The sexualization of female characters, specifically young girl characters, is something anime and manga are famous for and thus it’s something practically expected of the medium. This is highly problematic from an outside perspective but from the inside perspective of fans, this is a normalized practice. And so many fans argue there’s no reason to bat an eye to it.
Yes, I’m talking about fan service.
The reason it’s called fan service is because it’s meant to convey more than just panty shots. Fan service is anything creators put into an anime or manga for no other purpose besides sending a nod to the fans.
The show Cat Planet Cuties has a bunch of background cameos of characters from other anime for its intended audience to recognize.
Episode 4 of Cat Planet Cuties has establishing shots featuring characters from The Familiar of Zero and The Sacred Blacksmith.
This is an example of fan service. It serves the sole purpose of nodding to the audience and saying “Yeah, we know you watched these other shows.” Seems harmless enough?
But the much more famous form of fan service is the needless sexualization of female characters. Sexual fan service has become the default meaning of the phrase due to its abundance and controversy.
Cat Planet Cuties is filled to the brim with sexual fan service as well. (If you need proof just do a quick image search on the title.) And that’s the type of fan service that actually can be harmful, in that it alienates any fans outside of a straight male demographic. A quick panty shot most likely will go totally unnoticed by most male fans (one of the reasons it’s hard to communicate to these fans why there could even be a problem), but for most female fans it’s a different story.
That glimpse of panty means that the anime actually took some of its precious time to remind non-straight non-male fans that this show was not intended for them, and in fact those unwilling to accept a culture of sexualizing young girl characters are not welcome to enjoy whatever else the story might have to offer. This is the exact type of message promoted by gamergaters and other misogynistic men that don’t want women in their fandom.
Because of the prevalence of sexual fan service, anime fandom is narrowly perceived as a branch of nerdom tainted by toxic masculinity, one example being how the site The Mary Sue describes the face of anime fandom as “pro-gamergate, anti-Ghostbusters trolls” thus feeding into common stigma against anime fans (and nerds as whole).
While such fans do exist and make themselves heard in reddit threads and comment sections, it turns out that anime fandom is actually one of the more female friendly sections of nerdom. Women make up at least half of anime convention attendance. In addition to female aimed “man service” advocating for equal opportunity within the medium.
However, despite anime fandom’s diversity in demographics, straight male aimed sexual fan service is unavoidable if you consistency watch anime. Some fans, like blogger Elizabeth O’Neil, argue that “if it isn’t someone’s cup of tea, they don’t have to see it“ but this simply isn’t true. “Man service” shows are fairly well contained, (I haven’t met anyone who felt blindsided by the rippling abs in Free!) but I have many a time experienced unpleasant surprise fan service, like when I recently tuned into an episode of the high school comedy This Art Club has a Problem! only to see the busty club adviser struggle to fit her chest into a one piece swimsuit. The scene felt out of place and lacked the comedic value that got me interested in the show to begin with. But this type of shoe-horned sexualization of female characters is so common that I barely reacted to it and just kept watching the show because it’s not easily avoidable.
One of the times I actually don’t mind fan service is when it’s a well done joke. Not so much in a poor guise of laughter covering the real intentions of your friendly neighborhood school idol molester kind of way.
‘Cause you know, Love Live! really needed two versions of the “isn’t sexual assault adorable” character.
But I don’t mind fan service when its presented in more of a postmodern parody kind of way. One of the reasons I like Baka and Test so much is because it’s constantly making fun of anime tropes. Between tongue in cheek bouncing breasts we get moments like our male protagonist falling head long, not into his love interest’s chest, but rather the crotch of another dude.
But if you aren’t familiar with anime’s cliches you might miss the punch line. Fan service is a needless nod to fans. What might be interrupted as mere moment of fan service in a comedy like Baka and Test, could actually be needed build up to pull off this kind of gag. However, it is a fine line and sometimes a joke can be just plain offensive rather than funny. But I do feel that many critics of fan service overlook the prospects of parody. I only wish that shows like This Art Club has a Problem! could properly harness this grey area of sexual fan service instead of straight up objectifying its characters for no real reason.
How can we fix the issue of over prevalent fan service? The answer is not to boycott shows with fan service. (That’s practically impossible if your a regular connoisseur of anime, on top of the fact that it would realistically have little to no influence on the market.) Instead we should promote and acclaim the shows that don’t rely on fan service while critiquing the shows that do. Fan service is a crutch for weaker works to rely on when they want to retain a safe audience that is assured to tune in. If fans can prove that crutch isn’t necessary by legally consuming the shows we love for their story, characters and art rather than their fan service then we might one day see a trend for the better.
[This post was originally posted: Sep, 14th 2016 on the Otaple 1/2 Tumblr]