[Feature] How fan service can attract or repel an audience, and how to tell the difference

There’s a misconception that feminists believe any and all fan service is always bad. But in this feminist’s opinion, fan service goes wrong when it interrupts the mood of the show. Take Keijo!!!!!!!!, my guilty pleasure of this anime season, in which girls don skimpy swimsuits, study “asstronomy,” and use their ample buttocks to knock each other out. I love comedies and over-the-top action, and I knew instantly that I’d find this entire premise hilarious. I love that Keijo!!!!!!!! knows itself. It knows exactly why we’re watching and doesn’t try to be anything else. Sometimes fan service, defined here as the act of giving the fans exactly what they want, hits the mark. Keijo!!!!!!!! is one of those instances, dishing out exactly what it promised. The same goes for Free!, which advertises—and delivers—on plenty of male skin. And for an example of how fan service isn’t always sexual, let’s bring up a truly wild mecha anime, GaoGaiGar, which is undeniably gratuitous with its slick giant robot battles and rewarding explosions. Fan service can be exciting, sexy, fun, or all three—when it’s implemented well. I recently enjoyed Monster Musume, the unlikely and over-the-top tale of an everyman who is compelled to care for a menagerie of mythical half-women who are all crazy for him. It was a comedy, and often a surprisingly sexy one. Yes, I get that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to watch a snake girl try on lingerie or meet a dominatrix spider lady, but nobody is going to go into Monster Musume without getting exactly what the show’s premise implies. Meanwhile, I was extremely put off by certain parts of God Eater. This video game series turned anime is known for its unusual, beastial enemy designs, its post-apocalyptic futurescape, and its stunning, almost painterly art. So I was extremely bothered by the anime’s constant visual focus on some female characters’ breasts. Major Amamiya is portrayed in the games and parts of the show as a competent leader and combatant, but we see more of her breasts than her face. I’m not saying that strong women can’t be sexy, but it seems as if the show is undercutting itself, leaving me pondering its jarring camera angles instead of immersing myself in its story. “Wait, didn’t you just say you liked Monster Musume, which was full of boobs?” Yes, but have we considered that there’s a time and a place for boobs, and a serious war drama isn’t it? When I use the term “fan service” in a derogatory way, it’s not because I hate fan service, far from it! It’s because I am critiquing the creator’s understanding of what type of content actual serves fans of a show. When the girls of Keijo!!!!!!!! flaunt their considerable assets, it’s totally in line with the story. But when an otherwise serious show suddenly points the camera at a female character’s panties, it’s saying several unfortunate things: The creators have no confidence in their product. It reeks of self-doubt on the storyteller’s part. “Don’t like our storyline? Let’s toss in some skin just in case.” The creators don’t know why we’re watching, and are hoping to compensate for that with unasked-for sex appeal, ultra-violence, etc. It’s tone-deaf. In the case of female skin, the creators may believe that this is the only way to make women interesting. “She’s a magic-wielding soldier from the future, but if you still think that’s boring, take a look at her boobs.” Imagine you’re watching Dragon Ball Z. Goku is launching into his Kamehameha attack and the camera goes closer, closer… until it lines right up at his crotch. To me, that would say “Fans, we realize this is a real yawn, so let’s throw in some sex appeal to spice things up.” This would be ridiculous because it would intentionally pull viewers out of the story. It would be ridiculous because Dragon Ball Z already HAS fan service—depicting the craziest attacks possible. Adding gratuitous sexuality on top of that would just take away from that. Fan service can often be the product of sloppy storytelling: give the fans what they think they want in order to compensate against larger issues. Not all fan service is bad. But the fan service that works for one show isn’t going to serve the fans of another. If I turn on Gundam, I want to see some robot explosions, complete with twisted metal carnage. And if I turn on Keijo!!!!!!!! and don’t see a “Butt Guillotine,” I’m going to be disappointed. Giving fans what they want is awesome. The problem is creators often don’t know what that is. This may seem like a surprising proposal from a Monster Musume fan, but it’s time for anime to stop relying on fan service as an all-purpose Band-Aid. It simply doesn’t work in every show. For me, the shower scenes in Izetta the Last Witch feel as out of place as if the characters in Yuri!!! On Ice punctuated their skating routines with Michael Bay style explosions. For fan service to be successful, it has to align with the audience’s expectations. What is a show advertising in its promos, its  opening credits, its first episode? Did we come to the show for a space opera and get butts instead? Did we come for butts and get a straight-laced period drama? Part of the reason AniFem exists is because there’s very little you can do to verify the absence of fan service other than watch the show, so some of the reviews here attempt to remedy that by warning fans in advance. That shouldn’t have to be the case! Certain art styles and storytelling cues should be enough to let us know who a show is for, and who is going to be completely put off by surprise fanservice. Of course, this means admitting that not every anime show has something for everyone—and being OK with that. I’d rather see shows go all out to please their intended audiences than dilute themselves …

[Roundtable] Shin Godzilla

Four of the team held a roundtable discussion this week after watching Shin Godzilla, Toho’s third reboot of Godzilla and the 31st film in the franchise, directed by Gainax’s Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. Read on for insights on the representation of female characters, politics in Japan and the US, the allegory of Godzilla, and comparisons to Evangelion.  Spoilers contained for the entirety of Shin Godzilla.   

[Feature] Could the Tokyo 2020 Olympics lead to more women’s sports anime?

In 1964 Japan was the first Asian country to host the Olympics. With the world watching, Japan won the third most gold medals (behind the United States and the Soviet Union), including the gold in women’s volleyball. This sparked a boom in female athleticism and added volleyball girls’ gym class curriculums across the country in addition to inspiring an anime called Attack on No. 1 about a young girl struggling through fierce volleyball competitions. Attack on No. 1 is the earliest example of a sports anime starring female characters and its popularity influenced other sports anime like Aim for the Ace, a show about a female tennis players that is still referenced to this day. (If you see a girl playing tennis with curly hair and doing an ojou-sama laugh, chances are that’s an Aim for the Ace reference.) But in recent years all high profile sports anime like Yowamushi Pedal and Kuroko’s Basketball focus on men’s sports. Women’s sports anime hasn’t been able to grasp the same popularity it did during the intense shoujo showdowns of the 60s, leaving female driven sports anime lacking in quantity.

[Interview] Minami Sakai, independent manga artist

We’re keen to speak to anime and manga creators and fans from a range of backgrounds and perspectives. As such, we’re thrilled to start our interview series speaking to someone who is currently living the daily grind of an independent manga artist in Tokyo: creating comics, entering competitions, selling at comic markets, approaching editors for reviews, and creating even more comics. It’s an experience we don’t hear about as much in English, and even then mostly in passing from creators who have already made it big.  What makes this even more unusual is that Sakai is one of a small number of manga creators from an English speaking country, and is creating comics in both Japanese and English. She was kind enough to take the time to answer our questions, telling us about herself, how she got where she is, and what she has learned along the way.   AF: How did you first become interested in drawing manga? Like many people my age, I got into anime and manga in general through Sailor Moon. I always liked to draw, but I was mainly drawing Disney-inspired animals until my 3rd grade teacher introduced me to Sailor Moon and I was completely hooked. I would copy pictures from my Sailor Moon books and cards over and over again until things just stuck, I guess. But while Sailor Moon was the start, I’d probably say that CLAMP’s works were what really got me drawing manga itself. Their works were like the perfect combination of gorgeous art and exciting stories, and I knew I wanted to make something similar to that some day. AF: How did you get from there to attending a school to study manga? Part of it was simply just drawing. Honestly, in the beginning I wasn’t even that interested in drawing comics in Japan. I happened to place 2nd in Tokyopop’s now defunct Rising Stars of Manga contest in my first year of college, and for a while I was seriously trying to pitch ideas to companies. But when the manga bubble in the states broke, no one was interested anymore. I had also recently experienced a tragedy in my family so I decided to take a break. I loved studying abroad in Japan during my junior year in college, so I ended up taking up a job as a teacher through the JET Program. Once I was back there, I periodically met up with the friends I had made there, and some of them were either seriously trying to debut, or already had debuted in magazines. It was really inspiring. Another American friend of mine decided to enter a school to study manga, and I thought that was a great idea so I followed her footsteps. Drawing comics while working a full time job was really difficult, and since I couldn’t get a visa being an assistant I figured the next best thing was entering a school to refine my skills. AF: What was the school you attended, and what was the application process like? I attended Tokyo Design Academy in Harajuku. I remember the application process being really easy. They even had a page in English for international students interested in attending the school. I had gone to a few open houses and just filled the form to apply to the school and sent it in. Admittedly, I was a bit lucky because I already had passed the JLPT N1 (they require at least an N2 to exempt yourself from taking a proficiency test at the school), so that saved me a lot of time. AF: How do you feel being a black American woman affected your experience at the school, if at all? I thought about this a lot, and honestly, a part of me would say it didn’t affect me that much. But I will admit that compared to my friend, a white American, I felt like some of the (older) teachers tended to regard me as “tougher” (whatever that means). I suppose in a lot of ways they held me in pretty high regard considering I had to deal with not being Japanese on top of being an aspiring artist. All my teachers were great and inspiring, being professionals themselves, and the school gave me lots of opportunities to hone my craft through assignments, part time work, you name it. I wouldn’t trade those two years for anything. AF: How has attending the school affected your work? The school affected my work immensely. The thing you have to understand is they really start from the basics in your first year―things like how to hold a dip pen, how to tone, how to construct a basic story. Your first big assignment is four pages, then eight pages, then 16 to 32 pages. I stuck to it, and suddenly in my second year I just had this… leap in improvement. It surprised even me. I actually made the finals in a contest in a magazine at that time! I think I never had given myself time to really study the basics before, so going to the school really brought me to task on what I did and did not know. I drew entirely analogue for a good three years until recently, when I decided to switch back to digital. But amazingly enough, my digital art has improved greatly just because of everything I did by hand. AF: How do you think being a Black American woman has affected or will affect your experience as a manga artist in Japan, if at all? The odd thing is, I still don’t think Japan has a clear idea about what a Black woman is. Because of that, most people don’t know what to make of me. It has its good sides and bad. As I’m sure you can assume, I stand out in Japan. There have been so many editor reviews I’ve gone to where they assumed I was Japanese after speaking with me on the phone, and when they meet me they just have this …

[My Fave Is Problematic] School Days

Yes, really. I imagine at least some of you took one look at the title I chose and ran as fast as possible in the other direction. Others might be reading on with some vague sense of contempt, for me or for one of the most infamous anime titles out there, propelled out of obscurity more because of its grisly ending and the circumstances surrounding it than anything else. Even I feel it – I’m compelled to show my bona fides to you, to say that my favorite anime titles are Utena, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and Gankutsuou. Real capital-A artsy stuff, right? Things a critic can feel legitimate writing about. But that doesn’t change my deep-down, ugly love for School Days. I couldn’t be happier that School Days exists.

[Update] Why are so many men supporting AniFem? and other questions

After just six days AniFem has beaten our first milestone on Patreon of $300 a month! We started out with no community, no name recognition, barely any content – but by yesterday over 70 people felt strongly enough about what we aim to accomplish to commit at least $1 a month to helping us succeed. Today, that number has exceeded 80. This earliest goal always felt like it would have the steepest climb, and we can’t thank our patrons enough for helping us reach that point so quickly. To celebrate, here is a behind-the-scenes ‘state of the nation’ update on our supporters, our response to criticism and our plans for the future.

[Review] What is Obscenity? Vagina kayaks, ‘pussy’ and the law

What is Obscenity? The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and her Pussy tells the story of vagina artist, Rokudenashiko, who was arrested in 2014 for “distributing obscene materials.” What were the obscene materials? Art made from the artist’s own vagina. The arrest made headlines around the world. Like many people, I was following this case intently. I thought I knew everything about it. However, upon reading What is Obscenity?, it’s apparent that the media only skimmed the surface. The news left out so many interesting (and depressing) details about what exactly happened.

AniFem Kotaku interview follow-up

(I need to work on catchier titles.) Many of you are here because of an interview I had with Cecilia D’Anastasio, published on Kotaku earlier this week. Cecilia did an amazing job. I had expected a gentle, softball interview from a fellow feminist anime writer, really more of a cosy chat… but – while being perfectly lovely throughout – she showed up with challenging questions ready to push me from vague diplomacy into proper answers, and it was hard. That she’s ended up with an interview that so many commenters have told me satisfied doubts they went in with is a testament to Cecilia’s skill. There are a few points I think have been misconstrued by readers which I would like to clarify and a couple of points I’d like to expand on though.

[Fan vs Service] Black Lagoon vs Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Characterization, sexuality, and objectification are extremely dense subjects and the source of a great deal of debate in modern media. This is especially true in regards to female characters designed and directed to appeal to the heterosexual male audience. There is a lot to unpack in these discussions, including whether a character is being sexualized or owning their sexuality and if these subjects fall under artistic licence or if they should be open to criticism. Rather than tackle the immense subject of characterization as a whole, my objective is to focus on one aspect of the portrayal of female characters in isolation: how camera and context can be used to sexualize or objectify a character in just about every conceivable situation. This is commonly referred to, but is just a smaller portion, of Laura Mulvey’s concept of male gaze. To tease out the sometimes minute differences that can result in either a neutral or sexualized portrayal, I’ll be comparing series with similar character designs and themes and their use of perspective and context to portray their female characters.

[Review] Long Riders – episode 1

Ami has never really had a passion that she was good at, and one day she sees a girl on a folding bike and falls in love. Her cyclist friend Aoi takes her to some bicycle shops where she is initially horrified by the cost then falls in love with a red folding bike she calls Ponta-kun. Aoi takes her on her first bike ride, with mixed results.

[Review] Occultic;Nine – episode 1

Teenager Yuta runs a snarky occult news blog. Black magic consultant Kurenaino runs a shop trading in curses. Publisher Sumikaze wonders if her boss saw a ghost when he went to collect a handwritten manuscript from one of their authors. Nine very different people’s paths begin to draw together, all linked by a single murder and the occult.

[Review] ClassicaLoid – episode 1

Kanae has inherited her grandmother’s beautiful old mansion, with windows shaped like violins and a pipe organ in the great hall. Grieving her lost grandmother, she tries to kick out her dad’s weird friends, heelie-loving Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and gyoza-obsessed Ludwig van Beethoven before the mansion is destroyed.

Why we need you to become an AniFem patron

“AniFem is such an important initiative to me, because as a woman and fervent anime lover (and captain of the Shinji Ikari defense squad), I don’t think being a feminist and being an anime fan should be at odds.” – Molly Brenan, Publishing Associate, Kodansha USA and co-manager of AniTAY (acting in an individual capacity) Here at Anime Feminist we’ve set up a Patreon from day one because we believe writers should be a) paid for their work, and b) accountable to readers, not advertisers.

[Review] Lostorage incited WIXOSS – episode 1

Suzuko moved away from her hometown and best friend Chinatsu as a child, but now she has moved back as a teenager they have lost touch, and Chinatsu is nowhere to be found. Out of place and finding it hard to make friends, Suzuko buys the starter pack for a card game her classmates seem to enjoy, only on opening it she is told she is a Selector. Selectors cannot refuse battles with other Selectors, and losing will sacrifice their memories. Suzuko is terrified of losing her memories of Chinatsu, but also has no idea how to play this game, let alone against more experienced opponents who also have memories at stake.

[Review] Drifters – episode 1

Toyohisa of the Shimazu clan is on the verge of death after fighting bravely in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, which signalled the start of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan. Suddenly he finds himself in a white corridor, facing a man in strange clothes sitting at a desk in a white corridor. A moment later he is in a new land, rescued from death by people who claim to be famous Japanese warriors of the past.

[Review] ALL OUT!! – episode 1

Gion is a small but tough-talking and violent high school freshman who is captivated by rugby after watching a game with fellow freshman Iwashimizu. However, tall and gentle Iwashimizu has played rugby before and wants no part of it, a decision Gion decides he cannot accept.

[Review] Keijo!!!!!!!! – episode 1

Keijo is a sport where girls in bikinis stand on platforms floating in swimming pools and have to knock each other to the ground or into the water, using only their backsides or breasts. Fanservice is baked into the premise and is constant from the very start, but surprise! I don’t hate Keijo!!!!!!!!.