Is Fanservice as a Term Truly Accurate?

Lately, I’ve been considering the term fanservice to be a bit presumptuous.

In regards to its definition, fanservice / fan service / service service is supposed to be material that is intentionally included in a work of fiction in order to satisfy and please the audience. While fanservice is frequently associated with gratuitous titillation, the term can also refer to story or visual elements the audience may desire or covet.

So by that definition, long and lingering shots of robots in mecha anime could be considered fanservice because devout mecha fans may really love such attention to detail and may find aforementioned shots to be stimulating. Similarly, cute interactions amongst characters could also be deemed as fanservice because some shippers may cite such moments as proof that a girl is into another girl and so on.

But for these shots to be dubbed as fanservice, these scenes are understood to be specifically designed and framed in order to be appealing to specific viewers. Alas, all kind of viewers will watch the same shows for different reasons, which means one person’s fanservice moment could become another person’s “I can’t believe they included this in the show” moment.

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In regards to the earlier examples, perhaps some viewers may find these long shots of the robot’s interior and exterior to be boring and could grow impatient while waiting for the action to actually happen. As for the intimate interactions between two characters, it’s possible that some viewers may think that these two characters to not be compatible or that the moments were merely platonic in nature. Different people will have different interpretations of the same scenes, after all.

So what does fanservice mean, then, when individuality and differing opinions are both alive and well among anime fans? If one scene appeals to the majority of the viewership, then is said scene by default to be considered fanservice? What of the dissenters? These are the kind of questions that will also lack clearcut answers and are heavily dependent on personal beliefs.

Be that as it may, I think the most controversial form of fanservice also happens to be what many people associate with the term in question: immoderate amounts of visual and auditory stimulation.

I think it’s safe to say that most viewers want to see attractive characters in anime. There are some anime fans who will criticize a character for being “too ugly,” for instance. There are also some anime fans who will watch a series simply because a character in said show is a pretty girl or a handsome guy. Just take a look at how so many people are or have been talking about Zero Two from Darling in the FranXX being a total babe.

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With that in mind, it seems like a no-brainer for studios to include some gratuitous titillation. If a character (whom is considered by the majority of the viewership to be attractive) is placed in suggestive and stimulating scenarios and situations, then obviously the viewership will be pleased, right?

Two factors, however, make this seemingly simple conclusion harder to realize than first imagined.

Firstly, there’s the whole bit about individuality and personal preferences I mentioned earlier. Some viewers won’t be happy to see half-naked guys. Other viewers won’t care for scantily-clad girls. So perhaps scenes of Zero Two parading around wearing nothing but a towel is well-received by many fans, for instance. Those who hold no attraction to female characters would obviously disagree, however. You like what you like, I suppose, and I’m not sure if much can or should be done about that. Just don’t insult others’ preferences just because their opinions don’t align with that of yours and we should be fine.

Secondly, there’s a very fine line when it comes to pleasing the fans (which, as established above, is actually a subset of all fans, but I digress) and being potentially alienating through excessive enthusiasm.

Some series revolve entirely around fanservice which means some fans won’t even give the shows a single chance out of principle (Keijo!!!!!!!! and Seikon no Qwaser come to mind). Other series may have a solid idea and execution going on, but then the focus and genre shifts which causes important themes to be overlooked and downplayed and neglected just so the “fans” can be pleased. That seems to happen to a lot of titles, unfortunately.

So I understand that this post could be considered a total mess of incomplete thoughts and contradictory ideas. That’s what I get when I try to force myself to write something late at night. But before I take my leave, I would just like you all to consider this final question. If fanservice could be considered unneeded material that was merely added in order to appeal to certain fans, then what of the fans who were loving said series but were put off by said moments of “fanservice?”

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Thank you for reading.

35 thoughts on “Is Fanservice as a Term Truly Accurate?

  1. Thanks for an intriguing post! It’s neat to see the term not only being called into question, but then problematized. Definitely food for thought.😺

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s an interesting post. I think it’s a multifaceted problem:

    All art could be viewed as a service for people who like that sort of thing (“fans”). But something gets lost if that’s all a piece of art is. On a sliding scale, you could be talking about the artist side and the consumer side. That is we have two differing sorts of expectations: we want an artist to express something that’s inside them, but we also want to be entertained, challenged, etc. Ideally this goes hand in hand: artists express themselves, and consumers choose what interests them from what’s on offer.

    But that’s when competition comes in: artists may want to be popular, and thus they may try to please an audience by giving them what they want (which they guess from what said audience has liked before). In that sense, it’s the service aspect that comes to the fore.

    This again leads to an inventory list of elements available to creators: a sort of genre language. Here, we move away from service again: all those elements were once supposed to be servicy, but they’ve solidified into genre expectations and are now elements to do with. We’ve basically moved from fan service to fan language, but if you don’t speak the language all you see is the service.

    Thus we get “fan-service shows” like, say, Monster Musume – shows that engage in ecchi comedy because it’s fun. Elements that have been added to other shows to please a certain demographic become the main attraction and endowed with enough creativity to be fun. I’d say the ultimate example would be Highschool of the Dead, which notices in Freudian terms that eros and thanatos are room-mates that get along well and just run with it. I both hate HotD and respect it a lot.

    There is also the cutlural dual-headed giant of taboo to be considered. In school we spent a lot of time talking about “the author’s intentions”. We were looking for a “message”. What’s there is a stand-in for something else, and never just what you see. There’s an expectation that what an artist is supposed to express is worth expressing, and if it runs against taboo it has to bring something of sufficient weight to counter the incovenience: a message isn’t enough anymore, we need a MESSAGE. It’s not just mindless tittilation; there’s a point to it, see? But frankly, being sexy isn’t as easy as rattling off stereotypes. The problem is that you can’t talk about what you like, because it’s embarrassing (because of taboo), and so we get streamlined shouts of “boobs!!!” that cover up either embarrassment in the face of arousal or an unwillingness of to admit the lack of such (“it’s not manly”!).

    Notice how what I said above has limited validity? Until my bracket comment it could have included lesbian and bi women; the expectation to be manly is mosted directed at boys/man, though, isn’t it? That’s the giant’s second head: a social bracketing: fanservice can push you over a line – man or woman? Aroused or not? And there are very few socially uncontroversial constellations. So you’re caught up by a fanservice language in a social organisation that doesn’t suit you. You speak the language, but you can’t express yourself in it. Not only is the fanservice unappealing – the fan language rejects you.

    That’s why people don’t talk about “fanservice” when it comes to melodrama in shows like, say, this seasons Violet Evergarden. You just say that sort of sentimentality isn’t your thing if you don’t like it. There’s no embarrassing taboo in the way? Sexuality? It’s “fanservice”, meaning it’s service for “fan”, which you either are or you are not. It’s a battlecry, and then some of thusly attacked “fans” might embrace the term for themselves (“I’m shallow, so what?”). There’s no such thing as neutral ground in the fan wars, but you can build a fallout shelter.

    In the end, you either like a show or don’t, and if you like a show, you mightn’t like all of it, and it might have elements that bore or offend you, while shows that mosty bore or offend you may have points of attraction. “Fanservice” may sometimes be a decent means to express yourself. In the former case, this means: “I wish those annoying elements wouldn’t mar my enjoyment.” In the latter case, this means: “Those elements are great; I wish they would occur in a show I like.”

    And sometimes this spills over into social critique: “I wish this sort of content didn’t have fans.”

    So, no, “fanservice” isn’t an accurate term. It’s messy. But it’s messy in the way that day-to-day language usually is. And people are generally pretty good to spot meaning in context. There will be misunderstandings, and they’ll stand out. But that doesn’t mean the term is useless. Generally, there are more precise terms, though. It might just be a tad more embarrassing or face-threatening to use them. “Fanservice” isn’t accurate; it’s street-diplomacy that sometimes fails to work.

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    1. Wow. I just read through this comment at work while sitting in a bathroom stall (no time alone otherwise). I love how you described this (and yes, I admit that I wasn’t thorough enough and took some liberties and mixed up problems without giving any solutions). Thank you so much for giving me a lot to think about as usual. It’s greatly appreciated.

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      1. To be honest, I was rather shocked at how long my post turned out to be – even for me. Thanks for reading all of it. 🙂

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  3. Maybe it’s /because/ the term “fanservice” is too broad and someone needed a shorthand/euphemism for specific fans being pleased that the term became associated with ecchi situations…? I guess that’s also the reason why the term “manservice” evolved too, although manservice in itself’s often less triggering to people.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Many years ago, I talked to a guy whose favorite Star Trek movie was actually (shockingly) The Motion Picture. When I asked why, he said he was a fan of the Enterprise itself, over and above anything else in the franchise. So all those long, loving closeup pans over the new movie version of the ship that dragged on interminably and put the rest of us to sleep, that was all fanservice for him, and he loved every bit of it.

    Getting back to anime, I do think that the term “fanservice” has mostly been corrupted into a shorthand for “gratuitous ecchi” at this point, when the actual meaning is (or should be) broader than that. At the same time, though, some other forms of fanservice have evolved labels of their own, like “scenery porn,” so maybe in the end it all sorts itself out anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, one person’s treasure, huh? I’m glad he was able to enjoy the film haha.

      Mmm it’s an interesting situation for sure and I don’t really great the topic with the respect it deserve considering how I actually skim over several topics. Scenery porn is such a silly term and it always makes me laugh, though.

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  5. The colloquialism of fan service these days is the fact of having very scantily clad characters in erotic situations. Though I do remember a time when it just means throwing a bone to fans of a specific genre. The Danganronpa 3 Hope Special was designed to be one big showcase of fan service for people who have followed the series since the beginning. It used to be such an appropriate word to describe some scenes but now if you say it some will reply with “there was no nudity or revealing shot there”.

    In regards to fan service I don’t have a problem unless it impedes my enjoyment of something. If it makes the proceedings feel doctored in a way or it doesn’t contribute at all to the story, tone or characters. If it feels off in any way that is a detriment to a show I don’t like it. Something like Chivalry of a Failed Knight had some steamy romance that felt in the tone of the show between its main leads, yet when that bleeds out into the average proceedings towards other characters it does irk me. Cute characters who are there to say something cute (not comedically) just because we need a quota for characters to be cute that doesn’t jive with me unfortunately. I do enjoy fan service though especially in the context of well choreographed action sequences even if they don’t mean much. We all have those moments of meaningless fan service that appeals to us and those that openly makes us cringe.

    I think to answer your question in the end, there is a very fine line of tolerance people can have for stuff. I enjoy slice of life shows, even the occasional cute girls doing cute things show, but that doesn’t mean I am a fan of the baseless moments of moe randomness that is neither a joke nor something compelling to watch. I am there for the characters to act like they would and not how others would want them to. Yet that same instance some can find really charming. It will reflect differently in our respective looks on the series and who knows I may give the series a high score and the guy who enjoyed the moe could dislike the series for not having enough. Fan service will not always appeal to everyone and it stinks that some will have to get through those moments and potentially roll their eyes at it or groan. I don’t think there is a set solution to ease that for people unfortunately.

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    1. What a thorough and thoughtful explanation. IIt really is a bit disheartening that some people would automatically think along those lines when it comes to the homage included in Danganronpa 3 Hope Special. Quite the shame.

      Thanks for dropping by!

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  6. Well, if we look very broadly, every single frame of a show may be considered a fanservice simply because it was made to appeal to certain people. As you said, it depends on a person and probably means “I see that this thing can impress but it wasn’t necessary and didn’t do it for me”.

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  7. Great post. I absolutely agree that the term can itself be inaccurate, simply because the result will be divisive. It must be a hard balance to strike though to please fans in that regard, as every step is potentially divisive.

    From a personal standpoint, I prefer fanservice along the lines of references and/or cameos from other characters or shows that I recognise and enjoy. The whole titillation side simply doesn’t interest me, and can potentially ruin a show for me if it gets too much. Presentation does come into it though; I expected to hate Keijo for example, but found that it was actually fairly entertaining.

    Still, different strokes and all that. You’ll never please everyone all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mmm there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer (if one is looking for answers to begin with, that is) since everything is subjective. Ah, well, that’s life.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Presentation really does matter a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. In my point of vew fan-service is you doing it, if your fans end up going away it continues to be fan-service and you just made a terrible move! and when I mean “you” of course I mean the creators.

    Now what is fan-service… For me fan-service is everything that was put there, feels out of place and you clearly can see that the Anime went there just to appeal to what they think the majority of their fan-base like. Normally it also tends to go to things that you will say “cliché”. I don’t think that fan-service is only by sexualizing girls (pantie shots) making girls (and gay guys like myself) going nuts with half naked man. It can also much be an event, props to almost every slice of life including a “Let’s go to the beach” episode. And as you say it can also be nice visuals of mecha and so on.

    I don’t really mind fan-service when it does have something to do with what I’m watching or if it’s put in a way that well it doesn’t seem forced. It’s just normal that companies use this kind of scenes to get more viewers, in the end all of us need to make money.

    Really nice post! 🙂 It’s one of those that really triggers discussion ^.^

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I personally don’t mind fan-service, regardless of whether or not it appeals to me and my tastes or not, and only really get “turned off” by it if it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series, has no story reason or ruins the tone of a specific scene (this is mostly why I strongly disliked Akame Ga Kill for example).

    My thoughts on fan-service aside, I agree that the term can often be inaccurate, because every viewer is different and may not fall into the category of people the fan-service is catered towards. I can usually recognise these moments myself, and they don’t tend to bother me even if they don’t fit who I am as a viewer, but I do think that to call it “fan-service” would be inaccurate, as there are many types of fans.

    I never really saw the term this way until now. Interesting… What other term would be more suitable I wonder?

    Interesting post. Really got thinking! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Very reasonable stances to hold as usual, Leth. I’m almost a bit worried that this post comes across as anti-fanservice. It’s not meant to be and your insightful comment shows that one shouldn’t really hate fanservice just because one doesn’t find that particular portrayal or brand to be appealing.

      Hmmm. Probably it’s best to steer away from lazy, vague terminology or to at least identifiy and mention the type of people who would be drawn to the instance of fanservice in question. But I don’t have any real answer here so that’s why I left it out of the article.

      Haha, thank you for bothering to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I never thought of it that way. I always appreciate when anime makes a joke out of it. Like in Yona of the Dawn Hak pulls his shirt a bit to the side and they say, “That’s the fan service for today”

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  11. “Fanservice” is one of those terms I don’t find terribly helpful these days, primarily for the reasons you outline — there are so many different meanings the word can convey that it has become almost useless as a descriptor. Today it has become primarily associated with suggestive or ecchi content (typically by people who are criticising it for such things), but that makes talking about works that use other types of “fanservice” quite difficult.

    For example, I could tell someone that Final Fantasy XIV is full of fanservice (which it is) and mean that it is full of visual and narrative references to older Final Fantasy games, and, without explanation to someone completely unfamiliar with the game, potentially be completely misunderstood that the game is all about catgirl panties.

    With this sort of thing in mind, I try and avoid the term whenever possible, particularly as it tends to carry pejorative baggage more than anything these days. There are better ways to describe all the different things that “fanservice” implies, after all, be it on the ecchi side of things, referencing other works or simply putting characters in a situation that fans have been clamouring for.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Homages really do tend to get overlooked when it comes to labeling content as fanservice, doesn’t it?

      There may be better ways to describe what we have in mind, but it seems like fanservice as a term is very much ingrained in people’s minds.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t know much about anime but I often write reviews on Koream TV shows on my blog. Unlike TV shows from the set where the entire Screenplay is prepared and shot beforehand, korean dramas are shot during the duration of its broadcast. Depending on the audience reactions, certain characters or situations are given more or less on screen time. Nowadays however, hit dramas like ‘Descendants of the sun’ are coming with no alterations as it is being shot completely before broadcast.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I believe there are three points on this: scenes that are designed to draw attention (like the bath scene in Highschool of the Dead, a lot of Negima) and scenes that are usually culturally misunderstood, mainly revolving around scenes of nudity and bathing, or such scenes (again usually with nudity or near) that is plot relevant. There are exceptions to each one, but that is my take on it. I don’t think a little fan service ruins a show, but when they rely on it, I’m quick to grow tired of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sounds solid enough to me. I found myself rolling my eyes when people were complaining about the nudity in Made in Abyss. People usually have to bathe to keep clean in real life, so it’s not weird for that to happen in anime, too…

      Liked by 1 person

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