Let me start by saying I’m not an Otaku. If anything I have been falling out of love with Anime since 2010. In fact save for some re-watching (Gundam Wing, FMA: Brotherhood, Gantz) and some shows so steeped in popularity and cultural buzz that they can more accurately be described as memes other than Anime(Attack On Titan, Kill la Kill.) I don’t really watch anime at all.
But as a writer I am constantly doing 2 things; 1. Seeking inspiration in established art both as a catalyst for ideas and a rubric on effective story telling and 2. Constructing convincing reasons as to why I am slacking off and not actually writing. So with these two practices working in elegant tandem I decided to check out a revered and esteemed anime that had skirted past me whilst in my anime watching prime; Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Big robots; check Teens tasked with saving the world;check. Reckless rouge protagonist, absent, but replaced with the equally as pedantic archetype of whiny, inept, shit-ball greenhorn with untapped potential. So check.
Initially I was going to write about how I find the show to be a bore but, with full transparency I’m not even halfway through the series and I’m full of mass indifference toward Evangelion. I like the biblical imagery of cyborgs killing angels but I’m so un-captivated by everything happening on screen to trash it seemed, like most internet trashing, a masturbatory effort that serves a secondary function of a personal attack on individuals who like the subject and less so the subject itself. So I scrapped the idea in light of writing an essay on a more interesting one; Fanservice.
At the end of one of the episodes of Evangelion, when the characters address the viewer directly to inform, entice, and give a heaping dose of foreshadowing about the upcoming episode, Asuka promised the millions of viewers; more “Fanservice.” I mulled over this term in my head, I’m pretty good with context clues but with the screen flashing sexually charged images while mentioning this ‘Fanservice’ even the dullest of dullards could infer Fanservice has something to do with T & A (Or D & B, whatever you’re into, no biggie.)
But my master level inference skills aside, I felt a faint familiarity with the term. Like a song you hear in an elevator and know the words to but cant name. Fanservice seemed close to me, seemed like knowledge attained and stored in some remote region of the mind, like the identities of Watson and Crick or what number Magmar is in the pokedex.
After some enlightening and amusing research I’ve found the best definition of Fanservice is any scene, image or story device that includes excess amounts of sex or violence that does not serve as a necessary device to tell the story. It’s the practice of using gaudy, simple, predictable elements in order to appease fans. Like politicians who panders to voters, telling you exactly what you want to hear, when you want to hear it to gain your favor.
In short its cheap, vestigial, lazy and super fucking effective.
Cheap because it appeals to this primal urge we have as both humans and fans to become more informed of the worlds and lives these characters inhabit. To wring the most out of our finite view of these places and stories we love.
Vestigial because as centuries of literature, music, film have showed us, we can get what we want as far as thrills and immersion from our art without compromising necessity or integrity. The fire and explosion and French kissing and shell casing hailstorms and upskirts shots and decapitations can come in organic, pure ways, not these tongue and cheek vignettes that speed bump forward progress.
While I’m sure animating the convoluted choreography of a mech battle or feverishly sketching and erasing the left and right tit in an attempt to get them both to be equally as inhumanly large and buoyant as the the other isn’t an easy task for an animator. Inserting such scenes in is relatively lazy for writers. Instead of real, captivating dialogue, they sedate us with gratuitous Fanservice.
Super effective because even me, as someone with full knowledge of the negatives of fanservice, someone whose read Kundera and Hurston and understands deep aspects about life and art, I’m still swayed to childlike states of mental duress after a saucy scene in an Anime. (Honestly there is something about the jiggle of a boob or a well placed soda can infront of nude character that can really fry my fucking brain. Sending me into a catatonic, drooling, lustful fool.)
And I think that’s what this piece is about. How I believe all humans, in-discriminant of age, gender or race have boundless capabilities of knowledge and understanding. We have all been through things, we all carry weight and baggage and, all of our pasts have triumphs and sorrows sprinkled on top of personalities like crushed oreos on a sundae. But in spite of our emotional maturity we still fall prey to the most simple of ploys.
And Fanservice is a simple ploy.
When I was a kid, I loved Mai Shiranui of the King of Fighters franchise. The Scfi (or what ever silly way they are spelling it these days.) used to have a block of programming called ‘Saturday Anime’ it showcased so pretty classic dubbed anime, (Galaxy Express 999, Ghost in the Shell, Akira) but peppered in between these monoliths they’d also broadcast some pretty obscure films as well, and one of these obscure cornball anime’s was Fatal Fury, and that’s when I was first introduced to Mai Shiranui, a female ninjitsu practitioner with a valley girl voice, the acrobatic ability of a Cirque du Soleil performer on the speed, a truly beautiful adoration to her boyfriend, two dimensional Andy Bogard, and of course and maybe most importantly (Cut me some slack I was 10.) her amazingly unrealistic yet startlingly satisfying boobs. (That are sure to give her back problems in her older years.)
If breasts were money, Mai would be in the 1%. If there was a Fanservice Mt. Rushmore displaying the heads of Fanservice pioneers Mai Shiranui would been chiseled there amongst the greats.If boobs where hit songs, Mai would be the Beatles. If boobs were a human obsession that eclipse global events, social mores, and personal well being. Then Mai would be a Kardashian. And in Geek Culture she totally is.
Now my obsession has a preteen with Mai Shiranui led me to some pretty dark, adult places; i.e hentai and forum fan fiction. And while I’m a pretty sex positive person, I do believe it to be a little weird that a 11 year old can so readily invade such perverse circles via the internet. And whats more bizarre is the fact that these images are drawn by adults. Animated erotica has existed long before hentai in multiple facets, and I’m not saying adults are perverted or wrong for enjoying hentai in a healthy manor. But you cant deny the fact cartoons are mostly revered as a means of adolescent and childhood entertainment. And the fact that you can see these cartoons in complex adult situation (Rape, incest, polygamy.) is a tad eerie. And if you disagree ask yourself, next time you’re watching something mature unfold in an anime; Would this be weird if the Muppets were doing it?
And if the answer is ‘yes’, if the image of a Ms. Piggy upskirt shot seems remedial, childish and strange. Then you can at least see how cartoon up skirts can seem perverse and scandalous.
Most recently, in the well documented agreements of MGSV and Quite’s outfit choice, we see an expensive case of Fanservice. To mo-cap a Dutch model, digitally animate every inch of her body, and have her parade through a game in a leather thong for 50 hours without uttering a word is not only a gross case of Fanservice but its sorta misogynistic. (Sorry guys, it is.) Not to mention how Paz, the woman with the most lines in MGSV is both completely optional to interact with and is wearing a bikini hospital gown.
They don’t fucking make bikini hospital gowns. Just get her a full gown. Or some actual fucking clothes. If you can clothe a horse and a dog you can get this trauma victim some fucking clothes. Not hard, Diamond Dogs.
Some of my initial aversion to Fanservice comes from seeing the people it works on. Seeing the people who live for anime interactions. I mentioned that I’m not a Oktaku, but I am a die hard nerd, the old kind who suffered social excommunication and isolation and ridicule for my love of nerdy shit. Not these new nerds who have seen the Avengers 5 times and now believe they are nerd cultural attaches. And as a nerd I’m critical of my people, I’m critical of how we handle race and sex and quality and gender. And sometimes, nerds, like every other counter culture and mainstream culture, neglect to revere women as whole humans, whose hair and breasts come secondary to soul and personality.
People love characters in anime, they are great surrogates for real people. They are great escapes from our bosses, siblings, classmates, friends, parents you name it. And the worlds these anime’s present can truly serve as means of therapeutic escape, like I said, as a human existing in 2015 we are constantly competing with a world that has sharpened claws and fangs and is hostile and unfair and lonely and dark. And anything that help slices that dark, I’m all for.
But we as fans have to be a little more discerning I feel. Look at the word ‘Fanservice’, an act to cater to fans,to serve us. And more than half the time these grand tribute the animators give us are images that serve to objectify female characters or blow shit up. Why can’t we fans be serviced by better soundtracks, more non-filler episodes, characters of color, character depth, higher stakes in story etc. The whole Fanservice moniker strikes me as shallow as a show called American Idol, just being a shitty singing completion. As if A. The idol of our nation is such douche crystal who has the best cover of a Phil Colin’s song and B. As if votes and democracy can determine artist talent.
Have I watched Hentai? Yes. And I’m sure I’ll be compelled to do so again in the future. (Sometimes that shit is hot, I don’t know, its like a guilty pleasure like Katy Perry songs.) But I do vow to watch it with a more discerning set of eyes. That these are manufactured images designed to appeal to what is most attractive to me. And what is it about a well endowed girl with a short skirt squealing while she runs through the halls of a high school with a goblin chasing her appeals to me?
(Not ‘me’ literally, but the global ‘me’.)
Why don’t I want to know that girls birthday or favorite color or hear her sing? Why is is a device for fapping and nothing else?