Japanator Discusses: In Defense of Fanservice (part 1)


The Japanator editorial team gathers for a discussion on fanservice

One of the things that gets my eyes rolling fast is when people dismiss popular shows based on some kind of moral high-horse principle in the vein of, "The boobs are way too huge in that anime!" or "Why is there a token pervert in this show?!" -- you get the idea. There are reactive people who just hate it when anime goes "bad" and makes "us" all "look bad" when fan service "gets in the way" of some glorious plot. 

Except I don't think that fanservice gets in the way, inherently. I don't think most people even agree on the very definition of "fanservice," which doesn't necessarily imply that things have to be smutty to be good. Boob bounce? It's natural. Real women with real breasts experience bounce when they move. Main characters that have sex on their mind? What a concept! Most anime feature... *gasp* -- young angsty teens! Clothing that doesn't make sense for the activities being performed by the character? Who cares, really? While, yes, some shows take the "service" a bit too far (for my tastes), it isn't all that bad. It also isn't all about sexy things.

The main takeaway when I see people complain about anime particulars, about pervy stuff, and about frequent offenders, is that we aren't even the target audience to begin with. True appreciation of anime as medium that comes from Japan begins when you can set aside your own reactions to these things and just give the dang thing a chance if you can bear to see another bouncing boob, nosebleed, or upskirt. Or just move on to the next show and find something you like. 

This is what we, as an entire team at Japanator, have been discussing over email the past few weeks. And we're sharing it all with you! Part one of our discourse is below.

Josh Tolentino:

For my part, my arbitrary line for fanservice awareness, so to speak, was drawn back when I didn't understand what Misato meant when she promised "more fan service" at the end of every Evangelion episode. When I did find out what she meant, well... that was the "cannot unlearn" moment of my animu-watching career. 

That in mind, what I've noticed so far over the last few years is that the arbitrary line's been both pushed back farther, then turned into a big circle. 

By that stuff, I mean the definition and connotations of "fanservice" have expanded, rowing closer to the more literal meaning of its two component words "fan" and "service" = "service for fans." That term's not explicitly sexual, and recent titles like Upotte!, Girls und Panzer, Idolmaster, Saki, and even weird-ass fare like Joshiraku feel more quaint than titillating.

As for the purely sexual stuff, it's been migrating towards the margins, increasingly concentrating itself in shows that are just short of porn, or in adaptations of actual porn. "Boobs anime" as a legit subgenre rather than a joke comes to mind.

And one more thing I've noticed is in the last couple of years, I have encountered very few genuinely "disruptive" fanservice situations, by which I mean the unexpected addition of fanservice content had a negative impact on my viewing. It's probably partly because I've become jaded - we've been trained to expect some creepy perversion in every show and are thus pleasantly surprised when it's absent - but I think it's also because the ways in which "fanservice" has been evolving into "fan service" has effectively diversified the ways in which a willing viewer's tastes can be pandered to without necessitating half-jokes about getting on FBI watchlists and the like.

Brad (in response to Josh Tolentino):

Josh, you bring up how "fanservice" moves towards a more literal definition -- I think that's what's killing the industry. There's not a huge profit margin in anime, and the fanbase is slowly becoming smaller and smaller. So, if you make a "fanservice" show in order to keep the studio afloat, the problem is that show then alienates possible new fans from coming in. 

Thus, the problem becomes that in order to stay afloat, you have to make a fanservice show, but then flood the market with more fanservice shows, ultimately making it harder to turn a profit because yours isn't necessarily original or titillating enough. Then it becomes impossible to churn out some really wonderful piece of art that brings in all sorts of new viewers. 

This is the market killing itself, much like it did with the moe trend about five years previously. The anime industry needs to branch out, and look to make products that will be more commercially viable in the general market, rather than these fanservice extravaganzas. 

So that's just my worry.

Josh Tolentino (in response to Brad):

What I mean by that literal definition of fan service is that the concept is expanding, and becoming very broad, and quite the opposite of "alienating." Five years ago I couldn't have conceived that anyone would fund something as preposterous as Girls und Panzer or Upotte, two shows that, compared to even regular shows "with fanservice" from five years back, look tame in the sex-appeal department. No harems, no boob-grabbing pratfalls, minimal underwear hi-jinks. It also helps that they're both decent shows in their own right and don't lean on their "fan service' elements like a crutch. Well, not in Girls und Panzer's case, at least.

Certainly, insularity and over-reliance on price-gouging gullible nerds are clear and present dangers to the long-term health of the industry, but when I look back, I see that diversity is rising. There still aren't enough "mainstream" shows (though the very concept of targeting mainstream is being called into question these days for other media), but at least recently studios and creators have been finding a lot of different niches, some larger and more inclusive than others, and many non-reliant on T&A. We may never be able to get rid of "fanservice," but if it diversifies enough, and becomes tolerable enough, as it has been, we won't need to.


In a way, fanservice is like any other thing in life: better taken in moderate doses. As long as it's done right, a little bit of nudity and/or undergarments doesn't hurt anyone. A great example that still remains in my heart is Golden Boy, which is thanks to Kintaro's perverted nature and comedic lines. Instead of the ecchiness hindering the show, it pushes Golden Boy's comedy to the point where I lose it every time. Then we have Gunbuster, a show that contains a climatic scene that shows off some partial nudity, except that this scene makes Noriko look like a total badass. 

Besides being silly and dynamic, fanservice can also work in the over-the-top nature as well. One off the top of my head is re: Cutie Honey, which is filled with many boob hi-jinks, with one of them being that Honey loses her clothes when she runs out of energy. Despite the amount of nudity present in the OVA, the show was still filled with the dynamic action scenes, stylish designs, and premise that makes any Gainax show worth checking out.

Sure, I could go on all day about shows that do it right, but it all depends on the viewer, since its usage does have a target audience after all; otherwise we wouldn't be seeing it in most shows. Though I will admit that sometimes they can go a bit far, which was one of the reasons that I could not get part the first episode of Queen's Blade (it was the scenes that involved acid milk and wetting oneself that made me drop the series). However, I do acknowledge that there are people that find that sort of ridiculousness to be silly or enjoyable.

Now that I think about it, good anime that feature fanservice are almost equivalent to HBO shows that show sex and nudity, since both mediums tend to have great stories that act as the major driving force that keeps viewers locked in. Before you let the fanservice get to you, give the story and characters a chance to see if it clicks with you. And who knows, you might end up coming across some new treasures that will surprise you in the long run.


I'm all about fanservice depending on the genre. Some shows I would probably watch just for those types of scenes to pop up. However, it kills me when it's totally out of place. Just like anything a show or movie is trying to communicate, it just needs to resonate with their target audience. Which, can't please everyone.

Sometimes, you build up a certain respect for a powerful character and just don't want to see them in those kinds of scenarios. The shower scene for Lynn Minmei in Macross is all good, but if they flipped the switch and threw Misa Hayase in that situation it would feel out of place. One example that sticks with me is the sleeper movie A Wind Named Amnesia. There's a mysterious woman that the main character is protecting, a bit helpless, beautiful, and someone you start to care for. Then out of nowhere they throw in sex scenes and nudity. Just totally out of place for the otherwise excellent flick.

Sometimes it's just plain cute. Noriko's famous bouncing breasts from Gunbuster is probably my favorite example. Yes, they are bouncing boobs, but it's done in a cute, endearing manner. The bouncing boobs make you like Noriko more, make you remember she's still a young, perky girl. Most of you (hopefully) aren't thinking, "OMG BEWBS, I need to bone her on the street right nao!" or something. I mean, come on. We're human - sexuality is part of life. Taking it away from any individual or ignoring the fact altogether denies part of their humanity.

Pretty people, 3D or 2D, will naturally trigger some animal emotions. It's a matter of how the director handles the way you're attracted to them. Some people will naturally aim for the Hooters waitress, while others like subtle megane library chicks. Personally, nothing gets me giddier than seeing my favorite character in stupid outfits. So cute! However, watch anime because you like it. If you like Highschool of the Dead's huge boob style, more power to you! If your type is more Princess Jellyfish's Tsukimi, that's dope too. People's triggers for attraction are all over the place. None of them being better than the next. Just different.

Marcus (supports Hiroko):

I agree with Hiroko, especially about the scenes with Noriko in Gunbuster. Watching that series intently over the years has brought me to the conclusion that those scenes are much more than just a ploy to show off some tits. There's a distinct difference between fanservice that makes you want to cheer and scream at your TV, and fanservice that tries to cater to the lowest denominator and insult you with how blunt it is. This is where both sides of the argument, those in dissatisfaction to fanservice and those who can't get enough of it, I feel misunderstand each other. 

In trying to understand the moments in a series that count as really great fanservice, you need to understand that just because the scene seems sexual (or alternatively, because it doesn't show off anything sexual) that does not mean it can't be counted as fanservice.

I'm more or less speaking in defense of the definition of fanservice, though to say I should write off any anime or manga that frequently centers its plot around sexual themes isn't what I'm getting at. If people who dislike fanservice claim it gets in the way of an otherwise great plot, try to understand the context and audience the creators are trying to aim for. High School of the Dead brought out a side of my friends that don't watch anime regularly that I've never seen before (and I mean that in a bad way), though to say "nobody should watch this filth because it doesn't focus enough on a three-act plot arc and fails to improve the reputation of the anime industry" isn't fair to the directors and producers who wanted to make a silly, over-the-top series (though the discussion on the state of the anime industry is for another time). I've always been under the impression that the staff here at Japanator -- and to an extent, all of our awesome readers -- never outright loathe the audience of anime or manga that focuses on "fanservice," or whatever the general consensus is for the definition of the word (yes, that even includes Rosario + Vampire).

Sometimes, we just have to take whatever portion of a series we watch and don't like, whether it be a lackluster beginning, too much focus on old gags, not enough focus on plot, or, of course, too much fanservice, and try to come away from it all thinking about the big picture, aside from just the terrible parts.

Personally, breaking anime down like this has actually gotten me to change my thoughts on a series for the better and worse, like Kore wa Zombie desu ka? (good), Maria+Holic Alive (bad), Arakawa Under the Bridge (good), and Bakemonogatari (good... I'm pretty indecisive with Shinbo anime). There were real people who took long, borderline illegal working hours to animate and create these shows, and to disservice their decisions without some sort of understanding isn't fair. I guess what I'm saying is that a good golden rule is to think about why the things you dislike about an anime are in there in the first place before you discern your opinion on it. Understand that what you're watching was meant to be smut (High School of the Dead), or if there are sinister, underlying tones to the "fanservice" (Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko), and apply those to your overall impressions when talking about your thoughts on the show. An opinion should be educated regularly, and not just a one-word summary.


Fan service sells. This is pretty much the only response you'll get when people ask why there's a girl on screen with zero gravity breasts. Yes, it certainly does sell, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it exists solely to shift a few extra DVDs. The first thing to remember is that the Japanese folk do not view it the same way we do. They've grown up with anime like Golden Boy, which showcases a pervy guy and his adventures with loosely dressed, seductive women. In this instance, the fan service here most certainly does not hinder the show, rather it makes it. It's us folk in the West that are the ones complaining about media that is created specifically for an audience that isn't us.

Now of course, there are shows that blatantly throw in a bit of fan service to help a series along. I never got along with Strike Witches, not because it necessarily was fan service, but because it felt, to me, like it was only fan service. That's my opinion, and I'm certainly not going to stop you if you enjoy the story and what seemed like pretty solid art. I didn't like Rosario+Vampire for the same reasons, but again, opinions.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that regardless of fan service, it is your choice whether or not you want to let it bother you. Personally, I loved Golden Boy. I thought it was hilarious, and I thought that the fan service in that show really added to the tones it was already emitting. I also really enjoyed the toothbrush scenes in Nisemonogatari, and while you could certainly argue that something like Strike Witches is less offensive than that was, I found it extremely funny and completely in line with the rest of the series. Fan service can be a great thing, and just because it's there doesn't mean that the show will automatically be bad. Check it out, form an opinion, move on with your life. Dropping a show won't harm you, and you just might find yourself a gem.


That's it for part one! Keep your pants on for part two, coming soon with more opinions and discourse regarding our opinions on fanservice. In the meanwhile, your homework is to decide what you define "fanservice" as.

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Kristina Pino
Kristina PinoContributor   gamer profile

Kristina is a freelance photographer and writer from Miami now moved to Japan. She's a hardcore nerd culture enthusiast, Disney fan, sunflower admirer, and book slinger. Tweet her @geekerydo. F... more + disclosures


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