Mapping the Territories of Fanservice (with the Compass of Subjectivity LOL)

I like my fanservice; I really do. I enjoy it in many forms of popular media, but in anime and manga I get more of it, and enjoy most of it. However, it’s not limited to sexual titillation. Actually, this is not as satisfying for me as referencing shows that I love: remembering love if you will.

Broadly, fanservice is elements in a work that exists gratuitously to amuse and titillate viewers. Gratuitousness is the key; the presence of these elements are unnecessary to the narrative. The story will be whole and complete without them. This ‘being unnecessary’ is the foundation of the negative perception it has from righteous viewers.

The presence of something unnecessary may actually get in the way of telling a story. I know some people who will have trouble appreciating a show I really enjoy like Aim for the Top! Gunbuster due to the presence of the following:

  • The awkward school arc, with the bullying and clique cliches
  • The nudity (Did Noriko REALLY have to tear off her uniform to expose her boob for the Gunbuster to prepare for its final move?)
  • The bouncing boobies in general (the whole show exists in a fantastic science fiction realm, but the boobs bounce rather realistically)

The awkward school arc is actually a reference and homage to the Aim for the Ace! tennis manga (and anime). The characters and setting in the two shows almost form a 1:1 correspondence. I don’t care much for the referenced source, and the events in the first few episodes of Gunbuster! can be annoying (though obviously this no longer bothers me at all!), the referencing arguably gets in the way: this particular arc could’ve been completely different.

Someone who doesn’t care for nudity (my wife) thought the boob exposure final attack was stupid. Obviously she isn’t the target viewer; but it is rather interesting how a show with a strong female cast (and lead character for that matter) can put off a strong female viewer.

The fanservice in this case, causes distractions and detracts from the overall viewing experience for some viewers. Given that we distinguish fanservice in this post as unnecessary, the negativity towards it makes sense.

Taken to the extreme, some people will outright dismiss a work if it has overt fanservice.

I think there’s something I’d like to call the Blinder Effect, or, “I can’t see the story for the boobs!” that affects many a well-meaning but otherwise ignorant fan. So this fan, right, he walks into a bookstore/visits his favourite internet piracy website and looks for the cover/synopsis of Series X. Series X starts out in all its fanservice glory before escalating into otherwise unrelated glory later on, but Mr. Fan does not know this, and after reading the first volume or two he throws up his hands in disgust, proclaim the end of manga to be ‘nigh’, and lets everyone on the internet know how terrible this is.

Owen S

The f word isn’t limited to sexual titillation. This whole hobby operation of ‘remembering love’ is built on a concept of fanservice. However,

fanservice, whatever form it may take (be it T&A, excessive manliness, robots punching each other, Intellectually Stimulating Philosophy™, intertextual references, etc.) is basically junk food, which can be served as part of a complimentary dessert or side dish, or gorged upon on its own.

OGT

This makes sense to me, but I don’t completely agree. More later. OGT’s comment above is part of a discussion raised by SDS, using chocolate as a metaphor for fanservice:

Sure you might like it, perhaps even a lot, and sometimes it’s just the thing you’re looking for. But you can’t live off of chocolate alone, and any attempts to do so will only end in agony. Similarly, fanservice can be a welcome addition to anime, but if all the anime consists of is tits and ass, then it’s not going to be a complete, well-rounded experience.

SDS

Before I continue I posit that the enjoyment of sexual fanservice is different from enjoying pornography (hentai, to be specific). In most cases I presume, hentai and pr0n are enjoyed accompanied by literal and physical masturbation. One may fap to fanservice, but I am perhaps distressed to consider that this could be the norm.

OGT and SDS suggest that there are viewers who enjoy works for the fanservice specifically. The amount of T & A fanservice delivery vehicles (To Love Ru), of moe-moe fanservice delivery vehicles (K-ON!), BL fanservice delivery vehicles (The Prince of Tennis). But there is a kind of service too that is related more to the re-delivery of past incarnations of a certain work. It’s not a re-release or repackaging like what Evangelion does, but more like what the Macross and Gundam franchises do.

– Do you feel the pressure from Gandamufan.

Gundam creators of the moment, the customer, “I’m not so Gundam, Gundam, we can not work now” is not much to continue to say that.

Mizushima Seiji

This was from an interview with Gundam 00 series director, Mizushima Seiji. I interpret the google translated text to mean that viewers complain that “Gundam isn’t like that.” The franchise is a certain way, which can seem very narrow for creators and producers who work on new installments. I can imagine that they are hamstrung by the need to ‘pander to the base.’

This can be a problem, as shows become narrowly targeted, and have little cross-audience appeal, the shows lose their ability to grow the viewer base. To do so is painted with accusations of ‘selling out’ while the work is actually very guilty of ‘selling in.’ Macross Frontier is criticized by fans of ‘Universal Century’ Macross (i.e. SDFM up to Macross Plus) for ‘pandering’ to a contemporary viewership (moe moe fanservice: Ranka Lee, and OMFG Klan Klan), not acknowledging that making a show very much like Plus or SDFM or [gasp] Robotech would be pandering to their own narrow tastes.

To go back to OGT’s quote however, I don’t think fanservice is necessarily junk food. It’s not always gratuitous, even if it’s blatantly sexually titillating. For this the best catch was made in the Superfanicom blog:

fanservice is often considered as separate from the rest of the show (or comic) we find it in.  The general problem with a lot of readings online is that a lot of time is spent on whether or not something is “good,” which often becomes an argument about whether or not certain elements should be in the show.  The reason that’s a problem is that the element is in the show — it’s a little too late to jump in front of that problem.  More useful is the approach of asking why something is there:  what it does and how it does it?  So, with your indulgence, I’ll use a handful of examples and take a crack at what the fanservice adds to the show.

Cuchlann

He then proceeds to read a particularly interesting sequence in Banner of the Stars, a scene wherein I initially dismissed the ‘male gaze’ of the ‘camera’ to focus on cleavage and jump into a naked bath scene as means to break up the wall of dialogue/’text’ that transpires in that dinner conversation, and nothing else.

He deftly establishes how the fanservice underscores the ongoing themes in that particular point of the narrative, and of the narrative as a whole. An excerpt:

The sexual dimension of this scene underscores the desire for life that these people feel.  We’re used to seeing all three of them as relatively staid.  Most of this show we see them in uniforms, and the other outfits they sport (like Jinto’s “nobleman” duds) serve to highlight their societal placement rather than their biological needs (that is, their sexual identities).  It’s significant that this blast of fanservice happens during a meal:  two reining desires are coupled here, healthily and without issue.  Not only does this underscore what the entire series is about:  illustrating warfare as something performed by people; the alien as human; and the personal lives of these developed characters, it also shows us these two women, generally so controlled, still behaving in a controlled manner while enjoying their sexual sides in a familiar way:  wearing nice clothing that reveals them to observers.

Cuchlann

Great read, and seemingly effortless too! The whole scene is devoid of OGT’s “Intellectually Stimulating Philosophy™” branding of that kind of fanservice (something I do enjoy on occasion as well; e.g. Legend of the Galactic Heroes). The conversation was about favorite dishes and memories; remembering love for a fallen brother and sometime enemy.

Further Reading

Not really saying anything new here, only that I enjoyed reading about fanservice across the web, and wanted to comment on the various opinions (and put up fanservicey images).

Fanservice and the ‘Blinder’ Effect (Owen S 2009/02/18)

OGT comments on this interesting Oguie Maniax post, which is like fanservice for chocolate (SDShamsel 2010/01/30)

Part 1 of the Cuchlann Fanservice Series (Cuchlann 2009/11/15)

Mizunashi Seiji interview at the Nikkei Business Online (2008/12/25)

The kinds of fanservice I’m very much into [->]

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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30 Responses to Mapping the Territories of Fanservice (with the Compass of Subjectivity LOL)

  1. donkangoljones says:

    BINGO!

  2. cuchlann says:

    Something similar (I’m tempted to say the same, but I may just view them as such) to the Gundam/Macross fanservice you mention happens a lot in US comic fandom; it’s sometimes called “continuity porn.”

    Robert Kirkman, who did a celebrated run on Captain America, said he had Marvel send him several really old issues of CA, and every two or three issues stuck in a reference to one. He was revered as some kind of CA god who must have read every single issue ever published. It drove fans wild to see him hold together so many years of plotting. That’s why people don’t like reboots in American fandom (like the reaction against the new Star Trek movie), because it negates their much-loved continuity. Even though oftentimes, like in ST’s case, the continuity is still there.

    Also, I appreciate the citations there. : D

    I like how you break down the types of fanservice. The “gratuitous” label you’re pulling from Owen/SDS/OGT is good too, or else everything in a show would be fanservice all the time, as it’s meant to entertain the audience.

    • I am very aware of the term, and indeed continuity porn is pretty much remembering love as I’ve conceptualized it, though my pet idea extends to non-continuity-based referencing and homage: Eureka SeveN pays it to a shitload of mecha shows, as does TTGL.

      I’ve been meaning to use your work for some time now, only I didn’t have a strong angle for it. SDS’ post made one possible. I can only pray that my indulgent block quotes haven’t reached a critical level of gratuitousness.

  3. donkangoljones says:

    OK, instead of skimming the fanservice related pictures I decided to actually read the article this time.

    Good read. Fanservice is often a recurring and hotly debated topic. As stated, people (anime fans in particular) are quick to dismiss a work based on the “sexual” fanservice in a work. I used to be the same way, too. There was tastefully done and tastelessly done. Quality and cheap. And based on the fanservice I would judge a series accordingly. I’ve slowly gotten over that.

    I’ve learned to accept anime and all its cliches and tropes, and the engraved culture that shapes how these shows are written and presented. A panty shot is there, but you don’t forget the fight that was going on because you find out she has a lace garter and the g-string gently cups her nether-regions. #sigh* I look at it and go, “nice”. And then I go back to the action and wonder how the particulars of the plot are immediately playing out.

    A good example of fanservice getting in the way of my enjoyment is the somewhat infamous Kodomo no Jikan. At first I didn’t think anything aired on TV could be that bad, but I was wrong. It could be a bit jarring for someone who isn’t more experienced in viewing that sort of stuff. I was starting to miss the forest for the trees. And I started asking what was the purpose of all this loli fanservice. A certain arc came up mid-series and showed me that I had been complaining more about the frivolous aspects of the series and not focusing on the tragic and engrossing storyline.

    So as for the sexual fanservice overall, it’s just a transient thing to me. Like rose petals at a wedding; fireworks at the fair; sprinkles in your ice cream or a pretty case for your cell phone they should be enjoyed and soaked in. But you should never love or hate them so much that you spite what is more tactile and immediate.

    On a side note, I recommend Kanokon if you like world class sexual fanservice. Ladies X Butlers is turning out to be pretty fun, too. 😉

    • I would still not go out of my way to watch a show for the sexual fanservice content. I even watched Kamen no Maid Guy for Kogarashi and not the tits all over the show.

      For fanservice, give me throngs of humanoid robots breaking each other apart. That shit never gets old for me.

  4. Rakuen says:

    I was one of the ones that pretty well avoided the “heavier” fanservice series, those that fall within the ecchi/harem/romantic-comedy genres. I watched Love Hina and didn’t really like it. Around a year later I came across Negima, and dropped that after 7 episodes. Another year later Seto no Hanayome met the same fate after 6. At that point, I’d pretty much given up on it, until Seitokai no Ichizon came out, which I went for because I’m a sucker for school comedies. It’s not the greatest series by any stretch, but I got all the way through it and could appreciate it despite how fanservice-y it got at times. I’m really not sure whether it was Ichizon’s subgenre or something that changed in myself, but I’m at least willing to try those series now.

    You’re absolutely right, sometimes you’re just not ready to appreciate a genre.

    • I think that to enjoy shows like those you mentioned, one must enjoy the fanservice too. Sure there’s still some enjoyment to be had despite the potentially off-putting material, but why subject yourself to stuff you won’t like when there are other shows to see (and there’s almost always another show to see).

      But can appreciation for all these 2-D boobs and panties gratuitously flashing all over the show be learned? I think so. As to why I should learn it, I don’t really know or want.

      • Rakuen says:

        Well, I don’t want to be one of those people that just dismisses something out of turn. I don’t feel I can say the state of the romantic comedy genre is utter bollocks unless I’ve actually watched something recent to confirm that, yes, it is utter bollocks.

        Perhaps there’s also a morbid curiosity there to see if someone can actually do it well, such that amidst all the wrecks I’ll finally find the one train that manages to make all the right track switches and arrive at the station in one piece.

  5. xaueious says:

    I enjoy fanservice if it fits with the genre of the anime or if it flows with the story. The problem for me is if the fanservice takes away from the central focus of the show to the point that it is distracting for certain genres. In the Code Geass example, I didn’t think fanservice shown belonged in what I would consider to be a more serious show. While I can appreciate the sexual fantasies accounted for by the addition of fan service, it would make sense to have it published aside from the main story so that it doesn’t detract from the experience. I realize that this is a subjective line to draw, as people have different levels of tolerance.

    • Yes, this is what I meant about gratuitousness and how it can detract from the experience of the work. This too, will be subjective.

      If you look at Code Geass’ picture dramas, some of those are the overt kinds of fanservice that fits with your side stories idea.

  6. RP says:

    I think you pretty much hit it spot on. Personally, I’d argue fanservice makes shows more worth watching.

    But fanservice seems like a term that has uniquely negative connotations within anime/manga fandom.

    When we see Megan Fox, Angelina Jolie, or whomever half naked for a scene in movie, that’s fanservice, but the “blinder effect” seems much fewer and farther between.

    But in anime, we see five cute girls start up a band, but mostly just act cute, and that gets panned as unnecessary fanservice. But as Dennis Green would say, “they are who we thought they were!” It’s not the fanservice that people have a problem with, it’s the concept and execution of the show itself. It’s the same reason why I generally don’t have any interest in heavy ecchi shows like Queen’s Blade or Kanokon, not because I dislike the overabundance of fanservice, but because I’m disinterested in the concept of the show.

    But what would a show be without its fanservice? What’s K-ON without the cute overload? What’s Gurren Lagann if they’re not escalating into cosmic battles? If I like the show, I have a very liberal attitude towards fanservice. I’m watching K-ON? Give me more, more, MOAR cuteness! I’m watching Gurren Lagann? Throw that planet! What else is next? Solar systems? Galaxies? Throw it all! I want it all!

    But that’s me. You can go overboard with fanservice, but it’s all subjective.

    I’d argue the only bad fanservice is fanservice that contradicts either the character and/or the situation or clearly detracts from the show.

    So to refer to the above, Sayoko flashing us when she lunges at Jeremiah, I’d say is more questionable direction than bad fanservice. She flashes us for a split second. It doesn’t take away from the action. And it’s relatively fitting considering her movement. It’s akin to Halle Berry dressing in tight black leather to catburgle a house. Racy, questionably bad taste, but not inappropriate. But if the flash went in slow-mo, or if something improbable happened like Sayoko trips and lands face-first on Jeremiah’s crotch, now that’s bad fanservice.

    • The cap I referenced is barely noticable in the animated sequence. It’s really an ‘easter egg,’ but the fanservice of the scene is the fact that Sayoko IS a combat meido ninja in a french maid outfit. THAT can be very distracting, as it can be read as quite unnecessarily gratuitous.

      It’s something some viewers may not get over about. I don’t mind it so much, since I like the show. But do I think it’s good (in a formalist way)? No.

  7. So, you understand that we ought to look past and contextualize fanservice and not let it ruin judgment of a great show, etc. But you still dropped Strike Witches in 15 minutes. Even though it’s a great show.

    It’s true, people miss the plot for the boobs. The three best examples are Kanokon, Queen’s Blade and Strike Witches. They are all great shows that people ignore because they think it’s all fanservice. And in no case is it. I started rewatching Kanokon recently, actually, and while the first time I’d seen it I was ‘surprised’ by the depth I found in it, this time I was ‘shocked’ by it. When I watched the first episode, i realized that this was so far above some generic harem show that comparing it to one was just cruel.

    I don’t really blame people for instinctively giving up on a show that has a lot of fanservice and not much else in it’s early bits because it could actually BE a terrible show… this season we received fanservice shows in the form of Chu-Bra, Ladies Vs. Butlers, and Omamori Himari. LVB started terrible and continued terrible. Omamori started generic and continued generic. Chu-Bra started scary and turned awesome. I won’t blame someone for having avoided Chu-Bra, because it could have turned out like the other two – it’s just a good thing that people like myself will continue the shows to see if they get good and report back to the rest about what we’ve found.

    • Dude, fanservice is a matter of taste. Lolis in panties don’t appeal to me, especially when they’re sort of mecha but not. It’s the opposite of appealing, they actually turn me off. Your superficial dismissal of my dismissal is dismissed.

      The point your stress is Owen’s, but it is an incomplete thesis as far as I’m concerned. Fanservice as I’ve mentioned can be and is a distraction in some cases, much to the detriment of the experience of consuming the subject work.

      If I really wanted to watch a heartwarming and/or inspiring story involving robots, battles, and youth… why would I have to sit through so much of what I don’t like or need? I could just rewatch Eureka SeveN and be content, among dozens of other shows that has the kind of fanservice that actually serves me.

      Cuchlann’s work shows us when fanservice is worked deftly and awesomely into the material. I don’t want to have to look for that in a fanservice first, narrative cleverness later kind of show, unless the service is of actual interest to me.

  8. gloval says:

    “Universal Century” Macross? More like Licensed in North America Macross, or Old Macross.

    Anyway, I have developed high tolerance for fanservice. I’m more irked by those who have an aversion to it and scream to the world that they do. I do realize that such is one way of trolling, though.

    Have you been watching Sora No Woto? It handles fanservice (sex, moe and mecha) in the same way it handles its world building, characterization and narrative: by subtle clues (mention in passing, like it’s no big deal), controlled output (show only parts) and delayed gratification (hint now, reveal later).

    • I haven’t seen SnW, though I’m interested somewhat. You’re right I think about the trolling. I strongly doubt that the moral status quo of the internet is such that the denouncing of such shows is a powerfull call.

  9. Baka-Raptor says:

    At this point, I’m practically desensitized to normal levels of fanservice. Stuff that would’ve riled me up years ago barely phases me anymore, for better or worse. I hope this is anime’s fault and not a sign that I’m getting old. I thought the brain was supposed to hard-wired to give priority to basic needs, like food and sex, above higher-order logical functions. I guess that can be undone…

    • I’m almost there. Exactly where a reassurance that Hanamaru Kindergarten is no Kodomo no Jikan becomes actually reassuring (indeed it isn’t a KnJ). Think about it!

  10. Bah nothing wrong with showing a little skin….however for shows that are basically nothing but fanservice the vast majority of the time as the focus (be it moe, ecchi, trappy, or even my precious mecha *gasp*) I would think one might as well be getting the same experience out of porn.

    Anyway this brings to mind something that still slays me dead to this day and that is how Gundam 00 Season 1 got labeled as a “dumb fanservice show” because of one scene in one episode where the team was lounging by a pool side discussing strategy while the scene did everything else to put emphasis on the dialogue. Less than a couple minutes, one episode and at times it seemed like that was all anybody would come out with to talk about for almost the entire remainder of it’s run. People can be so subjectively uptight about fanservice it’s amazing, but yeah…people are people.

    I wish you had used that episode as an example now. 😦

    • Well, I wasn’t around the anime internet world at the time so I missed that nonsense. Like gloval said, this kind of dismissal is trolling too. Anime viewers aren’t truly uptight in a moral way. I mean, c’mon. Seriously?

      But I’m not here to defend shows, Gundam 00 certainly has a large amount of fanservice, but nothing so contemptible to dismiss as dumb.

  11. 2DT says:

    Sexual fanservice in particular seems to tie into that long-running conversation you’ve been having about guilty pleasures. I once met someone who said that they simply didn’t understand “getting off to cartoon boobs,” which I suppose is perfectly possible, but it also implies that people who do are taking a step into alien territory.

    Why DO some people reject fanservice completely? Is it instinctually distasteful somehow? Do they imagine the Eye of Society judging them? Do they not want to consider themselves part of the same tribe as the people they imagine liking that kind of thing?

    Surprisingly big subject. Thanks for bringing it up.

    On a different note, I dislike that K-ON! poster. Not because it’s fanservice-y, but because the maid costumes are rather boring. At least Sawako-sensei is wearing a nice garter.

    • It most certainly does, and kudos to you for spotting it.

      The questions you ask are indeed pertinent, and I do think their behavior is an effect of the perceived Eye of Society judging them.

      I find that the maid fantasy rather curious. Here in the Philippines where labor is very, very cheap, I have practically lived all my life serviced by maids. I’ve also lived in places where maids in uniform are the norm.

      They never ever look attractive. Anyone who is attractive, will find better employment — even if only in the retail and/or other service sectors. Being a manservant of some form isn’t a job held with much dignity here (if ever at all with any dignity).

    • I have that poster on my wall, and I will say that while I’m no big fan of maids, the way the legs look and the curves, they are very appealing in this particular image.

  12. drmchsr0 says:

    And no mention of the massive TITFEST known as Godannar?

    It has mecha AND TITS. Not necessarily in that order,, but the story is simply mature and down-to-earth. Origianlly, during my earlier years, the overt fanservice turned me off, but now I see dem titties bounce, I just giggle to myself and continue.

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  16. shumbapumba says:

    Appreciate the links at the end of your post. Going to sink my teeth in. Yew.

  17. Pingback: Stark Raving Mad: The Unsuccessful Nuptials of Rave Culture and Anime « Chasing the Techno-Orient

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