DxD to spend time with awkward social situations between a dense protagonist and a hot haremette in order to exploit that fanservice element as a slapstick joke. Akeno and Rias simply jget naked on their own, sometimes for no good reason, and all the anime has to do is to show it. This leaves Issei focused on getting stronger (and tearing clothes off Asia). The show is probably at its weakest when Issei, along with his male classmates, sexually harasses the girls at school. We get the point that Issei's mind is full of naughty girl parts, let's move on.

Actually, there is another thing that bugged me--the whole nipples-visible-through-the-clothes visual effect. It's just not my thing, especially when it happens to Rias and Akeno while they are wearing their normal school uniforms. It's also kind of random; on occasion you will see their nipples through their outfits, sometimes not. Maybe it's supposed to indicate that they don't wear bras? In any case, I feel like it cheapens the show (as if it wasn't cheap enough), and more importantly, it distracts you from enjoying the alluring character designs.

As for production values, High School DxD is competent. The home video release is uncensored, as it should be. The animation quality is okay, although there has to be some praises heaped upon the ending animation. “Study x Study” is a catchy StylipS song, but, those pole dancing moves are definitely animated with more frames then usual, right? They look pretty nice.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes with a good amount of on-disc bonuses. For one, the English dub cast provides commentary tracks for episodes 1 and 7. The aforementioned promo materials are available (subbed only) as well as the original Japanese bonus featurettes, in case you want to see more boobs (or tentacle udon noodles). FUNimation's own ads as well as the original Japanese ads are present, and also the credit-free OP/ED videos. For your information, this review is based on the Blu-ray disc contents, although the screencaps are from DVDs.

Pewpew

The voice acting on High School DxD is kind of a mixed bag. The Japanese dub did a decent job of portraying Rias as a cool beauty, and so did the English dub, although the latter came across a little too matter-of-factly. The English Issei is terrific, though. The rest of the gallery sounds about what you would expect from a typical FUNimation dub, although there are a few first-timers in this cast. It's probably worth noting that the Japanese versions of Akeno and Asia sound about as exaggerated as their English counterparts.

If you look a little deeper at High School DxD, you might actually find some interesting themes. The one I latched on is how Asia's feeling for Issei serves as a foil for Rias's feeling for Issei; they are drastically different yet surprisingly similar. It's exactly this kind of thing that you miss out if you write off High School DxD as a pure boobs show. Make no mistake, it still is a pure boobs show; but the boobs aren't the only thing the series has to offer. The point I realized that something else might be happening with this series was during an early moment, when Issei got into a debate about Dragon Ball Z:

FUNimation's famous bumper is "You Should Be Watching." I wondered at first: should anyone actually be watching High School DXD, with its nipple protrusions? Is this really a good way to spend your time and money? And in true otaku anime fashion, the answer is “yes, but.” If you're willing to look past the surface for some deeper themes, you may be surprised to actually find some here. However, for a lot of viewers, the fanservice is all they will see, and that's okay as long as that's what you want. If nothing else, you could just watch the ED on loop for a while.

for good measure

6.0 – Okay. 6's are flawed, but still enjoyable. These titles (say "titles" ten times fast) may not have attempted to do anything special or interesting, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. These typically make great rental fodder or bargain grab.



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High School DxD reviewed by Jeff Chuang

6

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
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Jeff Chuang
Jeff ChuangAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Yet to be the oldest kid on the block, this East Coast implant writes cryptic things about JP folklore, the industry or dirty moe. Attend cons and lives the "I can buy Aniplex releases" life. ... more + disclosures


 



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