High School DxD: Hellcat of the Underworld Training Camp

By Ichiei Ishibumi and Miyama-Zero. Released in Japan by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Haydn Trowell.

(with apologies to Professor Peter Schickele)

Each time I read a new volume of High School DxD I am filled with this feeling of anticipation, a feeling of exultation, a feeling that… this new volume can’t possibly be as horny as the last one. But so far… Yeah, I know, shut up, Sean, you’re yelling at a series for 13-year-old teenage boys for talking about tits too much, and I get it. I try to recalibrate my standards for these books. Heck, the hot springs scene was even mildly amusing once those standards are recalibrated. But God Almighty, the way that Issei levels up or gets more powerful in this series makes your jaw drop. Leaving aside that the key to unlocking his new super move is to poke Rias’ nipples, there is everything about the climax of the book, where a dying Issei suddenly attains the zen-like ability to hear women’s breasts talking as separate personalities. I… what was the author on when he came up with this? I can’t even say “Oh, Japan” here. WHAT?!?!

Koneko’s on the cover, and actually gets some backstory here, though she gets less to do than I’d like. Our main cast travel to the underworld to train at Rias’ vast estate, meet her parents, and end up fighting a new Rating Game against Sona and Saji, the student council faction. Sona wants to make demon society less class-based, and is being ridiculed for the very idea, so naturally her team wants to win badly here. That said, our heroes are the protagonists. Can they be powerful enough to get past Sona’s cleverness? Maybe, but it’ll take Issei having to fight a dragon everyday, as well as Koneko having to confront her past… literally, in the form of her sister. And of course there’s Saji, who is to Sona what Issei is to Rias. He has a dream of being a teacher… and is very pissed that Issei has groped more boobs than he has.

If you leave out the tits, this is a very normal shonen battle manga. Issei is told that unlocking his Balance Breaker is the sort of thing that’s usually done in a crisis position with strong emotions behind it. We then get what is obviously meant to be just that, with Koneko’s sister attacking her and Koneko feeling tremendous self-hatred. If Issei were in Strike the Blood, this would be where he would talk about “:this is my fight!” and level up. But Issei is in High School DxD, so it’s not enough to be feeling righteous fury, he also has to be getting super horny. Hence the nipple poking. The fight between Issei and Saji is the best part of the book, pure shonen manliness and shouting about each other’s dreams… then Issei gains the ability to hear women’s breasts talking, and any drama and excitement drains out of the body.

As for why I’m still reading this, I’m not really sure. I want to actually see what happens next? Unfortunately, what happens next will likely involve more ridiculousness. But as long as it also has cool fights and some romance that isn’t pure sex, I’ll probably get the next one.

High School DxD: Vampire of the Suspended Classroom

By Ichiei Ishibumi and Miyama-Zero. Released in Japan by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Haydn Trowell.

To a certain degree, all “harem” series (at least those with multiple girls all in love with the same guy) all suffer from the same major flaw, which is that the guy has to be fairly normal and dull. It might seem surprising that I’m saying this about Issei, someone who literally cannot go three pages without talking about tits some more. but it’s true. All the girls love Issei. They get jealous when he’s with another girl. They fight over him. They offer up their virginity to him. And why? Well, he’s nice to them? I mean, with Asia I get it, he literally is her savior. You could say the same for Rias, though it’s a higher bar to clear. But Akeno? Xenovia? Why does this lecherous dipshit who won’t even grope anyone without passing out offer such temptation? Well, frankly, it’s probably what he’s got inside him. The sacred gear, and the dragon that comes with it, make Issei an important player in the battle between the angels, fallen angels, and demons. That is… if there is a war.

No, Akeno is not the titular vampire (and I apologize for having to use the word titular when discussing High School DxD). I thought this might be her “focus” book, but while we do get some hefty revelations about her past, it’s clear her time is still to come. No, the new character here is Gasper Vladi, who is the vampire of the title, and who ticks off several more “light novel cliche” boxes. He’s a boy who everyone mistakes for a girl; he’s got cripplingly low self-esteem and a fear of interacting with others, and he’s ludicrously overpowered, as he can cause people to freeze in time… though, like Issei, his power has more weaknesses than strengths right now. That said, while trying to coax Gasper out of his shell, Rias’ group also have to deal with a peace conference, which risks blowing up before it begins.

Despite the previous paragraph, there’s not a lot that happens in this book compared to the previous three – it’s a lot of setup for the next few books, as we introduce a couple of major players who look like they’ll give Issei trouble (though one of them turns out to be more of a mecha otaku than anything else). Indeed, I was more surprised at things that didn’t happen. The book starts off by telling us about parent-teacher conferences, which will not only feature Issei’s parents going but also Rias’. Any other light novel series would make this a book of its own, but here it takes fewer pages than the pool battle between Rias and Akeno to see whose breasts get to be groped by Issei. The series manages to work for its target audience because it not only assumes its readership are horny teenage boys who don’t have the guts to cop a feel, but that all the women in this series are essentially ALSO that. It’s… weird.

Still, the one fight we got was pretty cool, and if there’s any series you can’t get mad at for staying on brand, it’s this one – there are breasts in High School DxD? Who knew? Recommended for those who read the fan translated PDFs years ago.

High School DxD: Excalibur of the Moonlit Schoolyard

By Ichiei Ishibumi and Miyama-Zero. Released in Japan by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Haydn Trowell.

I had resolved, with this third volume of High School DxD, that I was going to stop talking about the constant teenage sex fantasy talk, nudity, and general fanservice and simply focus on plot and character. Theoretically, anyone reading a review of the third volume of this series already enjoys it, and does not need me going on about how it’s all a bit much. Therefore, I would simply glide past the fanservice and discuss other things. It’s very, very hard to do that, though. This is not a book like Accel World, where if you ignore the art and the ages of the characters it’s almost a normal harem battle novel. The sex is baked DEEPLY into the very fabric of the series. I could talk about character motivation, except we now see a THIRD demon whose plan is to gather a harem (and the second one had succeeded), and Issei explicitly says that he’s fighting in the final battle because he’s going to get to suck Rias’ nipples as a reward. It is what it is.

So, the plot, as there is one. Kiba finally gets a volume to explain his backstory, and it’s pretty wretched. It’s also pretty clear that he ids consumed by vengeance against holy swords. Thus it is an unfortunate thing that several holy swords have shown up in town, either being wielded by fallen priests, fallen angels, agents of the Church… or Issei’s childhood friend Irina, who he didn’t even realize was a girl. Needless to say, all these swords here is not a coincidence, and there’s a fallen angel at work here. Can our heroes manage to actually work together – minions of the angels and actual demons – to fight against a common enemy? Can Kiba manage to keep it together enough to get the revenge he’s sought for so long… and is revenge really the right answer? And can this series keep teasing sex while delivering precisely nothing? Signs point to yes.

I didn’t mention the other new character in this book, who seems to join the regular cast at the end. Xenovia starts off as an angel with a heaping of faith and a tendency to go off half-cocked, and ends it as a somewhat bitter demon… with the exact same tendency. She looks fun. Irina is far more pointless, and I think would have been better served being introduced in a different book. This book does, however, do something very well, which is for the climactic battle, which Kiba has far more invested in than Issei (nipples aside), it shifts to Kiba’s POV. You’d think this would be obvious, given it’s Kiba’s arc and resolution, but it can frequently be very hard to wrench the narrative away from the usual POV character, so I’m calling this a victory. Two more things: Koneko is still the minorest of the main characters, but I liked her more here. And a scene showing off how poor Irina and Xenovia really are shows the author is very good at humor when it’s not revolving around tits.

This series is pretty much review proof, but I will note: fans will enjoy it. Also, Asia looks very cute on the cover.