I thought I knew what I was getting into when I saw the cover art for Free!, given that it features an assortment of scantily clad young men standing very close to one another, abs on display like muffins in a bakery. I soon discovered that was only the start of the fanservice, as I found myself on a wild emotional ride that convinced me that when it comes to creating fanservice for girls, it’s not simply a matter of reversing panty flashes into brief glimpses of, well, briefs. Watching Free! with my husband, sister, and niece showed me that this show’s effort to appeal to the ladies led to an audience performance far deeper than the shallow side of the swimming pool.
Inspired by currently airing Girlish Number, some of the team decided to take a feminist look at “trash characters” like Chitose. What makes a trash character? What’s the connection between trash characters and other anime archetypes, like moe or chuunibyou? How are male and female trash characters portrayed differently? Read our takes below then get involved with your thoughts in the comments!
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 …
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.