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!