Hi guys, for my next trick, I’m going to attempt the daunting task of honestly discussing fanservice without sucking all the fun out of it. Can I do it? Probably not.. tell you what, if you see me starting to loose the thread, just give me the signal and I’ll post some pics of half dressed bishies or something. Sounds good?
I don’t think I m a prude. I have less issues than most with sexual content. In fact, I have none. I really see nothing wrong with expressing and discussing sex in an honest and healthy way. I’m baffled and saddened by a society that declares the sight of a nipple to be as emotionally and psychologically disturbing as the sight of someone bleeding to death. And there I go… I told you to give me a signal!
Let me just get back on track here. I have no issue with sexy. I do have some issues with exploitative and a lot of issues with predatory. And this is the root of my problem. Fanservice often mixes all these elements with various degrees of cynicism, to a great number of subtly different ends. I don’t think it is inherently bad or unnecessary. One of the first essays I ever posted was a defense of fanservice. But occasionally I come across a certain variety, that just ruins my watching experience.
I have been trying to figure out exactly what makes one scene perfectly fine for me, while another substantially similar one will creep me out. Certainly on some level it’s a matter of what mood I’m in. On another there’s the fact that a show that is generally great will be more likely to be forgiven for a little indiscretion. However, there’s also the more immediate element of, for lack of a better word, “intent”.
It’s a notion I’ve repeatedly tried, and failed, to explain both in my reviews and when discussing anime with friends. I think the best way I can put it is by comparing the many possible takes of a common fanservice scene.
For the purposes of the present exercise I will be using a female chara as the subject of the fanservice in question, but it’s just as applicable to male characters (although I do believe that manservice is often handled a little differently but that’s another post, probably for another blogger).
Let’s all imagine together this little scene: An attractive young woman is on her way to somewhere when she trips, falling to the ground and sending her skirt over her head exposing her panties. You’re all seeing it? Ok good. You can open your eyes now…
In case this isn’t obvious, this is only my opinion and observation. Here are the different ways in which the scene can be handled and how they affect me.
- The camera shows us a quick flash of panties, the MC is flustered and hurries to the rescue while the young lady is very embarrassed.
The point of such a scene is to titillate the audience a bit, certainly, but also to show us what an upstanding and helpful young person the main character is. If the clumsy lady happened to be the cold and distant type, it can also humanize her a bit or give her a deserved dose of humility. If not, it will add to her fragility, a tiny touch of damsel in distress. It can also be used as the starting point of a relationship, a meet-cute situation. Generally, it will also add a bit of levity and humor.
I believe the audience is meant to see themselves in the protagonist. Feel a certain protectiveness towards the poor girl and maybe get a bit of a giggle from it. The narrative point is to establish the different characters a bit and loosen any tension or just add a gag. I’m fine with this, although it’s pretty low hanging fruit and can get boring very quickly.
- The camera lingers on the panties, the girl eventually rights herself and we get some indication that she either did it on purpose to seduce the MC or is happy about it and plans to use it to her advantage.
By giving the agency of the situation to the girl rather than the observers, it transforms her from the object of the fanservice to the subject. To me, this is much more interesting, and exciting. Usually, this treatment is a little more overtly sexualized as the character is aware of her effect on those around her and is used almost as much to firmly define the characters as it is to add some naughty fun. These scenes tend to be more serious and will occasionally pass some judgment as not all series are particularly sex positive.
Basically, the show is trying to tell us something about the girl here. She is the focal point of this scenes. Unusual painting her as a cunning manipulator which can then be treated with various degrees of reproach. I personally find that overt sexuality and ownership or even use of feminine whiles as a character trait can be fantastic when done well. It is simply a character trait that can be present to various degrees and a subtle characterization of a women aware of her attractiveness and using it to her advantage gets nothing but thumbs up from me. I find it sad when a show decides to punish her for it but I still have no issue with this type of fanservice at all.
- The camera lingers on the panty shot for quite a while, the MC gets berated and called a pervert even though he hasn’t done anything, the girl is embarrassed or impassive.
This is basically a reframing of the first scenario but with the background characters telling the audience how they should react. This scene is mainly meant as fanservice and usually reveals little to nothing at all about the characters involved as they are completely passive in the situation. The main point is to have something sexy the audience will like and point out how taboo it is. Usually the scene is comedic as well and can be used as a sight gag.
Since there’s little development in these types of scenes, they don’t tend to ever be mentioned again, teach us anything about the characters, or have a larger impact on the plot. It’s pretty obvious that they’re really just meant to have us blush and giggle. Pointing out that enjoying such a sight is perverted is a classic way of relieving any potential unease the audience may feel. You are not watching an hentai when the show itself tells you it’s pervy. We are all just laughing together at this little embarrassing scene. Nothing more to see here. Also, fine with this. At it’s best, it can be a very effective tension break. Generally though, it doesn’t add much but it doesn’t take away much either. In fact, if it’s well illustrated, it does add a little something, something.
- The camera lingers on the panties for a bit. The girl who is also the MC gathers herself and tries to go on with her day.
In this scene, as the fanservice girl is not interacting with any other important characters, once again the emphasis is on her. The way she handles the situation will reveal quite a bit about the type of person she is. Does she get mad and glare at everyone as a proper tsun, does she shrink in embarrassment and try her best not to cry the precious angel, does she laugh it off, like a proper best girl? There are many ways to illustrate someone’s personality and why not add a little sexy to the mix.
This scene has an actual point. Now if the character is meant to be very young, I’m not super comfortable with this particular narrative choice but otherwise, I see no issue with. Man, it seems that in general I am a fan of my service…Which brings us to
- The camera stays on the panty shot for quite a while, even in some instances zooms in. There is no one around or the people around haven’t noticed so the girl gets up and goes about her day.
Let’s face it, there is one reason and one reason only to invest resources in animating a scene like this. It’s a pure glamour shot and the take away is obvious.
These scenes are really just garnish. The have absolutely no bearing on plot or character. They aren’t even acknowledged by the show in any way. If the scene was removed, the only impact would be on the runtime. The fact that there isn’t even a joke to be had is a bit lame, I mean I can watch actual adult anime if all I care about is something sexy to stare at but what personally turns me off of these scenes is the covert nature of the scene. The girl doesn’t know she was observed. I have effectively invaded her privacy not only without her permission, but without even her knowledge. It makes me feel like I have to apologize to those characters and the fact that the show treats the entire thing in a completely casual, throw away manner makes me super uncomfortable. To me, this is pretty much to closest thing to complete objectification of the character.
In case you didn’t pick up on it. I really do not enjoy the last type. It will ruin or at the very least bog down my watching experience.
Before anyone gets too involved in the subject, I would like to put in my disclaimer again. A lot of this is based on personal interpretation and which particular scenes/shows fall into which categories is completely up for debate.
I don’t know what the actual intent of any scene is. And the cold hard truth remains that the intent of almost all anime in general is: desperately try to break even financially by any means possible…
So no, I’m not calling you a pervert or a creep for enjoying certain shows. There are many elements in anime (and media in general) which I’ve willfully glossed over in order to enjoy the end product. However, if you ever wonder why one show full of fanservice is in my favorites while I dislike another for it, it’s probably because of the way I’ve interpreted the intent.
Fanservice and sexual depictions in art are a very tricky subject. A minefield in fact. I think respectful and open discussion on the subject would probably be very productive. As such, I would love to know your thoughts on it. I mean it. If you think I’m a big ol hussy for enjoying fanservice in the first place. Let me know and mostly let me know why. If you think I’m a bit of a prude and possibly disconnected from reality for caring about the rights of imaginary drawing people, tell me that as well.