Fanservice has become a commonplace and fairly accepted part of anime but it is still generally maligned. For a lot of us, the very notion of fanservice is associated with cheap tricks meant to cover up otherwise subpar anime, and sadly that’s often exactly what it is, but I think there might be an argument to be made on behalf of fanservice. Maybe even two… Hear me out:
If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you probably know that I’ve made no secret of my general appreciation for being serviced. Wait, that came out wrong. What I mean is, I like looking at pretty things and I enjoy when show creators thoughtfully add them into their work just for me! Anime is not an individualistic art form. By and large, it does not simply exist as a means of pure expression for their creator rather there is a flow between creator and audience and a certain feedback. The shows exist to elicit something from their viewers: joy, interest, some degree of escapism, and as such the desires of the audience become an important aspect in shaping those very shows.
Now before we can properly discuss fanservice we need to define it. As generally understood fanservice is material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience. It usually has no bearing on the rest of the work and can even clash with the remaining elements when not incorporated properly. Although we most often think of fan service as visual elements (i.e, scantily clad heroes, characters that constantly find themselves in inexplicably revealing poses, strategically ripped wardrobe or even highly detailed slow pans of glamour shots), fanservice can also include story elements, plot twists or even characters that seem generally superfluous to the story as a whole but are beloved by the audience – or at least are meant to be. It’s easy to understand why someone would be dubious of such tricks. After all, properly crafting a story is a delicate balancing act and throwing all the useless stuff in is bound to make it worse but, it’s short sighted to think that just because a series happens to have a few undeniably attractive characters in perhaps somewhat skimpy uniforms, it doesn’t also have an interesting and deep storyline to offer or exciting action or both. Just like people can be attractive AND smart (I’ve been told) so can animes. If you happen to enjoy drawing beautiful people, you shouldn’t feel obligated to ugly them up just to have your work taken seriously.
Look, I know what you’re saying – people can be smart and pretty in theory but in practice… Why try if you don’t have to? There is some truth to the belief that fanservice is a simple and convenient way to distract from an essentially flawed or simply boring product and that resources spent on carefully animating bouncing bosoms with ragdoll physics would be better spent on fixing plot holes or giving characters actual personalities. But the fact that resources are limited can actually be an argument in favour of adding a bit of extra eye candy. Fanservice does sell. It may not hold your interest for long but we can easily **see** which shows are likely to get huge audiences for at least a few episodes, from certain demographics. Anime studios aren’t idiots. They might not be willing to fund your project on fanservice alone but adding some in and increasing your chances at getting a few more viewers because of it, will make your anime that much more attractive to producers and that much more likely to get a bigger budget. In turn, the creators can use that budget to add in actual substantial elements to the anime. Some may lack the ambition or talent to do so but at least those who don’t, will get the opportunity. At the end of the day, anime is a business and financial consideration are almost as important as creative ones.
Not to mention that when done right, a bit of fanservice can become an asset onto itself. Carefully thought-out costume designs which are primarily meant to be alluring can lead to really interesting visuals. Since a big part of sexy also has to do with “new”, good character designers will tend to try and make their outfits skimpy in a different way or alluring but functional. This is an extra consideration which can admittedly bog down a design but can also force someone to come up with something truly unique. The same can be said about story elements. Throwing a romantic coupling in haphazardly just to appease the masses, is likely to be boring and could even break you narrative. But weaving it in carefully may actually make the writer discover a new facet of their own universe and breath new life into a storyline. After all, if so many people thought a particular turn of events would be a good idea, there may be a solid and justifiable reason for it that is worth exploring. Some shows have even openly incorporated fanservice as an active part of the narrative. Probably most notable for this is Kill la Kill which gleefully and unabashedly embraces some of the most base fanservice to the point of parody. Ok, now you’re saying, hummm, it’s not the same thing – you said it yourself, it’s a parody. Well yeah, it is, but it’s still half naked…seventh eighth naked girls jumping around, and part of the audience was there for that, at least at first – wouldn’t you think? The show was still awesome.
Sometimes fanservice is just a touch more subtle. A few years ago I read up on how creators of sports based mangas (and the eventual anime adaptations), in an effort to gain extra readership among female audiences, had simply started incorporating bishonen character designs to their titles. This way, they would not be alienating their established male audiences with romantic subplots or female centered storylines, and as long as the art was not overly shoujo, most men would not care. But girls would start buying the mangas to drool over their husbandos. I’m sure the sales pitch was much classier. It did work though. Today a much larger share of the average sports anime audience is made up of women. This has ensured a more steady and continued popularity for the genre, making studios much more comfortable in greenlighting new entries and as a result we can count on at least one new title per season making it all the way to north America for our enjoyment. YAY. Fanservice made the world better! We can also see a melding of shoujo and sports genres bringing us fusion titles like Free and Yuri on ice, both of which enjoyed huge popularity on their releases. I started talking about sports anime and forgot my point… I do that… The point was that subtle concessions to the audience can be leveraged into longevity and ultimately allow an entire genre to flourish and grow.
This said, I’m not saying fanservice can’t go wrong. It can, and does, frequently. I can’t tell you the number of perfectly ok animes that are rendered unwatchable because they insist on sexualizing children or putting them into predatory relationships with adults. Why so much pedophilia?? Really? The best you can expect from that is mild squick, the very best. Even when not openly criminal (child pornography is illegal in lots of places you know), it’s pretty easy to fall into one of the many traps I’ve mentioned above and it has proven the downfall of many a titles.
So what about it you say? At the end of the day, the only thing I really wanted to say is don’t discount a show just because it seems to offer up some fanservice. There is a way for it to be done right to be enjoyable, and there is a reason for its existence. After all, pretty people need love too…..
What – you thought I was going to do this sober?
Suggested drink: Slippery nipple
- Every time there is a beach/hot springs episode – take a shot
- Every time there is strategically ripped clothing – take a shot
- Every time there is comedic underwear exposure – feel a little awkward
- Every time you see absolute cleavage – take a shot
- Every time there is a butler or a maid – take a shot
- Every time there is homoerotic subtest – cheer
- Every time there is a clumsy cute girl – roll your eyes
- Every time there is a sweat covered body – take a shot
- Every time there is romanticized abuse – complain!
- Every time there is shoulder up nudity – take a shot