One of the reasons think many people tend to love anime, is that unlike in the West, the authors are given far more freedom in the creation of female characters and have a chance to give them a variety of personality traits and quirks. Today in the west, it can often feel that female characters are shoehorned into always being a representative of the “strong female character” and are unable to be anything less. In anime, however, females can and have been almost anything. They’ve been strong, funny, comedic, evil, cruel, loving, kind, horny, asexual, bisexual, ditzy, clumsy, stoic, passive, aggressive, smart, dumb, and well… pretty much anything. Another reason I would propose is that anime doesn’t run away from sex, sexiness, and sexuality. Despite having many, MANY series that do it “wrong” (and I must stress here that I am not giving anime a pass for some of the bullshit it’s pulled) anime has loads of females who are both attractive and take-charge women who aren’t always regulated to being “the girl”. Simply put, females in anime aren’t a zero-sum game and it makes the genre better because of it.
As stated before, a harem anime doesn’t need a strong and developed male character for it to succeed. Does it help? It absolutely does and High School DxD is better because it goes above and beyond in regards to its male lead Issei Hyoudou. The show could have not done that and still have been successful, but the fact that it DID only helps strengthen the appeal of the show. You don’t get to have 4 seasons of anime and 25 light novels if you don’t have compelling leads. However, none of that matters if your show does not have the most important thing a harem needs. More than good music, more than good fanservice, more than anything; a harem anime needs: Good well-developed female leads. Without that, you show sinks into nothing, without that you’ll find that tits and ass can only carry you so far. Thankfully High School DxD has some of the absolute best the genre can offer, and after the cut let’s take a character dive into High School DxD’s main female lead: Rias Gremory.
(ONCE AGAIN, SOME OF THESE CLIPS ARE VERY MUCH NOT SAFE FOR WORK, PLEASE USE DISCRETION WHEN VIEWING THEM)
Rias Gremory is an interesting character right from the beginning. Most shows usually have the “main girl” either be the childhood friend or the wild and enticing exotic beauty that breaks the man out of his shell (think anime’s version of the manic pixie dream girl) The main girl normally adopts the tsundere vibe, meaning she that she is aggressive outwardly, but deep down has romantic feelings or a gentle disposition towards our hero. While Rias would fall more into the latter category of foreign exotic beauty, she is in fact very different from other heroines I have encountered both in and out of the Harem genre.
Rias, both as a third-year high school student and a high-class devil from a noble family has already lived a life before Issei comes into the picture. In fact, Rias already has the majority of her peerage (servants) before she recruits Issei into the fold. She has friends, a loving family, and loyal followers who would die for her already. This helps with Rias’s character because we can see that who Rias is doesn’t start just when High School DxD does, and unlike many other female harem leads, her life doesn’t completely revolve around Issei. In fact, Issei is not the beginning and ending of who Rias is, neither before or after she falls in love with him. In fact, High School DxD wisely makes the choice for Rias to not immediately be in love with Issei at the start of the story, but takes the time to let Rias and Issei build a relationship and this allows him to show off the noble, good and kind qualities that would lead her to see him as more than just her servant.
In fact, it is through Rias herself that Issei grows as a person. While she enjoys and indulges his perverted antics. She also has complete self-confidence in her body and sexuality which few other harem shows completely embrace. She has NO qualms about being naked around him, in fact, that’s how they MEET. She also takes time to teach Issei about the world and prepare him for the new life he is entering. This devotion isn’t just focused on Issei though, but to everyone who serves the Gremory household. Rias acts as both a mother and big sister to all of them, having saved most of them from horrible pasts and giving them a chance to live a new life. She doesn’t demand boot licking loyalty and in turn, is rewarded with their affection and devotion. So great is the respect and grace she carries herself with that it actually becomes the biggest roadblock for Issei to NOT give her the relationship she begins to yearn for. Issei just doesn’t think he is worthy of someone as wonderful as her. Check out an example in this clip below.
Rias isn’t perfect though, and Issei coming into her life reveals that deep down she is a girl like anyone else. While she never bosses her servants around Rias begins to become overprotective and possessive of Issei, especially when Asia enters the picture, and becomes (at the time) the main and probably only serious rival for Issei’s affection. Rias then becomes more of a master, claiming that Issei is hers and she belongs to him, and while these are done in fun comedy they begin to show that Rias wasn’t prepared for the effect he would have on her life. Another example is when Akeno (her best friend and third girl to fall in love with Issei) begins to grow closer to him and she begins to react as more of a girl her age, clingy, jealous and willing to fight, if comically.
Another example comes when, after a visit from her family Rias asks Issei if he is actually happy he has met her. This clip below shows that Rias can second-guess herself.
As time and the story arcs go on and more and more of the female cast begin to fall in love and fight over Issei, Rias has to ask herself how she really feels and wonder if the man she rescued from death is really just only her servant. Her flirting and tendency of nakedness may be one thing, but Rias begins to find herself wanting more of what Issei offers her: a view and affection that isn’t completely wrapped up in her social status, her powers or her famous last name. This all comes to a head in season 4 where both of them have to realize just what exactly they feel for each other, where Rias’s impatience and pressure from her family to just get on with it, along with Issei’s self-doubt and trauma lead to a temporary rift in their relationship. In fact, it is only Rias who fails to realize the reasons that are preventing Issei from giving her what she wants, but it also a credit to the loyalty she has from Akeno, Koneko, and Asia in that they actually side with HER over Issei. And while they do end up being the ones who help Issei move past his trauma, their initial stance against him shows that they value Rias just as highly despite them fighting over the same man
All of this, of course, is wrapped up in heaps of comedy and fanservice in which Rias can throw down with the best of them. Her squabbles with the rest of the cast are laugh out loud moments, and she doesn’t let up for a second when she feels Issei might stray away from her. Her English voice actress Jamie Marchi brings her A-game by providing Rias with that mix of grace and motherly charm that hits all the right notes, plus a seductiveness that can make your heart stop. I could go on and on about Rias, but I think you get the point. While she may not be the fan-favorite of the cast, Rias Gremory is essential to the success of the show and brings something to the table other Harem shows don’t. In a way, she is almost too good of a female lead for a harem/ecchi anime, but her presence is a key factor in the success of High School DxD and unlike Issei, the show would not the same without her.