The Summer of Love continues this week! While season 2 has been off to a great start, I thought it was time to go back and take a look at one of the main characters of the show. While I have dived into her character before, I thought it was high time to revisit the main lead of High School DxD and just talk about what makes her so effective and compelling. Join me after the cut as we take a character dive into the main female lead of High School DxD: Rias Gremory.
There is a lot that can be said about Rias. We can talk about her beauty, her character, her role in the story, all of that. However what I want to do with this blog post is talk about how Rias both evolves as a character throughout DxD’s story, and her unique place among her harem contemporaries. Rias remains to this day, a strange female lead for a series like this, and for many reasons; reasons that I believe are key to making DxD succeed as well as it does.
The thing that High School DxD does that, in my second complete re-run of the series, is quite surprising is that Rias does not instantly fall in love with Issei at the start, and in fact takes pretty much the entire season to get to that point. While it may go unnoticed for many viewers, I think it is vital to point out that Rias is created as a character that, unlike her fellow female leads, has a life, purpose and mission beyond just being Issei’s “main girl.” It’s important to remember that before Issei shows up, Rias has a good life, a great life. She has her peerage of loyal followers, is a third year high school student, and is liked, respected and adored by pretty much everyone. It is Rias, not Issei who brings all the other characters into the peerage, and gives them a purpose and reason for being. While this is including Issei, there is no romantic interest, in fact Rias pretty much sees Issei as her little brother, and a future investment.
The core through line of High School DxD, it’s overall theme in my eyes is showing just how much of an impact Issei’s arrival has on the girls in Rias’s peerage and Rias herself, and that is so effective because much of that first season is spent building up to Rias falling in love with Issei. Yet once it happens, it completely changes both the story and the interaction with the characters. It is important to remember that Rias basically a princess, a member of the devil nobility, while Issei is quite literally a dude picked up off the ground and thrown into this world. Their entire first scene together pretty much spells this out (and is repeated several more times both like this, and in how the characters are placed): Issei sitting in the dark shadows on the ground, while Rias is in the window, high above him.
Rias, who at this point had been both the “big sister” and the “Mom” of the group, nurturing the other characters, suddenly starts acting more like her age, getting jealous of the affection the other girls give Issei, and starting to fight for his attention, most notably with Asia whom for the majority of the second season (and in some cases beyond) is the only real serious threat, despite being her servant. It is through these moments, comedic as they are, that we start to see the impact Rias’s decision to bring Issei into her world is starting to have. It is further shown with Akeno when she starts to fall for Issei as well, with the two best friends starting to see each other as rivals, a great quote from their pool fight scene help illustrate this.
Throughout the rest of the season, we start to see Rias’s question her place among the group and even wonder if she has a place in Issei’s harem, foreshadowing (always with the foreshadowing) how the class divide between the two characters is roadblock for their relationship to progress. Scenes and images like the two below show that Rias’s feelings are rapidly evolving, shaking her in ways that she probably never expected.
This starts to come to a head in season 3, where when Issei is going to berserk from the “death” of Asia (spoiler, she’s fine) Rias frantically attempts to calm him down, trying to appeal to his senses by revealing just how much he has affected her, and it is where we get the first real glimpse of how much that impact goes. Rias claims that Issei has changed her life, that life before him wasn’t worth living, and that she helps give her meaning. While a little on the nose, it again helps drive the point home.
In Season 4 we start to see this all reach a breaking point as Rias, feeling neglected compared to the other girls, pressured by her parents to just ‘get on with it’ and have sex with Issei to strengthen the family, and wondering just what Issei thinks of her, confronts him in the sauna, offering herself to him right there. This “put up or shut up moment’ (that is again foreshadowed in season one, but this time done with a genuine desire for sex, not trying to get out of a sham marriage) that sets up the seasons’s final arc is vitally important, as Issei, with his P.T.S.D and fear of getting close to the girls, coupled with Rias’s impatience and frustration leads to a temporary rift in her relationship, where Rias is unable to understand why Issei can’t just give her what she wants: him. It is only through the encouragement of the other girls, the friends that both Rias and Issei saved and nurtured, that he has the courage to finally confront his trauma and accept that Rias does in fact truly love him, and remains the series (and ecchi in general)’s greatest moment.
Now why do I say all of this? Rias Gremory isn’t even my favorite character in the series, hell I don’t think she even breaks the top 5 for my personally.
I say it because while Rias Gremory is a harem female lead, and still has all the trappings that the genre brings, she is in fact the one with the most depth, interest and frankly best development. She is an absolute bomb-shell of a girl yes, but there is more to this character than just panty shots and amazing tits. High School DxD’s strength (one of many) is that it takes the time to establish the relationships of the characters, instead of going straight into the male wish fulfillment. Issei has to earn the affections of his harem through his actions, it isn’t just given to him at the start, and that is none more clear than with Rias. The story then takes it a step further by having Rias’s world change because of these feelings, which leads to moments both comedic and dramatic, forever altering how the series and story is told. Very other few harem/ecchi shows do this, often only going skin deep with bare minimum reason and hoping the fanservice carries the story along. High School DxD however attempts to take some risks, try a bit harder, and just put in a wee bit more effort. Is it a ground-breaking revelation? No. Is Rias Gremory one of the most compelling anime leads ever put to page or screen? Absolutely not, but again..it’s something. And for an ecchi series, that something is far FAR better than nothing.