(Note: The author is fully aware of how cheap and old this article’s header image pun/reference is, and regrets nothing)
Deep breath, Ryoken, you can pull this off (or at least go down trying, I guess)
If you are a regular to ANITAY, KOTAKU or even other sites that cover anime, video games and pop culture, you are probably no stranger to the controversial matter of Fanservice, since its a term that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to Anime, Videogames and Comics; when it comes to reviews, articles or even fan opinion, the presence of Fanservice in any form of entertainment becomes a deal breaker or an issue most of the time, and as of late, with the raising popularity and media spread of gaming/otaku/geek culture, the Fanservice is pretty much one of the most commons elephants in the room when it comes to our entertainment...however, most of the critical opinion towards Fanservice is critical and negative, usually being targeted as a cheap, sexualized form to draw attention or pandering to fans, or a chauvinistic practice that should be limited and or discontinued.
However, I think we are seeing things wrong here...what we need is MORE FANSERVICE.
Put down the torches and farming implements, mob, and give the monster a chance to explain himself...besides, FIRE BAD!!
As an old school, life long anime, comic and video game fan currently on my early 30’s, I am all too familiar with Fanservice in those forms of entertainment media, and never thought much about it...until now, as the whole concept of Fanservice is seen more and more as a flaw/negative point in a web culture that has endured events like Gamergate, Convention Sexism and no shortage of scandals and controversies. However, a common thread in all these events is the ongoing discussion of how and why Gender Equality is important to the future of gaming, comic and anime as cultures, lifestyles and forms of entertainment.
But does this mean Fanservice is as bad as it seems for that goal?
When Fanservice has Complexity and Heart
Personally, I never cared much for Fanservice at all, since my primary concern when it comes to choosing an Anime, Comic or Videogame is usually centered on its value as a narrative and experience. However, during the last year, I decided to give a couple of known fanservice franchises a spin, so I purchased a couple titles of the Senran Kagura and Hyperdimension Neptunia videogame series. I can honestly say I didn’t expect much out of them.
Boy, did I had to eat some serious crow on that pre-judgment, as I was surprised to see that despite being fanservice based through and through, both games had interesting, fun characters with well developed (pun not intended) personalities, a playful attitude and a sense of charm thats quite rare in the more traditional games I was used to. My curiosity was picked, so recently I decided to check for other series or franchises that were referred as “Fanservice heavy” in recent anime, leading me to check Lord Marskman and Vanadis, Is this a Zombie? and revisit Kill La Kill.
The experience was extremely similar; while there was the usual Fanservice and Anime tropes and cliches when it comes to female character’s attire and design, the female characters in these so called “Fanservice heavy” series were well developed, complex and showed a lot of care and personality by the creators, making them equal if not more a lot important than the male characters...and hell, on a second watch, its hard not to realize that when it come to show eye candy, Kill La Kill is quite balanced as far as male and female skin showing is concerned; regardless of your gender and sexual preferences, Kill La Kill is certainly well balanced when it comes to catering to all tastes with its fanservice.
At this point, I was referred to (by online and real life fellow fans/otakus of both genders) to shows like Free!, Yowamushi Pedal and Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!..all of this brought back memories of Ouran Highschool Host Club, Fruits Basket and other older anime series that were referred as “Girl Fanservice” back in the day, at least in my fandom circles...so now I find myself asking: Do we even need such distinctions when it comes to Fanservice?
I mean, think about it: We live in an era were global connectivity and Internet communities pretty much have blurred the lines and borders when it comes to fandoms; videogames, movies, comics and anime are showing more gender equality everyday, and there’s an ongoing development of gender issues in these forms of entertainment both culturally, creatively and financially.
So, why should Fanservice limit itself instead of moving on with the times?
If we want true equality, we must embrace it and develop it as wide as we can
Warning: Spoilers for a moment in the first season of Genshiken!
Personal confession time: One of my favorite moments in Anime is the scene when the lovely and shy Kanako Ohno has her secret fetish regarding bald, muscular older men (and yaoi of said fetish) revealed to the “normal girl” Saki, who goes on to keep it secret and even support her friend on her having a fetish. Seriously, its such a charming, relatable moment to any otaku or geek, its hard not to absolutely love that scene...and if you have a friend or significant other who has revealed to you their particular private fetish or erotic quirk, that scene is even more lovable.
I’m going on a limb and admit this: If Marvelous, the developers of the Senran Kagura series, announced a male centered spin off of the series, with the same dedication to crafting lovely, charming characters, and making them star in a good story with fun gameplay, I would buy it in a heartbeat.
Same if Studio Trigger (the Kill La Kill creators) announced their next series would be an action anime that aimed to be to Bishonens what Kill La Kill was to Magical Girls.
Equally same when an RPG developer like Bioware makes their characters sexual orientations and related romance options well developed, profound and integral to the game’s story, setting and plot development
Why? Well, personally its because I’m secure in my masculinity and sexual preferences (Note: my personal favorite Saint Seiya Bronze Saint while growing up was Andromeda Shun; when you spend the late 80s and early 90’s going to a all male school, such a preference leads to developing some thick skin and wide world-view; also, some fighting skills, because we boys are such idiots as kids) to have no problem with a different sort of fanservice than the ones I enjoy, specially if said fanservice is just part of a great story, charming characters or an entertaining narrative...why else did offbeat visual novels like Katawa Shoujo, Hate Plus or Hatoful Boyfriend became both cult and critical successes? They aren’t traditional or generic in their fanservice and presentation, so they must had done something right...and they did. Same goes for the rather amazing emergence of series aiming at a gay audience of both genders, tackling romance, gender relations, drama and comedy while making their characters likable, realistic and, most importantly charismatic.
Take Yurikuma Arashi, (which was excellently reviewed by MementoMorie here) for instance. As far as it plot and characters goes, its not my cup of tea by any means, but as an example of anime’s ability to create something, unique, magical and with feeling, able to reach and affect an audience? I’m absolutely head over heels with the fact that such a show exists, and I’ll defend its quirky loveliness to my last breath. Its a show that, as an artistic expression and form of entertainment, earns every praise its earned.
Such a show is part of something called Diversity, and Fanservice should embrace it fully. As long as its not exploitative and its done in service of a good story and well developed characters, who cares? Does it really affect your personal life what other people like? We live in a diverse world filled with diverse people, and that extends to our fandoms and entertainment. Lets embrace that diversity, so we can have equality; sure, that means opening the door to a lot of potentially bad fanservice creations aiming at every gender and preference, but wouldn’t it be worth it? We are all human being, with human kinks and itches, and they are as diverse as we all are; as long as its nor exploitative or immoral, why not keep pushing the boundaries in the name of everyone having fun and enjoying themselves?
Its not like we have anything to lose by doing so, do we?
Personal Note: Like I said, my personal favorite Saint Seiya Bronze Saint while growing up was Andromeda Shun, which of course got me into a lot of teasing and sometimes bullying. I never cared that he was the more feminine looking and sensitive of the heroes, since I liked him because the Andromeda/Perseus myth was my favorite Greek mythology story, and I liked his chain weapons and the fact that he was the reluctant pacifist of the group. Like I said, tastes and the reasons for said tastes are as diverse as people themselves are diverse.