Smut

When a pair of breasts take up the entire screen, the possible reactions are many. The first is titillation, briefly stirring sexual impulses. The second is indifference, because fanservice is old hat and that’s not even good fanservice. The third is offense, layed out in many ways.

One claim is that it is wasting time. “I don’t want fanservice, I want character development!” goes the refrain. The next claim is that such a scene is ruining the character by sexualizing her. Some go even further and claim that such a scene reduces the character into a sexual object. Once an anime character with dreams and ambitions, now just a pair of breasts to stare at, alas! Some take offense at the fact that the breasts in this scene belong to an underage girl. Others take offense at their size.

Isn’t it amazing how polarizing two mere sacks of fat can be?

(WARNING: This post is long and image heavy)

So, my first claim is that fanservice isn’t exactly new. Case in point above. My second claim is that eroticism and art aren’t mutually exclusive. Once again, case in point above. (hint, in the second picture, the guy is peeping up her skirt) My third claim is that eroticism is mainstream. One needn’t look outside Hollywood to verify this for oneself.

These three points should do little to dissuade the critic. There is not an obvious greater artistic point to having the camera zooming in on the character’s breasts, and the fact that it is both timeless and common all around the world doesn’t make it right.

Rather than directly exploring the arguments for or against fanservice, I’m going to detour this post into analyzing specific scenes.

Exhibit A: Sankarea Episode 1

For this scene, I first wanted to present the fanservice moment. The camera shoots her legs from a low angle as her skirt swishes upwards to the right (implying she suddenly got up on her knees from a sitting position). Then it switches to a top down view of her cleavage. The lighting is surprisingly revealing for such a shot, and her face is blushing. The show would appear quite shameless from just these two stills. Now let me put this in context:

 

This scene actually has marvelous cinematography. Look at how much meaning is conveyed in four of these shots through body language and position. They use of chairs as “boxes” to mark the personal space and the setting of an empty chair between them to measure emotional distance is both simple and effective. Catchercatch has written a rather long and detailed entry on this sort of thing in the first three episodes which I highly recommend (and I admit I was inspired to analyze this particular scene from).

Now we have a context for the two fanservice shots, what a difference this makes! The point where she cuts into his personal space and makes him feel uncomfortable is the same point where the camera focuses on her erotically. It is not (just) for the viewer to look at, it is also so that the viewer can understand how the male protagonist feels.

Okay, but let’s say we took out the fanservice. Is it a gain or a loss? Well, the third picture would certainly imply that our protagonist is being intruded upon, and she’s almost pressed up against him. It is much more subtle to do it this way and doesn’t seem to overtly court the desires of the viewer. Making it much more “subtle” is also a euphemism for making it less effective in this case, seeing as the anime only has a short amount of time to draw the viewer into the visual narrative. This isn’t a museum piece where you have all the time in the world to look at it and appreciate subtleties, this is but a split second that our animators were given to convey as much emotion as they can. In that sense, I believe this scene was better with the fanservice, even for a viewer who is not attracted to it.

Exhibit B: Sankarea episode 5

Here, we are treated to a zombie attack! Okay, so what’s the context? She walked into the room, and the zombie jumped on her, proceeding to nearly rape her. Then the guy runs in to save the day, only to get similarly attacked, though in his case he was merely kissed and hugged. The implication is that the taste of her skin was somehow helping revive the zombie.

So, why does the zombie grope her breasts? Fuck if I know. Unlike exhibit A, we can deduce that there is only one purpose for this scene to be executed in such a way: to titillate the viewer.

So I return to my same question. Titillation aside, does this improve the scene? In this case, the answer is an obvious “no”. By including the fanservice, we have broken suspension of disbelief. The creators here have decided that the vulgar thrill of a yuri rape scene was worth sacrificing quality in other areas.

A final comment I must make on this scene is that even the fanservice isn’t that great. In exhibit A, we were treated to the unconventional fanservice of a swishing skirt alongside cool lighting. This scene is totally generic in comparison, and less pretty.

Exhibit C: Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 3

This is a scene that has been criticized on several blogs.

Our blond haired girl is having a conversation with a male protagonist (left of screen). As we can see in the first picture, she is agitated. Another character has nicknamed her “meat” to make fun of her. He says “Meat…” and she responds “what?”, to which he says “oh no, I meant there was some meat in my Yakisoba”. After he says this, her belly relaxes outwards.

So, what was the point here? The blog authors I linked to assumed that the purpose of these scenes were to show her underboobs. From just looking at the screenshots, one would be tempted to agree. This would mean that by tying the shots together, it appears our protagonist is leering at her boobs. But the fact that they explicitly showed her relaxing her belly gives a rather different meaning to this scene. She was tensed up, until she realized that she misunderstood him, and then she relaxed.

To describe all of the emotions in this scene would be pointless, it’s a typical scene to show romantic tensions (the show is quite haremesque). The setting would be one which it doesn’t make sense to criticize her for wearing a sexy bikini. In other words, nothing is blatantly contrived here to make an excuse for fanservice. Although, the dialogue was rather contrived to shoehorn in that misunderstanding (besides possibly vegetarians, who would exclaim “meat” when there is meat in their food?), so perhaps the scene itself isn’t that great.

I think the choice to show her relaxing her stomach was a clever idea. It suffered from ambiguity though, as the negative reactions showed. And make no mistake, this is clearly not a clean innocent little scene with no fanservice intentions. It is intended to entice viewers. But, it also makes sense, is interesting, and doesn’t interfere with the narrative.

Exhibit D: Evangelion Episode 15

Here we are treated to Asuka dressed rather sloppily and indecently, and the camera picks angles clearly intended to tease the viewer. The third picture here, which looks perhaps the most fanservicey, was really only a split second. The other shots lingered a bit longer.

What is the point of this? Attitude. This sequence of shots clearly demonstrates that Asuka does not give a fuck about her appearance when she’s out of public. Of course, there’s the added point that Shinji is also home, hanging in the other room. We know from earlier episodes that she enjoys teasing him, and that he is shy and awkward about it. Both of these points are reinforced by this scene.

So, was the fan-service necessary here? No. We could have easily established that she was dressed sloppily and indecently without pointing the camera down her shirt or towards her rear.  Once again, we can establish that this scene was made with intentions to entice the viewer.

The fanservice throughout Evangelion is rather interesting, in that it serves as a contradicting example to the claim that fanservice is lowbrow. Evangelion is regularly praised as a highbrow series (yes, I know there are dissidents, but they are a minority). This scene is a good example of an intelligently crafted scene that is still perverted.

Exhibit E: Bakemonogatari Episode 1

Here we are treated to an intriguing use of fanservice: to open the series. This is actually the very first scene in the entire show. I guess it’s not too crazy for an entirely ecchi series, but that’s not the point of Bakemonogatari. So, what is the point of this scene? It seems to work in several ways.

1. Shock Factor. This is a scene that should throw the viewer entirely off guard. Doing so is important because the show can’t be watched effectively with preconceived notions.

2. Depicting the heightened sense and sensuality of our protagonist. By cutting to his widened eyes, and back to the panties but this time with a stopwatch, we are immediately convinced that he is perverse, has great vision, and perhaps photographic memory. This is actually important, because his heightened abilities affect the plot. The scene is somehow fitting because he is a recovering vampire.

3. Establishes an attraction between the characters. She obviously notices his gaze, yet doesn’t seem offended in the least. Later on, we see these characters talking to each other, and are aware of this subtext, thus giving slightly different interpretation to their conversation.

Sandwiching the scene is a crossing sign that goes from red to green. Does this mean that the fact she wasn’t bothered is interpreted as some sort of invitation, that now he is given permission to approach her? Or is it saying that time seemed like it stopped for him during this moment? Either makes sense, though the first one makes less sense without the context provided by later episodes.

It is almost strange to see such sophisticated fanservice. Even more than Exhibit D, this one blatantly mixes class with eroticism. The scene is completely, without a doubt, meant to tease the viewer just as much as any intellectual interpretation.

Exhibit F: Guilty Crown Episode 2

This is a very brief scene that stirred up some controversy among those who were expecting a darker series based on the first episode. Here she is, in the control room, taking a delight in her job, spinning around, jumping, and basically adding a girly flourish to everything she does. Then she playfully bumps a hologram with her butt.

Okay, but why? Her attitude was established well before she bumped it with her butt; there was no additional gain from this scene. I’d say this is nearly textbook “pointless fanservice”, possibly only topped among my examples by Sankarea episode 5.

The reason I pick this scene is for an opportunity to discuss a common criticism of fanservice. It is often said that fanservice is a distraction. This scene is very short, yet it is pointless. A short pointless robot transformation scene is never treated as a distraction, so there must be something especially potent about a sexual distraction.

Well, duh! Of course a sexual image is distracting. To a viewer attracted to girls, a scene like this will activate that attraction. It is distracting because it is attractive. If it weren’t attractive, then such a scene would fly by like any other distraction (of which Guilty Crown has plenty).

So, what we have is viewers angry because they were forced to look at something attractive? I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here: perhaps such a scene makes an impact that prevents the scenes before and after from being payed attention to. However, this would make it no different from a scene that was attractive due to pure beauty, such as a perfectly drawn landscape. The reason that the attractive erotic scene doesn’t gain respect like the landscape is because the eroticism feels like a shortcut, like it’s too easy.

Sex Objects

A common critique of a scene such as my example of the camera zooming onto the characters breasts is that it reduces the character to an object. This theory of objectification is an abstraction from the scenarios in which it most blatantly can be seen. For example, at a strip club, the women are there for no single other purpose than to be sexualized. A step away from direct objectification is in many hollywood films and music videos. An example is the music video for Jessica Simpson’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin'”.

What on Earth was the point of that? It not-so-cleverly tries to avoid demeaning the woman by portraying her as using her sexuality to get what she wants, with lyrics like “Legs come handy when laws in front of you” and “One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you”. She is smacked in the ass by some boorish man, she proceeds to grind up on him before turning around and punching him in the face. Some in the bar attack him and it turns into a brawl. This ends up with all the guys in the bar collapsed on the ground and her standing up on stage with the band. Following this, there is a dance scene with all the girls in denim shorts wiggling their rears all over the place, interspersed with scenes of Jessica washing a car in her bikini.

The message can be distilled to this: “I will use my sexuality to earn favors, but that doesn’t mean you can touch me”. It sounds like a fair exchange, where both parties benefit. So, where’s the problem with putting her worth in her sexuality? Well, as the dance suggests, all the girls working in the bar put their worth in their sexuality. What happens if, hypothetically, one of the women were less attractive than the others? I know, unlikely for a hollywood music video (this uses footage from the film Dukes of Hazzard), but just if that were the case, the less attractive woman would receive less favors.

This means that realistically, this fantasy where chicks put their bargaining power in their sexuality ends up pressuring them to become ever more sexual, and punishes those unlucky enough to lack a highly attractive body. I guess the point I’m getting at is that attempting to recover dignity with a no-touch rule doesn’t change the situation at all. The man is the customer and the woman is the product. There is no way such a power dynamic favors the woman. It’s like saying “I’m more powerful than you on the condition that I give you exactly what you want”.

So, is there a difference between sleazy music videos and erotic anime? The first difference is that what we would objectify was never a living being to begin with. But, if someone rotoscoped the Jessica Simpson video, would that really change anything? Nope, not at all. That’s because we view her as an act, she is a singer before she is a person. The problem with the video went beyond objectifying one specific girl.

Now, this is just personal opinion, but the music video felt a lot more offensive to me than any of the scenes I selected. I think it is because it so blatantly projected a message that demeans women (and men for that matter, who are apparently reduced to slobbering apes in the presence of a beautiful woman).

What is actually demeaning?

The examples I picked do not represent ecchi anime at all. There are plenty of series uniquely devoted to fanservice that I avoided. That is because I do not personally find any of the examples demeaning, thus if I could convince you that they weren’t demeaning, we could establish that fanservice in itself was not necessarily demeaning. And, also, there is much less to talk about for anime that only intend to be erotic. It is combining the eroticism with other elements that such a dynamic reaction occurs.

So, ignoring ecchi series, I think we generally find that fanservice is not usually demeaning to the characters who are portrayed erotically (a possible exception is if a character is dressed in a more daring way than befits her, sexualizing her just for the viewer.) Yet, despite this, it feels like there is something just a little bit regressive in the way that female anime characters are portrayed.

When I think back to characters who aren’t sexualized in such a way, my impression is that a large percentage of these can be considered as moe characters. Let me define moe right off the bat with the description in Anime News Network; “the concept covers a range of ideal behaviour for youthful female characters in manga or anime. To be moe, a character can be eager or perky, not overly independent, and call forth a desire in the viewer to protect them and nurture them.”

I think this here is the real problem. Moe characters are not overly independent, and they need to be protected. A preference for moe is, in part, a preference for dependent and weak innocent girls. Now, I don’t want to flat out say that moe is bad, because that isn’t quite fair. However, the attitude that “girls need to be protected” is quite sexist, and glamorizing girls who do need to be protected seems to be quite close to that.

Perhaps this explains the infamous Kannagi incident. In the Kannagi manga, the female main character noted that she had a boyfriend before she met the male protagonist. This set off a furious reaction from the fanbase, who labelled her “second hand goods” and a “slut”. Supposedly the fans even burned their manga in protest.

So, I’m not saying the problem is moe, I’m saying that the incredible popularity of moe is due to the problem, which is the pure and innocent virgin ideal. None of the examples of fanservice that I picked show a pure and innocent girl, and the one that needs to be protected (Sankarea) is in a really terrible situation that has nothing to do with her being weak.

The reason should be obvious enough; sexualizing an innocent girl is counter productive to establishing her innocence. It’s still done of course, it’s seen in harems all the time, but it seems to only appear when the anime in question is targeting different niches. In other words, it’s only a small fanbase that enjoys seeing moe characters sexualized, not the general one.

Why is Sexuality Offensive?

This question is the one I posed at the beginning of this entry, so I think it’s high time to return to it. I suggested one possibility when talking about Guilty Crown; depicting sexuality is a short-cut to crafting interest. A vibrant landscape can be distracting because it earned the right to be distracting through its beauty. But did the wiggling pair of boobs earn such a right? In that sense, it almost seems like the complaint is that the fanservice isn’t good enough. But we still complain even when it’s good, so there must be something else at work here.

One thing I noticed is that many people who dislike fanservice are very conscious of the image of anime. They say things like “this is why people think anime is perverted shit for pedophiles” or “I just want an anime that won’t embarrass me if my family sees me watching it”. I understand where these complaints are coming from, but I don’t think they’re valid. After all, heeding them would encourage homogeneity of culture.

The final hypothesis of mine, and this is just speculation (no insult intended), is that fanservice makes many viewers uncomfortable. Finding a teenager that’s not even real attractive could set off alarm bells in the minds of many users. The unthought thought is “if I enjoy this, I’m a pervert”.

Like I said, that’s just a hypothesis, and I don’t mean to swing such a cruel generalization around with any authority.

Personally, I usually enjoy fanservice.

Part II: More Smut.

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15 Responses to Smut

  1. gwern says:

    > She was tensed up, until she realized that she misunderstood him, and then she relaxed.

    The particularly misunderstanding is also interesting: I take it as a weight worry. Japan and Korea are even more extreme about women must be thin and dieting and exercising than Western countries, and even in America, sucking in your gut is a common reaction to thinking about whether you are thin enough or not. ‘Meat’ only emphasizes it.

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  3. JJ says:

    I don’t think the dialogue was contrived for exhibit C. They word for meat is (niku 肉) but there is also a phrase 肉付きのよいWhich means plump. It seems like an easy misunderstanding in japanese. There was also a phrase like ゼー肉 (ze-niku) that meant flabby or something but I can’t remember it.

    • bricksalad says:

      Thanks for pointing this out. Now, I don’t know kanji, but from hiragana and context, the phrase is “niku ___ ki-no-yui”? I’m still learning this stuff so please tell me if I’m completely off.

      I still don’t see why you would eat something and say “niku”, but what you said does add extra meaning to the wording, so I can at least appreciate the scene a bit more.

  4. Joe says:

    A fantastic read.

    I believe fan-service is just a tool, not the main focus of a piece.

  5. tyuip says:

    “Fanservice makes white people uncomfortable.” would be most accurate.

  6. telliamed says:

    Titillation aside, does this improve the scene? In this case, the answer is an obvious “no”. By including the fanservice, we have broken suspension of disbelief. The creators here have decided that the vulgar thrill of a yuri rape scene was worth sacrificing quality in other areas.

    A few things I have to say about this scene, from the perspective of a manga reader. The early chapters of the Sankarea manga are heavily fanservice oriented. I don’t know how much of the story had been planned-out at this point, but little of it was being presented. Many of the plot oriented scenes in the anime were inserted from later chapters.

    Unlike some of the other gratuitous fanservice scenes (bunny cosplay, luffa) this one isn’t entirely irrelevant to the plot. We see Rea acting in an inhuman manner. The clouded look in her eyes signifies a lack of rational thought. Later we learn how this state comes about and why she “kissed” Chihiro.

    Oh, and “kissed” is in scare quotes because in the manga she bites him. The anime wanted to make her gentler, so it was only a kiss. Then later, she licks a wound on his arm (which results in him absorbing a small dose of hortensia poison, with a useful side-effect). The anime writers make up for it by adding a new scene at the end of the last episode.

    So the combination of having to stay true to the original manga in one sense, by showing the fanservice, while deviating from it in another, by Rea not biting Chihiro, made the scene less impactful.

    As for criticisms of fanservice and sexualization, I think it says more about the critics than the creators. What’s the difference between a teenage boy being enraptured by a partially nude woman versus an adult engineer enraptured by a sophisticated robot in a Gundam series? Or, in a shoujo manga, if the girl gets excited about shopping for clothes. The thing about stereotypes is that often there is a hint of truth in them. The fact is, guys like to look at good looking women and, let’s be honest, women appreciate being looked at. To be fair, women like looking at suave men just the same, thus the popularity of yaoi and Magic Mike.

    If I may be tautological, fanservice exists because it is what the fans want. If someone doesn’t like it, they should consider why their opinion is more valid than the majority of viewers. The word “elitism” comes to mind. Elitist about themselves, in viewing their opinions as exceptional, or elitist about anime, in attempting to portray it as high art rather than pulp fiction.

    • bricksalad says:

      I think a little bit of elitism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If anime only ever gave the viewers what the majority of them wanted, we would never have more challenging and insightful shows.

      That said, I loved your manga perspective. The fact that she actually bites him would make the scene two times better. I mean, sure, she still gropes Ranko’s breasts for no apparent reason (or is that explained in the manga too?), but it fits in better with the violent context. You’re right, it’s much less impactful.

  7. Hiroshi says:

    Personally I think the problem is that fanservice while enjoyable at times takes away alot of the immersion that the anime has been building up and thus ruining the moment for some cheap thrills.

  8. Pingback: More Smut | The Dragorol

  9. Richard says:

    >Exhibit E: Bakemonogatari Episode 1
    He’s not a recovering vampire (yet) in that scene. That was from Kizumonogatari, the movie prequel to Bake of which a long trailer is played right after that skirt scene.

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