Fan Service

By Shamus
on Apr 14, 2006
Filed under:
Anime

fledgling otaku posed a question in the comments of this post. He was asking about “fan service” vs. “geek service”. I started to write a response, went off topic, and then realized that the comment thread is already miles long. So I’m just going to move the discussion to a new post. This hits on something I’ve had in my list of stuff to write about for a while now anyway, and this gives me a good excuse to set it all down.

Personally, I don’t mind fan service as long as it is part of a good story and interesting characters. I watch anime with my wife, and she doesn’t mind it either – if the story is good. Fan service for its own sake isn’t something either of us cares to watch, but I think that’s true of most fans.

Newcomers are sometimes shocked at fan service. (I was) It’s certainly unexpected to American viewers who grew up with the idea that cartoons are for kids. But after seeing quite a bit of anime I’m noticing that the Japanese have very different ideas on what should and should not be shown, and in some ways are more reserved than Americans. For example, despite the more lax standards the Japanese have towards nudity or revealing clothing, I can’t think of a single series where the characters actually had sex. I don’t think it has ever happened in any show I’ve watched, not even off-camera. Nobody talks about, or admits to, having sex. Compare this to many American shows where we don’t see the characters naked, but most of the sub-plots involve complex stories of who’s having sex with whom. Even American dramas aimed at young adults and teens (90210 or Dawson’s Creek type stuff) have webs of changing partners and continuous infidelity. I find this to be endlessly tiresome, so for me Anime is pretty refreshing and a lot less objectionable.

Another amusing thing about this is the way the Japanese handle the for-television shows where nudity is required by the story. Instead of using scenery to obscure the forbidden parts they sometimes simply leave them off. I’m thinking now to Ai Yori Aoshi, where the characters are built like Barbie and Ken when we see them “naked”. It’s an interesting way to handle things. Of course, it’s only possible using animation. You couldn’t get away with that in a live-action show. (ewwww)

We’re going to be watching Najica Blitz Tactics in a week or so. It looks enough like the excellent Noir to capture our interest, but the series is also notorious for its copious supply of panty shots. We’ll see how the balance plays out.

For my own site, I try to keep things more or less family friendly. My kids are sometimes in the room when I’m writing, so I don’t post stuff I wouldn’t want them to see. So, no Ecchi. Mireille and Kirika in short skits is fine, but I’m not going to be posting Mahoro deploying her brassiere launcher. I don’t think I want to try to explain that one to the kids. Or anyone else.

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From the Archives:

  1. Just to make sure you’re prepared, Najica Blitz Tactics doesn’t measure up to Noir in any regard whatever, except perhaps one: I would actually say that the art and animation in Najica Blitz Tactics is better, in part because it’s end-to-end digital production. (I think Noir used painted cels.)

    But it’s a better series than it at first seems, especially once you get over the shock of all the panty shots. And it does have a pretty good story to tell. It’s certainly not as deep as the story told by Noir, and it’s definitely nothing like as dark. But the characters are engaging and there’s a certain camp element to it (it’s almost a sendup of the Bond movies) which adds to the charm.

    And there are all the panties, too.

  2. MOM says:

    What is fan service?
    Dumb Mom

  3. Shamus says:

    Fan Service is a really broad term used when talking about anime, it has tons of meanings, but the most common is to describe aspects of the show when the characters (usually female) are wearing skimmpy attire or none at all. It can range from very mild (the characters put on their swimsuits for a day at the beach) to quite risque’ (as in: nekkid ladies all over the place). The idea is that the animators threw in some (sometimes gratuitous) visuals for the fans.

  4. Shamus says:

    A further example: If Baywatch was an anime, it would probably be classified as a “fan service vehicle”. Also: David Hasslehoff would be replaced with an easily-embarrased 18 year old boy, and at least one of the female lifeguards would be a robot / alien / cat woman.

    And the show would still suck.

  5. “Fan Service” is the mild end of a continuum. The center setting is usually referred to as “Ecchi” and the other end is “Hentai”.

    The word “Hentai” means “pervert” or “perverted” and in the context of entertainment more or less means full blown porn.

    “Ecchi” is how the Japanese pronounce the Roman letter “H”, which is the first letter in the romaji version of the Japanese word “Hentai”. “Ecchi” in this context is sort of mild perversion, and in anime it refers to full nudity. (Subject to legal limits; in Japan it’s illegal to show genitalia both in photographs and in drawings in most contexts. So they either avoid it or blur it or pixellate it.)

    “Fan Service” means jiggle and bounce, T&A, suggestive but not explicit. 90% of the fan service out there is of women for male audience members, but there is some that goes the other way.

    There’s a genre called yaoi intended for girls and women which basically is romance stories about gay men. They can vary in degree of explicitness all the way up to being full hentai, but in general tend to be more mild.

  6. Evil Otto says:

    “And the show would still suck.”

    Yes, but it would suck LESS.

  7. MOM says:

    Thank you Steven and Shamus for the explanation. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it. Since the whole post stemmed from a question of the difference between “geek service” and “fan service”, I conclude that difference is also a continuum. And since the shamus’ response to the question and all resposes have been solely about “fan service” it is painfully clear what end of the continuum everone enjoys talking about.:) Dan thinks I am unfair but ” me thinks he doth protest too much”
    Mom

  8. “Geek service” means sexy machines and technogeek oohs and aahs. The Fledgling Otaku’s example of that was the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Coming to you from seven years in the future, Noir is an excellent example of both fan- and geek-service. Specifically, firearms geeks. Nearly every weapon in the show is identifiable, properly fitted, generally properly handled (nobody ever works a loading slide just to make a dramatic point — it happens when someone reloads), and sounds right. Unlike many shows where ever gun roars and echos from distant hills unless it’s “silenced” and sounds like a bubble escaping a toothpaste tube, little firearms snap, medium ones pop, big ones bang, etc, and even the mechanic of operating them sound like the weapons they’re representing on screen

  9. HC says:

    The Japanese certainly have their own ideas of what is inappropriate for television, and your choice of sexual relationships as an illustration is an interesting one, which hadn’t occurred to me before. If nothing else, frustration makes for better drama than satisfaction. Still, I think it’s more of a genre distinction than a cultural distinction that holds generally.

    Setting aside outright H material, the grittier series of high quality do deal with that kind of topic (Narutaru; Now & Then, Here & There; Perfect Blue) and deal with it well. The grittier series of lesser quality (Speed Grapher; GITS:SAC, Hyakusetsu Monogatari) deal with it also, and sometimes well. The lighter comedies I’ve seen that include sexual relationships tend to be at least slightly ecchi, but it isn’t the case that sexual relationships in anime series only occur in horror stories or dystopias – take Paradise Kiss, for example.

    It might be that there isn’t the market in Japan for the sort of Dawson’s Creek style plotlines you suggest – but my (more limited) acquaintance with their live action drama shows suggest that there’s plenty of that style of programming on every night… just not in animated form. I have no idea why analogous anime programs are as rare as they are.

  10. of course, what would be best is a combination of geek service with fan service…

    In terms of taste, I tend to favor geek service more than fan service. This may be because I’m completely a domesticated male by my women. That said, I certainly appreciate fan service when I see it :)

  11. Wonderduck says:

    After thinking about it for a minute or so, I can only think of one show that has the main characters engaging in sex… His And Her’s Circumstances (KareKano). In the RightStuf US release, the scene is blacked out, but I’ve seen screencaps of the original scene… pretty tame (and still-shot, for that matter).

    I gather that the show called REC (currently running in Japan) has such a scene in the first episode, but I’ve not seen the series, so I dunno.

  12. Masentaa says:

    I don’t think I’m too late with my comments, am I? I just found this blog today after finishing with the DMotR…

    But I’d say you’re partially wrong. There isn’t as much sex in the anime as there is in western dramas, but there still is.

    Many of the more humoristic series revolve around the main character trying to get the (or a) girl, often to bed. Also even I, who haven’t been too active with anime for years, can on the spot mention some titles (series and movie) that has either on-, or off-screen sex: Evangelion; Perfect Blue; Now and then, here and there; Fushigi Yuugi and not to mention the notorius Oruchuban Ebichu.

  13. Sect says:

    EvilOtto and Shamus, shame on you! Baywatch was an excellent show! Where else could you see the Hoff running across a beach, tight buns in a florescent red speedo, and iron-like chest hairs deflecting ninja stars?

    Oh, and Pamela was all right, I guess.

  14. Jason says:

    Well Gundam Seed has the leading male engage in sex at one point, offscreen of course but its outright stated in the Japanease version (and HEAVILY implied in the english version “I was in bed with Kira all last night”). I guess they couldn’t get explicit statment of sex though the censors for a “children’s” cartoon.

    The reason that you don’t see whos sleeping with who type shows in Anime is that Anime in Japan, much like it is in the US, is targeted towards kids, teens, and geeks. Its just that their older geek market is somewhat larger and is (somewhat) more soicaly accepted.

  15. NobleBear says:

    I loved your “Baywatch” illustration, Shamus. :)

    It’s interesting that you should mention Noir in the context of fanservice as the director in the liner notes of the DVD goes out of his way to explicitly state that he was avoiding FS altogether and was careful not to indulge the fantasy stereotypes that Meriel and Kirika easily fall into.

    As for Najica, my wife and I enjoyed alot, but we both agreed that the panty shots, while not entirely unwelcome on my part, were so excessive* as to cross over into self parody, detracting from an interesting story and characters.

    *(I still find myself referring to the lower potion of a womans undergarments as “najica” involuntarily from time to time. :) )

  16. Chris says:

    I believe that the main character of Gundam Seed actually had sex in the series, but I’m not sure.

  17. Helge says:

    Fan service is, in my opinion, a vehicle designed to entice people into the audience who would ordinarily not give the show a second glance. How else explain 30+ year old men who watch Azumanga Daioh or Princess Tutu?

    For an example from Western entertainment, it’s kind of like watching Shrek (a cartoon whose plot and characters, complete with potty jokes, are meant for 5-9 year olds) where occasional double-entendres keep the interest of adult viewers.

    That’s not to say that an adult should not like these shows – there’s such a thing as being too adult. But I think it’s a mistake to attempt to assign something like fan service a special category when it hasn’t earned one. “Yamada san, our audience numbers are dropping for School girls playing tennis. Not enough panty shots!” “No problem. We’ll have them go to the beach in skimpy bikinis. That’ll pull the salarymen back in.” It’s simply marketing.

    That said I think it’s also important to keep a distinction between adult entertainment and fan service. From what I’ve seen, when a Japanese show (anime or otherwise) is *meant* to be adult oriented, it certainly does not mess around – no more than Western entertainment does. If there is a difference, then it’s that Japanese culture seems to accept the overt presence of adult oriented entertainment, as opposed to USAn culture. They do have their “protect the children” moments, but, perhaps because of their still extremely indulgent male chauvinism, those moments don’t carry them very far.

  18. ParcaKnight says:

    “How else to explain 30+ year old men who watch Azumanga Daioh…?”

    Because it brings the funny, big time. Maybe there was a shift in the transition to anime, but the manga is about the last title I’d pick for an example of fan service. Despite the author being male, and the magazine it was originally published in being aimed at young men, and the main characters being high-school girls, it numbers among the least fan service-y titles I’ve come across.

    Osaka giving Yukari a wake-up call, for the win.

  19. MikeSSJ says:

    It has most likely been mentioned already, but as for a series that features characters having sex:

    Neon Genesis Evangelion.

    Hell, that show has the main characters WATCHING as other people have sex. It’s part of some psychological dream-land search for his true desires, or something like that. It’s been a while since I watched it.

  20. Sydney says:

    Saikano uses sex in a few ways. In the early plot, it’s mentioned in a giggly-schoolgirl-gossip sort of way; later it gets more mature; near the endgame it becomes quite (psychologically and emotionally; not visually) disturbing without showing anything onscreen at all (except, I think, a forest…or maybe it was a pagoda…definitely not a gazebo).

  21. CommaSplice says:

    I think that Steven did a fantastic job of explaining fan service, hentai and all that, but I kinda feel that if yaoi deserves, a mention, yuri (its female equivalent) does, too. That being said, I think the differences in the ways that sexual situations are characterized in our two cultures are kind of astonishing. Many times, characters that at least appear to be far underage are sexualized and depicted in situations that we’d never dare to show in American media. Such examples include Strike Witches, Dance in the Vampire Bund and the controversial Kodomo no Jikan. My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that they have a much lower age of consent in Japan.

    Like others have said, there are anime (and more often, manga) that do depict or at least allude to sex (Gantz would be a good example. It’s also exceedingly violent, even by typical manga standards), but I would agree with the point that actually including sex in the story instead of the usual ecchi fan service is somewhat rare.

    Since Evangelion (a personal favorite of mine) has been mentioned a few times, I figure I should probably address that, too. While there are certainly quite a few fan service scenes (usually advertised by members of the main cast in the preview for the next episode), I feel like some of the other posters (particularly MikeSSJ) have kind of misrepresented the sexual content in the series. For one thing, there’s really only one time in the anime where anyone has sex and the majority of the episode is dialogue between the two characters; in bed, after the fact and, most of the time, off-screen.

    I think the scene that Mike is referring to is from one of the later episodes (that mostly focus on dissecting the psyches of the main cast) where, during the dialogue, there is a flashback to the previously mentioned “sex scene.” It’s not like one of the characters was, y’know, peeping through the window while the other two were doing their thing. There are also, maybe, two scenes (in two separate movies) where you can see a nipple or two, but the scenes aren’t shot in the same, “Boobies, boobies, look over here, there’s boobies!” way as in most other shows (Read: Queen’s Blade). There’s also one other scene where one character is assumed to be masturbating, but again, it’s presented in such a manner that it’s clear the scene isn’t supposed to be titillating so much as it is meant to be a representation of the character’s state of mind at the time.

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