Hugh David averts his eyes… or tries anyway
What to make of a show that could be a perfectly acceptable action-horror anime were it not for the fact that the it is quite possibly the heaviest fan-service show to come down the pipe since... well, since at least near-namesake High School of the Dead
? Times have changed, and not all anime fans are up for bouncing breasts and peek-a-boo panties. In a squeezed market, can High School DxD
stand firm against the competition?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Once you get past the draw for the majority of the intended audience – the utterly immense amount of fan service, including topless nudity and near-full nudity from the very first episode – there’s actually something to the series other than bared female flesh. This is a supernatural horror series, one based on a Dragon Age-published manga, in which competing clans of demons hide out as separate clubs in a high school. In the bonkers theology of the show, there are demons/devils, there are fallen angels and priests, who hunt the demons (sometimes on behalf of other demons), and then there are actual angels sent by God to wipe demons out as well (although we don’t meet any in this first series). It’s a faux-Christian vision beloved of the horror genre, already used by so many books, films, and manga before, of which the most notable live-action versions would be the terrific 90s flick The Prophecy
and the recent Hollywood adaptation of Korean comic Priest
, coming to Syfy soon as a TV series.
However, because this is also a harem comedy, the school is a former girls’ school now turned co-ed, so the hero and his friends are teen pervs of the highest order, joining for the sole purpose of spying on girls whenever possible. This would be a lot creepier if the show took either them or their activities seriously, but by having the school girls ostracize and dismiss them as the perverts they are – including having the kendo club regularly beat them up for their spying ways – they are always shown to be the weakest fools on campus.
Where other shows have celebrated such leads before, or kept them on the sidelines for comic relief, this show not only places one front and centre, it dares to suggest that maybe his breast and porn obsession is a bad thing, socially crippling and needing to be overcome for him to become a hero. And he’s not alone; when Issei is resurrected as a devil servant to statuesque demoness and Club President Riasu, he is expected to perform menial tasks answering summons from humans wanting demonic help, for which they must enter into a pact. Almost of all of his seem to be anime fans of one kind or another, each desperate enough to call on dark magic to satisfy their desires!
Issei is quite literally a pawn in Riasu’s world; she is required to have servants who match up to chess pieces for games against other demon houses. He is a servant, although like most anime heroes he had a hidden power to unlock. Physical exercise and magical combat training are needed to get him to stop perving and start spell-casting, becoming a useful member of the team, and a hero by series’ end.
Backing up the idea that the horror part of the show is the serious part, is how quickly the show manages to turn from sex comedy to dark magical combat and back again. In the opening episode alone our lead is bloodily stabbed to death not once, but twice! When a rival demoness is fought later on, she mutates into a monster that demonstrates the production team is both horror-savvy and once again possessed of a sense of humour – her breasts fire magical beams and her privates grow into a large mouth full of sharp teeth – leading to the excellent line in the English dub from Issei “This is a porno I don’t want to be in! Finally, the meekest of the female characters is named after noted actress & director Asia Argento, daughter of famed horror director Dario Argento and star in her own right of several horror flicks.
All in all, if the show dropped all the extreme fan-service it would still be an exciting action-horror adventure, not far removed from an extended arc of Supernatural
or the like. As it is, you get that and
a show that would have broken the jiggle counter if anime DVDs still had them. After decades of evolution, even harem comedies can produce a show with some substance.
High School D x D is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.