Whatever else you might say about High School DxD, at least let this be known: You’ll probably never see nipple lasers, giant robots, horny nuns and fallen angels with cyborg arms all in one anime – hell, any other form of entertainment, full stop.
Note: This post is Safe For Work and contains no ecchi images.
Overall Series Review:
If you’ve been reading my weekly reviews of High School DxD, you might have picked up on the subtle fact that I like this anime a lot. I make no secret about my fondness for unpretentious “fanservice” anime, but for what it’s worth, it’s one of the shining examples of its genre. It is what it is, but don’t let that be a barrier towards your entertainment.
High School DxD is probably not an anime series that should work as well as it does. Yes, there’s the blatant nipple exposure, which is guaranteed to scare off so many of its potential viewers. This is the second season, so the debates about DxD‘s style of fanservice are no longer new. But the real problem with this anime arguably isn’t in the ecchi: it’s a hodgepodge of fantasy and action cliches that constantly wavers back and forth between earnest execution and self-parody. The story is ridiculous, it knows it, but at the same time it plays its cliches so straight one does have to wonder in what sense you are meant to take it. It’s not unlike Infinite Stratos, another by-the-books harem anime that indulged in a cheeky, exaggerated sense of humour, but High School DxD is much less calculated, much more outlandish and ultimately much more self-indulgent. Its formula works so well probably because it is so amateurish – it allows for a genuine heart and sense of enjoyment to shine through the writing that one doesn’t generally feel in harem anime.
You see, for all the labelling High School DxD gets as a harem romcom, I really see it as a fantasy ‘chuunibyou’ anime. There’s a sweeping, epic feel to the fights and to the worldbuilding, but it’s scripted like a fanfiction, as if the author simply lifted a bunch of elements he thought were cool and worked them into the story. And it works: there’s boundless creativity to the plot, possibly because you just don’t know what kind of mythological influence the series will draw from next. “When in doubt, try harder” is a theme that’s explored prominently in the actual storyline, but you could just as easily say that’s the theme of the writing itself.
As for New, I think it’s fair to say that with this season, the plot of High School DxD has really hit its stride. It’s taken the foundations laid out by the first season and really fleshed them out with much more focus and precision. Where in the first season, only Issei, Asia and Rias got much screentime, nearly every main character had some introspection or some meaningful interactions with each other here. Rather than building all the relationships around the harem lead, New focused on carving out the group dynamic. The new characters it introduced were especially likable and compelling, particularly Azazel and Gasper. Because of this, New became an experience greater than the sum of its parts: the relationships have more meaning and relevance here than they did before, and there’s a distinct sense that Issei makes up only a very small part of its world. His heroics take on a much greater emotional significance than they would have otherwise.
There are missteps, however. The politics, factions and even general groups in DxD become much more difficult to follow here than in the first season, where the story was simply about the adventures of the Occult Club. Now we have a story about an impending war and the major players include angels, demons, half-angels, half-demons, fallen angels, dragons and humans. It still boils down to a very simple coming-of-age story and it still paints its stakes with broad emotional strokes, but the devil (pardon the pun) is in the details, and some of the buildup to the climaxes feels like needless exposition that complicates the picture more than it needs to. Above all, this season feels like a bridging chapter, and the final episode ends on a completely unresolved note, promising more things to come. It’s frustrating, to be honest.
Still, this is a good show and for my money a worthy adaptation, so anyone who’s watched the first season of High School DxD and liked it even marginally should definitely check NEW out. It’s more of the same, but not only is that not a bad thing, it also outright surpasses itself. I quite liked it, and to those who also watched it, I hope you did too.