40 CommentsEditorials / By Scamp /

The difference between Fanservice and Sexy

Fanservice does not just mean boobs and panties. It’s anything that has nothing to do with the story and is only there to please the fans. An example would be showing a shot of an older character who has nothing to do with this plot, but the fans happen to like. Say, for example, the game Portal showing Black Mesa logos for fans of the Half Life franchise. However, the most common form of fanservice is showing off the assets of the characters in the show. A panty flash here, a shower scene there. You know the drill.

Fanservice has the negative reputation it has, asides from the obnoxious and distracting elements it often holds, is because it’s used as an attempt to disguise the total lack of anything worthwhile beyond the boobs. The problem now is there are those who see any form of attempted titillation is seen as a negative thing by association. The pavlovian response is that, because the camera is currently staring into the dark abyss of a cleavage, it’s just here for fanservice and therefore a bad thing. Quite often it is, but there’s plenty of other times where sexuality is rather important to the scene in question.

Take Bakemonogatari, an anime with a rather keen fascination with the female body (sometimes with female bodies a bit on the young side, but whatever). In episode 3, Senjogahara, our slightly frightening female love interest, goes to the park with Generic Male Lead Araragi. At this stage, there hasn’t been any romantic feelings between the two, but Senjogahara had fallen for him as a result of the first two episodes. The entire episode is basically spent on Senjogahara flirting with Araragi, trying to get him to recognise she likes him and for him to fall for her (at least, the episode was that, until Araragi went off to molest a little girl, but whatever). The camera, in classic Shafty style, swings about Senjogahara’s body, focusing in on little details like the hem of her bra poking out over the top of her dress. But with these fanservicy shots, they’re almost always shot from Araragi’s point of view, normally with a bit of a wobble in the camera. It’s showing that Araragi is noticing how sexy she is, and getting rather uncomfortable when she leans too close.

The cynical side of most of you are probably thinking that this is so the viewer can feel like Senjogahara is looking over you, the loser male viewer, touching yourself as you watch cartoons. But it’s not like the two can’t exist together. That’s precisely the point I’m trying to make. Sexy and sexuality in general is not something that has to exist solely for the purpose of titillating the audience. It can be woven into the story and the themes. You only need to look at Revolutionary Girl Utena to see that in play on a more abstract level. I’m not talking about eroticism for the sake of eroticism. Go to 2-D Teleidoscope, Listless Ink or Girl Cartoons for stuff like that. I’m talking about eroticism for the sake of Story.

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  1. Flawfinder
    Posted November 9, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    I pretty much agree. I’m not against fanservice and such, but it has to be done a certain way. You can’t just throw it in at random. You know that saying, “Sex sells”? I just groan whenever I hear that excuse. I live on the principle of “Sex done right sells”.

  2. Posted November 10, 2011 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    I had a conversation very similar to this with @kanra__ a few months ago. Fanservice for titillation does little for me outside of an abstract sense of “that’s cute” or “that’s hot” since ‘3D’ is the only thing that really arouses me. So when I tend to see sexual fanservice in a show that I find myself invested in emotionally or intellectually when it wasn’t present before, it breaks my suspension of disbelief very hard. I dropped Hanairo on episode 3 for that very reason.

    However, a conversation I had recently after watching Last Exile ep. 1 reminded me that sexual fanservice as a sincere means for characterization is still relatively rare. We first see Fam in garters as she comically sleepwalks to her oblivion. This is a wink to the audience a bit, throwing them a little visual bone and getting a chuckle out of it simultaneously. It put me off at first because I didn’t see the point of it, but as the episode wore on we come to recognize Fam as someone spirited, wild, carefree, and a little careless, despite her station and situation in life. We as the audience come to see why ridiculous sleepwalking escapades aren’t out of character for her, since she’s the type that has an excess of energy and may not exactly know how to channel it properly, thus it spills over into her sleep.

    But the best example for sexual fanservice as characterization comes from Senjogahara herself. In one of the first two episodes (I forget which) she invites Araragi to her home as she finishes up her shower. She then proceeds to walk around him in nothing but panties as the camera lovingly details and lets us know. Why is she nude in front of him? Is this for the benefit of the audience? Partly, but the reveal of her arc shows that she was the victim of unwanted sexual advances as a young child.

    The experience of sexual abuse manifests itself differently depending on the victim, but a known manifestation is one where the victim feels the need to own or master their sexuality in some way. This usually results in inappropriate actions or thoughts that are mistaken for “mature”: promiscuity, irresponsibility, lack of boundaries, etc. When we see that Senjogahara herself was victimized sexually, suddenly the thought of her parading her sexuality in front Araragi in a fairly inappropriate way becomes a lot more understandable. She thinks she’s in control of the situation by walking around nude in front of a boy she barely know at that point, but really it’s a consequence of her perception of sex being fundamentally damaged by someone who exploited her. She was exploited, thus she exploits in response.

    Fanservice for it’s own sake does little for me, though I’m sure I’m in the minority given its overall prevalence in our hobby. But fanservice is also woefully underused as a vital component of storytelling. I hope to see more of it in the service of story someday.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      To be fair, that episode of HanaIro was retarded. It never went quite that distance again.

      I’d totally forgotten what Senjogahara’s story was. I remember not really falling in love with Bakemonogatari until about episode 3

    • mcm38
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Actualy about that after-shower scene. Arararararagi mentions she loves to show of her body, upon wi(t)ch Senjogahara smiles to him. You do have a good point there.

  3. Posted November 10, 2011 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    I see, a most intriguing proposition! Where do you stand on Strike Witches, my good man?

    • Scamp
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      I stand very far away from it

      • Someone Else
        Posted November 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        Maybe you should try some ecchi anime from time to time. Though it really is hard to find good ones in terms of sense of humor or drama but its kind of creepy that they are always good on the action part (fist fight, guns, sword duels, not just good animation) which I find weird lol

      • mcm38
        Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Most echhi are harem (or yuri), with moeblobs and yuuji-everyleads. I don’t think it’s a good idea. Hands off, Love HIna.

      • Scamp
        Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

        Bakemonogatari isn’t ecchi?

      • mcm38
        Posted November 11, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Most ecchi. I wasn’t implying Bakemonogatari wasn’t. However now we’re talking about that. I’d rather not call Bakemonogatari Ecchi, cause when I think about Bakemonogatari, images of boobs and moeblobs and pantyshots don’t suddenly show up in my head. Unlike some other anime *cough* RosarioVampire *cough*.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      Actually serious answer to Strike Witches: I haven’t seen it, but I gather that the lack of pants is given as a throwaway excuse and the camera focuses squarely on bums and came toes while they are in the middle of mid air dog fights. This would fall quite squarely into the bracket of ‘doing fuck all for the story’

      • Posted November 11, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink

        It certainly doesn’t add to the story the same way sexuality does in something like Bakemonogatari. That said, reaction to it falls squarely into the “The prob­lem now is there are those who see any form of attemp­ted tit­il­la­tion is seen as a neg­at­ive thing by asso­ci­ation” category. Because while it doesn’t add, it’s not used to hide or make up for anything lacking in the show. It is, quite literally, fan service, akin to, say, CC’s ass in Code Geass. The underlying show stands on its own.

  4. Nebulous
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Sexy exists, and fanservice is bringing undue attention to it.

    “It’s show­ing that Arar­agi is noti­cing how sexy she is, and get­ting rather uncom­fort­able when she leans too close.”

    Look at that Bakemonogatari scene done from the side, does it have any difference? We still see that Araragi was looking at her chest without the viewer having to look down her chest.

    I fundamentally disagree that fanservice ever brings anything worthwhile to a show, at best it is neutral but it is never a positive.

    If fanservice were to suddenly be removed from every anime ever, the general quality would immediately shoot up immensely. It brings nothing, only destroys the good that is there already.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      le sigh, I’m surprised I did get someone disagreeing with me. There is a very different focus in both those shots. The second one is very specifically recognising her sexuality, while the first shot is just her having boobs in his face. The quickest and simplest way to get that across is by having the camera recognise her sexuality. Physical attraction is a big part of life and to dismiss every single reference to it in a story is kinda thick

      • Passerby
        Posted November 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        Not every person experiences physical attraction, either. Just saying

      • Scamp
        Posted November 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Permalink


        Even if they don’t, the character does

      • Passerby
        Posted November 10, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

        That’s cool, even if I don’t know why that surprised emoticon is there

  5. Hogart
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    This amuses me. A few days ago I watched a few anime with some friends and they all subconsciously noticed that something was “missing”. It honestly disturbed them, until they realized it was the panty shots and other forms of overt fanservice.

    We eventually ended up agreeing that quantity is the real problem.. 15-20 years ago we’d cheer like the kids we were when we got so much as a tiny panty shot.. these days it’s distastefully common and competing for our attention even in the shows for older audiences.

    Also: thank you for mentioning there is more to fanservice than just the sexual pandering. I’ve met people who couldn’t grasp that concept around their titillated little minds.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      What kind of shows have you been watching for the past few years? Maybe because I tend to avoid the pantyshot heavy anime, but most shows don’t have any underwear in sight

  6. Someone Else
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    How about Blood-C’s last episode? That episode got massive amounts of blood which could be a nightmare fuel for many but the unique and slightly ridiculous way of killing is quite good. Does that count as fanservice?

    I guess Nadeko’s scene where she suddenly removed her clothes and Araragi and Suruga suddenly did the Gaijin 4koma pose counts as fanservice too

    Also I prefer sexy fanservice at the time I least expect it. It’s much more effective that way, that’s why ecchi animes are meh

    • Scamp
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Gore for fanservice is…well, I said this in a Future Diary post, but over the years I’ve become less tolerant of gore. There’s something offputting about the idea that we are showing you blood and violence simply for the sake of blood and violence because you are an immature manchild who thinks that sort of stuff is cool

  7. Thrashy
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    I’ll allow that sexiness is a valid means of building characterization and that sexuality can be an important part of a story – sexuality is part and parcel of humanity, regardless of what prudes in the grip a moral panic might say. As you point out, the line is when sexiness covers for a lack of story rather than being a part of one and advancing it in some meaningful way. That’s a fuzzy line in practice, though. Why is Senjougahara’s character built to be a fanservice machine? It’s one thing to establish that part of her personality, but it’s another to linger on and fetishize chunks of her anatomy, as Shaft’s animators were so fond of doing.

    To some extent this just comes with the territory; anime caters to a certain demographic and there are also some cultural differences at play. Even so, I am disappointed with the degree of fanservice present in anime. All to often I find myself dropping a show with a promising story or premise, because the degree of fanservice present is an insult to my intelligence, as if the animators didn’t think they could hold my attention without a closeup shot of bouncing cleavage or frilly lingerie. As a red-blooded male I enjoy seeing a pretty woman as much as the next guy, but I’m not watching anime because I want to be titillated. I want to be told a story.

    • mcm38
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. However most anime is addressed to healthy shounen in Japan. They apparently lack the interest in storys and only urge to see fanservice in their anime. Which is probably the cause of all the ecchi. Sucks to be us.

      • mcm38
        Posted November 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink


  8. Keiko-sama
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    To set one thing straight, fanservice is only about to attract viewers to watch. And for me it starts with the characterization like the –dere, the megane, the white haired bad ass and so on. Pantyshots and big boobs are only one more step in a certain direction. But actually to a certain point I do dislike it as well as I fall for it. In my case it would be the male megane type and I can´t do anything against it. But still I would favour it not to be overdone and rather focus more on the deepness of the story the want to tell us.
    Sometimes I wonder if it getting worse or if I had only watched to many animes.

  9. mcm38
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of your It’s cute so what?! post. About using cuteness wrongly and they should do something with it, like in Azumangadaioh with the penguinkid.

    However, I think putting sexuality in the story to give a good reason for fanservice will not always work out well.
    The problem of having lots of sexist storys might pop up. Storys would start revolving around sexuality. I don’t want to go trough that kind of dumb sh*tty hell.
    However that’s the case when lazy idiots write the story. If it’s written nicely and produced in alignment, it could work out perfectly fine.

    The main problem could be that the whole story would be full of ecchi. The horror. At least than they would have the right reason to be there, meh…

    One other personal problem might be that I try to avoid echhi anime as much as possible. If by some miracle the mangaka and anime producers notice Scamps post about sexuality for the sake of story and not for dumb fanservice, I would probably not watch them since they would be all ecchi.

    • mcm38
      Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      One example of storymerged sexuality would be Seiquon no Qwaesor (if I remember correctly). Now it’s got lots of boobs showing, but they have a reason for showing them at least. I only watched the first episode, than decided I would be wasting my time if I watched any further, but I do remember the concept of it. Sucking the milk out of humonguous boobs, to gain energy. It’s rather meh, but still a good beginning for storymerging of sexuality.

      However like I mentioned before they will have loads of echhi and will even move to half-hentai at some point, which will become disgusting at some point.

  10. romulus
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Listless Ink has a veeeery nice editorial about how Redline is a big metaphor for sex. No erot­i­cism for the sake of erot­i­cism, no erot­i­cism for the sake of story, eroticism IS the story.

  11. Posted November 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    whats the name on this anime ?

  12. Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I like how you explain something that I’m aware of, but never could put my finger on why I didn’t mind some but disliked others.

  13. gw_kimmy
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    god i love me some ship-tease fanservice, but in the sexy department even female-oriented fanservice is irritating if it’s just there to be titillating. i might only give sexy fanservice a pass if it’s a part of a well-delivered joke that doesn’t dwell on the anatomy itself.

    this reminds me of when i watched FLCL for the first time. EVERYTHING IS FREUDIAN. EVERYTHING. broke my brain in no time.

  14. Erif
    Posted November 11, 2011 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Enjoyed this article.

    Although, I must disagree with one thing. Araragi isn’t a generic male lead. >:T

  15. Ryan R
    Posted November 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    You’re right. There is a difference between fanservice and sexy… which is why fanservice often is a problem. ;)

    There’s two key differences between the two:

    1) Sexy is seamless with the story. It doesn’t distract from the story. The problem with Strike Witches, for example, is that its incredibly hard to focus on the actual plot-relevant conflicts when you’re frequently given a pervy shot up the butt or crotch of a girl wearing no pants. Fanservice is frequently quite jarring when its incorporated into a scene not about sexuality (per se) that you’re meant to take seriously.

    2) Sexy usually serves more purpose than titillation alone, as you yourself alluded to in this post. This is frequently not the case with fanservice.

    So is it good to have some “sexy” in anime? Sure. Does that defend “fanservice”? No. There is a difference between the two.

    Also, there’s nothing more pavlovian than what fanservice is intended to be in the first place. So accusing its critics of giving in to a pavlovian response seems rather odd to me.

  16. Morridin
    Posted November 12, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I’ve never been bothered too much with the more blatant kind of fanservice.
    Sometimes it makes for small jokes like in Mai HiME.

    The only time I really was bothered by it was with Highschool of the Damned. It started off interesting enough with a great atmosphere and potential for… well not exactly scaryness, but at least suspense.

    Instead of that it just dove chestfirst into too much fanservice, spoiling it all for me, because too much lightheartedness kills a spooky atmosphere.

    Also, matrix boobs.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      I would argue that the matrix boobs were fundamental to the core values of HOTD

  17. Posted November 12, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    I’d have to agree with this, though I will also say that Bakemonogatari sucked.

  18. Posted November 13, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    What about fanservice for the sake of fanservice? like Code Geass and those Kallen camera angles. they definitely were not implemented for the benefit of the story but they were not bad either.

    I think subtlety is the key.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      That’s a whole different ball game I’d prefer not to get into…

2 Trackbacks

  • By Ben-To 7 « O-New on December 1, 2011 at 12:13 am

    […] advances the story […]

  • […] before – And a shower scene, y’know, sometimes fanservice is USED FOR THE PLOT: see Scamp’s post – I mean this is artistic fanservice, and not just for titillation but I DON’T […]

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