Let’s Talk The History Of Fan-Service

We all typically think of fan-service as sexualised scenes of our favourite anime characters, however it can be much more. Sure, sex plays a big part of it, but fan-service, whether it be massive battles or characters singing their way through the credits, is a prominent component of anime, so where did this trend come from? 

Fan-service is not something signature to only anime. As a matter of fact even some Japanese sports teams have taken part in it. Western forms of culture, i.e. Marvel, NFL teams etc. have dabbled with fan-service in some regard, whether it be some sort of live action performance or marketing scheme.

Lady Sif, from Thor, visits a hospital to raise awareness for children with illnesses. While also a marketing campaign the visit entertained many fans of the movies.

Fan-service is simply anything that rewards the viewer and as such varies incredibly in terms of appearance, but there is one stark concept in anime that keeps on being used over and over again.

While Shonen manga/anime (Boyish media e.g. Naruto, Hellsing) features a fair amount of fan-service, namely panty-shots, booby bounces and all that jazz, it’s also important to mention that fan-service is also apparent in Shojo material (Girlish media e.g. Clannad, Toradora!) in the form of masculine men bearing their chests and making provocative poses.

For some shows it’s an ongoing joke or gimmick as was seen in Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show that openly promised more fan-service would be seen in the next episode, or Mikuru Asahina from the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya that was stripped several times in the first season of the show.

As a matter of fact it was anime that coined the term fan-service even though the practice of titillation is much older.

While Neon Genesis Evangelion had its fair share of fan-service and subtle nuances, Hideaki Anno quickly grew annoyed when fans viewed his characters as sexual objects. Can you blame them?

Originally anime didn’t necessarily have fan-service or violence to the extent that it has today. There weren’t shows full of suggestive themes such as Kill La Kill or films as bloody as Hellsing Ultimate. Shows used to be tamer because they could only be watched on TV and had to market themselves to a wider audience. To be put simply, due to no possibility of an anime being purchased for personal use (i.e. DVDs, streaming etc.) a show couldn’t necessarily rely on a small section of the broader community to watch it.

Think of how Robocop, a movie that was originally rated for adults only, was rebooted into a PG film to appeal to a larger audience and in turn attempted to make more cash. This appeal is also seen in some shows recently, most typically of the moe genre, which due to its popularity spawned multiple anime following the stock standard model of cutesy shows, similar to K-On!, Girls Und Panzer and so on. These shows were mainly good as individual anime, however more and more producers continued to pump them out as they were selling well.

Lo and behold the invention of video changed the family friendly market as producers could now market shows directly teenagers, adults etc. Gone were the times where shows had to rely upon TV standards in terms of sexuality and gore.

It’s thought that fan-service on the scale seen in modern day anime started in a little known manga going by the name of Cutie Honey, a series following an android who transforms into a busty girl with varying hair colours. Whenever her character transformed into her ultra form she would be naked for brief periods of time until she found clothes. Ironically enough it was the first Shonen manga to feature a female protagonist. It clearly sold well, creating two anime TV series, two OVA series, audio dramas and live action adaptations.

While there is of course some overlap between anime and hentai (Anime pornography) viewers, public perception of anime/manga changed drastically with the advent of anime spin-off. Much like gaming anime fans soon became seen as children or creeps whom were sexually attracted to their respective forms of entertainment. Of course the more extreme stories of Japanese otaku didn’t help to support the majority of anime enthusiasts, with most pointing out the manufacturing of love pillows, maid figurines and Eroge (Games with sexual content).

There were some hentai that were imported by other countries mistakenly as they had misinterpreted what the product actually was, most likely leading to some awkward conversations.

Just several of the sexy love pillows on google images.

Honestly anime was something new and foreign, and like most things falling into that category, it was viewed as dangerous and evil; something to be hated. That is most certainly not to say that anime doesn’t have a problem when it comes to female representation, though I’ve blown my trumpet on that issue before.

Anime started off as rather tame until the creation of video opened the possibility for producers to market themselves solely to different audiences, leading to an influx of raunchiness that had previously been unseen in the anime community, and the rest of course is history in the making.

Funnily enough some shows known for the excessive use of fan-service, e.g. Kill La Kill, actually use it as a satire. While never blatantly asking the viewer why they enjoy fan-service, there are multiple scenes that show supporting dying whenever they see a flash of Ryuko’s panties etc.

“You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life.’” – Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli and widely praised anime director, stated in a February 2014 film that the reasoning for his departure from anime in general was solely because of the community. He explained that many staff in the industry love anime to the extent where they blur fiction with reality, believing that women actively act like their anime portrayals.

While you may choose to disagree with Hayao’s quotes he does make an important statement concerning the need for variety in story telling. There’s a danger to be seen when this line of fact and fiction is blurred because anime can show great forms of storytelling, however as the use of fan-service increases at such a rate as it does now, then ultimately it never will grow or change.

There’s a reason why after the first Hunger Games movie came out that teen books became full of romance and post apocalyptic romances, however if that’s the only form of narrative ever discussed then the medium can only be stagnant and ultimately sad.


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