I like fanservice. And in spite of the regular lashing which the inclusion of it receives from anime critics and fans, I know I’m far from being alone in that opinion. Aside from the fact that it’s so prominent in the medium and that it sells like crazy, it’s also a great go-to for me and other anime youtubers to promote our content, even when we’re literally ragging on a series for using it.
But for me, it’s not that I have a problem with fanservice in itself, so much as in its implementation in a lot of specific instances. Obviously fanservice is not for everyone, and a lot of the problem that it causes with anime fans is in how it creeps into shows which seem like they’re meant to be appealing for other reasons. Some people get uncomfortable when their shounen action spectacle is suddenly asking them to enjoy a tentacle groping scene, and I think that’s understandable. But for those of us who are down for some sex appeal from our entertainment, I’d like to break down the different ways that a fanservice show can avoid feeling like trashy, exploitative smut, and instead to come off as sexy, endearing, and legitimately entertaining.
Step 1: Integrate Sex and Story
I always find myself frustrated when a fanservice anime comes along which tries to tell some kind of semi-serious fantasy action story, only to be constantly interrupted by fanservice. In the process, both aspects are weakened–my softcore porn is constantly being interrupted by some juvenile storyline, and my dumb action series is constantly being interrupted by low-quality porn.
If the main thrust of a series is going to be fanservice, then the story should reflect that, even if it’s as simple as a romantic comedy wherein a bunch of girls are sexually interested in the main character. DNA2 is a great 90s fanservice comedy about a guy who is destined to have kids by a hundred women, kickstarting an overpopulation problem in the future when all of his offspring do the same, and leading a time-traveller to head to the past on a mission to alter his genes–which is both hilarious, and gives a great plot reason for sex to be central to the storyline. The manga series My Balls is about a guy who has the soul of Satan in his ballsack, and if he ever cums then the entire world will end. You can tell from this premise alone that the series is going to be an endless stream of cocktease fanservice, and it’s totally justified. Shimoneta is about a future wherein sexual content has been outlawed, and the main characters are pervert terrorists trying to return pornography to society; you basically couldn’t have that story without fanservice.
My personal favorite fanservice series of all time, Seikon no Qwaser, manages to actually blend a fanservice vehicle with a juvenile action story simply by keeping those two elements closely integrated; in this series, character get their powers from drinking breastmilk. Basically, if a series can find a reason for fanservice to be integral to its story, then it’s a lot harder to question the presence of it in said series.
But this isn’t to say that integrating fanservice into a story that’s not entirely focused on it is always a bad thing. Food Wars utilizes a lot of it in service of its narrative by having characters react sexually to the taste of great food. The story could exist without fanservice, sure, but the fanservice is so thoroughly integrated into the nature of the series that I think it’s fair to say that it’s part of the point. Similarly, while Highschool of the Dead isn’t about sex at all, the overall atmosphere of the series is meant to be one of trashy B-movie schlock, and the fanservice is integral to achieving the feeling that it’s going for. If you took it away, then you’d have a fundamentally different show, and I don’t think it would appeal to the same audience.
Step 2: Everyone Should Be DTF
A lot of what makes some viewers uncomfortable with anime fanservice is how much of it is accidental or non-consensual. Often times our sexual gratification is meant to come at the expense of the characters’ wishes; and while most shows play this off as pretty lighthearted and inconsequential in context, it can still feel a little bit creepy.
What frustrates me about the proliferation of this kind of fanservice is the intentions behind it: which is often to preserve the so-called innocence of the characters, while getting sexual gratification from them anyways. A lot of these girls are obviously not supposed to be thinking about or interested in sex, which keeps them pure and cute–but we want to see them naked anyways, so there needs to be some contrivance to get them there.
Personally, I think it’s infinitely hotter when a girl is getting naked on purpose, because she wants to be seen that way and is openly sexual. For instance, in Kanokon, most of the fanservice comes as a result of the girls just straight-up wanting to have sex with the main character and attempting to do so. The only reason it never escalates to full-on porn is that the main guy is too nervous to progress the situation himself, and they’re always getting interrupted right before the end.
Similarly, characters like Fino Bloodstone from Yuushibu or Rias Gremory from High School DxD just simply don’t have any qualms about being seen naked or having sexual interactions. Nothing is coming at the expense of these girls; they are presented sexually because they are sexually open characters, and I can’t think of anything sexier than that.
Step 3: More Romance, Less Bullshit
Given that most fanservice is pretty closely tied to the same storylines and situations that come up in romantic comedies, it’s not surprising that a lot of that genres problems crop up in fanservice-driven shows as well. No matter how hot an anime girl might be and how many unique ways you can find to get them naked, the audience is eventually going to get frustrated if the story never makes any goddamn progress, or if the attitudes of the characters never seem to change.
Stories like Zero no Tsukaima and To-LOVE-Ru are infamous for constantly leaning on the reset button when it comes to progress in the characters’ relationships, and eventually it just becomes tiring watching the same characters go through the same misunderstandings and miscommunications long after the point when they should just hooked up already.
One of the most satisfying moments I’ve ever seen in a fanservice series was at the end of the Kanokon anime when, after 12 episodes of constant bickering over who had claim over the main character, the two main girls are able to settle their differences and agree that Chizuru would play the role of the wife, while Nozomu could be the mistress. I simply couldn’t believe that a conflict in a romantic comedy series would not only be resolved, but for it to be done by way of forming a sort of open relationship that still wouldn’t do what so many of these shows are afraid of doing, and ending the ability to have the main character interact sexually with multiple girls.
Meanwhile, one of the most frustrating experiences was reading through volume after volume of Mysterious Girlfriend X waiting for the completely monogamous relationship to make any of the progress that was constantly being suggested to possibly happen, only for it to never, ever happen. I don’t know how anyone gets away with this. Even Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, the most generic high-school battle-service series imaginable had the decency to let its couple make real and even emotional progress–and for that I thank it.
Step 4: Keep it Funny, Creative, and Sexy
Sometimes, a fanservice comedy can get by almost entirely on the strength of just how attractive its characters are. For instance, if you’ve got artwork like Sankarea, then you probably don’t need a whole lot more than that. Unfortunately, a lot of these shows do manage to get away with ugly and generic designs just by flashing more tits on screen than average, to which I shake my head and ask that fanservice fans have some fucking standards for chrissakes.
But fanservice isn’t always there exclusively to be titillating–and even when it is, sometimes the appeal is less in the artwork, and more in the scenario bringing it about. Shows like Sora no Otoshimono and To-LOVE-Ru rely more on their creative approaches to getting girls into very specific and uniquely perverted scenarios, which share as much of their appeal with watching a Jojo character reveal their stand ability as they do with pornography.
Prison School really elevates this creativity to the next level, never really focusing on how sexual situations can be titillating, so much as on the hilarious psychological footwork that goes into interpreting and reacting to sexual situations. It’s more of a series about how fanservice is interacted with by its audience than it is about presenting fanservice in itself, and it uses its worldly knowledge of the pervert mind to craft some of the most creatively over-the-top and hilarious scenarios in comedy anime.
Sometimes it seems like in spite of including fanservice in their stories, a lot of anime is sort of embarrassed about it, or like the fanservice is an afterthought to the main thrust of the series. Personally, my stance on fanservice is that you either go hard, or go home. If your series can’t either pull off some legitimately sexy scenes, or at least be so over the top with it that I can be entertained even if I’m not necessarily titillated, then just don’t even bother.
These are just the biggest things that I look for in fanservice anime, and some of the things that I’ve enjoyed about what I see as the better shows in the genre. While fanservice anime once again is obviously not for everyone, I do think that more deserves to be said about how certain shows are doing it better than others, and it makes me a little sad that the genre is so often thrown under the bus as a whole as though all of them are equal in quality.
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