Anime fans do love their special vocabulary. “Anime” sounds more exotic than “Japanese cartoons,” just as “manga” seems better than “Japanese comics.” And it’s much more dignified to say “fan service” instead of “naked cartoon women, giant robots, and other nonsense that panders to people who are way too into this stuff.” Technically, the term “fan service” can be applied to any frivolous thing that courts hardcore followers, whether it’s a sly in-joke or some cameo by an obscure character. But let’s not lie: most of the time, anime fan service refers to animated tits and ass.
But what are the worst kinds of fan service? There’s certainly no shortage of anime dedicated to showing boobs and underwear and heaven knows what else, and that pool gets even larger and filthier if you explore the anime-porn market. And we’d just as soon not explore that. We maintain that the most damaging fan service comes from non-pornographic anime that goes above and beyond the usual silliness, whether it’s an exceptionally shameless display or a bizarre case of slobbery-nerd-bait dragging down an otherwise straight-faced production. Join us if you like, but you probably won’t want to do it at work.
11) Naked Women Symbolizing Naked Women
Case Study: Brain Powered
Sometimes anime delivers ridiculous fan service entirely by accident. Director Yoshiyuki Tomino may be the creator of the frequently bleak Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, but his shows are often hilarious in their attempts to be serious and artistic. For a good example, see the opening credits of Brain Powered.
A little background is in order. Tomino was the biggest name in robot anime during the 1980s and well into the following decade, but Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion arrived in 1995 and shook the industry with its bizarre imagery, psychological drama, and harsh dismantling of the entire giant-robot ideal. As the story goes, Tomino didn’t like Evangelion one bit, and he resented the way everyone was treating it like the Citizen Kane of big colorful robot crap. So he decided to make an equally experimental series just to show everyone what great mecha anime should be. After all, he was the creator of Gundam! He’d show them, he’d show them all! And what was the first thing Tomino showed viewers of Brain Powered? Behold!
Somewhere behind Tomino’s muddled attempt at symbolism, one might see themes of feminine creation and freedom. Yet the only things that really come through are 1) There are naked women all over the place, and 2) Tomino is batshit insane. The rest of the show is just as pants-pissingly botched, as bland characters bicker over utterly boring giant bio-robots. Oh, and human pilots enter these robots through the crotches.
To its credit, Brain Powered puts a lot of female characters into the typically male-dominated tropes of mecha anime (and it has a fantastic soundtrack by Yoko Kanno of Cowboy Bebop fame), but there’s no denying that the show is a complete mess. Instead of putting Tomino back atop the heap of robot-anime directors, it proved that he had no idea what he was doing. Today, Evangelion gets big-budget movie remakes, while no one really remembers Brain Powered and its rampant, not-quite-right opening nudity.
10) Humiliation Shows Character, Breasts
Case Study: Code Geass
Code Geass really tries to set itself apart from other robot-filled dramas made in the studios of Sunrise. For starters, the main character isn’t much of a hero. He’s Lelouch, a ruthless, egotistical teenager gifted with godlike powers, not unlike the star of Death Note. In the alternate reality envisioned by Code Geass, a massive British-American empire invades poor innocent Japan, and only the manipulative Lelouch and his mind-controlling abilities can free the country (for completely selfish reasons, that is). Code Geass also gives the role of lead robot pilot, normally reserved for a male character in Sunrise shows, to Kallen, a young woman in a Japanese resistance cell. ?
?Yet Code Geass also wants to sell itself to anime fans, so any promising ideas are immediately dragged through a swamp of bad melodrama, nationalistic horseshit, and sexist degradation. Lelouch is a rarely brilliant teenager who bamboozles dim-witted adults at every turn. Alternate-world Japan is a blameless victim of racist Western colonialism. And Kallen, a hardened revolutionary and a skilled mecha jockey, constantly loses her clothes and gets embarrassed about it. It’s the last of these that’s the most unpleasant, as the anime industry often labors under the belief that women are, in fact, sexy when they’re humiiated and blushing and so very, very ashamed of their exposed femininity.
Was Code Geass a huge hit in Japan? Yes. Yes, it was.
9) Classics Defiled
Case Study: Ikki Tousen
Ikki Tousen looks like a depressingly typical anime series at a glance: it’s all about huge-breasted high-school girls who beat the crap out of each other while getting close to naked. So what sets Ikki Tousen apart from Tenjho Tenge, Air Master, and all of those other series laden with panty-flashing female fighters? Well, beneath the boobs and the torn school uniforms (and the five thousand licensed statues of its scantily clad characters), Ikki Tousen is based on the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In Ikki Tousen’s world, the heroes of this revered legend live on through jewels that just happen to end up in the hands of nubile young women in very shoddy clothing.
It’s baffling as to why Ikki Tousen’s creators even bothered with this backstory, since no one is buying the anime series (or its manga counterpart, thoughtfully renamed Battle Vixens) for its take on Chinese literature. We can only hope that anime creators will turn to Western lit next and make a series about brawling, half-naked women who are all reincarnations of the cast of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
8) Child Abuse and Sex Offenders Are Adorable
Case Study: Loveless
You may notice that much of this list concerns anime aimed at male viewers. Fan service for female viewers tends to be less visually obnoxious, but it can be just as disturbing. A good centerpiece is the manga and anime series Loveless, the story of a 12-year-old kid named Ritsuka and the grown man who loves him in the worst way. In the show’s largely modern-day-Japan world, humans have cat ears as long as they’re virgins, and there’s a secret society centered on tag-team magical battles. Both matters weigh heavily on troubled, cat-eared Ritsuka after he meets Soubi, a 20-something secret warrior who just can’t take no for an answer.
And remember, Ritsuka is 12 years old. When not being pawed by the creepy Soubi, Ritsuka is beaten by his mother and learns secrets about his seemingly deceased and equally creepy brother. Worse yet is the implication that Loveless fans like to see fragile catboys being broken and oh-so-cuuuuuute. Not to ruin anyone’s fantasy, but men like Soubi are usually not lithe, pretty protectors in real life. They’re panting, 40-ish loners who park their white vans too close to playgrounds.
7) Invasion of the Teenage Panty Shots
Case Study: Real Drive
There are many elaborate ways to derail a potentially intelligent science-fiction TV series, but Real Drive goes straight for the throat. A recent show based on concepts by manga author Masamune Shirow, Real Drive begins with a diver lapsing into a 50-year coma after he’s caught in a mysterious undersea phenomenon. Though science could give him a cybernetic body, our hero prefers to be a bitter old man who stares at the sea all day. Fortunately, he gets another chance at life by diving into the Meta Real Network, a futuristic virtual Internet that’s a lot like the ocean.
The producers of Real Drive apparently looked at this premise and realized that something was missing: a teenage girl in a really short skirt. Not long into the first episode of Real Drive, we’re introduced to Minamo Aoi, assistant to the show’s grumpy hero. She’s cute! She’s ditzy! She blushes all the time and shows her underwear a lot!
Gratuitous twaddle is always part of Masamune Shirow’s work, though the anime adaptations often add a twist: for example, nudity in the first Ghost in the Shell takes on an aptly artificial tone once it shows the heroine’s naked form assembled in a factory. Yet there’s nothing particularly ironic or insightful about Minamo’s rear end.
6) Women Issues, Tentacle Issues
Case Studies: Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, and Lots of Other Things Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri is known first and foremost for Ninja Scroll, a cavalcade of sex and violence that proved to be one of the biggest cult anime hits among Americans in the 1990s. And yet Ninja Scroll, a film where the female lead is violated several times, is progressive compared to what happened when studio Madhouse first let Kawajiri loose on a project in 1987. Kawajiri made Wicked City, which features a spider-woman with a fang-lined vagina, a blob-woman who tries to suffocate and absorb her sex partner, and a demon-seductress woman who psychically transforms her body into a giant vaginal symbol before she’s gunned down by the hero. Oh, and there are plenty of demon tentacles to go around.
Wicked City somehow dodges the label of outright pornography, and for that reason it deserves mention here. It’s a mediocre film beneath all of its horrors, but it’s also a 90-minute study of psychosexual repression and a journey into the warped mind of Kawajiri, who’s basically comic author Frank Miller with a helping of vagina dentata issues. Ever wonder why people stereotyped anime as tentacle porn before Pok?mon and Dragonball Z took over? Wicked City has some answers.
5) Punching and/or Stripping Bags
Case Study: Akira
Akira is a landmark film in the anime industry, a gorgeously violent future-punk marvel that introduced all sorts of teenagers to those slick-looking Japanese cartoons. It’s also a truncated adaptation of director Katsuhiro Otomo’s ambitious manga, and the movie slims down the story of Tetsuo, a young biker brat given head-exploding powers by a government experiment. Naturally, this shorter version of the Akira tale changes many plot points and leaves some characters by the wayside. Tetsuo’s girlfriend Kaori stays in the movie, but it would’ve been nicer to simply cut her entire role. ?
4) Maids and Moe
Case Studies: He Is My Master, Hand Maid May, Steel Angel Kurumi, Oh God It Never Stops
?Most of Akira’s characters aren’t complete moral bastions, but Kaori is a nice, innocent girl whose only real problem is her devotion to the increasingly insane Tetsuo. During her limited appearances in the film, Kaori is stripped and beaten by a rival gang, making the movie’s major moment of nudity a thoroughly unpleasant one. Later, during the film’s gruesome climax, Kaori’s trapped in the flesh of a mutating Tetsuo and crushed to death, even though everyone else involved in the battle survives one way or another. She also dies in the manga, but in a way not played for gory excess. You have some explaining to do, Mr. Otomo.
Anime is driven by trends, and the worst one to take over in the last decade is called “moe,” a magical otaku code word for the art of huge-eyed cartoon girls being cute and innocent and TOTALLY NOT SEXUALIZED NOPE NOPE NOPE. Another ugly trend: maids. Specifically, young maids in frilly outfits bending over and being subservient to their “masters.” Combine the two ideas, and you get a good argument for giving up on Japan’s animation industry altogether.
The above clip comes from He Is My Master and is typical of this particular genre. Watch as underage girls wear maid oufits and whatever else geeky viewers might want to see! Chortle as our heroines are sexually harassed by a pet alligator and a rich kid who in no way represents the target audience! Be absolutely shocked to find that this show was co-produced by Gainax, the studio responsible for Evangelion, The Wings of Honneamise, and…well, lots of pervy Evangelion merchandise and an attempted-rape scene in Honneamise. On second thought, don’t be all that shocked.
3) When Sexy Becomes Ugly
Case Study: Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture
Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture was never supposed to be serious. It was supposed to be a stupidly over-the-top adaptation of SNK’s plot-free fighting games. It was also supposed to be richly animated and visually appealing, since SNK put a bunch of money into it. Unfortunately, SNK also gave the project to director Masami Obari, who loves to mix gripping, fluidly drawn fight scenes with some of the most hideous artwork in anime.
Obari’s greasy, pointy-nosed characters ruin the movie’s attempts at looking good in its fight scenes, its dramatic scenes, and any scene that involves this twisted concept of what people should look like. Of course, it also sends the film’s sex appeal into a freakish forbidden zone. Much of the focus is on Mai Shiranui, the vivacious ninja girl who symbolizes SNK’s idea of fan service. Here’s a comparison between an official illustration of Mai and a shot of her in the movie. ?
2) When Sexy Becomes Nightmarishly Horrible
Case Study: Eiken
?Mai does little in the film beyond getting kidnapped, but that’s beside the point. And the point is this: there’s nothing wrong with a stupid martial-arts movie full of half-naked men and women waging fiery combat. When you add freakish, bug-eyed, slime-skinned, spiky-faced mockeries of the human form, a problem arises.
Eiken is an enigma in this whole “fan-service” subculture. Some believe that it’s one elaborate joke about modern anime’s obsession with huge-breasted women. Others maintain that Eiken is far from satire, and that the people behind it really do find it sexy when a woman has breasts the size of wrecking balls and is in constant pain for that very reason.
Technically, the hour-long Eiken anime isn’t porn. There is no actual sex, and no nipples are even shown. There’s just a parade of enormously endowed women eating bananas, shrieking down chocolate-laced waterslides, flopping around in swimming pools, knocking themselves unconscious with their own boobs, and wincing in agony from it all. No, this isn’t porn. Porn is at least honest with itself. Eiken is something much worse. Something we don’t even want to describe in too much detail.
1) Oh, the Hell With It
Case Study: Queen’s Blade
Queen’s Blade is what happens when the anime industry just doesn’t care anymore. Consider the origins of the franchise: it started off as a series of “visual combat books” for a game, but the people who bought these books never actually played the game at hand. They just stared at the artwork showing female warriors bursting out of their armored bustiers. Naturally, this turned Queen’s Blade into a minor sensation in Japan’s nerdier scenes, and soon there were Queen’s Blade toys, manga, video games, and an anime series that some TV stations aired uncensored. Is it porn or a legitimate show? Does that even matter now?
Queen’s Blade openly warns viewers about its nature, though it may surpass even the most cynical expectations. Not content with including fetishes common among anime fans, Queen’s Blade invents some bizarre new fetishes of its own. The first episode opens with the show’s heroine fighting a demonic girl whose hand-shaped hairstyle squeezes acidic milk from her breasts. Other highlights of the show include a warrior who wears a snake as a thong, a single mother with a ridiculously oversized chest, an angel who spills “milk” all over herself, and a scene where the aforementioned demon-woman’s acid-spewing boobs grow so huge that they explode and…you know what? We give up. This list is over.