The majority of the professional, paid anime critics will insist upon putting every single fan service show in the same pile and labeling the whole lot as garbage – their existence being a personal affront to anyone with even just a hint of sophistication much like how English teachers feel about most popular books. They forget that people like Shakespeare ran his theater and wrote his plays for the common folk of the time – not for the intellectually “elite” of the times. If he did, I’d be willing to bet that no one would remember his name today.
The fact of the matter is that it’s possible to create a fan service show that’s entertaining and full of fan service and still displays the creative spark that separates quality shows from the generic shows. One of these shows does a pretty good job of displaying this spark whereas the other is exactly the type of rubbish that many think of when you mention fan service. Can you guess which series I’m talking about?
Rating: episode 1 – 4/12 C
Rating: episode 2 – 3/12 D
Rating: episode 3 – 2/12 F
Rating: episode 4 – 3/12 D
Rating: episode 5 – 2/12 F
Anticipation Level: 0.5/5 – Very Low
Sora No Otoshimono
Rating: episode 1 – 9/12 A-
Rating: episode 2 – 9/12 A-
Rating: episode 3 – 7/12 B
Rating: episode 4 – 9/12 A-
Rating: episode 5 – 8/12 B+
Anticipation Level: 3/5 – Average to Medium
In Kampfer, a typical loser high school boy wakes up one day with the ability to change into a girl. All Kampfers have to female – though no one knows why and the show doesn’t bother to explain it – and as a blue bracelet Kampfer, he has to fight red bracelet Kampfers – though, once again, no one knows why and the show doesn’t bother to explain it. Wacky hi-jinks supposedly occur.
In Sora no Otoshimono, a typical loser high school boy falls into a sweet situation, namely he becomes the owner of an angel that can fulfill any request – money, the ability to turn invisible, to become the world’s emperor, or to create new types of life from women’s undergarments. Wacky hi-jinks ensue and some not-so-wacky hi-jinks as well (with a few veiled hints at some sort of more serious storyline).
The Fine Print
Kampfer is a terrible show, plain-and-simple, it’s not funny or entertaining or imaginative and it’s fan service is “service” in name only.
The original creator and the animators of Kampfer fell for the line of thinking that not much is expected from fan service shows and so they don’t have to put much work into it to be successful. It’s wrong thinking, it’s entirely possible to find creative thinking in fan service shows and when it’s done the result is a superior product and when one comes along (Sora No Otoshimono), it displays how big a waste of time shows like Kampfer are.
Another thing that I realized with Sora No Otoshimono is that because the story was well thought-out, the animators don’t have to work at including the fan service. This makes a difference; much like how in baseball, the best players make the sport look easy, the better quality shows make the genre look good. The animators don’t have to continually create contrived situations over and over again – all you have to do is give a typical high school boy an all-powerful wish granting entity and the show can pretty much write itself. And to see the difference in this point just watch Kampfer for how hard the show has to work and strain for it’s fan service.
Other differences between the two shows include Sora No Otoshimono having a more interesting set of characters (Eishirou Sugata’s character is worth the price of admission by himself), better production values (so far every single episode ending of Sora No Otoshimono has featured a different song and different animation), and vocal work (Tatsuhisa Suzuki and Saori Hayami to name a couple pluses for Sora No Otoshimono). And on the topic of vocal work, I love Marina Inoue as a vocal actor (I gave her my top female seiyuu award for 2008) but she can’t quite sound manly enough to make the main character on Kampfer sound right. Hayate’s vocal actor, Ryoko Shiraishi, would have been a better pick since she can do Hayate the Combat Butler as well as Arashi from Natsu no Arashi.
In closing, I’m not saying that Sora No Otoshimono is Shakespeare (though Shakespeare makes about as much sense to me as when I try to understand Japanese). It is, however, a good example of how even in a genre not known for creative writing can, in fact, produce quality shows if people are willing to work at it.