Fan service – Why It Bother’s Me and Why It Doesn’t

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My favorite fan service picture.

Out of the blue, I had an epiphany concerning the inclusion of fan service in anime a couple of days ago. The topic of fan service in anime is something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile, among other things – I’m always trying to improve myself so I can be a better blogger. I always had a gut feeling towards it; namely, it is used to plaster over defects in the storytelling and characters. This worked in a lot of cases but it didn’t really explain how in some shows I’m okay with fan service and in other shows I’m not. This is where my epiphany comes in.

Fan service is a concept that becomes readily apparent to anime fans soon after they start consuming anime. And as a result, every anime fan is forced to decide how they feel about fan service. Some might love every single shot of scantily-clad buxom women that can be stuffed into an anime, others take a hard line against it and won’t watch any anime that has a single shot of a lady’s undergarments in them, and still others (like myself) are bothered when it’s used to gloss over deficiencies in the show but are not inherently against it and can enjoy it in some shows. And, as always, there’s people falling somewhere in the middle of these categories. Just to be clear, I’m not saying one viewpoint is better then another – everyone is entitled to their opinions, I just wanted to share my thoughts the matter.

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My epiphany is this: Fan service is almost always very blatantly meant for the fan, so when the viewer sees fan service, it breaks the fourth wall and tells the viewer that the show is aware of them. This destroys the illusion of feeling of being a part of the show and returns the viewer to being a person watching a screen where stuff is happening.

Sometimes this is a big deal and sometimes it’s not. When I thought about it, I realized when I dislike fan service in a show matches up pretty well with when fourth wall breaking is a big deal. Likewise, when I didn’t care about fourth wall breaking, I didn’t really mind the fan service.

For example, there are genres like comedy, harem, shounen, and shoujo that will often create a very contrived situation to maximize the potential of a show. These situations are not meant to be taken seriously – everyone knows they’re contrived; just by watching these shows we’ve done the fourth wall breaking. As a result, when we see a girl’s pantsu or see a boy trip and fall into a girl’s chest or he catches her changing by accident or whatever the fan service shot is, it does not break the fourth wall and it becomes a question of if the viewer is interested in the fan service itself.

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On the other hand, some shows wish to draw the viewer in and make them forget that they’re watching an anime. There’s many reasons for this but the most likely is so the viewer will feel a wider range of emotions. How scary is a horror film or how sad is a tear jerker or how mysterious is a mystery if you’re aware that you’re watching it on a TV or computer screen, nestled comfortably at home. Breaking the fourth wall in these cases breaks the illusion and can ruin the experience.

I don’t want to do a super long post on fan service but I can’t leave it at this just yet. If fourth wall breaking was the only criteria for fan service, many shows couldn’t include any shots but in reality, even these shows can successfully add fan service scenes without wrecking the show. The trick is to have a reason (or at least a good excuse) to be including these scenes. For example, in Bakemonogatari episode 2, Shaft can get away with Senjougahara fan service because she feels so superior towards Araragi that she doesn’t care if he sees her in her lingerie. Or a show like Birdy: The Mighty Decode can show Birdy in the bath tub because they show her thinking about a problem – something many people do. However, these types of scenes can still back fire if the animators make it really blatant because, once again, they’re breaking the fourth wall. It’s a balancing act that great directors can walk and the not-so-great ones can’t.

So, that’s my thoughts on the matter. I’d love to hear some feedback – either positive or constructive criticism. 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Fan service – Why It Bother’s Me and Why It Doesn’t”

  1. I suppose fanservice is something that hardly bothers me most of the time. When I watch a good show I am not conscious of bothering to look out for it, and even if it happens I am not that interested. There are types of shows that you expect it, as you mentioned, like harem types and stuff, in which case they add on to the show (hopefully, because Princess Lover could do better than lousy and lazy censorship).

    It all boils down to how much the viewer expects the level of fanservice to be in a certain show. By and in itself, fanservice does not add to or take away from any show that it appears in. At least, that would be my opinion.

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  2. Zooming, bouncing sound effects, camera checking the entire body and weird angles are things that can distract from watching (like Panther said, depends on how much you expect this).

    For example I expected Kanamemo to be a nice calm comedic story but instead I’m seeing kittens (if you watch it you’ll get it), but its still a nice calm comedic story.

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  3. I’ve never thought much about how some fanservice work and others don’t, but the 4th wall angle definitely has some merit. Like comedic elements, it’s all about time and place, and consideration of whether to break that wall or not. Hayate gets away with ludicrous stuff because its identity is a self-aware fan-pandering gag comedy, but inserting “Ed is short” jokes willy nilly in FMA irritates me to no end.

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  4. There’s one outlying example I like to consider when talking about this kind of thing: Najica Blitz Tactics. The strange thing about it is that the panty shots are SO common and SO blatant that it soon becomes part of the gestalt. The odd result is that it’s part of the process of being pulled into the story. I know that seems odd, but you soon get used to it when watching that series, and it’s even a bit of a shock afterwards to go watch something else which DOESN”T have so incredibly much fan service.

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  5. I’m more bothered by the character’s reaction to fan service than it itself. So long as it is simply still images, that can be easily glossed over. However, if the characters treat it like a big deal, let’s say big bosomed women trying to smother teenage kids, then there’s a problem.

    I watched anime for years and didn’t know what fan service was until I saw some romantic comedies.

    I tend to like stories that break the 4th wall, since it gives it a self-aware viewpoint rather than a predestined plot. Favorite example was the bad ending clips from Fate Stay Night VN. All kinds of jokes they cracked about the story and how the character archetypes were supposed to be. Including the loli icon Illya. It just needs a wall to separate that character from the other character. Much like hearing voice actors talk about their persona or actors speaking about their role.

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  6. I also remember that the fan service in Code Geass actually exists. It was done in a static shot of the pilot cockpit in such a fashion that I was left wondering “do they realize how this shot looks when the female pilot is in a clinging wetsuit?” In the height of battle and political drama, this shot just inserts itself in and the viewer is left asking the 4th wall question of “how much should I take from this” because there’s no reason that it would break the immersion. Unless one chose to think too much about it.

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