Nervous in the (Fan-)Service

This single tweet is what sparked this whole post but in Mike Dent’s defense when I asked about Sacred Seven on Twitter the majority opinion seems to be that most people find the show inoffensive but rather lackluster so most would agree with his decision. (I am really enjoying the show but that is a discussion for another time.) What struck me as interesting was that it was the beach episode that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was discussing the episode with my roommate and we both agreed that the episode barely dwelt on the girl’s in bathing suits and the shots of them at the beach were rather tame. But I think Mike’s reaction is the symptom of a the divide in the community that the recent brand of fan service has created. The extremes of fan service have created an equally extreme but opposite reaction from a majority of the vocal parts of fandom.

When I started watching anime in the mid-90’s I thought lots of fan-service was just part of the deal; if I wanted everything else I liked about it, it was just something that I had to accept. So in a way, I understand the inkling now to reject fan-service outright because there are so many other options. And admittedly, I have a much lower tolerance level than I once did. However, I find there can be an acceptable balance that won’t ruin a story.

There was a time when if you wanted to see your pornographic and violent anime you would go and buy or rent an OVA. Since OVAs did not play on TV they could go all out on the decadent gore and sex without offending TV sponsors. But as the OVA market has died the venue for such titles has had to had to change with the times. Now most of those series have worked their way to late night on pay cable channels. While this means they cannot go all out like they would in the OVA days they do often come as close as they can. This gives you shows with a borderline pornographic content and extreme violence that often blends the two in the same show. They also often just coverup some of the extreme content and then sell you the uncensored material on the physical media. But being on TV (even if in the graveyard slot) gives them greater exposure than OVAs so you hear about them more than you would some obscure hentai OVA. Plus, many series like Queen’s Blade, Manyuu Hikenchou, Seikon no Qwaser, and Yosuga no Sora come up right to the edge of being hentai but don’t cross over the threshold to get the free pass we normally give pornography. It does not help that the more the fringe show get scandalous the more the regular shows seem to up their game to keep up. It seems like more and more show have unnecessary and slightly unnerving fan service.

  In all honesty, I think a lot of this has to do with who is getting the fan-service. And who is watching that fan-service. Let’s face it, right now anime is growing a reputation as creepy pedo toons far beyond the long-standing porn and Pokemon stereotype. Knowledge about anime both inside and outside the community (I suppose for the outside it should be “knowledge”) has expanded so much that there is plenty of backlash. Between changing character aesthetics and a growing spotlight on shows peppered with otaku fetishes, I find myself more uncomfortable with some fan-service than I was in the past. But this may be for the simple reason that I’m a little older now. Maybe other fans can relate to that.

So anime, a genre that already had a reputation for fan service, has an increasingly worse reputation. The titles that everyone whispered about now seem in your face. I think this has led a strange divide. Part of fandom has excepted an anything goes attitude. They will shameless watch blatantly lolicon and borderline smut shows without a care in the world and attack anyone who complains about such shows as a prude. On the other edge of the spectrum the more conservative member of the community seem to jump at anything that shows a little skin or caters to a fetish. Shows that would not make them bat an eye in the old days make them cry trash the second the hot springs episode comes out. The more that the service becomes blatant the more polarized  the fan base becomes. In my opinion more and more sinister interpretations are cast on innocent titles, slightly naughty shows get a bad rap, and trashy shows get more attention than they deserve.

In the world of anime, fan-service can be easy to underestimate. Sometimes I feel like I’ve built up a tolerance level or this ability to overlook it in amazing ways. I might not bat an eye at skin-tight clothing but a breast bounce may elicit a different reaction. For me anyway it works a little as follows. Shows made purely for fan-service are almost out of the equation here, they are easy to spot and even easier to stay away from. Shows that have solid story, plot, characters, etc. I am already on their side so any fan-service would have to be really egregious for me to drop the show altogether. But for the many shows I’m on the fence about, one step in the wrong direction (which doesn’t only apply to fan-service) can make all the difference. So maybe this was the issue with Sacred Seven, I haven’t seen it past episode 1 so I can’t say for sure.

As time progresses I have noticed that as a society we generally become more progressive. What was on the cutting sexy and provocative in dress 50 years ago is often tame by today’s standards. What was forbidden on TV a decade ago is often common place on TV today. But the progress of permissiveness should not go unchecked. As a heterosexual male I freely admit that I have no objection to a little bit of skin in my shows. I enjoyed Star Driver and To Aru Majutsu no Index despite them having some heavy fan service. On the other hand any spice overused will ruin a dish. I really love a Toaru Majutsu no Index but I feel it could use a little less of this and a little more of this. Rampant fan service does no one any good. Show that are little more than cheesecake factories and fetish fuel stations without a plot beyond serving the viewers basest needs can way down the reputation of anime. They are all the stigma of porn without the payoff. I’m not asking for a ban on lewd shots, water themed episodes, and general perversity. I just wish an environment where the rule is that plot is king and eye candy as an occasional treat.  In return I hope that some fans will not pull the alarm anytime we see a little skin or touch on a taboo subject. There is a happy medium that lets us be permissive without everything being incestuous panty shot Skinemax anime.

Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if a lot of fan-service was eliminated? I think everyone could live without it being sprinkled in everything and rather relegated to specific shows. Then again, what kind of judge am I really? But if there is one thing I do know it’s that fans don’t need visual cues to set their imaginations running wild. Maybe not having fan-service can be the new fan-service!

15 thoughts on “Nervous in the (Fan-)Service

  1. OtakuAnthony says:

    Being an anime fan for some time now, I generally do not see a problem with just shows that are just fanservice. I think there has the balance of good plot driven show and shows that put plot on the back burner each season at least to please everyone. I don’t see a problem if fanservice is everywhere as long as the show is good.

    I know you do not mean to group everyone in the same group but if someone gave me flak for like Kodomo no Jikan (which I do) or Kanokon (again which I do) I just accept that they do not like it and that is that.

    You really cannot care what the reputation of something is and what others think of it.

    • reversethieves says:

      I am not some anime puritan that is out to destroy harem shows or remove fetish shows from the face of the earth. If there is a legitimate need I can’t see why I should not be met. I just wish they were a bit less high profile and in your face.

      I’m mostly lamenting the loss of the old stratification of fan service. In ye olde days there was porn, near porn, fan service, little service, pretty clean, & lily white shows shows all in decent abundance. You still have these layers but I feel that the loss of the OVA market the top layers of porn and near porn have had to go to more main stream avenues to get people to buy their DVDs. At the same time the lower strata have upped their fan service content to jeep up. The clean stuff is still there and will always be there but is just seems like less.

      I suppose I just wonder if the middle shows cut back on their fan service a bit would everyone be able to live and let live a bit easier. The people who want racy anime would get exactly what they need, the people who are prudish would have more selection and be happier, and everyone in the middle would not have to hear the extremes bicker as much.

      But that could just be a crazy fantasy world of pure imagination.

      – Hisui

      • TheBigN says:

        “I am not some anime puritan that is out to destroy harem shows or remove fetish shows from the face of the earth.”

        This might be wrong to say, but this sounds like an epic premise for a fun anime. :P

  2. Paul says:

    I avoid shows like Kanokon or Queen’s Blade, but I’m not going to go out of my way to criticize people who like them. (That would make it too hard to pretend that the shows don’t exist.)

    On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with more tame fan service. (I can’t believe the Sacred Seven beach episode offended anyone – unless they were looking for a fanservice-y beach episode.)

    If a show has interesting characters & an interesting story, I can tolerate aspects I don’t really care for. If the show doesn’t have interesting characters, I’m not going to stick around anyway.

    • reversethieves says:

      Well I think the point is the beach episode has become so infamous that Mike assumed it was going to be 80% boobs and butt shots so the decided to drop the series. In the end the episode was super tame and the swimsuit time was a mere tip of the hat compared to the fighting and the exploring. Heck the end joke is one of the girls was so busy exploring she forgot to every get into her bathing suit. But I think some people feel so under fire they the overreact at the first sign of pandering.

      I think that it is a weird cycle. Shows have gotten a bit racier in general so the more conservative fans react by shaking their fingers at the more liberal fans in frustration. The more liberal fans in return get very defensive and yell at the conservative fans to relax. This makes the conservative fans feel more out of touch and yell back causing a feed back loop.

      Shows like Kanokon and Queen’s Blade don’t help matters as they are just super easy targets and pure junk food. These types of shows have always existed. But when the market is weak and the economy is in the toilet they become even bigger targets to point at and blame.

      – Hisui

  3. relentlessflame says:

    It seems to me that the only thing that will shift the balance of production is a visible change in people’s buying habits. As long as shows like Kanokon, Kodomo no Jikan, and To Love-Ru continue to achieve above-average sales, the industry will continue making shows in that same genre and style to appeal to that same target audience.

    The real story here in my mind is not how some great cosmic balance of fanservice in anime is shifting ever shadier, but rather how the fans of serious, story-driven anime were (apparently?) so taken aback by the anime industry’s rapid production expansion (or whatever other factors perhaps unknown) that they lost sight of the fact that the sorts of shows they liked were still around and needed their support more than ever. Instead, it seems as though many of these fans jumped ship from the anime medium entirely, perhaps thinking that the it had all “turned to crap” when in reality it was only producing a boatload more shows each season in a lot of genres that were previously under-represented on TV. Perhaps they had gotten used to such a narrowly-filtered environment that they could pick up any given anime and know that it would fall within certain parameters; that just isn’t possible when production increases tenfold and the filters are rendered meaningless by the Internet. I think this article touches on elements of these changes in the market, but doesn’t reach far enough in terms of the implications.

    To be clear, anime is a medium; it’s not helpful to think of it as a single “genre”. To solve the “reputation problem”, I think people first within the “anime community” need to stop treating anime as if it should have some sort of reputation “on the whole”. The presence of anime that appeals to one demographic doesn’t impede in any way on there being anime that appeals to entirely different demographics — and in some cases, someone may be a fan of both, or certain aspects of each. If we can first understand and apply that principle ourselves, then we can begin to educate those outside the community. We really don’t need a “happy medium” where everyone agrees to show a bit more restraint in exchange for more tolerance to achieve some sort of “greater good”. Instead, we need everyone to show more discretion and wisdom in selecting the shows that reflect their tastes and to simply discard the ones that don’t appeal to them without passing judgement on the show’s right to exist or on its fans. Anime is a diverse medium that appeals to many different target audiences; the challenge is only to find the shows that appeal to you.

    The only caveat here, I suppose, is that there are a number of shows these days that deliberately feature elements that will appeal to many different audiences at once (with something like Index being such an example). In that case, if discretion is not used, tolerance seems to be the only option. From a purely pragmatic perspective, the more target audiences a show is able to hit, the more patrons there are to finance the work, which helps ensure continued production. Given that late-night anime’s production model is almost entirely based on patronage, there seems to be little other choice unless — as I alluded to in the first place — a different kind of audience starts influencing the market by buying more product within a certain genre or of a certain style.

    There’s probably a lot more that could be said on this topic (and no doubt already has been said many times over in many other places), but I think these are the main points. We don’t need to “check the progress of permissiveness” — that is a losing and pointless battle. Rather, each fan needs to influence the market forces by investing in the shows they like. And that argument basically goes no matter how much or how little fanservice you like in your anime diet.

    (Though I suppose some might say I’m not really one to speak, as it’s clear my own tastes tend a lot more towards the “permissive”.)

  4. Patrick George Jones (@Whats_Ur_Name) says:

    FAN SERVICE IS DEAD/SHOULD BE DEAD!! Because those “people” who want to see naked, zit & blemish-free, 2 dimensional porn of there favorite characters have Doujinshi sites that do all the work for them, all without the creative consent of the original creators, and satisfies there needs better than those guys usually can, while keeping it away from those who don’t want it.
    …….P.S. I am one of those “People”.

    • reversethieves says:

      I think that is just as silly an argument. Take say an award winning US TV show like Burn Notice. The show is pretty well regarded (Narutaki & I lover it) but it has tons of fan service. It is set in Miami, Florida and there are tons of bikini clad babes in every episode mostly to have bikini clad babes in every episode. But no one flips out about that.

      The answer is not to remove the fan service. Sex sells. Anyone is marketing and advertising will tell you that (heck anyone with eyes.) They just need to tone down the level of fan service and maybe pay a bit more attention to story and characterization. These elements are not mutually exclusive.

      – Hisui

  5. Justin says:

    Well it basically comes down to the person–as in, what is your tolerance level and what is your attitude towards a particular work. Personally, a person should be allowed to watch what they want, without having to be in either the camp that doesn’t care or the camp that hates the exposure of even the slightest of skin, but that’s more societal than anything else.

    My take is: if it’s good, it’s good. If there is fanservice, it has to be shown in a way where it doesn’t impede the quality. An example: I’ll start with Manyuu. I said I would watch three episodes of all the new summer shows and I did. Manyuu happened to somehow be average, but that was because of its third episode. It’s first two were lackluster. But its main draw (the breasts) did not actually impede it from me telling it was an average show.

    Now I get to Rosario + Vampire. A more tame show compared to Manyuu, yet I could not watch it. It literally had panty shots in what seemed to be every frame, like it was trying to be intentionally blatant. It detracted from me trying to enjoy the anime. So I couldn’t tell if it was any good, bad, or average, and that’s when I have a problem.

    So in general: quite simply, an anime just has to be good–whether it’s storytelling, soundtrack, or all the other elements that make a quality work. Sometimes, it never turns out that way.

    Now, two more things:

    1. Believe it or not, I think if fan-service was eliminated, it would be bad business wise for the anime industry. Despite everyone’s complaints, those types of shows sell for literally that purpose. There’s always that heavily fan-serviced show that gets green lit because…chances are it’s going to sell more than a better show like Wandering Son.

    2. I still can’t believe this post happened because A)Hisui, you’re watching Sacred Seven B)Then came a tweet about one single episode and C) You asked what people thought about it. No seriously, this post was planned moons ago, I bet!

    • reversethieves says:

      Oh yeah. As I said above. Only a fool would eliminate fan service. Guy like some skin and girls like some man candy. As long as we are sexual creatures we shall be attracted those those elements.

      I mean I watch gosh darn Index so I have to have some tolerance of silly unless fanservice. I thankfully can watch shows with no fanservice but I have a decent level of tolerance IMHO. I just want some real food with my desert. I might not mind an extra slice of cake whereas some people want only one slice or no slices of cake. But you better give me some dinner with that cake otherwise the meal feels empty and unsatisfying.

      This post has been kicking around for a bit. On the site where no one can see there is a master list of topic ideas for posts. Most of the posts are topics Narutaki and I have kicked around in conversation for weeks/months. It is usually just some spark of relevance that bring to conversation to the forefront when we are disscussing the next post idea.

      Say if we did a trap post next week it would be a post based on at least 2 years of back and forth conversation we have had on trying to figure out the appeal of traps. BTW one day we will have a post just on the psychology of trap fandom.

      I mostly asked about Sacred Seven fandom because I was curious to see if i was mistaken in my belief that Sacred Seven was sort of unpopular in the Twitter anime fandom.

      (BTW we don’t keep the topic list away from people because it NEEDS to be hidden. We hide it because it is BORING.)

      – Hisui

      • TheBigN says:

        Looking forward to that post in the future. :)

        I’m in relentlessflame’s camp, where I do believe that if an anime fan doesn’t like specific elements of an anime, he can leave them without having to somehow knock fans that do like those elements.

        It is intriguing to see expectations of anime fans of the types of people who are supposed to like certain elements of anime. For a fun personal example, people are confused/surprised when I make note that I do actually watch shows like Kanokon and Seikon no Qwaser. Fanservice just simplifies those expectations more than other elements, and that’s probably something more tied into how we view fanservice as it applies to our society and how it treats issues of sex. Or rather, how we presume that fanservice is treated in a specific way in society. It feeds into a lot of defensiveness that I notice from myself and others regarding just watching anime, never minding what’s actually in that anime we watch.

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