The first season of Highschool DxD distinguished itself from its fellow fanservice anime series through sheer ambition. To describe it as an impressive artistic achievement would be an overstatement, undoubtedly, but in a genre that’s generally content to cobble together panty shots and inadvertent nudity into perfunctory, predictable plotlines it was refreshing to see Highschool DxD commit to delivering substantial storylines infused with humour.
The second season, titled Highschool DxD New, doesn’t deviate substantially from the formula established by its predecessor. For starters, it’s packed with enough nudity to put most of its competitors to shame; where most fanservice anime tends to include bath scenes or rent blouses once per episode at most, DxD New borders on soft-core pornography, and it’s even more exaggerated in season two. The first episode features a barely-explained ‘ritual’ where the male protagonist Issei has his finger sucked by Akeno, a barely-clothed buxom devil (most of the characters in the show are devils. They’re the good guys. It’s not worth worrying about the details). The next episode introduces a steam room where the (invariably female) devils discuss strategies in the nude to the tunes of seventies porno music as the camera lingers over their bodies.
In the first season, this was executed so hyperbolically that it could be construed as satire, or at least self-awareness. The character of Issei helped a great deal: he’s an unapologetically lecherous creep who’s first (and often only) priority is boobs. (When given the option to master a magical power in season one, he chose to learn how to magically undress any woman he touches). It all operates at an adolescent level, which helps it from feeling too, uh, rape-y: when his devil ‘boss’ Rias says he can “do anything” to her, he responds by asking if he can “…suck on dem tittays?” It’s all quite ridiculous, which is necessary as the show is impossible to take at all seriously.
Issei was an outsider throughout season one, joining the Occult Research Club – an organisation of do-gooder devils – and earning, for the most part, disdain and/or disgust from his female colleagues. His goal of becoming a “Harem King” seemed ridiculous, a mockery of the milquetoast male protagonists drooled over by dozens of women in other fanservice series. In season two, unfortunately, his characterisation remains the same but he inexplicably becomes an object of desire for (most) of the women in the series. I’m sure this approach makes it easier for the writers to find excuses for fanservice, but it blunts much of the self-awareness of the previous season.
This is consistent with DxD New as a whole, which feels lesser than its first season in most respects. The jokes aren’t as funny or clever: DxD’s dub featured a Mean Girls reference and generally clever use of language, but the best DxD New can muster is “Are you even serious?” “As a five hour boner, dude.” or “Is this where the inspiring montage comes in?” The silly ‘summoning’ scenes – where the devils are called out to grant the wishes of a random schlub – are sadly excised as well. And while New has more nudity (if that’s possible) than its first season, there’s no sensuality or tease to it.
The plotting of New is broken up into two halves, with a mid-season finale of sorts (and a new title sequence thereafter). You’re not expecting Shakespeare from this sort of show, but the story is entertaining enough for the most part (and elevated by the choice to mostly separate the fanservice and Serious Storytelling). Some details don’t make a whole lot of sense, largely because having devils as good guys means that, naturally, Christians are the bad guys. This is fine in theory, but doesn’t always work in practise because the dogma of DxD’s Christians is often contradictory and confusing.
The best thing about Highschool DxD New has nothing to do with its story, though. This is a series with high production values; where its competitors tend to spend their animation budget in critical departments like Panty Shots and Breast Jiggling, DxD New looks great in every frame (provided you can excuse that character designs trend towards ‘very busty’). It’s also – surprisingly – formally inventive. Too much animation neglects the infinite potentials for framing/camera movement offered by the medium; not so here.
Admittedly, some of the unconventional choices made in framing are predicated pretty well entirely by fanservice demands. An example: a standing bikini-clad lady doesn’t suit the 16:9 frame, so why not turn the camera sideways? But these same unexpected angles are put to good, dynamic use in later action scenes, so it’s not purely about maximising the flesh on display. I was especially impressed by the use of split screen. It’s used consistently but in a range of different, often creative ways. In one episode, Akeno faces off against a bird-devil-creature, and she establishes her superiority by bursting out of her section of the screen to dominate the frame. Later, a shattered-stained-glass window effect is used to present the team’s reaction to a Nietzschean plot twist. There’s no reason to expect this sort of vibrant formalism in a silly show about animated boobs, but it sets Highschool DxD New apart from its less ambitious competitors.