Fan-service: Essentially something added to a work of fiction for the sake of pleasing the audience. Now that means fan-service isn’t limited to nudity, groping, and other things of a sexualised nature that most people immediately think of when we talk about fan service, but it does include those elements. I’ll hopefully get back to what else fan service is in a future post, but today I’ll probably just be discussing what we mostly think about when the term fan service shows up.
This season brings us How Not To Summon a Demon Lord, The Master of Ragnarok, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs, Free, Harukana Receive and the list of anime that would immediately spring to mind when someone mentions fan service just goes on. Now before you think I’m about to launch into a rant or a tirade against the various half-clad girls flouncing about the screen (or equally shirtless men who are striking a pose while flicking their hair about), I’d like to reassure you that while I’m not a fan of fan service, nor do I deny that there is an audience for it and that it serves a purpose within stories.
Let’s move the discussion momentarily away from the current season of anime. We all know Hollywood movies have used these kinds of gimmicky moments forever to draw the audience. There’s little reason for the various Bond girls to be shown so often in swim-wear, formal wear, or wearing very little while in bed (or for the Daniel Craig scene where he emerged from the water). There’s practically zero reason why Amanda Hunsaker (Lethal Weapon 1) makes her only appearance in the movie wearing an open robe that is blowing open in the wind before she takes a dive off the balcony. And anyone who watches a lot of bad horror and slasher films will know that there’s definitely going to be a sex scene at some point and inevitably the girl who participates in said scene is going to die fairly soon after. That’s been done so often it is now a running joke in self-aware parodies of horror.
But while I say there’s no reason for these scenes, we all know the reason. Even if that isn’t the part of the film appealing to you, someone out there was waiting for that scene and they enjoyed every second of it. Whether that girl or guy was hot or not will make or break their enjoyment of that film. And while sometimes these scenes are fairly well integrated into the plot, Amanda’s death worked because she was working as a hooker, she was on drugs, and the whole scene played into the tragedy of her death, others are clearly there just so they have something to put into the trailer to get audiences to watch.
If you were advertising a movie, wouldn’t you want the shot of Daniel Craig walking out of the water wearing that?
It plays great for the trailer, gets people talking online, gets images shared, and while no one is talking about the plot of your new Bond film, everyone knows there is in fact a new Bond film and Daniel Craig looks hot (if you are into that kind of thing – personally I’m all for Antonio Banderas in the Mask of Zorro, but to each their own).
Now anime may take things to a whole new level, but it more or less does the same thing (save for when a show is entirely built around fan service moments and the plot is entirely jettisoned – there’s a commitment there but I’m not sure I’m interested in the end result). This season I’ve been watching How Not To Summon a Demon Lord and The Master of Ragnarok. Both are essentially isekai stories and as normal they are both filled with fan service moments. And this is something that in individual episode reviews I definitely take a negative take on but this isn’t actually condemning the existence of fan service itself but rather speaks of what I’m looking for in an episode.
For me I’m looking for moments that move the plot or help flesh out or develop the characters and the issue with the way fan service seems to be delivered in these kinds of shows is it not only doesn’t do either one of those things, it actively eats screen time which could be used for parts of the show I’m actually interested in.
The other issue I find, and the reason I probably seem fairly negative when I discuss fan service as part of a review, is that so often it is females being seen in this light and it is regularly extremely sexualised content even if it is played for laughs. The boob grab, the rubbing breasts against the guys arm, the low camera shots, touching other girls; I’m clearly not the target audience for this kind of content so while such sequences don’t make me instant drop as they would some people, they certainly aren’t adding to my engagement of the story or helping me to actually care about the characters as people. That doesn’t necessarily make the show or the fan service bad, but it does mean that I’m less likely to really be drawn in as a member of the audience.
Of course, I’m certain there’s a writer somewhere who is now all upset and about to lose sleep because Karandi isn’t interested in his content (heavy sarcasm there). Because of course, for every viewer that determines that the weight of fan-service is just bringing the story to a screeching halt there are clearly plenty of viewers happily checking in.
If I ever needed evidence of that (and I didn’t mind you), then this season really did prove it to me. In the last 30 Days, How Not To Summon a Demon Lord episode reviews have been my most viewed posts. Also most searched for terms to find my blog via search engines.
However, even looking over the last three months, the first three episode reviews which have only been up for perhaps a month and a half at most, are the most viewed posts.
Then if I look back over the entire year, the first episode review of the show is now the second most viewed post, surrounded entirely by Killing Stalking reviews (and I don’t have to wonder what fan service that particular title was delivering).
So here’s a show I started watching out of curiosity because I don’t mind isekai stories, but wasn’t really thrilled about. It delivered two episodes that had me sitting on the fence before it finally launched into its actual plot. Episode six took us back to nearly sixty percent of the episode being fan service focused moments rather than plot and I wondered once again whether the show was really worth my time or not. But it most definitely appeals to its target audience. It has left the other isekai fan-service filled title, The Master of Ragnarok, for dead.
Which of course made me wonder why?
In terms of actual plot, both stories are more or less the same. They both have an interesting idea, potentially interesting directions they could go, and both have regularly come to a screeching halt because they’ve wanted to show off the numerous girls in the show in various states of undress.
In this at least How Not To Summon A Demon Lord tried to come up with a semi-plausible explainer linking all that grinding on the bed action to some kind of magic that may or may not eventually free Shera from being a slave (I’m not sure I buy magical boob gropes, but whatever). Still at least they tried. If the scene had been a little shorter and there had been a little less orgasmic panting, I may have even not felt distinctly uncomfortable while watching it. Master of Ragnarok didn’t even really bother. They just had another character tell the MC to take a break and go to the hot springs where the girls then pounced upon him.
It was thinking about this where I realised the difference in these shows really lay. Even with its non-fan service moments, The Master of Ragnarok isn’t subtle. The main character always just explains his battle plan to someone, usually waving his phone around to remind us he’s from the future, and usually making a reference to the fact he’s a cheater using future knowledge. And it delivers fan service in an equally blunt and matter of a fact way with the girls just coming straight onto him and declaring they want to be his wives. Its very much like they have a tick box list of events that they need to shove into the narrative and so they’ll just have the character say whatever is needed to progress us from A to B. As such, despite the more interesting setting, the Master of Ragnarok is actually a fairly sub-par show even when compared to How Not To Summon a Demon Lord, even if it does have more girls of more types and so far a lot more nudity.
How Not to Summon a Demon Lord has several advantages. Firstly, Diablo as the main character also provides some fan service as he has been shown on more than one occasion to be shirtless or posed very dramatically. While there are less girls (so far – the harem has been growing however) the characters of these girls are infinitely more developed and entertaining than the girls in Ragnarok. For instance I even remember Rem and Shera’s names and what their motivations are and the why they hang around the protagonist. While the story isn’t all that rich and deep, it is logical enough and there’s a lot of fun to be had with the idea of a socially awkward over powered demon lord who is role playing his way through his current life. And then the fan service itself has often been used to build connections or tension between the characters, and while there are plenty of other ways the show could have gone about it, we all probably have to admit that Rem’s ‘torture’ session where she ended up confiding in Diablo definitely kicked both the plot and character development into gear.
Though I think we’ll just leave aside the whole issue of slavery and ownership for a whole other discussion because there’s a lot of that going around this season as well.
So I’ll get back to the question from the title about whether anime is doing its fans a service through the inclusion of fan service? The answer, whether you individually like it or not, is probably yes. It sells and there’s clearly a market for it. Does that mean everything needs these elements in it? Not really. Does it mean you have to watch them? Also no. There’s plenty out there without these sorts of scenes, and yet, I know that there are some people who haven’t watched Dan Machi because of Hestia and I can’t help but feel that perhaps they missed out on a fairly extraordinary adventure because of one element. And while there are plenty of shows I have dropped because the balance of fan-service to plot tipped too far away from plot, provided I’m getting some decent character moments and plot development, fan service isn’t likely to make me turn something off.
Though depending on how loud the girl is moaning I may end up muting the episode.
What are your thoughts on fan service in anime?
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