the one about fanservice - ryuko

The One About Fanservice…

Let me take a moment to describe a scene for you. A lone warrior, stands against a great evil. Steely eyes meet and lock gazes. Jaws clench, tense fingers coil around hungry blades, eager to speak the tongue of battle. The warrior knows that her power depends on the strength of her armor. Reaching within, she ignites the spark of near-madness that propels her to fight, raises her blade with a cry, and charges towards her foe. Her sneakers ring against the stony ground, each defiant step a launching pad that brings her closer towards her end goal, her end foe. Energy surges through her, activating the very fibers within her clothes. Ebony and scarlet threads fall apart, reweave, strengthen, rejuvenate, empower. The symbol of her power, the Senketsu, reveals itself as a barely-there crop top and miniskirt, sparking with life as she engages her white-clad adversary.

Yeah. That’s Kill la Kill.

Anime has become more and more widespread with the advent of the Internet, especially in the West. At this point, anime is less of a niche and more of a cultural phenomenon, but with that popularity comes an equal amount of infamy. Large-eyes schoolgirls and screaming protagonists are far from the only public face of anime: the specter of hentai and ecchi continuously haunt those who would claim to be otaku. Being a female character in an anime almost seems synonymous to being an exhibitionist, with the amount of fanservice-y anime in the mainstream gaze. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to a lot of people, that’s all that Japanese entertainment tries to market. The body, in all of its glory, seems to be regulated to nothing more than a beautiful tool. Or is it?

the one about fanservice - kill la kill

If ever there was a more anime quote…

It’s really easy to pick on Japan and anime for being “perverted” and thinking only about sex, but that viewpoint assumes several things:

  1. Japan has little to no social norms when it comes to sexuality.
  2. The West has a better cultural outlook on sexuality.
  3. Media that comes from other countries should be “Westernized” before coming here.

Let’s take a look at this first one, shall we? Does Japan have little to no social norms when it comes to sexuality?

When judging the deliciousness of a cookie, do you look at its outside appearance alone? I’d hope not, because the best part of a cookie is that first bite, the one that exposes the soul of the baker. The amount of butter, the consistency of the mixing, the extra bits like chocolate chips; all of these elements work together to create the final product. In the same way, a culture can’t be judged by outside features alone, but what elements went into the culture to shape it. In the case of Japan, a large cultural influence has been the Shinto religion.

Shinto is as integral and deeply ingrained into the social fabric of Japan as Buddhism, and each have a large focus on life and nature. Birth and death, the life cycle, and the elements leading to both are celebrated, and sexuality isn’t seen as sacrilegious or taboo. Couple that with social norms like onsen (public hot baths), and it’s easy to see why Japanese culture sees nudity among people of all ages as normal.  While public displays of sexuality are frowned upon (Japan is very conservative when it comes to outward appearances), within their respective spheres of influence, the exploration of sexuality is seen as normal. Sex isn’t something to be ashamed of, but embraced as part of being human. This openness has led to the proliferation of sexually-charged media, but it does not mean that the entirety of the culture is single-mindedly focused on sex.

the one about fanservice - black rock shooter

The “fanservice” of Black Rock Shooter conveys the openness of emotion of the title character.


In contrast, the West has had trouble defining what sexuality even is, much less the role it should take in society. From a Victorian-inspired “it’s taboo!” mindset to the “anything goes” viewpoint heralded by the 1960s, we here in the West don’t seem to have a defined set of cultural values when it comes to sexuality in our media. On one hand, we push for more progressive values for the minorities, while we judge other nations according to our older standards. The stigma against sex in media has become nearly non-existent, but among the normal, everyday people there is still a hint of the taboo. Conflicting ideas and messages make it hard to discern what to truly believe, and a lot of people find it easy to simply take a hybrid of both old and new values and judge everything situationally by the standards they deem appropriate. Thus, anime carries a weight forged out of a fundamental misunderstanding of the culture it comes out of. The perceived sins of the few taint the many, and the stigma against anime enthusiasts exists until today.

So where does this leave us, the casual consumers of anime? Should we wholeheartedly accept fanservice as a part of the culture it comes from, or should we demand that anime change to suit our standards?

the one about fanservice - sinon

Sinon is a strong, confident character whose clothes support her role and her identity in the MMO Gun Gale Online.

Both. Neither.

On one hand, you can’t fault a piece of media for being a product of its time or culture. Artists are shaped by their experiences, and thus their art is a colored by their environment. Sexuality expressed in anime is only to be expected, just as sexuality explored in our own media. It’s all part of the human experience, and it shouldn’t be ignored or treated as inherently dirty. Stories and storycrafters should feel free to journey through different facets of humanity through the experiences that they craft, for it is through story that we can learn about ourselves while observing another.

Therein lies the rub: where fanservice often serves to exploit for the purpose of humor, it can also serve to express ideas or attitudes about the characters it uses. The use of fanservice in Kill la Kill served not only to convey the character’s emotions and ideas, but also to critique the over-use of fanservice in many modern anime with its over-the-top flair and insane costumes for characters of both genders. At the same time, the majority of fanservice is used for just that purpose: to service the fans. Close-ups of sensitive areas for no reason than to titillate don’t serve any justifiable purpose, and it’s that type of fanservice that should be spoken out against, but properly. Not with rage or disbelief, but from concern for a form of media we enjoy very much. I don’t believe that fanservice will ever fully go away: we are all still humans after all, but I do believe that it has a place, and that we can come to understand its place better as we learn to embrace anime and media from all cultures.


I'm a student who loves God and manages to balance school, games, books, anime, and Asian culture while staying slightly sane.

  • Cat

    The problem is more that people are judging a character’s worth, be it female or male, by their sexuality and by their clothes, or by how much skin they’re revealing. If they think someone is worth less, trashy or a skank because she wears a bikini top, then they’re clearly just bigoted and biased. I agree with you, anime should not change, I firmly believe there’s space for any medium to do whatever they want with it, as long as it isn’t killing, hurting or maiming anyone. Considering we’re a society that has no problem showing someone maimed, killed, chopped up, ripped apart or so, but have problems with a buttock or a tit showing, it’s clearly just ugh.
    I do think there’s too much fanservice in some shows, for me personally, but guess what? I ain’t the target consumer, and that’s fine. We all like and want different things, so i say let it all be as it is in that department. I do clamor for more diversity, cultural, racial, religion, mostly because anime has such a far reach. Like with Yuuri on Ice, which showed such a diverse cast, I hope more take inspiration and do it too.
    Excellent post and read, btw, glad you shared it on Arria’s carnival!

    • There is a lot of judging a book by its cover in anime, but when that’s coupled with the widespread use of fanservice in a shallow context, it makes sense. For example, Yoko in Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagann: she’s a strong, independent, powerful individual and a cornerstone character in the series who happens to wear shorts and a bikini top. The author of the anime/manga intended for her style of dress to represent her fiercely independent nature as she wears what she wants and doesn’t let it define her. A large portion of the fanbase, however, has turned her into nothing short of a sex symbol through fanfics and fanart, and people who only know about her through those avenues or similar wouldn’t be blamed in assuming she was (for lack of a better word) a slutty, shallow character.

      The problem lies mainly with us, the consumers, and our viewpoint towards the media we consume. Individual beliefs can and will color the way you see and understand media (look at the rest of this blog, for instance), but we shouldn’t be afraid to open our minds to new viewpoints or to look for the “why”s in the midst of the “is”. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by Unsheathed! Glad to be part of the carnival, and I look forward to lots of great posts. 🙂

  • Arria Cross

    Great post, Sam! Different cultures have different perspectives when it comes to sexuality. It just doesn’t work well when we judge one culture’s based on our own culture. It frustrates me whenever I hear people say that anime is all porn. What a reversal to those who say that anime is only for kids! I’m kind of neutral when it comes to fan service, not entirely so, but around neutrality. My views on it depends largely on the specific anime that I’m watching. In some anime, I’m absolutely dismayed, even disgusted with the use of fan service. In others, I tolerate it because the story is quite good. While in some, I actually like the fan service because they work effectively in emphasizing the plot or the characters. I haven’t watched Kill la Kill yet, so I can’t say much about this anime. But I find the fan service in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei works because it’s a satirical anime and we can interpret the fan service as an exaggeration of fan service itself. Excellent post. Keep it up. Thank you very much for sharing this on my blog carnival. Cheers!