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Monday Musings
Tuesday, 15 February 2011 09:31
Fanservice: The inclusion in a work of fiction of any material, especially racy or sexual material, which has no relevance to the storyline, but is designed merely to excite the viewer.

There are many types of fanservice: from panning past the cars in Initial D, to the attention to detail of the guns in Gunslinger Girl, it's all about giving the audience something to go "Oooooh...." over. But in 90% of cases, if not more, "fanservice" refers to the gratuitous display of underwear - or the body parts that are usually kept under underwear - and that's what we're looking at this week. It's a subject I've banged on about before, but I make no apologies for revisiting it.

Back when I first started watching anime, with Project A-Ko way back in the 80s, the height of fanservice was the occasional flash of pristine white pantsu, and for many years that was pretty much all you got - sure, the amount of it slowly increased (probably reaching a peak on that front with Najica Blitz Panties Tactics), but there was still a level of decency there - a line, particularly with TV shows, that you could rely on shows not crossing. With OVA shows, there was a little more leeway, but there was also still a certain amount of restraint practised by the studios.

Somewhere along the line, though, someone crossed the line and unleashed the beast. I suppose I first became aware of this with shows like Ikkitousen and Girls Bravo, where the T&A suddenly stopped being the gravy on an otherwise decent story and instead became part of the story itself. From there, we seem to have been on a slippery slope, where one show after another has felt the need to outdo their predecessors, to push the limits of good taste as far as they could, and then go beyond - eventually bringing us to shows like this season's Freezing, or Rio - Rainbow Gate, where titillating the audience seems to come higher up the show's list of Things To Do than the plot itself.

Now, I'm not adverse to T&A in my anime. I enjoyed Highschool of the Day and Sekirei (boobies ftw!), but in both those cases there's a plot that takes priority over the service. I enjoyed Girls Bravo as well, but that was when the idea of service taking priority was comparatively new - since then, T&A fanservice has descended into something else that for me has really torpedoed its appeal. Let's take Freezing as an example: the setting here would allow for some excellent story arcs, with the alien invasion side of things and what the Pandoras put on the line every time they go into battle being a good foundation for the series. But instead of following those possibilities - which I understand the source manwha does explore - the anime takes the lazy approach: bitchfights between students, with shredded clothing and ritual humiliation (in the sexual as well as the physical sense), from characters who are impossible to connect to or care about - and nary a sight, as of this week's episode, of the 'alien invasion' premise ever being more than backstory. And you don't even get to see the "fanservice" anyway - with the level of flesh on "show" being way beyond what's acceptable for TV broadcast, most of it's hidden behind shadows or steam and only set to be "unlocked" for those willing to shell out for the home video release. As a result, it's ceased to be "fanservice", and has instead become a marketing tool. The fan who's supposed to be being serviced is instead being taken right out of the loop.

Is this really what we, anime fans, want? I alluded above to the idea of fanservice being "gravy": a condiment put one something else to make it more appealing. Eating gravy on its own isn't much fun, past the first spoon or two - it needs the steak, or the potatoes, or whatever else you fancy, to give it substance. Freezing and the growing number of shows like it take a pass on the substance and leave you with something that, while it may be quite tasty in the short-term, soon leaves you with a bitter aftertaste. And I can't believe that's good for anyone in the long run.

Annoyingly, the thing most likely to put a brake on this trend in the short-term is the impending implementation of the revised Toyko Youth Ordinance Bill in July. But that's for another week's musings.

Monday Musings is a new regular feature here at AV. If you've got any comments or suggestions, or topics you think we could cover in a future column, add a comment below and we'll see what we can do.

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