The Summer of Love continues with a second post this week. I’ve done an examination of series lead Rias Gremory, and now it’s time to take a look at the series male lead character: Issei Hyoudou. I’ve already talked about this character before, but since I am revisiting the entire series, I feel I need to give this character a (well deserved second look). So join me after the cut as The Summer of Love takes a Character re-dive into the lead of High School DxD: Issei Hyoudou.
Now I have two major things I want to discuss about Issei, but because one of them involves the last arc of the series, I’m going to instead focus this character dive on the first part I want to discuss: Why Issei works as a male harem lead, and his place and effect on the main cast.
If there is one over arching agreement among harem anime, it is that the male character is not nearly as important as the female cast. You can have a absolutely boring main male lead, but as long as the female cast is done well enough then many people are willing to forgive it. There has been several harem and ecchi series that have had absolutely shitty male leads, but have such a strong female cast (or solid fanservice) that it doesn’t really matter. When it comes down to it, the male lead of a harem/ecchi show isn’t just a factor in its success. However, a series that has a good male lead, who is developed, has some quirks that set him apart, or has great chemistry with the girls can be an absolute boon and turn a good series into a great one., and that is where we find High School DxD and Issei Hyoudou.
Issei is at his heart, a teenage kid, and comes with all the benefits and hangs ups that come with being a teenage: meaning that he’s the horniest kid on the planet. Now I’ve heard the complaints from people that Issei’s perverseness can ruin the show, and that they wish it was downplayed. Now while I respect that view (I do get it), I have to respectfully disagree, as Issei’s perverseness and the show’s dedication to it is the first of two key factors in why his character works. Like I’ve said in my discussions on Date A Live and that show’s premise of ‘date girls, save the world’. High School DxD’s ironclad commitment to Issei’s mannerisms and oppai obsession is what makes most of the comedy land. There are no half measures, or attempts to find a “balance”, nor is the show or show-runners nervous about rubbing people the wrong way. Issei is a pervert, he loves women, he loves big anime titties and thicc anime thighs. Now thankfully the show is wise enough to let the serious moments be serious, and Issei himself knows when it is time to be a “grown up,” but he is also proud of who he is, and doesn’t feel the need to change himself for anyone, especially his friends. While some viewers may not be keen on this character trait, Issei at least has SOMETHING, and in a genre where the male leads are often treated as plot devices, that goes a long way.
The second factor that is that Issei’s growing relationship with the girls plays into the overall through-line of the series: the effect Issei entry in this world has had on these women. Simply put, before Issei enters the Gremory family, it is easy to see that while Rias and her servants are friendly with each other, care for each other, and would defend each other at moment’s notice. They don’t really seem all that close to each other, in the sense that these people actually spend a lot of time just being friends. Issei’s entry into the lives of Akeno, Asia, Koneko, Xenovia, and especially Rias starts a domino effect that breaks down the barriers that many of the characters have put up around each other.
We see this with Rias and Akeno, who start the series as the two mature ‘senpais’, but soon start becoming more like the teenagers they are, showing embarrassment, drive, pride, and jealously. No longer are they just the ‘president and vice-president’ or the children of important families. Asia and Xenovia, who have had their entire lives dominated by the church soon find new resolve and happiness among friends and family. Koneko, portrayed in the first few seasons as just an enforcer to the Gremory family becomes more comfortable with who she is, and more comfortable in expressing her teenage wants and desires. Even the other two males, Kiba and Gasper find themselves changed by Issei, with Kiba finding a sense of inner peace in regards to his past, and Gasper having a big brother to give him the confidence that Rias was never able to do. It is Issei, the pervert with his heart on his sleeve, his lustful, but pure, desires that change all of this. His entry into the world of demons, angels and dragons not only brings a new strength to bare, but also breaks down and shatters the self erected barriers the Gremory peerage probably never realized were there in the first place.
Now everything I’ve said has been done in other series, mostly in non harem and ecchi titles. Like I said with Rias in her character re-dive, Issei doesn’t rewrite the book on anime lead characters. At heart he is the typical shonen hero who has been placed into the ecchi genre, but it is because this genre pays so little attention to their male leads is what makes Issei stands out. The phrase “I came for the PLOT, but stayed for the plot” is how you can sum up High School DxD, and a lot of is because of how well Issei works as a harem lead. The show didn’t need to go this route, as the boobs and girls and fanservice would have sold the show well enough, but I don”t think you get to 25+ light novels and four anime seasons without the effort put into Issei. He is a cut above the rest of his class, a shining light in a genre full of half measures and disregard, and probably the single best male lead ever created in this genre.