The adventures of high schooler-turned-demon Issei Hyoudou continue as his mistress Rias Gremory and the students of Kouh Academy’s Occult Research Club bear witness to revelations that threaten the world’s very existence. Those that have made it this far know what to expect from High School DxD: high-stakes demon battles, interesting but ill-fitting chess metaphors, and more bare breasts than seems healthy for a non-pornographic manga. These volumes introduce new characters and significant game changers which, by design, should maintain readers’ interest in any future volumes. However, the rapid pace in which these changes are introduced to the series threatens to buckle its foundation.
In volume six, our anti-heroes battle against the fallen angel Kokabiel and Freed Sellzen, the crazed exorcist who once served as a mentor for Asia Argento. Kiba comes face to face with his past in the form of Valper Galilei, a Church priest who willingly sacrificed children in rituals designed to wield the seven shards of Excalibur; Kiba, the only survivor, made a pact with Rias to enact vengeance. Meanwhile, as Kokabiel threatens war, Issei finds the courage to fight after Rias promises he’ll get to fondle her if he’s victorious. Before Issei can attack, Vali—owner of the White Dragon Emperor Gear—destroys Kokabiel, but only after the fallen angel drops a bombshell: God was destroyed during the last major war.
On that note, volume seven serves as a cool-down period for the members of the Occult Research Club. With the danger posed by Kokabiel’s power grab behind them, Rias and the gang prepare for the school’s annual parents visit. This event traumatizes Rias, whose visible embarrassment over her demon family is served as a source of comedy. This volume features plenty of skin, if only to remind readers that High School DxD is most definitely for adults. Issei has always favored the pursuit of being the Harem King as visions of doing naughty things with Rias dance in his head; the tables turn as the gentle sadist Akeno and Xenovia, the angel-turned-demon and latest addition to the Occult crew, take a sexual interest in our hero. The book also introduces Gaspard, a waif of a boy who happens to be half vampire. He’s also extremely agoraphobic and finds comfort wearing women’s clothes, his inherent androgyny making him look unbelievably feminine. Imagine Issei’s disappointment. Go on, it’s really not that hard.
Finally, the eighth volume concerns a peace conference between the angels, fallen angels, and demons. Now that the secret of God’s non-existence is revealed, the three factions meet with the intention of halting all conflict as a means of self-preservation. Issei takes this time to train Gaspard to use his Gear, which allows him to freeze time; he has also taken the (creepy) advice of Rias’ brother (creepy!) to casually manipulate the breast sizes of the Occult Club girls via his Gear (CREEPY). The peace conference begins in earnest and initially, all goes well… until the meeting is interrupted by a terrorist organization called the Khaos Brigade, which is led by Ophis, a powerful dragon god. As the melee rages, new factions and gods from different religions are suddenly introduced, culminating in a fierce battle between Issei and the Red Dragon Emperor Ddrang against Vali and Albion, the White Dragon Emperor. The book ends on a positive note, paving the way for a whole new chapter in the saga of the Occult Research Club, but it’s too bad it stumbles across the finish line. By adding so much exposition all at once, it feels like the authors rushed the ending of the story, creating more confusion than catharsis.
A trend in these three volumes that really stuck in my craw was Rias’ changing attitude toward Issei. Up until now, Rias has shown herself to be a confident and strong woman who knows when to use her womanly wiles to motivate Issei and put up with his deviant behavior. Over time, Rias begins to show affection for her servant, letting him get closer than any other young man. Even in the face of Rias’ arranged marriage, the pair exhibit a tightening bond, though I never got the impression these characters would be hooking up any time soon. Now Issei has attracted the attention of Akeno and Xenovia, and even the gentle Asia Argento wants a piece of him. Issei doesn’t bat an eye at the extra attention, but Rias experiences a flare of jealousy, butting heads with Akeno and embarrassing Asia if she gets too close. It’s weird that Rias is letting this make her feel as though she’s in direct competition for Issei’s perverted love; she’s the daughter of a prominent demon and the highest-ranking member of the group, and if she really wants Issei, she could easily pull rank. Instead, she broods over it in private moments, which is hardly like her at all.
On the other hand, I find myself impressed with how battles play out in the series. Although his perverted nature often keeps him from developing as a character, Issei shows a growing confidence in his abilities as a Gear wielder. The battles themselves are frenetic displays of energy-based attacks, reminiscent of an episode of Dragon Ball Z. As Issei’s connection with Ddrang grows, he gets new powers to play with, but sometimes he feels like a Mary Sue. Frequently cautioned against drawing on Ddrang’s true strength, Issei is given a bracelet to help him contain the Red Dragon Emperor’s power, lest it kill him. In the climactic battle with Vali Lucifer, wielder of the White Dragon Emperor Gear, the bracelet breaks… but instead of being consumed by power, Issei—a low-level high school pervert—is able to achieve feats like no other demon before him. He doesn’t always save the day, but unlimited and untamed power seems to come a bit too easily for someone so inexperienced.
High School DxD isn’t perfect, but it does have its fans (they wouldn’t keep printing books if it didn’t!). The end of the of the eighth volume feels like closing one door and opening another, and while that’s great in and of itself, the rushed ending is a disappointment. Those who have put up with the series’ unabashed nudity, Issei’s perverted priorities, and damage-laden battles that would make Goku proud are likely to be intrigued by the promise of a new direction in storytelling. For everyone else, High School DxD has no problem leaving them behind.
High School DxD, vols. 6-8
by Ichiei Ishibumi
Art by Hiroji Mishima
vol 6 ISBN: 9780316298544
vol 7 ISBN: 9780316309462
vol 8 ISBN: 9780316314961
Yen Press, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: Mature (17+)