I had a really hard time coming up with a title fr this one. For a while there it was going to be called “Non-sexy fan service” but I think that sounded a bit off.

I was watching an OVA the other day (for Aoharu of all things) and it really got me thinking about fan service and the role it plays in anime and mostly in the perception of anime fans. Now fan service actually means “material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience.“, at least according to wiki. Basically any element in an anime that is primarily there to make viewers happy rather than to advance the plot, character development or bolster production.

Kill-la-Kill Mikisugi
not like this – this was completely necessary

There are tons of different types of fan service and some of them aren’t even visual, yet I only ever seem to hear fans talk about the sexy stuff. To the point that when I mention fan service in a non-sexual context, I usually have to explain it. It’s a bit odd, no?

I often see people say things along the line of: the sexual elements of fan service don’t bother me but when they interfere with the story it can become a drawback. I get it and entirely agree. But in that case, all other sorts of fan service can also be detrimental to the plot.

One of the most common examples I can think of (we see it a lot in western media and in OVAs) is bringing back popular characters. A story has an arc or even just a random one-shot episode, often towards the end of a series, and the creators decide to shoehorn little parts for some (if not all) of the past notable characters. Those characters don’t really have a role to play in that episode or arc. They sometimes have to create some huge convoluted story to even get them in the action in the first place. But now that they’re there, they take time away from everything else and frequently ruin the flow as the series seems intent on making sure we don’t forget they’re there.

NGNL fanservice
there was no need for Jibril to be there…

I’m sure you’ve all seen this happen at least once. Just like any fan service, it can be done well. I’m a sucker for a surprise appearance from my fave so I know this works! But it also has the potential to ruin an episode and ironically make the characters in question lose popularity with fans. This is a blatant and intrusive form of fan service but I rarely see it mentioned as such. More often we tend to talk about how pacing is off or blame it on “filler”.

Not necessarily sexual fan service includes stuff like long paining glamour shots of mechas. I guess I can see how that can be sexy, never mind. Overextending battle scenes or games in Sports! anime, to show off elaborate and impressive animation is another. Honestly, there is no narrative advantage in having the fight last 5 episodes, from a story standpoint, we can just be told about the results but it looks cool! and anime is a visual medium. Looking cool is a big part of the attraction. In case anyone thinks I have an issue with this, I do not. I enjoy this type of fan service as long as it doesn’t get completely tedious.

A very popular bit of visual fan service, that’s often sexual but not always and I think may actually be more common in games, is costumes. Whether actual cosplay with ridiculously out of place outfits or just putting a character that has a set costume they wear all the time in something different, it’s pretty much always something done just for the fans. I’m not sure why we love to see imaginary people wearing different clothes but we just do. At least I do. Have a character that’s always in their school uniform wear loose street clothes and all a sudden, I’m super interested. Does it change anything at all? Nope, pure fan service.

best fan service
what’s with the hat?

The more debatable parts of fan service are the character archetype and personality traits. Now I almost never see people talk about this and when they do, it often gets into debates. I’m going to very carefully avoid giving any examples so that my point doesn’t get lost. If we consider that a character having giant breasts that are mostly exposed as a part of their design to be fan service, can we likewise consider certain personality traits traditionally thought of as desirable by specific demographics to also be fan service?

There are certain personality archetypes that always show up in certain shows or specific genres but are otherwise rather rare. It’s also undeniable that there are personality traits that are generally considered more attractive or appealing. Having a character act in a certain way can incite the same type of reaction in the audience as having them look a certain way would. So far, I don’t think anything here is particularly controversial. The problem is in noticing it at all, especially if it’s not sexual.

When female characters act completely helpless despite at least nominally having a role in the story that would have required them to be highly skilled, it’s pretty obvious. When normally stern male characters melt at the sight of a cat and suddenly there are random cats every other episode, it’s pretty obvious as well. But what about having characters act a bit more youthfully than their age would dictate.

shirobako fanservice
The working ladies of Shirobako are still pretty young to be fair

I’m not talking about infantilizing characters here, but for example, making fully grown men and women still react completely embarrassed and shocked at the idea of anything even mildly sexual. Or having them get very emotional or very shy with little external motivation to do so. Like teenagers can get when their neurochemistry goes a bit haywire on them. This is a great way to make your characters more like your target audience and theoretically make them more relatable when you can’t cast actual teens, but it can occasionally come off as weird. Why are so many anime adults sooooo immature even when they are otherwise capable and responsible? You can tell the same story with calm even-tempered and generally unbothered characters, but hey, what fun would that be?

The thing is, fiction is dramatized by nature. It’s reality boosted to 11. That’s part of the deal. So it would make sense for people to also act a bit more intensely than people usually do. As such it can be difficult to parse what’s been added for dramatic flair and what is really primarily meant to just give your audience a little thrill.

There is one last point I would like to make. Because of the history of the term and how it’s been the core of so many contentious debates, fan service as a concept has gotten just a bit of an unfavourable reputation. I don’t happen to agree with that. Like any other parts of anime and fiction in general, it can be done well or badly and when it’s done badly it sucks. However, at the core, adding an element in your story to please your audience doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Making the audience happy is in itself one of the goals of entertainment. I wouldn’t go as far as the fan service IS the message or anything but it’s an important and viable tool in crafting an anime, or a manga or pretty much any form of entertainment.

Do you notice non-sexual fan service? Do you have any issues with it? Have you seen instances where it’s been a drawback? Do you have a favourite type of fan service (don’t make me regret asking)?

Rini 3 (6)


30 thoughts

  1. I do agree that fan service doesn’t always have to be related to “sexy stuff”, but going by the definiton (which makes sense to me) those sexy stuff are the things that usually don’t have strong ties to the original story or the plot, details that could be done otherwise and would have no effect. They are purely for the audience’s eyes. In the same vein, I would be reluctant to call the character tropes you mentioned “fan service” because they directly serve the plot, they have a function. My example would be: Daisuke Kambe as the rich, handsome male character is one of the most popular character template out there, but the fan service would be the episode where he stayed at Kato’s house or maybe the skin-tight suit. I hope I got your point right ~

    1. I’m not sure I had much of a point. I was really just exploring other forms of fanservice. I get what you mean. Thanks for the comment 😊

  2. Great post. There definitely seems to be a feeling that the term ‘fan service’ primarily relates to the sexualised stuff more than anything these days. Even if that’s techncially wrong, I guess that’s the evolution of language, to a point. What words mean changes over time, and I suspect this is one of those terms that will eventually just be related to one type of content.
    I’ve always been mixed on that type of fan service. I don’t obejct to it existing, but I do find it takes away from a show/episode if it feels like it’s tacked on. Of course some men are super buff, and some women are large up top, that’s absolutely fine. But the camera doesn’t need to pan up people’s skirts at every given opportunity, especially in series that feels like it isn’t really supposed to be ecchi. That’s how I view it, anyway. People can enjoy it, no issue there, but it’s not for me if it doesn’t feel like it makes sense to me.
    You’re right that other types of fan service can be derailing too. Sometimes, they’re just pointless. Like, in the final arc of Bleach, they bring back an old fan favourite character that we were previosuly left to assume had died. But they made no real impact, so it was really just there to excite fans, I guess. Which seemed like a waste to me.
    Personally, I prefer the fan service like little nods to other shows in the background. posters, cutouts, crossover characters walking by. Stuff like that is fun to spot, but is unobtrusive in the story. Like, if you can work a clear reference to other stuff into the dialogue or main visuals with it making sense, that’s cool too, but when it’s a background nod, it’s much easier to not lose focus on the story you’re telling. I think that makes sense?

  3. I always forgot that fan service isn’t inherently sexual in nature. It just seems that over the years the connection of fan service being sexual has really taken off. Probably because it’s easiest to take pot-shots at in reviews.

    I have to say, I largely still stand by so long as it doesn’t interfere with the story; I probably don’t even notice. Give me a nice glamor shot of an upgraded/special episode outfit, show off the destruction of a mecha and then compare to how it was repaired, but just not excessively. Or if you do it excessively, make it funny or parody. Although I totally agree that with sports series having a match last more then two (2 and a half at MOST) episodes isn’t worth it. But… sometimes I really like having a match drawn out because the details, stakes, and animation was worth it. Soo… it really does depend.

      1. I’ve been told Ace of Diamond is the best baseball anime. But if their matches really are that long… no thank you lol.

        1. It’s a really great anime. The matches are really long. They’re full of flashbacks, you know the type. Like every Sports anime really

  4. I feel called out a little bit because I have said multiple times in my posts that this Mecha or that Mecha suit are sexy. Yeah, I do that kind of thing because sometimes they are and I stand by my opinions 100%. No shame at all.

    And yeah, I see non sexual fanservice all tht time. Especially references. One of a few reasons why I have dug into more older anime recently is to see what TTGL and other anime reference in their series. Like, I am finishing Captain Harlock: Endless Orbit today and the opening shot of the arcadia as it zooms out is referenced in TTGL. You can probably picture the moment I’m thinking of.

    And I honestly love seeing anime characters in different costumes. One of the joys of reading One Piece is the random page spreads of the Straw Hats in different costumes based on different themes. I have to take screenshots of them every time.

    1. Costumes are awesome! Why is it. I don,t care at all what my co-workers are wearing. – Sorry co-workers reading this. I don,t mean it that way you are all fabulous. –

      Are you gonna review Captain Harlock???? It’s one of those anime I watched in french when I was little and the nostalgia is strong. I can’t wait to read your thoughts. I have a feeling it’s not that great when watched as an adult.

      1. Lmao, have you been caught?

        I will at some point! :D. I have been watching the prequel series before diving into the original series once again and it’s been great so far. A while back I tried watching Harlock too and I just stopped for some reason. I need to try it once again.

  5. I’ve actually often wondered about the definition:

    **** “material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience.“****

    I’ve seen varieties of this again and again, and it’s a good rule of thumb, but if you get down to it there are problems:

    For example, every anime out there to some degree wants to please an audience, so if everything that’s intentionally added to please the audience counts as fanservice, then where do we stop? Are happy ends fan service, for example? I think this definition is in danger of opening up too widely.

    I also think the “intentionally added” part puts forth a hard-to-sustain model of creation. It’s as if there’s a pure, unadulterated version of the story, and then we add in all the catering, but that’s generally not how it works. Some of the shots, for example, are genre staples, so you might add them, not intentionally to please an audience, but out of routine, because you’ve worked on a lot of similar shows.

    I’ve hung out on writing boards a lot, and one of the things I hear again and again is “if it doesn’t further the plot, cut it.” But the plot isn’t necessirily the governing attribute of a story, and some books are by nature meandering and episodic. The picaresque novel comes to mind.

    So when you have an anime like, say, Monster Musume, can you really say you add the “fanservice intentionally to please the audience”? Add to what? When you remove the service little remains. When you remove the sexual fanservice, the emotional fanservice remains, yes, but the entire show’s point is service. But once you think along those lines, everything can be said to be fanservice. The gripping plot and interesting commentary of Shinsekai Yori? Intellectual fanservice. It’s stellar worldbuilding? Part intellectual fansvervice, and part aesthetic fanservice. And so on.

    There’s this idea of a natural state of affairs. There’s a scene in Shirokuma Café that illustrates this. The set-up: Panda is a lazy teen who wants a part time job, so he’s looking for one where he can just do nothing. He ends up working in the local zoo as a part-timer. But the job isn’t quite what he thought it would be. Panda and Full-time Panda were lazing around, when the first guests came in. So Full-time Panda tells him that it’s time for service. So they’re playing the provided tires and slides, all the while chanting to themselves “Service. Service.” And you see the zoo guests go, “Oh, look he’s playing with the tires. How cute.” You can’t just be lazy on your own terms, even if you’ve got a reputation for being lazy. You eat your bamboo when the most people are around to watch. Otherwise they just see you lie around and they’ll walk on to next enclosure.

    But this natural state of affairs isn’t usually what we write about. We always already write fiction based on an idea what fiction is like. So at some point, when you’re fit the implied audience pretty well, it’s just a fun story. You notice the service as service (deliberate or inherited) when you’re not part of the intended service, or when they’re meta allusions (like a character humming the opening tune of the anime; that’s always cute).Otherwise its part of “characterisation” or “the plot” or “the animation”, and not something that’s added.

    Bascially, the topic is confusing me. It makes intuitive sense but falls apart when I try to think analytically about this.

    1. I explain it to myself through this imaginary scenario. A hardworking sensei is slaving away crafting this highly personal story about a youth coming of age in peculiar circumstances. There’s a very sexy lady that comes around from time to time and teases them and occasionally a brooding young man with a dark past. They are all going about their business. And then the sensei steps back for a second and thinks: “Irina really likes smart mouthed talking cats for some reason, let’s see if I can find any way of adding one of those”. And that’s why cats are fan service. What was I saying?

  6. Woo-hoo am I actually first. Ok, now with that out of the way I was kind of wondering when I would see a post like this from you, because as you rightly pointed out there are many kinds of fan service. Honestly the sexual fanservice bothers me more than the non-sexual kind, because I like seeing more mecha and more fight/battle scenes. I’ll take an extended action scene with great music any day of the week. Heck that’s what got me into watching Haikyuu, well than and the fact that my students wouldn’t stop talking about it.

    1. Personally I’m neutral about it. I tend to like all good fanservice and dislike all bad one. Good and bad being subjective of course but for me it’s not so much a question of type of fanservice.

  7. I do notice a lot of fan-service of any kind. Like you describe I think it is all subjected ot the same flaws. Dragon Ball Super’s Tournament of Power had a lot of fan service. .both really good ones and really bad examples.

    Bad examples is how some of the fights happening.. just happen to be a complete role inversion of other fights. It’s satisying to an extend.. but it is detrimental to the plot. It forces characters into certain situations and makes thing SUPER predictable.. quickly losing all tension.

    However earlier in the arc they did an amazing bit as well. When Goku visits Fortune Teller Baba to get Frieza to participate in the tournament of Power.. he is doing this little shadow spar in the background.. while other characters talk in the fore ground.. it isn’t just any random shadow spar. He is doing the exact moves from fighting the spirit of his grandpa there.. back way from Dragon Ball (original) showing he really loved his grandpa and hasn’t forgotten about him or that match! That is when it’s done well.

    Digimon Adventure currently does it pretty good as well.. the opening has shards of the orginal opening in as well.. and the Digivolution Stock footage thing is repeated on only the two most fan favourite digimon .. it saves a lot of time.
    Old characters are reintroduced in similar roles.. but they are being teased a bit before.. so it always feels like they are an organic part of the story.

    There are a few series in which I really like Style over Substance.. for Example the Jojo’s series is like that.. they can get away with more fan service. because it chooses that route. Kill la Kill was also a more style of substance show and that is perfectly fine! I like them just as well.. A little bit of both.

    I dislike when fanservice is used as a marketing tool. Once again Dragon Ball sets a bad example, yet also a good example. Where characters are introduced in a form that doesn’t do anything.. they just power up to their next form and fight . Frost is an example or Evil Buu is another example who does this and to a lesser extend semi-perfect Cell.
    They exist to please the crowd with more transformations AND sell more figurines.

    Dragon Ball at least trough the entire line has good figures… even the cheaper once look quite good (much like One Piece) but there are shows that introduce.. forms just to sell more figures.. and then all figures look quite crappy.

    A type of fan service I also kind of dislike is what One Piece does.. and other less famous anime as well.. We see two people fight and suddenly we get introduced to the backstory of the villain.. like how they were bullied in school or their life on the streets. I know the character might have fans.. but sometimes we do not need to know where a character has been in the past. Just that he is an asshole right now is enough for us to be invested in him being beat up.. you don’t have to justify it or make the character look more deep and cool all the time for the fans of that character

    1. Isn’t fanservice always a marketing tool? Ultimately if an author or production team sat back and thought about adding something because they know it’s something their audience wants to see, it’s in order to make their anime or manga more marketable right? Which is perfectly ok, they need to sell their art to an audience or else it’s worthless and they wont get to make any more. I get that.
      I guess you could have an author doing fan specific service. Like adding something in only because Pinkie would like it and not so most people will like it. That would be cool. I feel like whenever there’s an ornery talking cat with substance abuse problems, it’s put in there just for me.

      1. The truth like always is nuanced, i buy a fair bit of dragon ball stuff but if a character or form exists for no other reason than to sell toys its not something I enjoy

        Buu did not need to spout out evil buu, he could have just lost control and went super buu.

        Sometimes magical girls just get an extra belt just to sell a toy.. while I like transformations at least give them a purpose in the story.. its done most of the time but there is plenty stuff for sales only and while i get the necisity of making money but most series who do “too many” forms or non relevant characters are cash cows already

        Dragon Ball now has the Heroes series to do empty characters and that is fine but filler or empty effecte for merch is meh.
        Stalling plot for sales.

        But I am also the type that has like 4 figures of Rainbow Dash in my house cause it has a cute pose, so I dont get why people need 2 forms of a character to buy 2 figures, different pose is good enough

        Fine with cool shots getting new merch or even be made for merch, just no empty things please

          1. Nyanko adds to the plot so I do love those! I even like Kon .. from bleach for a bit..

            The only one I can’t stand is Happy from Fairy Tail but I would buy them as a Plushie.. I prefer the cat in the frog costume though Froshe I think

            When I think about useless forms made to sell toys, I’m thinking more along the lines of say if Sanbo from Episode 5 changed colour if the tadpole thing is on his head.. and then sell the other colour fur one as a thing.

            Or let’s say if they made Totoro shift colour halfway trough the movie.. so they can sell twice the figures.

            There are enough anime that do that kind of thing.. like Luffy changing shirts after every boss he fights.. cause it got destroyed… it makes sense..to give him a cool new shirt..instead of him wearing the same thing again… but it’s mostly to sell new toys.. because blue shirt luffy doesn’t fight Arlong.. you need Red Shirt Luffy..

            I am also the person who thinks finding 100 dalmations in Kingdom Hearts isn’t that fun.. I’d rather find 30 better hidden ones.. so might be just me 😉

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