Friday, June 27, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #177: High School DxD, Vol. 1 by Hiroji Mishima

If you're creating a story series aimed at teenage boys -- anything with visuals, from live action to animation to comics -- you can't go wrong including scantily clad women with large breasts. Oh, sure, that's sexist and demeaning and all kinds of other things. But it works, and marketers and creators around the world like things that work. If you can work in sexy-girl dialogue like "I applied some of my magic to it... by embracing you in the nude," all the better!

High School DxD, like so many other successful Japanese transmedia products, began as a light novel series, the product of one creator's imagination. (Heavily filtered through his editors' conception of what the market wants, of course: this is Japan.) Those were written by Ichiei Ishibumi, and there have already been eighteen of them since 2008 -- got to strike while the iron's hot! Popular light-novel series always transmute themselves into other media, so in due course there was an anime TV series and a manga.

The manga was by Hiroji Mishima, and the first volume -- High School DxD, Vol. 1, buy it from your local hegemonic Internet retailer -- is now available in English, translated by Caleb D. Cook. It's the kind of mildly titillating thing that has a lot of naked young women but no visible nipples -- the publisher (Yen Press) has rated this "M" for mature but it's really deeply, essentially adolescent.

(There's nothing wrong with being adolescent; we all are for several years. And High School DxD is quite blatantly and shamelessly adolescent, which is endearing.)

So: in a story for teenage boys, the hero must be a teenage boy -- preferably nebbishy in one way or another, unlucky or incompetent in love and life, to whom things happen but who doesn't drive the action (at least at first). And so our hero is Issei Hyoudou, who we first see on his very first date -- with a girl who asks "I was wondering if you would die for me" and then pieces his abdomen with a giant spear of light. A girl -- I initially thought it was the same girl, since shonen manga only allows for the slightest variation in attractive girl faces -- saves him, somehow. Issei thinks this is a dream, since the girl he dated has disappeared from the school, and no one remembers her but him.

But it was real: he was killed by a fallen angel, and brought back to life by the magic of a devil. Now he's a devil himself, and subject to expository lumps to explain the complicated supernatural setup and the chess metaphors that govern at least the devil forces. This battle has been raging for millennia and has three sides -- angels, devils, and fallen angels -- though it's in a quieter period right now, a time of skirmishes and spies rather than all-out war. And Issei is now low man in the devil group run by the hottest girl in his school, Rias Gremory -- she's the one who just has to get naked next to him to heal him when he gets mortally injured.

High School DxD, so far, is pretty blatant wish-fulfillment mixed with self-loathing: a potent mix when you're trying to attract teenage boys. Issei is going along with the devil gang because he has hopes of rising in the ranks and getting his own harem someday -- and, presumably, because they're all much stronger and more deadly than he is, but he's not smart enough to think about that. There's also a pretty nun starting to complicate things by the end of this volume -- Issei, for maximum audience identification, is as thick as two short planks, but surely even he should realize lusting after a devil-girl and a nun simultaneous will not end well? -- and I expect to see many more real angels as it goes along. It's a quick and undemanding read, though I expect only a vanishingly few female readers will enjoy it, and Mishima tells in in a clean, highly readable modern manga style that looks a lot like a thousand other things (though his villain faces are nicely distinctive and particular).

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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