I have to admit that I struggled with this article and I have to give a shout-out to the IGN Anime Club for helping me sort out my ideas and giving me the courage to write this article. I’m going to start off with the “bad” and go into the “good” but I first want to say that you can like something and recognize what it’s doing. This is not a condemnation of people who enjoy aspects of fan service I don’t agree with, unless of course you think that sexual assault is funny in which case I think you’re wrong and need a lesson.
But I digress. Let’s start off with the aspects of fan service that I don’t like, that way we can end on a positive note.
I hate it when fan service gets in the way of a show’s plot and character development. It’s not only poor writing but worse, dehumanizing to the person you are showcasing. Yes I realize that these are fictional characters, but in order for fiction to work you have to have some imagination and sort of make them into real people so that you can enjoy the story. Fan service shouldn’t be a detour, if the creator cares anything at all about their story it should be woven into the narrative. While this does primarily happen to women in anime, I can’t ignore that it also happens to male characters as well. I want to be fair here, but I am writing this from a woman’s standpoint so please remember that.
Dehumanizing someone is probably the worse thing you could do, you’re turning them into an object and their traits that make them a human being don’t matter. It’s a terrible feeling. As a woman, one of the worse feelings in the world is when a man doesn’t want to talk to you because he knows he won’t get something out of it.
Another aspect of “bad” fan service is objectification, which goes hand in hand with dehumanizing someone. If the joke comes at the person’s expense, like the oh so popular “boy getting an extra squeeze of the boob,” then that’s objectification. You’re turning your character into an object, and not portraying them as a person. A more serious instance is glorifying sexual assault. As a victim of sexual assault I can tell you that it is extremely disrespectful to laugh or glorify an act so heinous as this. It makes the victim of the crime feel even worse and that they “deserved” it. No one, and I mean NO ONE, deserves to be sexually assaulted nor are they “asking for it.”
One of the things that might explain this, not condone it, is the changing culture in Japan and how people are not talking about those changes openly. This is where I really learned something from the video via Jared Petty. He talked about how in the past few years Japan is changing and women are starting to become more independent. They realize that they’re not just there to be housewives, that they can be career women and not have to get married and have babies. They don’t need a man nor do they need to obey one to get what they want. This is challenging hundreds of years of culture, a culture that is much older and much more vast than ours. This means that Japanese men are probably confused and frustrated, they’re views of women are being challenged and this changing landscape is a process that is just going to take time.
Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, lets talk about the good that fan service can do…
Yes ladies, WE’VE FINALLY GOTTEN RECOGNIZED.
In all seriousness this is a great thing because creators of shows are starting to realize that “hey…women, women like sex too.” This may come as a surprise as women are usually portrayed as a Madonna or a Whore, even today in the 21st century. I’m not a Freudian but this is one of the things I do agree with him on. But that’s a whole other essay that has nothing to do with anime.
Anyway back on topic: ABS. SHIRTLESS MEN. No, I digress again. Anyway let’s continue:
Fan service is at it’s most enjoyable when the person that they are portraying is still a person. That they portray the maturity of sexuality and they own it. They aren’t reduced to just body parts or talking boobs. They retain being a character. It’s like quality service with a quality show.
In the instance of Free: Eternal Summer (you can watch and drool on Funimation), yes these boys are hot but they’re also people and not just hot shirtless guys walking around trying to get some. They’re owning their sexuality and that’s a good thing. Another character that owns her sexuality and it’s done in a tasteful way is Michiko from Michiko and Hatchin (which you can also watch on Funimation). She’s in Brazil, so I mean yes she’s going to wear shorts and a crop top; if you got it flaunt it girl. Gangsta is another show in which sexuality is portrayed in an adult fashion, Alex is a sex worker and that’s just her job. She’s not in a bad situation anymore, that’s just her occupation. One must remember that in Japan there are licensed sex workers that are readily available for both men and women and this is just another example of how our cultures are different.
Comedy and fan service can go hand in hand as well. Lets face it, certain body parts make us uncomfortable and a way to deal with that discomfort is to laugh. Good fan service can be a metaphor for the discomforts of sexual awakening. I haven’t watched it myself (if you only knew how much was in my queue), but the IGN Anime Club seems to think that Prison School is a great way of portraying these discomforts and does it in a way in which its funny and the people who we’re laughing at own their sexuality and are adult about it. And, even though it’s you’re typical trope harem anime (just my opinion), Myriad of Colors Phantom World also has it’s hilarious moments of fan service; if you’ve seen the first episode you know the infamous limbo match. If you’re a human being you’ve probably been in an awkward situation that deals with the opposite (or same if you’re into that) sex, if not give it time because it will happen. That I can promise you.
I wanted to write this so that we could get a conversation going. My goal is not to offend or condemn, but to just get people thinking and talking about this in a positive way. What are some of your favorite anime? What are your views on fan service? Let’s have an adult discussion about this!