Many shows have a designated fanservice character. The character serves as the focal point of the fanservice that an otherwise straight show will not deliver. Why do this? It allows the show to maintain its core audience while perhaps attempting a to capture a broader share of eyeballs. In the past 2 years we’ve seen mecha shows that up the fanservice levels in significant ways, in terms of nostalgia (Gundam 00, Macross Frontier); Loli and Moe (Gundam 00, Code Geass, Macross Frontier); Mecha Battles (OF COURSE); AND Bishonen (all 3 mentioned). The Bishonen service is a very good example because traditionally, us mecha anime fans DON’T WANT bishonen characters. We’re into GAR characters. The anime I’ve mentioned buys us with a portfolio of fanservice that is bundled with the bishonen – so we either put up with it, (pretend to) ignore it, (pretend to) not like it, or turn them into Luluko.
Discriminating anime fans, and particularly Macross fans of a more purist orientation may find cause to complain about the copious fanservice in Furo. We’re perfectly fine with the mecha battles, capital ship battles, the love triangle, the music, and the pop-idol. It’s the pandering that bothers some people. And I won’t deny it: Ranka Lee is pandering, straight-up.
But Macross Frontier is unique in their innovation of the fanservice character. It’s a new milestone because the character, as a member of the supporting cast in some ways trumps the sexual pandering of the two female leads: Sheryl the woman, and Ranka the loli. Yes, we are talking about Klan Klan.
Part of the framework of the analysis I’m doing is based on Lelangir’s post [UPDATE 10112008: Lelangir made it a series, here’s part 2 and part 3] on anime characters, specifically how the physical design relates to the behavior and then the ideology of the particular character. To quote,
visual appearance [signifies] personality [signifies] ideology
Ozma Lee with his scraggle-beard-thing, his dirty ponytail, his scowl [signifies] GAR, manliness [signifies] individuality and freedom. Following this logic, it would seem that it would be tougher to associate the ideology if Ozma was genki and sweet like Luca, and was presented to look like Alto.
There are obvious exceptions, but rather than disproving the Lelangir’s observation it actually supports it since he says that this way of character design is unnecessary, however convenient. Bobby is an obvious example, because Bobby’s two-tone afro and colorful scarf [signifies] GAR (though may signify being motherly, and gay) [signifies] devotion to friends and treating them as family.
Now Klan Klan, is designed to be everything to the fan being serviced. She serves the following fetishes tastes:
Completely in parallel, she also serves the following:
It’s quite impossible to do this for a single character, unless there’s some kind of Jekyll/Hyde thing going on. However Klan is all of this, without necessarily changing her attitude. She’s just a lot more laid-back in her default size. Klan Klan accomplishes this because there are two distinct visual presentations of her character.
In SDF Macross we are introduced to the Zentraedi, a giant warrior race that happened to be the enemy of the humans. By the time of Macross Frontier the Zentraedi who chose to become allies of the humans are portrayed to have a very high degree of integration – socially and otherwise. Principal characters have Zentraedi lineage (Ranka, and perhaps even Michel Blanc with his pointy ears).
Conveniently the Zentraedi have the technology to ‘miclone’ themselves into human size. Normally this just turns them into a human-sized version of themselves, who are normally nearly as tall as modern Battloids. When Klan Klan undergoes this, something different happens: she turns into a version of herself that has the body of a 10-year old boy. Her behavior becomes a lot more childish as well – something like a petulant bully at the beginning of the series, and nearer the end (near the culmination of her romance arc) she was insecure about her looks; not helped by her playboy love interest. In her default size she is confident and mature, a steady pilot if not an ace herself – though I see her more as a squad leader similar to Ichijou Hikaru rather than an ace like Milia Fallnya.
I find it notable that Klan’s tsundere behavior only occurs while she’s in her miclone form. What does this tell us? Loli [signifies] Tsundere [signifies] Emotional Retardation (?) Bullying gets the job done (?) Not sure what exactly, but it’s significant. Tsundere is a very popular trope – this season’s anime yields a number of Tsundere characters, led by Taiga from Toradora! with Nagi of Kannagi close behind; time will tell if Kyouko of Skip Beat is the tsundere I thought she’d be, and as of this writing Hiiragi Kagami is leading the votes in Saimoe 2008. [UPDATE 04112008: Kagami won, beating Tsukasa in an all-Hiiragi final]
Kaioshin of Anime Past Meets Present and I had an exchange in the comments section on his post on Tytania episode 3, where he wasn’t too happy with the (half-assed) introduction of moe/fanservice characters in the series. I had said that there are shows, like the Ghibli movies where there are very cute moments for their mostly female protagonists. Kaio said,
@Ghostlightning: Yeah, but the Ghibli movies also treated it’s women with a great deal of respect and refused to take advantage of them as tools to be used strictly for fanservice. Legend of The Galactic Heroes also managed to do that and have very strong female characters, but I’m thinking that Tytania is only giving it a half effort. In a way I almost see that as slightly worse then directly pandering because at least when a show just has girls for the sake of moe you know what to expect.
Klan Klan is Ms. Fanservice for Macross Frontier (not to detract from Ranka and Sheryl). I can’t argue otherwise. This is the metaphorical Rape I’m talking about. Making characters for the sake of titillation in an otherwise straight story – let’s just say Macross wanted to tell a straight story – detracts from the overall value (in terms of critical heights, perhaps) a show might reach. Macross Frontier pandered mightily – with its idols and with Klan. While I can’t do a quantitative summary of how many fans (especially new viewers) were attracted to the Klan Klan character, the amount of images in sites like Danbooru make a case that she is quite popular.
But here is where I make a case for Klan’s redemption, post-rape. She didn’t remain to be just a fanservice character. Her development is quite good if we look at it closer, and I’m quite happy with the role she eventually played in the end. In the fulfillment of her romance arc she was portrayed with decisiveness and aggression. Klan went after Michel like he was really important to her. She understood that she will not get him if she remained passive, and so she worked. She was never afraid to disagree with him – making him intervene in the Alto x Sheryl events even if he wasn’t the kind of person who enjoys getting involved like that (see how he tried to bring back the runaway Ranka in the ep “Star Date”). And when she confessed (the absolute climax of the rape, since she was in her loli form and naked and dere-dere and just moments removed from being naked in giant form), he confessed right back before he got killed by the Vajra.
The loss of Michel marked the turning point of Klan’s development. She would become a solid resource for Alto, perhaps even better than how Claudia was for Misa. As friends’ support go, the Klan – Alto friendship is of higher quality than anything in the Macross franchise, perhaps even the Roy – Hikaru friendship. Her behavior stopped being dictated by her visual presentation. Whether a giant or micloned, she was her somber – but forward-looking self. She handled her loss in a way that perhaps prepares us for how the citizens of Frontier could forgive Ranka. Klan didn’t harbor any ill-feelings for Ranka, even as she was supportive of Alto x Sheryl. Alto was very angry with the Vajra, precisely because of Michel’s death. And Klan, being the Zentraedi warrior not going through rage and bloodlust is a solid example of her maturity.
In the final battle, her Quaedlunn Rau was shot down, but that didn’t stop her. In probably one of the more satisfying fanservice moments we were treated to loli Klan piloting Michel’s VF-25 Messiah. Not only did she bring Alto’s fighter, she fought as his wingman in a way that Guld and Isamu didn’t get to do ever. That sequence was so full of win, with Sheryl playing Northern Cross, Alto referencing Isamu’s hand-movements to control his VF-25 remotely while coming to terms with his Kabuki persona, then Klan shooting down enemies with him back-to-back in their Battloids.
Klan Klan was a character designed to have it all, or to give it all. The signification relationships between visual presentation, behavior and ideology are deconstructed for her character as the series culminated. She’s a fanservice favorite without giving up character development and a powerful contribution to the story. Fanservice done right, I do think so.