Gratuitous Titillation: Issues with “Fanservice” (Part 1)

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Fanservice is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days in the anime and manga industry, and many are quick to either defend or castigate it when depicted in one specific form: Gratuitous titillation. Usually synonymous with “beach episodes” in slice of life shows, as well as any other needless portrayal of primarily female bodies, gratuitous titillation is often a target of disgust for a handful of reasons. While I can see merit in some of these views, I mostly believe that fanservice and gratuitous titillation are okay, in a loose sense. One reason for that is because fanservice is a very broad term, one that often gets misconstrued as just “giving the fans what they want”. Another reason would be that something being unnecessary does not have to equate to being undeserving to exist. And then there’s the whole “objectification” debate that tends to come hand in hand with gratuitous titillation. Before I jump into all this however, I’d like to bring to attention that most of what you are about to read will focus on gratuitous titillation alone rather than fanservice as a whole, because like I said earlier, “fanservice is a very broad term”. Also, I realize there are other terms I can substitute for “gratuitous titillation”, such as: “needless arousal” or “superfluous stimulation”. I just think “gratuitous titillation” is a fun phrase, and I’m going to keep saying it.

So, first I’d like to talk about deeming things unnecessary in relationship to a plot. Often we like to find purpose in every little thing within a story, every tiny detail within a frame, and when we can’t find that purpose we often overlook it…unless of course that detail is something that upsets you. A splotch in a painting or a scratch on a screen, we all have little things that annoy us, things that can eventually evolve into an obsession. In this case, that thing (for some) is gratuitous titillation. The difference is, it’s a bit more than just a small detail. Gratuitous titillation is in your face; it practically says “hey look at me!” It is a creator showing their characters the way they want them to be shown, and that freedom is just not acceptable to certain people.

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Assuming that fan service is a “service to the fans” (which I don’t necessarily believe it is, but I’ll get to that later), moments of gratuitous titillation are meant to service someone, and that someone might not always be you. Personal qualms tend to hold people back from just moving on with their lives, unable to let go of something that made them uncomfortable for arbitrary reasons. For some, especially here in the States, sexuality is a big no-no; Something to be abhorred and censored at all cost because it, for some reason, is in direct conflict with the ideal of basic human decency. But, I feel I’m getting away from my main point here (unnecessary does not equal undeserving), and arguments with the type of people that hold these kinds of beliefs, in my experience, are equivalent to having a conversation with a bobble head that’s perpetually shaking its head from side to side.

Moments that service the viewer over the plot are what they are, and if you’re someone who prefers a concise story as to something that can get off track and enjoy itself, well by all means scoff at it and drop the show to look for something else. There’s the journey and there’s the destination, but there’s also that time the characters just went to a beach and hung out. While we all have our own preference in what we want out of a story, I think there’s something to be enjoyed in each of these aspects and can respect others that may want one thing over another. Though some might feel like this is resulting in catering to the tyranny of the majority, there is still a wide variety of audiences branching from a wide variety of storytelling to choose from, so perhaps it would be wiser to put in the very minimal effort it would take to find something you like rather than chastise a broad appeal that doesn’t suit you.

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And it’s not like gratuitous titillation and plot devices can’t be one in the same. The best example of this that I could find would be the bathing scene in Tsukimonogatari. I absolutely love this scene, because by almost all means it’s superfluous. Leading up to this scene, Karen is going out for a run and wants Koyomi to prepare a bath for her when she returns. Koyomi runs the hot water and decides to take a bath of his own before Karen returns, but it turns out Tsukihi had the same plan in mind. They can’t both take separate baths in the time it would take Karen to finish her run, so they decide the best course of action is to bath together. And so, the next 10 minutes or so are completely dedicated to a soapy, wet skin show with fantastic dialogue and playful visuals that ultimately leads nowhere. Eventually Koyomi sees that he no longer has a reflection in the bathroom mirror, and so it turns out that whole scene of gratuitous titillation was actually a hilariously drawn out plot device for Koyomi to come to that realization.

There is still plenty for me to elaborate on when it comes to my thoughts on gratuitous titillation, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to save it for another time. I’ll be honest, the cutting of this post comes from a combination of me being really short on time right now, me realizing I could get more mileage out of this topic if I split it apart, and me just plain being lazy. Mostly the lazy part, but I do indeed have a lot of work that needs to be finished this weekend. Nevertheless, what do you think of my argument so far? Feel free to leave your own opinions about fanservice in the comments below, and I’ll try not to judge you too harshly if they’re in contrast with my own. Thanks for reading, I hope you’ll come back for more enthralling discussions on gratuitous titillation.

[Times “gratuitous titillation” was used in this post: 13]

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