A topic that’s a frequent fly in our podcast ointment is fan service. It is a poison to Japan’s entertainment industry; transforming those otaku who ingest large, regular doses into ghoulish misshapes of humanity. Exposure to the One Ring is less toxic and more likely get you laid.
But it didn’t used to be that way.
Fan service, literally, was a way that creators used to give appreciation to fans of their shows. These often took the forms of Easter Eggs within other shows. A brief cameo or in-joke would spark delicious glee with those watching “in the know”.
On occasion, full productions were put together as an entire entrée of fan service. A perfect example is Scramble Wars. This early 1990s OVA is regarded as the anime counterpart to Wacky Races (though a more accurate comparison would be to Laff-A-Lympics). Only instead of Yogi Bear, Jabber Jaw, Speed Buggy, and (of course) Dick Dastardly & Muttley, the celebrity contestants hail from Bubblegum Crisis, Gall Force, and Genesis Survivor Giarth.
Then something strange happened. Someone, somewhere had the bright idea, “Hey, I know a real treat to give the fans! Let’s take their favorite female characters and put them in bikinis! Maybe even…naked? Tanaka, you know what naked boobs look like, right? No? Well…can you draw them? Yeah, I knew you had that shit down, dawg.”
At first, this was a treat, but little did we know just how far it would escalate. It’s like when your mom starts out encouraging you to eat healthy snacks like fruit or granola. But as you get older, her resolve weakens as she more often offers you cheaper, pre-packaged cookies and candy for goodies. By the time you’re in college, you’re stuffing football helmets filled with Oreo brownies covered in Snickers ice cream and chocolate chip cookie dough…for lunch.
Over the past decade or so, fan service shifted into a sexually potent feature. “Fan service” became the Trojan Horse for [s]exploitation. Exploitative shows had already existed for decades (mostly thanks to Go Nagai), but what was once niche was quickly becoming the standard. Every series got its token beach episode or bathhouse scene. Costume designs for anime and video games became more provocative. And for a fandom that’s dominantly male, this proved to be a commercially successful move.
Once production companies hopped on this gravy train, they knew that if they were each going to compete in the industry, they needed to continue pushing the envelope. Enter the invasion of lolicon, moé, incest and any imaginable fetish into our cartoons. Titillation used to be the icing to the fandom; now we’re served solid slabs of fan service fondant. Seemingly sweet, but sure to turn your stomach.
Now here we are: In a dark age for anime, where what’s essentially soft-core porn is now the lifeblood of the industry. Where fan service once rewarded faithful fans, it’s now a device for drawing attention from new viewers.
As I’ve said, I’m prepared to ride this through because I have faith that it is temporary. As long as I draw breath, I will continue to endorse anime and video games that are fun without resorting to spank material. I want to be there when we as otaku ring in the new era where “fan service” returns to its roots.
Fan service… We’re taking it back.