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.
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.
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. 🙂