Equal Opportunity Fan Service is Not So Equal
One of the reasons anime is one of the more female friendly corners of nerdom is because the sexualization of characters seems like a two-way street. Moe and BL are not two sides of the same coin but many fans perceive them to be, with otaku emerging as a presumed male label and fujoshi its perceived female equivalent. The result is a binary idea that anime offers two demographics the sexualized characters of their choosing and therefore welcoming more diverse fans than say, American superhero comics that notoriously mainly cater to one demographic.
However, within the medium of anime, female characters are much more likely to be sexualized than male characters. To illustrate this I want to take a look at the first cour of Uta no Prince-sama and The iDOLM@STER, two shows that are intended to provide 2D harems for the viewer. Both shows are from the same studio, came out at the same time, and are both based on games about idols. More specifically, I want to compare the beach episodes from these shows. The girl characters of The iDOLM@STER are more sexualized than the boys of Uta no Prince-sama despite the shows being developed under such similar circumstances.
During Uta no Prince-sama’s beach episode we only actually see part of the male cast close up and shirtless. There’s a 6 second long pan of one of the boys in the shower and that’s as hardcore as the show gets. On the other hand during The iDOLM@STER’s beach episode we get a montage of all the girls in swimsuits and then another swimsuit montage during the credits.
The Uta no Prince-sama shower scene during the beach episode is really the only memorable man service in the show, while The iDOLM@STER has memorable fan service shots of cleavage in multiple episodes.
The iDOLM@STER harnesses visual techniques to make jokes about the different chest sizes of its characters and thus emphasize the importance of the character’s bodies in a sexual context. The camera and frame composition in The iDOLM@STER highlight the bodies of its characters much more liberally than Uta no Prince-sama does with its characters.
The iDOLM@STER frequently covers or cuts out the heads of its characters so that their chest or butt can more effectively draw the viewer’s eye as shown in the above right shot. In the above left shot, Uta no Prince-sama places emphasis on the body of the comic relief school principle and actually actively uses him to draw the viewer’s attention away from the other characters.
Ultimately, the sheer quantity of man service in anime is not equivalent to that of sexualized female characters. Even when there seems to be an abundance of fujoshi aimed anime balancing the scales, sexualized female characters are still normalized to the point that many go completely undetected by an average audience member and quietly tip things in favor of a straight male demographic.
Another comparative case is Pillow Boys and Anime de Training Ex! which are anime short series that came out around the same time last year. Despite Pillow Boys literally being about pillow talk, it sexualizes its male characters way less than the work out video guide Anime de Training Ex!, which heavily sexualizes its female characters for no other reason than fan service.
There’s also the issue of that most man service isn’t actual as sexual as fan service of female characters usually is. Bare pecs or leaning into whisper into someone’s ear against a background of sparkles and roses doesn’t carry the same amount of sexual momentum as something like a bullet between breasts.
If you aren’t familiar with this infamous piece of fan service history, well, here you go.
So the types of shows considered to be man service heavy or fujoshi aimed usually aren’t as sexual as your average male-aimed anime. This is not because of false stereotype that men require visual sexual stimulation while women don’t. If that really were the case, then Free! wouldn’t have been such a smash hit among female viewers. While sexualizing female characters has become normalized over time, the sexualization of Free!’s male cast was seen as so ab-normal (get it?) that it sparked outrage among male fans of Kyoto Animation.
Even in cases where male characters are sexualized to a similar extent that we’re used to seeing done to female characters, the image of a sexualized man is not a direct equivalent to the image of a sexualized woman, because they carry different connotation.
From the ending theme of Food Wars!
Sexualized images of women help to reinforces the harmful stereotype that the female body is a sexual object while sexualized images of men fail to reinforce anything harmful about the male body. Attempts to sexualize men are more commonly interrupted as funny rather than sexy because in a patriarchal society it’s unusual to see a man seriously presented as a sexual object.
That being said, I do prefer seeing the equal opportunity approach taken by shows like Food Wars! rather than the norm of only sexualizing female characters. It does show an attempt on the creators’ behalf to establish that the anime isn’t exclusively meant for straight men to consume, and that the fan service isn’t a tool used to enforce a specific intended audience demographic.
[This post was originally posted: Sep, 10th 2016 on the Otaple 1/2 Tumblr]