Nuancing my Views on Fanservice

one piece 819 fanservice

Karandi has also addressed this issue – you should read her post here

I have spoken of fanservice in general and my personal take on it several times on my blog. The short version is that I’m all for it. Generally, I’m prone to speaking in favour of fanservice even in instances when it doesn’t particularly appeal to my personal tastes. Vive la difference and all that.

But lately, I’ve started to see another side of the issue I hadn’t considered before. That is the possibility that the inclusion of fanservice, particularly excessive fanservice, could in certain circumstances detract from the whole. What do I mean by that?

fujiko mine
I get easily confused

I have read many comments along the lines that fanservice makes anime unmarketable outside of Japan. I’m not yet convinced by that. Western media has long been very sexualized, although I will admit that North Americans have some really weird hang-ups about nudity. Still, I don’t necessarily think the at times raunchy side of anime is going to keep it off people’s watchlists. This may have been a lot truer in the days of network TV but in a post streaming world, the rules have changed. Besides the yearly 178% increase in the international consumption of legal anime (mostly in America) would seem to indicate that it’s a highly marketable product on the international market.

This said just because fanservice may not be hurting anime’s popularity, it could be hurting, for lack of a better term, its credibility. Let me give you an example. I was having a little anime chat with the lovely Lita a while ago and she was telling me about one of her favourite series: Witchblade. She loves this anime and talks about the interesting and well-crafted universe as well as the unusual focus on a strong and healthy mother-daughter relationship but she mentioned at least 3 times that the series was very heavy on fanservice, and she did so in an apologetic way. She capped off her sales pitch by saying that “if you can get past the fanservice” it’s a great show. (I have not seen the anime but if it’s anything like the old comics then yeah, there’s gonna be a lot of fanservice).

I’m not sure if Lita just thinks I’m a big prude (I really need to rebrand…) But at the time I was left with the impression that she was just going along with the sad general misconception that fanservice is just a negative in and of itself. To be clear, I do not think Lita believes that in the least, more that she believes the bias is so prevalent that she felt the need to defend a beloved series because of it.

I breath ratified anime blogger air where a lot of the fans I interact with are fanservice aficionados. Some will watch series **only** on the merits of fanservice. There are blogs dedicated to exploring and sometimes imagining lesbian characters, or on praising the merits of the Ecchi genre. I have read more posts explaining why harems are the best than looking into the fascinating differences in cultural beliefs and understanding illustrated through slice of life anime. Or the fascinating potential predictions found in sci-fi and mecha anime… Basically, my first-hand experience leads me to think fans love and appreciate fanservice. But these fans do not necessarily reflect the majority. And even when they do appreciate it, they might still be subconsciously putting it in another category. Maybe not but the notion may be worth sparing a thought.

thinking anime
thinking hard!

I have noticed that people treat highly sexualized material differently. They apply different standards. Some people, I assume, are uncomfortable with sexuality just like I have issues enjoying stories depicting violence towards animals (even animated ones). That’s too bad. Even people that don’t have issues with this type of material will sometimes have these negative assumptions. The storyline and/or characters are probably not very good because it’s relying on being sexy. Or it can only be enjoyed if you find the characters attractive because it’s created for that reason only… Like I said, few if any anibloggers think that way but I have seen some comments along those lines for anything that could be taken as bl.

If this assumption exists in the minds of the general audience, then there’s a risk that anime will always be considered a type of lesser tier entertainment even as demand for it rises. A bit like reality tv for example.

Then there’s a more pragmatic issue. Creating anime is a balancing act. Generally, the fanservice you put in is taking the place of something else. Let me use Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka as an example because it’s still pretty fresh in my mind.

Asuka is quite heavy on fanservice. That’s not a bad thing. Unfortunately, it’s very hit or miss fanservice. For instance, a lot of the *tragic past* scenes are sexualized and for me, the mix of depressing and sexy took away from both. I’m just not sure how I’m supposed to feel when a character I’ve gotten to know and even bond with a little is completely defeated clutching a dying friend while the camera is focusing straight down her cleavage. Sad for her? Aroused? I can pull of scared or tense and attracted at the same time, but empathy I feel for the character in that situation sort of pushes out the sexy thoughts. As a result, the fanservice distracted from the emotional impact of the drama and the sadness of the scene took away from the sex appeal.

oh good, back to cleavage then!

The show also featured several extended scenes of highly sexualized torture. One of the first instances targets one of Asuka’s close friends. And it’s more or less useless, narratively that is. Since there is a little memory erasing trickery happening, the only actual payoff of this sequence is to have Asuka feel guilty (even more so), for putting her friends in danger. Even that is dampened when we find out it’s unrelated to her. Otherwise, there is no effect at all on the blissfully ignorant friend, the bad guys it serves to introduce are either dispatched in the episode or dropped from the show without resolution. Basically, the only reason to have this entire event is to add some graphic fanservice in.

Again this isn’t a bad thing in itself. The problem comes from the fact that Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is a show that suffers from not having enough time for proper worldbuilding and character development. So having most of an episode on an event that is immaterial to the plot feels like a huge waste. Chekhov would be very disappointed.

This is how I would have changed it, not that anyone asked. Have he torture happen offscreen and Asuka just learns about and is distraught. Moving it to her POV will allow us to bond more with her. Then the other girl with the big chest and obvious obsessive crush on her can drop by and comfort her with her body while reminiscing about old times. There, you have character development in the form of exploring one of the central relationships in the series and sharing some background on both. You have the opportunity for some establishing exposition so the plot doesn’t feel too strong together. And you can have some explicit fanservice and Yuri to boot. Where’s my Oscar?

I got sidetracked, I do that a lot. My point was that the fanservice in Asuka isn’t the problem but the way it’s integrated into the show doesn’t seem all that thought out. It’s not weaved into the story or used to enhance scenes. It just seems thrown in and occasionally wedged in, to meet a sexy quota. And when viewers think it’s at the expense of storytelling, then it can give the concept of fanservice as a whole, a bad reputation.

So what are my current views on fanservice? I still like it! But I think it’s important that it be given the same respect and held up to the same standards as any other element that goes into making a great anime. So I am going to try reviewing it as such in the future. Not just Ganesh them are great bitties… What can I say, I’m just classy that way. Now to watch a whole lot of fanservice. What? It’s research!!!

Contributed by Irina
from I Drink And Watch Anime!

37 thoughts on “Nuancing my Views on Fanservice

  1. Couldn’t have put it in other words. I do like fanservice (when it comes to Anime guys being gay and all), but it’s like you said. It depends on how well it blends together with what is happening. If it’s fanservice just for the sake of fanservice then, most probably I won’t like it (especially if it’s an entire episode around that).

  2. I used to feel very uncomfortable with fanservice that centred on sexualising women because, as someone who was born a girl, that’s all anyone saw when they looked at me. Like my parents and family, “You’re a girl so you shouldn’t wear this/dress like that” or “your T-shirt is too tight people will think you’re trying to attract the wrong attention.” I was born with large breasts (which as a non-binary person I fucking hate) and I was always sexualised by everyone. So seeing it any media not just anime, made me feel really weird and probably even a bit prudish. Which is so strange because I’m a very crude person when I’m with friends and just in general; before I became higher up on the asexual spectrum, I even was into some rather risqué stuff with that regard. But over the last few years, and analysing how society treats different gendered people, particularly women, it’s helped me not take that shite so personally and learn to find enjoyment in it. I do believe some serials can have lesser quality with excessive fanservice that doesn’t fit the theme or narrative tone, but it’s not something I steer clear off solely because of the ecchi aspects, if any of this blathering makes sense. Like Lita, I also occasionally feel the need to apologise or give a disclaimer for fanservice. Yet, nowadays I think it depends on my audience and whom I’m talking to about a particular series. Also sorry for any spelling/typing errors. I’m using my phone and it’s being kind of janky today.

    1. It was a perfect comment. I actually never disclaimer fanservice and have had friends get back to me with…it was a bit pervy…

    2. If I give a heads up on the fan service, I am allowing for the potential audience’s concerns and not because I think fan service itself is an issue. If someone doesn’t like violence, I’ll give a heads up on that. With my history, I’d be the ultimate hypocrite to complain about a little gratuitous skin flashing.

      Fan service does not bother me in any particular quantity. If it starts ruining the flow of the plot, then I’ll get urked. The same thing would be true of violence or any other thematic element that gets out of hand. For example, “A Sister is All You Need” has massive amounts of fan service but it fits the show perfectly, so it is ok. Personally, I don’t see fan service ruining Fairy Tail because FT is not something one takes seriously.

      It is my desire that anime start displaying realistic human figures. A lot of those ladies simply aren’t physically possible. But since the intent is to sell to a teenage male demographic, big boobs and fan service aren’t going away soon. OTOH, the girls in Aoi Hana hardly had noticeable boobs at all. Different target demographic.

      1. Yeah, definitely depends on the person whom you’re speaking with about the title. I’d also love realistic human figures every now and again, but it is designed to cater to fantasies, which means realism isn’t always a priority by long-shot.

  3. I feel like I don’t watch a variety of anime enough to comment/worry about fanservice… when I think about the past few titles I’ve watched the only one that would stick out for fanservice is Hachigatsu no Cinderella Nine. I mean I can’t deny a few of the girls have large chests, their uniforms don’t make too much sense, but overall I wasn’t bothered by the fanservice if there was any. I guess I’m usually pretty conscious of what ‘type’ of show I’ve watching so know essentially the direction (?) where the fan service will tend to go.

    Like with Idolish7 and B-Pro, it’s aimed at girls so it there’s gonna be shirtless scenes or scenes where one character is implied to be naked because of some ‘circumstance’. (B-Pro being trapped in their overheating house comes to mind). With stuff aimed at guys it falls to the usually more troupe-y fanservice types like a panty flash, etc.

    It’s still good food for thought when it does interfere with the narrative, because admittedly that would probably be my breaking point in watching. Then again, I can’t recall a series where that’s happened to be in recent years…

  4. “if you can get past the fanservice”

    We catch that from both sides of the fence. On the one hand, believe it or not, the US still has a lot of that nagging guilt about sexuality. You see, anime is for kids in the minds of most Americans. You are exposing children, especially teenage boys, to an awful lot of sexually exciting scenes. According to a certain demographic, that is not good. Not a majority of the population but it only needs to be a certain threshold to win a heckler’s veto.

    On the other side of the fence, we have a subgroup of feminists who believe it objectifies and degrades women. Produce anime that has something deemed politically incorrect and – well – you have seen the sh*tstorm that ensues. They also claim that presenting all these physically perfect – and exaggerated well beyond perfect – females created an unnatural expectation which real people cannot match.

    Nobody worries about the male side of that claim. Should I be insulted by all the empty-headed harem protagonists out there or the over-the-top bodies of male fantasy heroes?

    I’m not.

  5. “I’m just not sure how I’m supposed to feel when a character I’ve gotten to know and even bond with a little is completely defeated clutching a dying friend while the camera is focusing straight down her cleavage. Sad for her? Aroused? ”

    Interesting you should mention Asuka…

    That show resonated with me, and the scene you mentioned might be an example of why.

    Kurumi, with all of her glorious cleavage, was simply another data point on the battle field. The dichotomy forced me to ask what place beauty has in a hell storm like their battles? Should they cover up under certain circumstances? Is their sexuality a form of power that they can project? What role does my assumptions plan in this?

    Maybe it was what some people called the tone-deaf presentation as Kurumi smiling sweetly and saying, “I’m not going to kill you you stupid bitch,” but the show forced me to re-evaluate how I viewed combat sexuality.

    Yep, I’ll happily admit I’m probably out here all alone in left field, but Kurumi without her cleavage wouldn’t be Kurumi — at least not in that incarnation. Yes, Asuka’s outfit was revealing; and yes, Asuka could slice her way through a main battle tank using just her strength and her karambit.

    Not sure how to get my point across, but I’ll just close by saying that the series twisted my thought process so that I didn’t ask “why is Kurumi’s cleavage front and center in this or that scene” to “it’s Kurumi; of course she’s showing cleavage because that’s who she is.”

    I’m still impressed with her look of determination when Abigail tried to eliminate her the first time…

    1. Just to be cear – the cleavage wasn’t the sticking point in the example, it was the camera work. The cinematic language that chose to focus on that, in a way it’s telling the audience that that’s what was important in the scene rather than the tragic event or the remaining character’s feelings but the cleavage… Same scene, with the exact same revealing wardrobe would have had a completely different impact if it was framed just a little differently.

      1. I see your point now!

        I’m not sure if it’s tone-deaf (as in is that really appropriate at this point in time?) or a statement of the new normal (yeah, more death and destruction, but at least there’s still beauty around).

        I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?

  6. Very good read.

    For me, it’s hard to describe the line between an acceptable amount of fanservice and too much fanservice, but I guess I’d simply say when it repeatedly interferes with a story or finds ways to include it at any or all times. Because if it’s a good series, you want to share it with as many people as possible, and you don’t always want to explain all the suggestive shots or be uncomfortable watching an otherwise quality work with friends/family.

  7. I’ve never thought about it much, but I’ve also recommended anime with lots of fanservice and said that “if you ignore that aspect” a few times… though I also warn in the case of violent or bloody anime.
    Personally, I’ll watch it with fanservice and I like it, but there are definitely a few anime in which the fanservice is just too much and damaging the anime. Occasionally, an unwanted distraction in some crucial scenes (there’s this one scene in Highschool of the Dead, in which the male MC is borrowing the girl’s gun/rifle?/ and shooting the zombies basically on top of the girl’s breasts and they’re bouncing… and I remember thinking it was completely unnecessary).

    Heaven’s Lost Property is a good example as well. The story’s actually very interesting and had the potential to be much more, but the main character’s obsession with panties is taken a bit too far, in my opinion. It works to lighten the mood, sure, but they dedicate more than one full episode to it each season….and it’s very frustrating to say the least when I hope something more is going to happen, but no, just more panties…

    1. It may be that panties are a particularly popular fetish in Japan. But then, so is molesting girls on the train.

      Kizumonogatari (I think) has one great panty shot of Tsubasa. It tells us so much about her I can’t really even call it fan service. It really advanced one’s awareness of who she is.

      1. Yes, there is that unfortunate sinister fact….
        I’m good with panties in an anime as long as they’re not messing with the overall story too much. Like when you’re really excited to find out what happens next – but no, let’s focus on this girl’s panties instead -.-

      1. I’m good with panties! I love Strike Witches and all the constant panty shots never bothered me since they don’t affect the story at all.

        I just wanted less in this particular anime. I mean there were giant flying panties (possibly alive, I can’t remember) in one of the episodes!

  8. I know I’ve been guilty of calling a show bad because of its fanservice, without clarifying that its the poorly-integrated, forced fanservice that has driven me up the wall. I’ll have to make sure I don’t do that in future, but it is one of my bugbears and I give very few chances to an anime that I think is including fanservice for no good reason. Whereas there are some anime that are full on fanservice, like Food Wars and Kill la Kill, that I love with my heart and soul.

      1. It was excessive to begin with, but I feel like it found a balancing point from the second half of season one onwards. I can’t quite put my finger on why, the fanservice just feels like a natural part of the show.

  9. That was a very interesting read. I agree we should hold fanservice-heavy anime to the standards of other anime and other media in general. But also, like you said, I don’t think fanservice or sexualization in anime is necessarily bad. That being said, anime that’s heavy on fanservice is not my thing in *most * cases, so there is probably a lot of variety I haven’t seen. I also sometimes fall into the mistake of blaming a bad series for being bad just because of its fanservice. For example, until now, I would have said I disliked Citrus because it focused too much on sexualizing the characters. But that was only half the problem, in reality.

  10. Fanservice in a show that completely owns it can be a wonderful thing, shows built with fanservice in mind can be excellent pieces of entertainment. Shimoneta, High School DxD, Date A Live, Keijo, Demon Lord, Queen’s Blade, and yes, even Shinmai are loved by fans because they 100% own their premise and commit to it. That doesn’t make them any less of a show, in fact I think it shows their bravery. And if you don’t like, that is 100% OK. Not every genre is for everyone.

    Fanservice shoved into a show where it doesn’t belong, where it isn’t the essential focus can be off putting. I’ll defend it to the day I die, but the fan-service in Fairy Tail is a massive fucking annoyance to me. That’s not what the show was about, and level of titillation only makes the bad plotting and strange characters even more notable. The sex scenes in the O.G Fate Stay Night are a mixed bag and never really truly work the way they are suppose to. And like you said Magical Girl Asuka’s fanservice felt very out of place in what was a cool take on the genre. There are dozens of shows with unnecessary panty shots that can distract from a scene. I think part of loving fanservice is an acknowledgment that sometimes it doesn’t work, or doesn’t fit.

    It’s a interesting topic, a difficult one, and one people are going to have to reckon with as Anime rockets towards the cultural mainstream. We all bring our own baggage (whether we want to or not) when we watch a piece of entertainment, how we react is just how we react, but it is also vitally important to put yourself in the shoes of another, and try to see things from their perspective.

    1. >Fanservice shoved into a show where it doesn’t belong, where it isn’t the essential focus can be off putting.

      One good example of this was Classroom of the Elite, which had quite a bit of fan service that just didn’t really fit the tone of the show. Although I still liked it, I remember thinking “why is there fan service here?” when watching it. There’s definitely a right time and place.

    2. I have known people who have no problem with fanservice drop fairy tail because of it. It just felt like there was nothing else to it

      1. It is the worse kind, where it actively detracts from the plot, plus it shows how bad that plot and characterization really were.

  11. Witchblade is a great example. Based on a Western graphic novel which is highly sexualized. Hell, most graphic novels are. Just look at the latest Marvel covers for more examples.

    I also agree that Asuka got it wrong and I think Freezing could be another example, where the fanservice seemed to coincide with bullying and hazing.

    It’s funny that we never apologize for the violence in shows, only the sexiness. It’s a great show if you can get past all the murder. That seems like something we should be saying.

    1. What you said at the end about violence is generally true among anime fans… but I’m one of the weird ones who “apologizes” for it. Like when I talk about Mirai Nikki, I attach the warning that it’s very violent and full of death. Last time I watched it with a friend, I didn’t say anything about the fanservice because it didn’t even occur to me to “warn” him about it, but he ended up surprised and saying it really distracted from the story.

      1. I’ve looked back at some of my earlier reviews and I did put warnings in there about fanservice, not because it bothers me but because it seems to be a particular bugbear for some people. It is an odd situation we find ourselves in that shooting someone in the face is more acceptable than a pair of bouncing boobs or a bum.

        It’s definitely funny that it’s been attributed to anime when western media is fun of fanservice. Just look at The Hundred with its cast of beautiful teenagers that all look like models.

    2. I’ve talked about this but to be fair people have tried to ban violent video games in the US pretty frequently.

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