We're back! In case you missed it, be sure you catch Part 1 of our discourse on the sexy side of fanservice. Why do I say "the sexy side of..?" Because really, "fanservice" doesn't mean anything except when a creator goes out of their way to nod to their audience.
Bringing back original voice actors to be small voice parts, or even villains, in future shows in the same franchise? Fanservice. Bringing back old actors (think Leonard Nimoy in the latest Star Trek coming back as old Spock) into new adaptations of stuff they were iconic for? Fanservice. Watching Gundam Unicorn and seeing random old Zakus and old Gundam models in the background? Fanservice. Tsubasa Chronicles? Anyone remember that? Fanservice, dudes. Totoro's cameo in Toy Story 3? Fanservice. These are things that creators drop in there specifically for the enjoyment of the fans that do not move the plot.
Though it's important to understand the real meaning of "fanservice," it's also important to note that anime fans have come to associate it with sexy things they deem unnecessary. This is obvious by the direction our staff-wide discussion has gone. And it's an important topic because I think, as a fandom, we need to get over it.
Acceptable: When the show goes whole hog and you are buying into it. Case in point: Ladies vs Butlers! I loved that show because of how piss-poor the premise was and how flagrant the fanservice was. I mean, it got to the point where the DVD extras were just soft-porn clips!
Acceptable: When it's minor, or really incidental. Evangelion had some level of fanservice, but it really didn't get in the way of everything else going on. More than anything, I think the fanservice that exists is a result of people with a plugsuit fetish.
Unacceptable: When it attempts to buoy a flimsy plot. I think this chalks up to a lot of romantic comedies that were just cranked out to satisfy a particular niche audience, and doesn't really have much of anything to keep you watching otherwise.
I think ultimately fanservice is just another element like character exposition, plot, music, what have you. I do agree with Brad that it's tricky and sometimes it's used to buoy a flimsy show and maybe that's where a lot of the bad rap came from. But by 2012 terms, these kinds of productions are just plain stinkers and unless you're talking about a show with some history, most fanservice anime lean, uh, heavily over-the-top. Even the typical harem fantasy that was/is the most guilty of that stuff, improved. A good example of this I think is To-Love-Ru Darkness.
Sometime in the late last decade, maybe around 2008, right around Kanokon, I think the floodgates opened in that regard. It's probably still just as distasteful for people who aren't amused by that kind of slapstick humor, but boy, did my life change before and after Seikon no Qwaser. I'm not sure if this is acceptable or what -- most of these stories have fairly flimsy plots and characters, but in a lot of ways that was by design in order to get out of the way between the viewers and their screens. And I think the industry on the whole has been better at tucking away fanservice for anime that is more about plot and character as well. (If this was 2008 I'm sure there would've been a scene in Tari Tari where Sawa was doing stretch exercises in her underwear...)
What I am more interested in is fanservice from the psychological perspective, such as the ongoing light novel drivel trend. My Fanservice Anime Can't Be This Convoluted. Maybe harem-type anime is all about that psychological intimacy as the primary form of fanservice, even if it usually ends up with a slap on the protagonist's cheek. At least they're probably funnier than they had been since a very long time. Anyone remember Golden Boy?
But I guess we're taking the easy way, the high road. I'm not sure if I can go defend the Ro-Kyu-Bu and Kodomo no Jikan sort of fanservice. I can't really judge, but invariably someone will get queasy.
The vilification of fanservice by Western fans highlights a point that's bothered me for a long time. It's the idea that sexuality is wrong and that it is an indication that the quality of the product that is producing said sexuality is somehow lacking. Now, there are quite a few shows that are lacking in quality that use sexuality to make up for their deficits, but just because there are a naked pair of bouncing breasts doesn't negate any message or story that's been presented.
Let's take Gurren Lagann, a show that is at the top of my list. Yoko, one of the lead females, is a walking testament to fanservice. She's busty, scantily clad and bounces all over the place. However, she is a substantive character. She has a full arc, being in a completely different head space from when she first starts to where she is by the end of the show. To dismiss her as a simple piece of eye candy would be ignoring the fact that she grows more in her supporting role than a lot of main characters do in their own shows.
Now, take Gankutsuou, a show that is also near the top of my list. While there are a couple of ladies lacking in clothing, the fanservice there is more toward the female end of the spectrum. The relationship between Albert and the Count, as well as Albert and Franz, is designed to titillate the ladies. There are a ton of moments where the show is setting up yaoi fangirls to scream with delight. Do these moments ruin Gankutsuou? I don't think so. In fact, between Albert and Franz, it adds a level of depth to the story.
In the end, I feel it all boils down to fear of sexuality. You can watch a guy dismember somebody on screen, but god forbid a boob comes flopping out of a blouse. It's ridiculous.
Brad (in response to Pedro):
No, I don't think the boob popping is the big issue here. I heard George R.R. Martin make the same comments about the sex scenes in his books versus the violence. I oppose George's sex scenes because they're painful to read and gratuitous. Maybe if he stopped salivating over how Cersci could bend over for this person or that person, he'd finish the books quicker.
There are times when female fanservice ruins a show as well. If they really just hop on the "will they/won't they kiss" tension, and point to it with giant ass arrows to let you know that hey, there's some homo drama going on here. That can ruin a show too, because they're taking an element of fanservice, and using it to string it along for plot.
I don't think that there's all that much of a backlash to fanservice in the West at this point unless you're 14 and your parents are the ones catching you watching these shows in the dark of your bedroom.
If we look at fanservice throughout the ages, we can see how it has evolved into what we see today. Fanservice back in the day was just about that, a service to the fans. When you have a character with some raw sexual prowess it is inevitable that you would want to see a little something more. Just to see a glimpse of a panty shot or a nipple was thrilling back then, because it was about all you had without resorting to full on hentai. Sure, you get some people that will say that why not just watch hentai in the first place if you want to see nudity. That is not really the point now is it. The point is we get to see our favorite character, from a normal show, flash a little something extra officially. When I say officially I mean from the makers of the show and not a fan-made image or doujin. Yes there are going to be doujins out there of some of our favorite characters, but that is not fanservice.
One great example of fanservice is from the great Go Nagai. He is the one that created the nude transformation sequence that we all know and love. It's a great bit of fanservice when you get to see clothes explode off and then see new ones come on. But for that very brief second you get to see what you wanted. This is most evident in Go Nagai's Cutie Honey series. Moving on, we have Monkey Punch's Lupin the Third. Here we have the beautiful Fujiko in all her sexual glory. She uses her sex appeal to get what she wants and give fans what they want as well. This style of fanservice is more on the temptation than the sheer fact of wanting to see something pop out. Fujiko's sexuality makes you want more than just the nudity; you actually want to be with her. This drive is more, shall we say, an adult version of fanservice.
From here we get into more of the comedy style of fanservice. Let us all remember who is the queen of this, Rumiko Takahashi. She knows how to make a boob pop out at any given moment. Case in point, Ranma 1/2. This one just screams comedic fanservice. When you have a guy that can change into a girl with just cold water but yet still keep his guy brain, it can't help but have heaping loads of fanservice. If any guy out there had that chance to change into an attractive red head with a nice rack, wouldn't he be stuck at home naked most of the time? What Ranma 1/2 gives us is the wrong place, wrong time scenarios like during a battle which can lead to some hilarious moments.
Now we have today's fanservice style, loads of damn steam! This is the most irritating fanservice that is out there. You don't get to see anything at all except for maybe some under-boob or a butt cheek. I mean, how excited are we when we know that there is a beach episode or a hot springs episode coming up that we are going to get to see some great fanservice? I know I do, and yet I am thwarted by some damn hot water. You have to wait until you get to the DVD or Blu-ray to see all the good stuff. This, my friends, is the power of marketing. There is a saying, "Why buy the cow when I can get the milk for free?" This rings more true today than at any other time that I can remember. The anime genre is not as profitable any more and has to find new ways of making its money back on shows. Why give the fans what they want for free on TV when we can charge them to see it on a disc? It's smart marketing, I'll give it that, but let some of it slide a little.
We need some fanservice in shows. Sometimes to keep it interesting or sometimes to give it a little extra fun. I'm all for fanservice when it's done properly. Giving us a little tease to whet our appetite is a grand way to keep us watching. When it's put in there as the whole premise of the show, it gets dull and boring. Remember, this is coming from a guy that loves harem anime. I love anything ecchi, but I have grown to appreciate the balance in it and use of it. Give me something to come back to than just giving me all of it in the first couple of episodes. I know you need to sell your show, but sell it more on the concept, plot, and character development, and not how "developed" a character is. You save that stuff for hentai or super ecchi comedies where the plot is meaningless.
I'm not against fanservice, but I'm against the idea of using it as the core of a TV series (note that I didn't say OVA). When a show has nothing to fall back on save for its sex appeal, all you're left with are characters created through the most artificial means possible. People like pink hair, right? Cool. What about thigh-high stockings? Yeah? Ok. Let's make her clumsy, too. Fans like that kind of thing. Oh, and give her big, bouncy breasts. Character complete! Woohoo! It's important to note that that sort of thing is inherently different than say, Highschool of the Dead, in which the sex appeal and violence are something of an ode to the zombie horror of the 70s, which relied on similar elements.
I don't think fanservice has to be a bad thing. Hell, I think Yoko from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a fantastic example of a fun, interesting character who also "filled" the fanservice quotient of the series. The Gunbuster example that was brought up is another case of fanservice that didn't destroy the tone/mood of the base material. At the end of the day, there's a time and place for everything. It's not difficult to tell when a studio throws in random, out of place fanservice because they're not confident that the material can stand on its own feet.
You can have your cake and eat it too. You just have to make sure you've actually baked a cake first, that's all.
This concludes our discourse regarding the defense of fanservice! While staff mostly did focus on the sexy side of fanservice, I think it's still an important discussion to have. In the end, it's all about whether something is completely disruptive and out of step with the point of the show, and it's definitely up to the audience to decide. As with part one, feel free to drop in your thoughts and comments, give us feedback and of course, let us know what your personal opinions are on fanservice in general! Or sexy fanservice. Either way, we want to hear it.