My Perspectives Of: Fanservice and Character Agency

This isn’t a post that I’ve wanted to write about because it never felt that necessary for me to ever cover it here. My blog’s focus isn’t fanservice, it’s mostly mecha anime with some other things on the side. Also, there is that thing where I think my perspectives are usually far from the same way that a lot of other people think when it comes to this fanservice and I’m afraid of being stomped on. Still, I have to admit that this topic has been on my mind a lot recently regarding the appearance of Fire Force’s issues and so other series before that. So if anything, I’m writing this post to get it out my mind finally so I can grind another topic in my mind for a while instead. That makes sense, right? Yeah, that’s the real purpose of this sort of post. You can hate me after hearing what I have to say, ok? Please wait until then.

So let’s talk about my perspective on character fanservice.

My General Thoughts and Guidelines

To start this off, no I don’t think all fanservice is bad at all. I would never want to take it out of anime as a whole ever because there is plenty of value in every bit of it. Not just in showing female or male characters in their underwear or naked to appease certain audiences that are heavily into that aspect of it. Completely valid by the way. No shame from me. If you love ecchi, go wild. I’m not going to stop you. Fanservice can also be used to ground a character. For instance, watching a character get dressed in the morning after their shower to start their day is a normal thing to do. Seeing anime characters going through those motions shouldn’t be jarring, but relatable.

Also, fanservice could be attached to a character’s wants and needs by showing that one character is heavily interested in another one through different acts of flirting and beyond. Whatever it is, there is plenty of reasons why fanservice is valid. That doesn’t mean we should dismiss exploring what good and bad fanservice means to every single individual on this planet. If anything, the conversations are going to be interesting and eye opening in my ways then one.

What makes fanservice good or bad for me depends on it’s influence on the character put into a fanservice situation. I have a quite a few questions that I ask myself sometime, so here is a look at my mindset: Is the fanservice in question character motivated or forced on them? Is the character in question is enacting the fanservice act themselves or is another character enacting the act on the other? In what context are those situations happening? Is that situation considered textually good or bad in terms of how the anime and scene in question are presenting?

What about the camera? Is it staying still or is it being voyeuristic and paning over particular body parts of characters in very specified locations for reasons? To me, all of that matters in one way or another because of how the anime portrays the character in question to the audience matters too. It’s a lot of question that could be just summed up with “is the character portrayed well from the fanservice that happened in that moment or not?”

Those are too many questions to consider when approach every single particular fanservice moment. Pausing after each moment in question and considering it is a rather stupid thing to do, so let’s consider all of those questions guide lines instead of the actual, natural rules. Let’s be pirates in that way. Those questions are still my guidelines because I think they have a lot of meaning behind them, but how they are infered from one scenario to another should never be the same.

Why? Because how people interpret every situation is never going to be as exact as the next person. Because of that fact, I don’t think that there is a clear “good” or “bad” or black and white when it comes to this topic. The scale of whether fanservice is bad or not is like a gradient instead because of the many intracities. It’s too complicated of a thing to just go with thing good or thing bad. Thing could be both as long as a character isn’t dehumanized from it. Their agency needs to at least be mostly attached for me to enjoy the moment.

(The rest of this post is talking about what I think is good, bad, and in-between fanservice. I know that this goes without saying because it’s on my blog, but all of this is my opinion. Please take all of this like a grain of salt if you want to.)

Fire Force, Tamaki, Battle Shonen, and Bad Fanservice

With that, we get to the meat of this post. Let’s talk about Fire Force and how it treats Tamaki. Fire Force doesn’t always treat it’s female characters the best. There are bath scenes, Arthur treating Maki like an Ogre and not understanding women at all, Hibana transforming from an alpha to suddenly fawning over Shinra, and Iris’ moments that just happen. Whatever problems those are, at least the characters in question are given some form of characterization and are treated like actual people in most respects. That means there agency is still mostly intact. So honestly, I don’t have as many complaints here as I could.

Tamaki is the case where her fanservice just ruins everything the plot is going for and ruins the tone of important situations, so it’s almost all bad. She’s just a fan service joke at the moment. Her lucky lecher thing is a horrible excuse for all of this of this to happen. The very universe of Fire Force wants to strip her naked or humiliate her at much as it can and it’s horrifying. Her one honest moment of relief was ruined when her fan service jokey jokeness had to reappear again. Complete waste of her potential.

I mean, it’s similar to what Demon Slayer would be like if Zenitsu or My Hero Academia with Mineta was considered right in their show’s universe for being a horrible creep. I do realize that Shonen Battle anime are supposedly centered on boys for terrible demographic means so there some reason most or all of these shows are male centric. Demon Slayer is one, My Hero Academia is another, and Fire Force is along side them. That’s why they exist, but at least the universe that Demon Slayer or My Hero Academia comes from look down upon those two characters for acting like the way they do.

These characters are actively resented or looked down on for being terrible human beings. The female characters present when their shenanigins happens don’t like it and most other male characters don’t like seeing these two people being creepy, so that sense of disagreement is there. Fire Force is somewhat like what if Mineta or Zenitsu were in completely control of Tamaki with some side control of the other female characters and that’s really a frightening thing to think about. Yeah, that’s where the bad in that gradient is from.

Character agency matters a lot to a lot of people including me. If you ever wonder why people complain about certain scenes in anime which have become controversial lately and have caused an uproar, that’s where those complainers are coming from. It’s hard to think of a character of being human or a person when their body is being touched beyond their control and the anime actively sexualizes the violated person in question. Why? Because it’s obvious that the show cares more about the fanservice than the character in their worst moment ever.

At least that’s how I see it. I could be wrong and some people could be jerks. That’s always a strong possibility on the internet because tons of jerks release their inner asshole. Still, let’s not kid ourselves with somethings though. A story is going to force it’s characters to do things they don’t want to do because otherwise the story would be either a slice of life thing or something else very boring and pointless. How the author approaches their work and forces their characters to do things could still be brought up as good or bad.

Let’s go in the middle ground

I feel like ecchi, harem, and now isekai anime are in that grayer middle ground that makes it harder to judge. Why? Because of the types of girls in the each series. There are obviously girls interested in having sex with the main protagonist right? They are flirty, use their bodies to make the male main protagonists be flustered, and such right? Nothing wrong with that. Consent is sexy after all. I’m still not sure how I feel about those shows get fanservice out of the more shy characters though. Those awkward falling down on girls with the protag getting their hands in places on girl’s female body are always creepy to me in some ways.

Not because it’s realistic, but it’s clear that the girl in question is usually uncomfortable with the situation. I suppose the male protag is uncomfortable with it too which alleviates some of that feeling, but the universe still wants it to happen. I guess I’ll let that go for the most part. If one jumps into these shows to watch them, then one usually knows what to expect from them, so I shouldn’t judge. The best thing to say here is if you aren’t interested in these shows, then don’t watch them. I don’t because those series don’t have what I’m looking for in anime anymore, but I’m not going to look down on those who do for watching what they want to watch.

More positive then negative examples

As for more mostly positive examples, I could mention classic examples like Fujiko who still strips down to confuse dumb men as of part 5, Faye Valentine in Bebop, and many of the girls in Eva, but nah. Those are still relevant but a little old for this post. Instead, let’s go somewhere modern like Kill la Kill. It’s from 2013, but in my mind that is still pretty recent. Kill la Kill is a series that wants to see its characters naked. Let’s not jump around that fact, it’s written into the narrative quite a bit. Now, I’m not sure if Kill la Kill is a commentary on fanservice or not because I’ve seen arguments on both sides, but how strong the fanservice is the point here.

Why isn’t it negative? Because the nakedness in question represents freedom of mind and thought and whatever else is holding a person back from being true to themselves. When Ryuko accepts her body and showing it off, she becomes more powerful because of her new sense of inner strength. That’s not dehumanizing, that’s inspiring. Being true to yourself is the point because it’s written into the text. Plus, Kill la Kill uses plays on Japanese pun of putting fascism and fashion together to great affect with a lot of music being close to runway model music. Along side this, clothing and goku uniforms with different starts make people powerful too. So basically, clothing couldn’t be more negatively reflected in the text of Kill La Kill. Be free, be naked, be yourself. (Ok, not in real life unless you are in private or designated public areas that tell you it’s ok.)

If a more recent example is necessary, let’s talk about Astra Lost in Space then. Quitterie is that show’s fanservice character, but it still respects her character a lot. She was given a shower scene earlier in the show and then Zack, her loved interest, walked in like the room was empty. You can quickly see on her face that she was into that motion and then feigned ignorance of that by acting like she was upset or it was too soon for this. So, it started out as a creepy moment but felt more humanizing and powerful instead. That’s good writing.

Conclusions

Once again, every part of this post are my opinion. I will never say that how I value things should be how others should value something, because that’s wrong. An art form like anime or manga doesn’t affect how real life works usually, but there is still a reflection in anime or manga that comes from real life. I value that sense of gravity and semblance myself that comes from that reflection. Why? Because I’m a fan of things that I can relate to in some way. Fanservice is apart of that package too. Some people don’t jump for the grounded or otherwise because they want more escapism and that’s fine too. Let’s try to understand each other on this aspect instead of stepping on people’s feet. Maybe that’s asking too much, but an attempt would be nice.

Just to say one more thing, the argument of saying “one show has more fanservice then another so be quiet” is one of those dumb arguments that I can’t help gawking at. It doesn’t matter how much fanservice one show has over another that determines how good it is, it depends how the series uses its fanservice. That’s all I want to say for now except “screw censorship”. That’s the worst thing ever. There, done. See you all next week I hope!


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18 thoughts on “My Perspectives Of: Fanservice and Character Agency

  1. You make some excellent points here. I’ve been watching Kill la Kill recently, and I agree with you (at least as far as I can having gotten to episode 12) about how it treats the idea of nudity as a kind of empowerment. Unlike the more shonen-oriented stuff, Kill la Kill also feels a lot more female-centric, with its female chief protagonist and antagonist and the fact that both male and female characters have those transformation sequences and end up getting stripped and everything. And the whole spirit of the show so far just doesn’t give me the impression that it was made with prurient interests in mind (though some of the character designs are definitely very attractive.)

    Another series I think of in the same way is Senran Kagura. Those games have gotten a whole lot of crap from mainstream game journalists for all its fanservice, but the Senran Kagura games I’ve played have emphasized empowerment and pride and being true to yourself and all that good stuff. Like Kill la Kill, it features a lot of close-to-naked characters, but the message is a positive one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with you on this one. Sexualization vs objectification is a big thing for me. And it sort of makes it worse that Tamaki is in theory supposed to be as apt and capable as the other leads (unlike the characters you mention which their respective shows open acknowledge as sort of screw ups) but we’re not even given a superficial example of that.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Is it staying still or is it being voyeuristic and paning over particular body parts of characters in very specified locations for reasons?” – This really struck a chord with me. There’s a particular type of scene, that is somewhat fanservice but somewhat story-building that typically, lol, ends up being shown in the shower.

    I’m someone who has some physical scars that are very distinct. Living in Japan, when I go to onsen I stand out for one, I’m not Japanese. For two, for those marks; I’ve had more then my share of people asking my story about them at the onsen. I like to think that in anime, when it comes to storybuilding, showing the physical reminders scars/tattoos/etc can really help see the impact on the characters. It really helps, in daily life to see how characters do certain things like shower, change clothes, etc. You’ve really hit the nail on the head on, some things can only been shared through fan service type scenes and it’s not bad!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Absolutely love the graphic you chose!

    And in case it’s not obvious, I think you got it right. Tamaki’s treatment is just so frustrating for all the reasons you laid out.

    Kinda puts a damper on the enjoying the show, which is a shame. It has a lot of good stuff going on.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was pretty confident that you’d talk about character agency in regards to this topic. I know that you, among others in the sphere, discuss this with some relative frequency. While I don’t think agency is always necessary in these moments, it certainly is a thing that is never bad. Which is to say, it is a preference.

    On Twitter I know you said this was kind of unfocused, but I still got your message from it. Generally, we are in agreement on this issue. It’s important to encourage real discussion and not just shun folks over a difference in opinion, at least not when the opinion is something like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, that’s what it is. Agency is a personal preference that I prefer. I’m not going to attack people who don’t think that way.

      Oh good and we definitely agree on a lot of things I think. Just that agency is the slight nuance which makes this kind of fun and interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

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