I will go ahead and state that this is a rant piece so I apologize in advance. While everything I write for this blog is from my own perspective, this is going to be a very opinionated article about my personal feelings on this subject. However, I wanted to share this as I thought it might be an interesting read and it was also incredibly cathartic to me to get this out of my head and onto metaphorical paper.
Recently I noticed someone say on Twitter something that caught my interest.
This thread went on for some time, everyone in agreement, and eventually led to:
The first thing that struck me about this is that fanservice is not a genre of anime, or a genre at all for the matter. It’s a method of direction and writing to entice people. It’s using tried and true methods to appeal to what the audience likes in order to keep them invested or liking the show. Usually, this is adding sexualization into the show but this isn’t the only way to use fanservice, as just as easily, the creators could suddenly bring a fan favorite character seemingly back to life for a shocking twist.
However, these ideas can be done in any show, fantasy, sci-fi, slice-of-life, etc. Regardless of genre, anything can have fanservice in it. A Certain Scientific Railgun has multiple bathing/bathing suit scenes but they’re far and few between and I certainly wouldn’t classify it as a “fanservice show”. It’s way more focused on cute girls doing awesome psychic action things. Kobayashi-san has several bits involving sexual humor and Quetzalcoatl is almost a literal running boob joke. However, I’d never call Kobayashi-san just a “fanservice” show. It has fanservice, sure, but it’s a slice-of-life comedy about a gay couple and dragons, blending comedy and sincere moments to hit on deeper ideas about love, relationships, and family. The fanservice is just an element of the show.
And yes, there is the idea of ecchi, which some say is a genre but even that doesn’t really hold up. Gamers! was defined as an ecchi but Dungeon was not. In the same way, Devilman Crybaby is almost straight up hentai in certain scenes but I’ve personally never seen it officially labeled as an ecchi or hentai. Ecchi also can’t exist on its own as a genre because there is no such thing as a purely “ecchi” show. Just like fanservice, ecchi is a genre modifier, neither it nor the term “fanservice” are a genre unto themselves. Maybe a methodology but you can’t have an ecchi show that is literally nothing else. It’s a slice-of-life ecchi, a fantasy ecchi, a horror ecchi, but never just ecchi. There is no purely “ecchi” show that has nothing else. In the same way, fanservice is a broad term for multiple things but not a genre. So to ask someone to not write about specific works simply because they include fanservice is a very vague and hard to defend idea.
Plus, fanservice is more than just sexualization but for argument’s sake, let’s take a look at just sexualization as a means of enticing. Not all sexualization is created equal. There is a difference between a revealing dress and the camera stuck in a woman’s crotch for 17 of the 23 minutes of a show. There can also be reasons for what might be called fanservice within the context of the story or the characters. For instance, Senjougahara intentionally taking a long time to find the right outfit in the first arc of Bakemonogatari was an intentional power move by her to unnerve Araragi and control the situation. She does something similar in the next arc where she says to him not that she wanted him to see the outfit but to see her in the outfit, as she is expressing her feelings towards him and also forcing his hand to respond to those feelings. Senjougahara has depth to her, a uniqueness to her personality, and uses what she knows will get under Araragi’s skin in order to get what she wants.
Compare this to Highschool of the Dead where the nurse most of the time isn’t even treated as her own character but rather giant breasts with legs that constantly needs saving and is a recurring boob joke. She is not treated as a character, she is treated as an object. Senjougahara is a character. The nurse is not. There is a clear distinction here but both situations are considered fanservice elements.
We also need to look at this from a bigger picture. As a device, does the fanservice in the show add anything to the overall work? Obviously, it entices people to watch and can be argued to keep certain fans watching a long-form show, but besides cheaply keeping views up, does it do anything for the work’s story, directing, characters, etc.?
When it comes to sexualization, typically no, which is why Gainaxing is seen as a negative term. There are shows that can do something with sex and sexual themes. A better attempt at this would be something like Kill la Kill, where the whole plot and underlying themes of the show had to do with nudity, clothing, and overbearing governments and companies who suppress uniqueness through uniforms and literal uniformity within their hierarchy. There’s also shows like Please Tell Me! Galko-chan, which literally teaches sex ed from a girl’s perspective while keeping things fun and comedic. However, not all shows are like this.
When we look at something like Dungeon and it’s sexual fanservice, it serves no point to work and, in fact, takes away from it. Dungeon’s use of bouncing breast, scantily clad outfits, bathing scenes, and camera shots where the camera is literally squeezed between the thighs of one of its female characters do not help the final product. Ignoring sexism for a second, let’s look at what it hurts. The bouncing breasts aren’t used for comedy, typically, and are just there, even though we already get the message that we’re supposed to think such and such are hot because of the choice of outfit they wear and the voluptuous disproportionate size of the character. On top of this, bathing scenes where the main character accidentally walks in on women for no reason and yet there are no long lasting effects to this at all waste time that could be used to better develop characters, character interactions, or help to move the plot forward. And on top of this, because the camera is so preoccupied with staring up a girl’s skirt from inside the skirt, we get a lot of weak cinematography that doesn’t show the scene at large, accentuate the dialogue being said, or subvertly clue us into character dynamics. In fact, the only thing it does do is distract the audience from what the characters are saying.
This is true outside of sexualization as a mean of fanservice. Oftentimes, we see moments where characters are shoehorned into showing up at the last second to cheer the protagonist on or suddenly come back to life to get the main characters out of their sticky situation. These moments can feel campy and badly written, and many times, this is because they are. These types of ideas can be done relatively well, though. Dragon Ball Z did a pretty good job in the case of Goku having to trek on a long journey through the afterlife and train with King Kai before he finally was able to come back and support his friends as well as his son. However, not every show can spend almost a whole season on just that and many don’t want to take the time and care, so they rush the writing or don’t care enough and create a hamfisted plot.
Fanservice isn’t bad by its own right and not every trick works with every person but some methodologies can pay off and great shows have been made with at least some idea from fanservice being in there. Idol shows are typically built on tropes and set ups directors and writers know will strike a cord or people will enjoy seeing but that in no way makes them bad shows. If someone has the mindset that all fanservice is always bad, then they aren’t objectively looking at a work and giving it a chance. Rather than saying “it’s just fanservice”, it’d be better to say “the cinematography was more interested in being inside a woman than showing what the characters were doing on-screen.” The first is writing off a show while the other is an actual critique, albeit with sass.
However, people writing off fanservice holistically is not usually the issue here and the intent within this Twitter thread I saw clearly shows the opposite side of things: The idea that if someone doesn’t like certain elements in a show, then they can just get out. That helps no one and serves no purpose. Rather, it induces close-mindedness and incites tribalism by shutting down outside criticism. New perspectives breed new discussions. While, yes, someone who doesn’t realize something has been talked to death may repeat some ideas (such as the constant same arguments around SAO), because they may not have been caught up in the original hubbub and are looking at the show from a much later position, they easily could think of something someone else had not. Saying someone doesn’t deserve to watch X show because they don’t typically like a particular element – objectification for example – is simply not in any way a defendable position. And for me, personally, I may not like objectification but because human beings don’t value things on a binary system, I don’t hate shows like Kobayashi-san that have used that method of fanservice. I can dislike the method but still enjoy the show overall. Anime is not solely “good” or “bad”. Anime, just like all other creative mediums is subjective. What one may like, another doesn’t and this applies to all aspects of a show, whether it’s writing, animation, etc. The sum of all parts can still be positive, even if there are negatives to a show that take away from it.
Regardless of whether we’re talking about fanservice or anything else, the bottom line here is we should never, ever, shut out others of differing opinions simply because we do not agree with them. Nor should we downplay others because they have a different viewpoint than ourselves. The original authors of these tweets I’m sure had their reasons for feeling the way they do and very possibly they are very real and valid ones that should be considered. However, I can’t agree that we should restrict what others are able to say or do, particular when it’s clearly in the case of differing opinions.