Issues with “Fanservice” (Part 3)

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Some people tend to get so caught up in how a character looks (portrayed through design and cinematography) that they overlook what’s truly important: their personality and actions. A lot of assumptions can be made of a creator based off of, well, what they create. While some things may very clearly feel like they were meant for some sort of purpose (like gratuitous titillation), these assumptions cannot become anything more than that without an overt, conscious admittance from the people who made it themselves. Not to mention that it would need to be taken to the Nth degree for a creator to actually confess to propagating some sort of negative world view through their work, thereby justifying any belief that there was wrongdoing involved in the making of any particular piece of art.

(Brief side note: I’ve decided to remove “gratuitous titillation” from the title of this because I feel I’ve gotten a bit far from that particular discussion. That being said, I still believe most of this and my previous post last week can easily be applied to the topic of “gratuitous titillation”.)

But back to personality and the actions of a character, IF assumptions were to be made of a creator through their creations, I think they’d be better formulated when based off the interactions of the character rather than how they look. In I’ve Always Liked You, a subpar anime film that I reviewed a while back, there is a character who confesses his love for another character and asserts what he wants from her as his girlfriend. In the moment, he says that he wants her to make him lunch every day. The film gives absolutely no context as to why he would want this from her, and so it’s ripe for assumption that he’s just thinking of typical gender roles when he decides to fall for this girl. THIS says a whole hell of a lot more about a creator than any sort of character model, any girl in a compromising position during a trip to the hot springs. Something “sexy” or “provocative” might show you what a creator believes is attractive, but the nonchalant interactions of characters within a narrative tells you what the creator believes to be socially acceptable. That is, if we’re assuming.

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Then there’s this idea that real issues in society should be addressed in art, and that not addressing them is a waste of time. While there is a value in creating characters that defy convention and directly confront social norms, that doesn’t inherently devalue the things in life that don’t. Art does not need to touch upon social issues to have worth. There are plenty of important themes to be had in storytelling that can relate and greatly impact our own personal lives, be it a coming of age story where watching someone else find their place in life helps us come to terms with our own, or perhaps a story about becoming an artist and dealing with the wave of doubt that comes with being stacked up against those of immeasurable talent. Then there’s good old revenge tales about destroying yourself or learning to let things go, and so on.

Personally, I believe the best way to get a message across is to act like you’re not even sending one. Now, let’s use gay equality as an example. I could write a story about certain characters fighting for gay rights, but that doesn’t really stress the issue to any opposition that gay equality is a good thing. It merely shows that gay equality is a thing worth fighting for. On the other hand, if I were to write a story in a fictional world where gay rights aren’t an issue and they’re just treated like any other person, that spreads the idea that it’s okay to be a homosexual without a blatant confrontation of the other side. It’s simply showing people what you believe to be right, rather than telling them.

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But some believe that outright addressing the issue is the best course of action (in terms of storytelling), which is fine too. However, I would suggest that the best way to accomplish this may be better done through another medium of storytelling rather than animation. Animation is visual idealism, and if you want to express REAL societal issues it would probably be best to do that through forms that appear more realistic (you know, like regular film). To strive for visual realism is counterintuitive when it comes to animation, and when the main focus of your story is to overtly address a REAL issue, it’s really just a waste of effort. That being said, it’s not like you can’t tell something about society through symbolization and allegories.

And if you still feel like there are pertinent issues you care about not being touched on in anime, I encourage you to look for what you want in other forms of storytelling. Anime doesn’t need to become more diverse, as it is just one of the diverse methods of telling a story. And even so, I think there’s plenty to be enjoyed AND plenty to learn from this particular kind of entertainment. What’s important is that you support those that create what you believe, but don’t chastise those who don’t. You’re not going to make any friends by jumping to the worst conclusion.


Crap, I still haven’t talked about objectification! Well, I’ll save it for another time. Thank you very much for reading and supporting me in my endeavors as I continue to get very off topic from the original discussion of fanservice. I’ll wrap back around to it eventually.

5 thoughts on “Issues with “Fanservice” (Part 3)

  1. Thank you for writing on this topic. I see this is part III so I’m going to go back and catch your other articles. You raise some very good points here.

    I ran across what is more recently called “fan service” in the mid-1980’s when I was living in Japan with my husband (now ex). I had noticed manga portraying women as highly sexualized objects with man rape scenes imbedded in the stories. My husband was also a real lolikon– as in he had a lolita complex which means he fantasized about young girls, virgins, in a sexual way. Our story is detailed in “The Six-Foot Bonsai: A Soul Lost in the Land of the Rising Sun” (Amazon) and I wish all fans would read it to better understand how such materials can play out in real life. Having 21-years in the culture and being exposed in the early years before manga and anime were popular abroad I have a different perspective. Thanks again for writing this series of post and for being very objective in your analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for addressing the topic of fan service. I very much appreciate your objective view and thorough discussion! I was exposed to what is now called “fan service” back in the mid-1908’s when I was living with my Japanese husband on Sado Island. I remember the everyday newsstand manga having drawings of what appeared to be schoolgirls (can’t miss the uniforms right?) being objectified and raped. It bothered me of course, but later I discovered my husband was a lolikon (as we called it then)– a man with a lolita complex; a desire for young, underage girls.

    Needless to say, our family was deeply affected by the cultural normalization of the objectification and sexualization of children and our story is told in “The SIx-Foot Bonsai: A Soul Lost the Land of the Rising Sun” (Amazon). The fan service my husband enjoyed had dire consequences. Unfortunately for many Japanese girls and young women, Japan historically has turned a blind eye to rape, incest and the like– and many are caught up in believing it is all normal. Additionally there are few social services to address molestation.

    “Fan service” is an newer term that I believe was created to stem foreign criticism of the industry; to ensure that any demeaning or questionable scenes were protected as art. Knowing the Japanese as I do, from an insider’s perspective, there is no real appreciation of alternate lifestyles or concern for children, women in this way. It is purely escapism from societal pressures for the people creating and viewing. This is the fan service they are providing without understanding that we in the US and other countries have different reasons for viewing their art and we are more socially conscious.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful posts. Bonsai

    Liked by 1 person

    • First off, thank you for your very interesting and insightful comments. It was very nice to wake up to the thoughtful discussion that you’ve brought across. I simply believe blaming entertainment, or worse, censoring it, is just a mask that solves absolutely no societal issues whatsoever. In this case, it is a reflection of the ideals of Japanese society, but it is also a reflection that only comes through the eye of the beholder.

      Like I said in part 2, the market dictates what’s popular. Now, there is an argument to be made that this is a cyclical issue where popular entertainment influences the next generation and the next generation of creators make the same and so on. It is a noble thing to try and influence society in ways you believe to be “positive” through art, and a concentration of that could offer great change.

      However, to get to that point, discussions need to be had. What really is needed to make change is an overwhelming desire to from the populous, and entertainment will just follow suit. The transformation of social interactions and institutions will offer true change, although that is a very hard thing to do, especially for Japan.

      I think there’s nothing wrong with a lolita complex, so long as one does not act upon these desires in a way that hurts another human being. To prosecute someone before hand would be the criminalization of thought, and as an American, to me, that is something truly horrific.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is true that we don’t need overzealous persecution but open discussions on an open-minded way. I would encourage anime fans to read the book to get a real inside view of what it is like to live with a lolikon– to peek into the defense and mindset. It is worth it I think to read of a real case as it developed. I would value feedback from someone such as yourself. Very much.

        Liked by 1 person

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