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My Hero Academia is a series I struggle with. There is plenty in there to like, and there are just as many imperfections. The positives, everyone knows: the likeable and colourful characters, the mix of more Western tropes with anime aesthetics, and classic shounen action with high production values. The negatives? Me and MHA had several misunderstanding throughout the initial episodes. One of them concerned Izuku’s famous line where he describes the series as “a story about how he becomes the greatest hero”.

Do not get me wrong, the line mostly functions well in context. It a clearly articulated promise of a zero to hero story from a series which, as a long-running shounen, will require some time until the main character can start kicking ass. It is a refreshing step away from Izuku’s usually timid nature, and possibly foreshadowing that one of the areas in which he will have to improve is his lack of self confidence. It sounds cool. It has impact.

It does not exactly fit, though. Izuku’s circumstance of having inherited his powers from another means that whatever he achieves is the culmination of the efforts of several people. It seems off that Izuku would claim it is all about him at the end of the day. But that is just my approach to pride and modesty – I could accept the character reaching different conclusions. More importantly, the mechanics of Izuku’s power actually make it impossible for him to become the greatest hero ever. This is because looking far into the future, Izuku’s final act as a hero will be to find a worthy successor and give birth to an even greater hero. If he succeeds, he is no longer the greatest, and if he does not, that in itself is a significant failure as the holder of One For All.

But you know what? If there is one good thing I can say about this show, it is that it is constantly improving. Bakugou’s one-dimensional psychotic nature recently got some nice development, while individual arcs started building on each other. And somewhere between the second and fourth cours, Izuku’s introductory line also changed.

そう、これは僕が最高のヒーローになるまでの物語だ。

Yes, this is the story of how I became the greatest hero.

夢に向かって走り続ける。どんな困難に立ち向かい、笑顔で人々を救う、そんな最高のヒーローになるために!

I continue to run toward my dream, standing up to any difficulties and saving people with a smile… in order to become the greatest hero!

I borrow the subs from you-can-guess-where, and first I will address the part of the change they actually reflect. That would be the transition in focus from the final goal to the journey. As mentioned above, the declaration that “the story ends with me becoming the greatest hero” works fine as a one-liner meant to capture the viewer’s attention. However, it is not entirely honest to what the series is about. The greatness Izuku seeks is a distant goal, not a foregone conclusion. The third season makes this very clear: while the great power of One For All is Izuku’s promised future, it neither removes the need to make the right choices, nor does it guarantee a happy end, as Izuku learns in his confrontations with the villains. My Hero Academia is about the growth of its characters, and the show itself has grown past its attention-grab stage and can now freely admit to that focus.

Another change in the line is one the subs try to cover up the best they can in order to preserve the “greatest hero” wording. I will not hold that against the translation – consistency has a value of its own in that world. But there are obvious issues that show up with that take even if you only look at the English text. If you have seen more than half the show, you might wonder when exactly Izuku manages to “stand up to any difficulties and save people with a smile”. He saves one boy – a significant event – and assists All Might and Bakugou. Other than that, Izuku spends the third season howling in pain and crying in anguish in an endless confrontation with his doubts and regrets.

Things make more sense when we realise that the “any difficulties/smile” part of the quote is not a description of Izuku’s present, as the subs would have it, but part of the description of Izuku’s goal – the greatest hero. Again, the avoidance in the translation is understandable. A too-honest approach might give us “…in order to become the greatest hero, who stands up to any difficulties and saves people with a smile”. This sounds awkward and weak as it is a classic case of less is more. If you leave things at “the greatest hero”, the audience is free to imagine all kinds of conditions the perfect hero will meet. If you add two of your own conditions, people will start to wonder: “wait, is that enough to become the greatest hero?”. It almost seems better to avoid this phrasing, except the transition is more than an awkward artistic choice.

Now, note that Japanese has no comparative and superlative. That is just not part of the grammar. If you want to compare things or point to something being “the most”, you add words that have that meaning. And yes, “saikou” is one of those words that can point to a superlative meaning: saikou ni utsukushii “supremely beautiful”. The thing is, the range of meaning is wider than that of the superlative. When we say saikou ni tanoshikatta, it is just a way of stressing that we had great fun. “The most fun I’ve ever had” would be a forced translation which tries to retain the superlative.

So the opening line might refer to great heroes rather than the greatest hero, an interpretation which is cemented by the appearance of an additional word in the new opening line, that being sonna そんな. The word (as well as its full form sono you na) means something along the lines of “like that/of that kind”. It points to the existence of a group or type of the “greatest”. In short, the new opening line goes like this: “I continue to run toward my dream: to become somebody who stands up to any difficulties and saves people with a smile, a true hero”.

This new line is much more in tune with what the third season presents us with. Of special note is the scene in which Endeavor unwittingly becomes the “greatest hero”. A victim of circumstance more than anything else, Endeavor is deeply frustrated with being given the number one without achieving what he really strived for. This reveals how meaningless a singular “greatest hero” is in the context of this series. Further yet, this interpretation empowers the numerous side stories of the other hero candidates highlighted in the series. An universal, if universally difficult, call to greatness means that both Izuku and his colleagues are challenged to move forward and grow stronger until they all embody their ideals.

Somewhere between the lines, My Hero Academia continues to shift and evolve, and so I have hope we can one day be reconciled.

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The Idol Paradox

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I think no genre betrayed my expectations quite as thoroughly as the idol genre. You see, I was late to watch 2011’s The Idolmaster because as much praise as the series received, it was about idols, and that was one industry I had no interest in. It takes a talented (or at least good-looking) individual and builds a cult of personality around them. Whatever performances those individuals give might be of value, but the real money the industry craves is not in a single CD sold so that somebody can listen to a song. It is in the dozens of CDs and paraphernalia that one person will buy to show their support for their idol of choice. And as the idol in question is simultaneously a normal human being and a product to be marketed and sold, there is a naturally duplicitous element to the idol trade. The images of idols are created to contain only what is pleasing to the audience, while in reality the idol might smoke, have a significant other and hold controversial views. If the truth behind the mask comes to light, there is inevitable outrage at the “betrayal”.

I dislike the idea of that masquerade, as do many otaku. Yes, there is that very real irony of anime characters being idealised far more than any real-life idols are. But here the non-existence of those 2D characters becomes an advantage – they do not live double lives. If one of them so happens to be a forever-cheerful, angelic existence, then that is who they are, unrealistic though that kind of character might seem. Anime characters neither betray the audience, nor are they ever forced to lie or hide inconvenient facts(*1). Which is why there exists a significant divide between the idol and anime fan subcultures, despite both being seen as similar from the outside and described with the shared label of otaku.

So I avoided watching idol anime for a long while, expecting those titles to be about outwardly perfect characters showing off their perfectness to an imaginary audience, all while laying the foundation for an excessive amount of merchandise to be sold to the newly-ensnared fans. Basically, the real-life idol industry as-is except with the difficulties and expenditures of finding and raising a worthy idol-candidate taken out of the equation. And certainly, that is one way to look at what the genre is. In an entry from way back, illogicalzen argues that anime idols are most often a powered up version of their real-life counterparts. While the idealisation of real-life idols mostly plays out on the stage and through interviews and the like, anime idols can take it a step further, showing off perfect and pure personal lives. Indeed, the vanilla anime-idol represents that kind of ideal: a kind and humble soul filled with dreams and a pure love for singing and dancing. For those characters, the idea that it is all just a job, that they can be back to being themselves after forcing a fake smile for a few hours, is entirely alien.

That said, the anime idol also manages to be the very antithesis of their real-life counterpart. While the audience of a real-life idol mostly comes in contact with a finished product, the anime idol is most often a diamond in the rough. In their raw states, those would-be idols can be clumsy, devastatingly shy, or otherwise unfit for being a target of mass admiration. Their growth into somebody worthy of the coveted idol title is a long and arduous journey, and that journey will usually take up the bulk of a series’s runtime. The live performances, so important for real-life idols, return as a high-point, but only take up as little as a few percent of the total screen-time. Even then, the significance of those moments is completely different. One of the great achievements of The Idolmaster is that the viewer naturally slips into the perspective of a producer: when the idols struggle through a last-minute choreography change or come face to face with debilitating trauma, the emotional payoff is not primarily in the beauty of the dance and songs presented, but in the pride and relief that they pulled it off without a hitch, bringing them one step closer to their dreams.

This difference in focus allows idol anime to touch upon topics which might be no-go for a real-life idol. One striking image is that of anime idols with their oxygen masks on in-between musical numbers – a raw admission of how far they are pushing themselves that never quite makes for a simply cute picture. The same goes for internal conflicts and dealing with hiccups without letting the audience know that something is off.

But more importantly, our ability to learn of the anime idols as individual people and come to like them despite their shortcomings means that anime idols can afford to exhibit personality traits unbefitting their real-life counterparts. Last week’s money-grubber list contained Cinderella Girls’ Futaba Anzu, a girl who is in the industry for the money, period. She also happens to be a huge sloth, and were there a surefire way for her to win the lottery and get rich that way, she would likely be quitting the idol industry asap. The same show also features Maekawa Miku, a serious and studious girl with a firm belief about what an idol should be, who strives to give that image justice even if it is far removed from her everyday persona. It is a kind of duality which would seem dishonest were we not privy to Miku’s personal thoughts and moments. In AKB0048, several members of the titular idol group realise that one way to the top is to push everyone down the stairs, and several episodes of the show revolve around the dilemma of taking or not taking that path. In Wake Up Girls, one of the main characters freely admits that the whole idol thing is a stepping stone towards a different career path they actually want to pursue. A focal point of Girlish Number is the frustration of voice actors confronted with the realities of their dream industry. Increasingly, anime idols are allowed to be and feel like imperfect human beings.

All things considered, the transition into 2D represents an opportunity either to further idealise an idol, or humanise them. If the genre continues to thrive, it will be interesting which path it chooses to take. At the same time, the anime industry seems to have found a way around the issue of idol distrust by increasingly turning their seiyuu into quasi-idols. But that is another topic altogether.

(*1) In rare cases, character development can be seen as a form of betrayal by some extremist fans. Famously, one Kannagi character caused an outrage and book-burning after a past love interest of theirs was revealed. Still, this kind of occurrence is more of a curiosity than a common thing in the anime fandom.

Money!!!

Money! Everybody loves money. Some people like it too much and become jerks or commit crimes to get their hands on more cash. You can always count on the wealthy villain to scoff at the poor protagonist, and even the rival basketball team will probably hold their training sessions in an air-conditioned hall, unlike the scrappy protagonist team. Which is why anime characters are advised against having any financial interests. But rules are made to be broken, so here are some of my favourite money-grubbers!

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Mizutani Shizuku (My Little Monster/Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun)

Shizuku’s career goals, with her target yearly salary clearly specified, is some of the first information we get about her in-show. Her ambition serves as a source of motivation, and Shizuku spends a lot of her time studying.

We get a very good idea of what led Shizuku to those life priorities – the positive and negative role models of her life. But the best part of her character development is that when romance shows up in her life, Shizuku is not “cured” of her materialistic tendencies, she just steadily learns how to reconcile them with the emotional part of her heart.

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Zeno Zoldyck (Hunter x Hunter 2011)

The entire Zoldyck family are assassins for hire who are very good at and serious about their profession. While money is often presented as replacing morals, the Zoldyck family seems to go by the credo of “with great fortune comes great responsibility”.

To prevent soiling their family name, Zeno is ready to accept a suicide mission… for exactly as long as it takes other members of the family to assassinate his client. At the same time, the elderly assassin is interested in no more bloodshed than what he is paid for.

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Futaba Anzu (Idolmaster Cinderella Girls)

With a life motto of “you work you fail”, Futaba Anzu hopes to become a top idol as quickly as possible and then live off royalties for the rest of her life. For all intents possible, her motivation as an idol is as cynical as it gets.

But smart though she is, Anzu fails to notice that her producer is constantly forcing her to work hard as an idol using the illusionary carrot of great fortune. And Anzu’s self-interest does not conflict with her supporting her idol kouhai in their respective carriers, ensuring that we eventually warm up to this endearing sloth.

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Scrooge McDuck

So I could put Bakemonogatari’s Kaiki here, but he just got a mention in the monologues entry, so I will bring up this duck instead. Potentially my first fictional idol.

This crazy miser might be the wealthiest duck in the world, but he never really intends to spend any of his fortune. To begin with, Scrooge’s quest for great wealth started with the then-worthless lucky dime he earns as a shoeshine, and his attachment to the piece of metal is greater than his love for his amassed fortune.

All in all, Scrooge’s bank account serves merely as a scoreboard in his game against the challenges of this world. And he keeps on winning, old age be damned.

The Mario Dilemma

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Not the nipple dilemma.

As the dear reader might already know, there is a Mario (Super Mario Brothers) film in the making. It will be produced by the studio behind the Minions, and therefore likely to be all CG graphics (fitting enough, considering Mario’s usual game appearances).

So far so good. The issues start when you consider what the film will be about. You see, Mario is a borderline radioactive character – hold him for too long and you will get burned. Originally called Jumpman – a man who jumps – he has not changed much since his first appearance. Yes, he did receive an Italian name, voice and heritage, but even that was not something initially intended. For the most part, Mario is a blank slate.

This is problematic, because if you are going to make an hour long film about a character, you will be forced to decide who they really are. What kind of personality do they have? How do they speak when they have actual lines, not only “let’s-a-goes”? And if at all possible, Nintendo would surely like to proceed without deciding on any of that. They have one disaster of a Mario film behind them already, and they have seen other game adaptations stumble.

In games, being vague can work out fine. You can earn goodwill through gameplay, and entice the players to fill in the blanks with headcanon. When Kantai Collection first got an anime adaptation, the reactions were divided as soon as viewers were shown the heroines “ocean-skating” – the anime’s take on how warfare between anthropomorphised warships is supposed to look like. The series did manage to make that interpretation work, mostly, but it did also lead to some of the worst choreographed battle scenes ever, as our heroines have long talks while standing still on the open sea, all while technically being under fire from some particularly miss-happy enemies.

So I have this unfortunate vision of Nintendo trying to eat its cake and have it too – presenting Mario as the film’s protagonist while never allowing him to do anything that would develop his character. It is doable, to an extent. But a protagonist who is constantly just reacting to the actions of others quickly becomes a drag. God forbid they remedy this by inserting a supposed audience-surrogate in the form of a kid joining Mario on his adventure under some flimsy excuse of a plot point.

What would I do in Nintendo’s place? Have the film revolve around Mario not as a character but as a so-called MacGuffin – a goal and victory condition.

The film would open up with a montage of Mario’s adventures in a variety worlds (desert, swamp, snowy peak…) – all still shots from afar and no spoken lines, only as long the opening credits and musical number. The final shot of the montage would freeze and transform into a postcard delivered straight into the hands of Princess Peach, who is going about her duties in the Mushroom Kingdom.

As Peach is showing the postcard to her followers, the film’s protagonist enters the scene. That being either “a Toad” (with some appearance quirk to make him stand out from the crowd) or captain Toad. You get one scene to set this character up – if you want a zero to hero growing up story, have him run in with an urgent message only to trip and fall flat on his face. Whatever you choose, the scene is cut short by the the sudden appearance of none other than Bowser (surprise, surprise).

With a flying fortress and an army of goons, Bowser quickly overwhelms the Kingdom’s defences and kidnaps Princess Peach. Again, you get an opportunity to develop the main character. If they are supposed to start as a coward, they hide and watch powerlessly as the ordeal plays out. If they are to be a more plucky kind, they attempt to interfere… and get swatted away to the same effect. As Bowser’s forces retreat, the torn remains of Mario’s postcard float down right underneath the protagonist’s feet. With Bowser at large, there is only one hero who can make things right again.. and somebody has to find him!

Setting the story up this way has several major advantages:

You play to the setting’s strengths. The world of Mario has plenty of breadth with all its fantastic locations but limited depth with how most Mario games explore different places and only offer a little information on them. The protagonist’s journey in search of Mario can take them through several of those locations.

You use as many characters as you want with no commitments. It would be a terrible waste to have Yoshi, for example, not show up in the film. However, similarly to Mario, giving the characters too much spotlight or allowing for new character interactions might be a risky deal. With the option to confine a given character’s on-screen appearance to a given location, it is a great opportunity to show them off without risking any complications.

You can actually develop the protagonist. With the protagonist being either entirely original (a new Toad) or a minor character (Captain Toad), there is no risk of their character development hurting the franchise in the long run. Conversely, there is full creative freedom in this regard, allowing both for simple and accessible, as well as more nuanced development for the character.

With Bowser’s minions hot on his trail, (Captain) Toad makes it through several worlds. Finally, he is able to pin down Mario’s location… only to get caught just as he is about to deliver the message about Peach and Bowser to Mario. However, even as he is being dragged away to Bowser’s castle, we catch a glimpse of Mario taking note of the commotion.

As the protagonist is thrown before Bowser and all hope seems lost, there are sounds of fighting taking place off-screen. For a moment, silence returns, and then everyone’s eyes move to one point as the door to Bowser’s throne room open, revealing a familiar silhouette clad in red. At this point, some ten minutes before the ending credits start rolling, there is no need for explanations or exchanging threats. The situation is clear enough, and there is only one way things can proceed. As Mario takes a step into the throne room, Bowser orders all his henchman to take out the plumber. Mario wordlessly takes them all on, dodging, jumping, kicking and punching with moves straight out of a Matrix film. Enraged at the sight of his underlings being effortlessly taken out, Bowser spits out a torrent of fire from his jaws as he joins the fray. Mario evades the attacks, and the fire starts spreading throughout Bowser’s castle.

It is then that our protagonist, completely forgotten by the villains, springs to action. He releases Peach and the other prisoners, and he and Peach proceed to guide the others to safety as more and more of the castle becomes covered in flames. In the meanwhile, the clash between Mario and Bowser escalates. The scaled antagonist brings out a Bowser-mech, hoping to crush Mario with its overwhelming weight and power. But he still has no luck catching the agile hero. Every missed blow is a wall or pillar toppled, but Mario continues to elude Bowser even as the castle starts to crumble.

We cut away to a shot of Peach and the Toads making it out of the castle just in time as the structure finally gives in. There is a moment of panic and worry for Mario’s safety, until somebody points high towards the sky. Bowser and Mario emerge from the dust above where the top of the castle was just moments before, Bowser’s mech heavily damaged and Mario covered in dust. Seeing that Mario has nowhere to run, Bowser unleashes one final attack. But Mario brushes past it and lunges forward towards the mech’s exposed weak point. And in that moment, as Mario’s fist is about to connect and draw the curtains on the story, turning the screen black and letting the credits roll, we are treated to the one and only line Mario speaks in the film:

“Here we go!”

This gives us additional advantages:

Despite Mario’s short appearance, he gets to hog the spotlight when it matters. There is no limit to how cool and over the top you can make Mario in his battle scene. This, coupled with Mario’s limited presence in the rest of the film, makes it easy to present Mario as a larger-than-life hero who swoops in and single-handedly solves the biggest problems, albeit appearing a tad late – all exactly as it happens in the games. At the same time, the protagonist gets to protect his friends as he helps them evacuate from the burning castle – showing that there are more ways than one to be a hero, regardless of a person’s strength or ability level.

Mario is kept from talking too much. By making the one line Mario speaks be the cherry-on-top of the film’s climax, you automatically make it memorable, doubly so if it is one of Mario’s already memetic one-liners. Mario’s voice actor, Charles Martinet, has made many such one-liners famous, but many people find his longer speeches as Mario somewhat awkward. The above approach turns all that from an issue into an advantage.

After that, all you have to do is add an appropriate stinger after the credits (the audience is likely to expect one) and rake in the cash. Unless you have any ideas how to make something even better?

(P.S. There is also a Sonic movie. But Sonic already has SatAM and Sonic X to prove that it can work just fine in a variety of styles so it should be fine. Theoretically. Maybe. Do not get me started on Detective Pikachu.)

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If the nape of the neck scores higher with you than cleavage, your weaboo stats are high indeed.

As mentioned previously, today’s entry will be about my favourite use of fanservice in anime. Without beating around the bush, we will talking about Hyouka’s Chitanda Eru.

Eru is the very opposite of a fanservice-magnet character. Always prim and proper, you will be hard-pressed to find her involved in any morally ambiguous situation. For her, even something as trivial as being seen alone with a boy at the wrong place and time is troubling – it might mean unsavoury rumours being spread. Mind you, this attitude is not the effect of some haughty blonde tsundere ojou-sama mindset. Eru is an ojou-sama all right, but in terms of proper conduct she is much harder on herself than on anyone else.

This means that Eru fanservice, in the usual sense, is scarce. Aside from one swimming pool episode, there is little chance to see her revealing any more skin than is appropriate by the highest social standards. The thing is, sensuality itself is something subjective, and it comes into existence through the eyes of the beholder. Come in our perspective character – Oreki Houtarou.

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Is this one real or all in Houtarou’s head? Mystery fanservice for a mystery series.

Much to his chagrin, Houtarou is strongly attracted to Eru. His eyes wander and add a lens of sensuality to what would otherwise be neutral scenes. One time, the combination of a hot bath and Houtarou’s too-vivid imagination (itself an example of tasteful and delicious fanservice) has him end up in something of a daze. Moments later, Houtarou is more troubled than excited when the object of his fantasies comes to check in on him.

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What follows is quite the spectacle. Coloured by the lingering remains of Houtarou’s fantasy, everything about Eru seems to radiate sensuality. But it is much more than the light bath robe Eru is clad in. It is in in the dampness of her hair. It is in the warmth of the bath still lending a rosy shine to her skin. It is in the fragrance and the proximity as she leans down to check on Houtarou’s well-being. The fanservice first becomes fanservice when we see what Houtarou sees and how he sees it.

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May I have a Chitanda check up on me if I overheat?

Like other fanservice scenes often do, this one also doubles as a comedy scene, offering a humorous take on a character’s embarrassment. But unlike the typical “lucky-sukebe” scene, where a protagonist gets to see or touch the heroine(s) because of random factors beyond his control, there is nothing actually untoward taking place in this scene. The protagonist here is trapped not by happenstance, but by his own psyche, and thus there is no easy escape, no resolution through getting slapped by the heroine. Try though he might, Houtarou cannot stop thinking about Eru, and Eru is similarly focused on Houtarou’s well-being, and yet the two could not be more out of synch. And so the conversation drags on, much to Houtarou’s increasing distress.

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“Somebody get me out of here…”

Run of the mill fanservice targets the viewer directly, while the characters are an aside. Here, we unavoidably notice a degree of disconnect between what we as viewers think and Houtarou’s feelings. As mere onlookers, we can enjoy Eru’s beauty, the cuteness of young love and the low-key hilarity of the misunderstandings. For Houtarou, the situation is much more complicated. He cannot reasonably deny his own attraction to Chitanda Eru, and that is a major problem for him. His life would be that much simpler, that much easier if he could only be rid of this feeling. But Eru has ensnared him as early as during their first meeting, and it is a sweet, sweet poison she infused him with. Houtarou’s struggle between the temptations of romance and the burdens of commitment is a major theme of Hyouka, and something this scene further builds upon.

This is one scene which can be called fanservice, and yet is filled with artistic pride. It proves that well-used fanservice can hold significance within a story, and thus makes it impossible to decry all fanservice as bad by default. At the same time, it does raise the bar for other such scenes.

If you are doing fanservice, you better do it right.

Fan-service-Misato

Stole this example straight from another blog.

(Note: For the purpose of this article, fanservice refers to mildly sexual content: pantyshots, beach episodes, skimpy clothing and the like. Actual hentai/animated porn is excluded, as is “cute/cool but otherwise pointless” content.)

I used to hate fanservice.

The issue first came up for me around late primary school/early junior high school. I hated fanservice for two general reasons. The first one was that of self-interest, or my own convenience. You see, the existence of fanservice-heavy series somewhere out there had no genuine effect on my own viewing habits. If I had little interest in that kind of stuff, it was enough to watch something else, any one of the seemingly infinite supply of titles which did not at all rely on fanservice content. Fanservice “slipping into” otherwise top notch content probably happened from time to time but was ultimately irrelevant to the weight of those works as a whole. It was a time when I watched things that aired on the TV, too, so if there was anything actually disturbing, it would probably get cut out.

The existence of fanservice did matter to other people, though. The media and the church would roast anime for being in equal parts sex, Satan and the Pikachu. Occasionally, they would raise valid points: bringing attention to problematic scenes, like that one time in early Dragonball when Bulma agrees to flashing her panties in return for a favour. But most of the time, their claims were based on complete ignorance and used to make unfair generalisations, to the point where it seemed dubious if those people had ever watched a single anime episode in their lives.

I thought at the time that if fanservice did not exist at all, we would be rid of most of those people. They would lose ammo for their arguments, and so the social standing of anime would improve. That I would like very much, since it would make my life significantly easier by allowing me to be more honest and open about my interests. Getting rid of fanservice for that purpose seemed like an insignificant price to pay, and so I advocated getting rid of those lesser elements from all series.

The second reason for my hatred of fanservice was at least a more genuine one: I was and largely still am a prude. I did think that some of the scenes contained in anime were improper and potentially dangerous to people of my age (how a teenager analyses what is improper for teenagers is another matter that did not bother my precocious mind). Ever a stickler for the rules, I knew that while I might choose to avoid fanservice scenes, many of my friends would not. And there is also the quandary that you can only turn off some of the questionable stuff after you have seen it, which might already be moot.

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Come here, sinners…

My approach to the above two points has now changed, mostly because I have realised how limited my perspective was, based as it was only on personal experience. First some data to give context to this discussion. The following numbers represent the state of affairs for Poland, my country. Most of the numbers ought to be similar for your country if you live in the West. I do encourage you to research specifics for your own region if you have never done so.

Over 50% of children have their first contact with pornography by the age of: 11 years

Average age of sexual initiation: 18,5 years

Average age of marriage: 29 years

Surveyed admit to pre-marital sex: 90%

Christian (Catholic) population: 89% (87%)

The bottom half regarding pre-marital sexual activity in a Christian-dominated society is there just to show that we are masters of not practising what we preach. I was genuinely not aware of that as a teenager, and so I had to bring this up. But I do not intend to dwell on this point too much. It is just that you should take a limited-trust approach to any moral preaching – odds are the authors are guilty of exactly what they speak against.

More important is the upper half. I was shocked to discover late in junior high that the majority of my class were experienced smokers and experimented with drinking alcohol when they could get away with it. If statistics are to be believed, more than half of my classmates also willingly and regularly accessed porn on the internet. We are talking real porn here: vivid and often violent images delivered by real-life actors.

I was worried anime fanservice could adversely affect us at that age, but that sounds like a joke in light of the above data. Anime fanservice is borderline infantile: guys tripping up and nose-diving into female chests, super-wind providing pantyshot support and revealing swimsuits in beach episodes. Anime characters will start screaming about getting pregnant after an accidental kiss. If any minor willingly watched through any one porn flick in existence, nothing of what the average non-hentai anime delivers will make them lift an eyebrow. The levels are just too different.

So is fanservice content entirely irrelevant from a parent’s perspective? Not exactly. But if a child is being exposed to or actively seeks out porn, you can bet they will not be consulting their parents about it. Thus many children are indefinitely exposed to potentially toxic portrayals of sexuality. If your kid wants to read something like Hayate or Negima, and you let them place those titles on their shelf, you actually get a chance to segue into a discussion of what you read when their age and how you acted when you were the age of the characters portrayed. I know people are afraid of talking. It is difficult and embarrassing to talk. Which is what this whole duality is supposed to serve: decry materials that deal with sexuality as evil and forbid them entirely, and you no longer have to discuss anything; pretend there is no inevitability of exposure to those materials or tacitly accept their consumption within the shadows, and there is no need to discuss anything either!

Beyond a certain point, I now see the idea of completely shielding minors from exposure to sensitive material as unfeasible and potentially even dishonest. And with that out of the way, the other reason I used to hate fanservice was for the sake of anime’s good name. This one does not even deserve a long-winded paragraph. Let us just be real about it: anime is only a medium and all kinds of stories will be told through that medium, regardless of their value or our preferences. People who want to cherry-pick and complain about some titles will always find what they need. We can somewhat affect what gets the spotlight or is considered mainstream. Everything else we have to take in stride.

So, with both my reasons gone, how has my approach to fanservice changed over the years?

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Actually a great scene.

Well, I still dislike fanservice. I suppose it is no longer “hate”.

Again, I have two reasons. One is that fanservice is a major pain when it comes to sharing your favourite series. I would very much like to show and discuss anime more with the common folk, my family etc. and there are plenty of series deserving this, but there is no point if you are just making people uncomfortable. As far as sexy men and women are concerned, the average Hollywood flick might have more of that than the average anime. But anime fanservice will often involve minors or even children, and I can only understand how that makes people queasy. I will defend those scenes when they are an integral part of what is being expressed. Madoka and Homura drifting through imaginary space in their birthday suits during the finale of Madoka Magika is not meant to turn you on. Youngsters treated as still possessing sexuality in Made in Abyss is in tune with the naturalistic approach of the series. I have shown both to my family. But much as I would like to, I can not find a good enough excuse for naked loli shower scenes in Rou-kyu-bu or the unnecessarily detailed bodies in the Nanoha movies’ transformation scenes, except for the honest: “they probably appeal to ‘that’ kind of audience”. It is such a waste.

The second gripe I have against most fanservice is purely artistic, and therefore more important. To put it bluntly: fanservice is a waste of time. Any scene, sound or shape in anime is intended – you do not accidentally capture things on camera in this medium. As such, every detail contributes in some way to creating the setting, atmosphere or plot. And those contributions are by nature indirect. Anime might resort to a few seconds of direct narration, when the viewer is informed of some elements of the setting. But when a group of thugs enter a tavern, they do not announce themselves as thugs – you can more often tell from their nasty smirks, dirty clothes and missing teeth. Necessary information will likewise be slipped into natural conversations between characters, for the viewer to pick up on their own without being addressed directly.

Fanservice does not work like that. As the name suggests, it is about providing “service” directly to the fans. It is a form of fourth-wall braking. If the viewer likes (is stimulated by) the eye-candy, then great. If they do not, then it is bad news, as the scenes often serve no other purpose, failing to further the narrative or develop anything – a waste of time. To keep the fanservice tangentially related to the characters and plot at hand, anime will often resort to tried-and-true tropes, like the aforementioned trip-and-grope ordeal. Notice how the carbon-copy scenes are set up in such a way that we learn next to nothing about the characters even as they supposedly interact – if the guy trips, it is just bad luck. He might or might not try to apologise, but the heroine will reflexively slap him before any actual conversation can take place. That ends the scene in a supposedly humorous way. The template works for 90% of all characters, so do not worry about having to adjust or develop your characters.

[Randomacts] Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS - 02 (BDRip 1280x714 x264 FLAC) [338FC6A4].mkv_snapshot_21.10_[2018.06.01_12.28.52]

However, we are still talking about art, and nothing in art is ever a completely lost cause. Remember that scene in Nanoha Strikers when Caro and Erio first meet? Trippity-trip and the boy ends on top of the girl with his hands square on her chest. And then what? She apologises (first!) for causing the two of them to fall. He apologises for possibly causing her embarrassment. Two seconds later and they are over it and starting off a good friendship. Sometimes I wish we all had the emotional maturity of those fictional 10-year-olds.

So while bad fanservice is the death of storytelling, you can get plenty of fanservice past my radar as long as it actually serves a purpose within the story OR occurs simultaneously with something else that is worthwhile. The gear-users of Symphogear wearing skimpy or tight clothing barely ever bothers me in any way because there is usually too much action going on-screen to think about such things. Or if a character is a seductress, then yes, you better expect them to dress the part.

And then you have the holy grail: fanservice which makes a scene or series better. Fanservice that is storytelling. After years of watching anime I experienced at least one series that made me admit that such a thing exists (and I might be a harsher judge of other fanservice because of it). I hope to introduce that in my next, much shorter, article. Until then, feel free to guess what series it is, or tell what your take is on the best use of fanservice in anime. Until then!

In anime-land characters can get away with both being straight (obviously) or gay (if they show up in the right genre). Bisexual characters, though, tend to find themselves in a rough spot. A love interest in a mainstream series suddenly swinging the other way might creep out half the target audience, while characters “growing out” of their homosexuality and into a normative relationship is one of the more outrage-inducing yuri/yaoi tropes.

Nevertheless, there are some crafty characters who managed to swing both ways without causing a storm or a split in the fanbase. Here is a quick look at those characters and the circumstances which let them be who they are without causing a riot.

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Suehiro Anna (Wandering Son)

…as well as some other characters in Shimura Takako’s works. This is kind of cheating, because the titles in question focus heavily on characters discovering and struggling with their own sexuality, and are not something that people touchy about the topic would pick up in the first place.

Anna is introduced to the reader/viewer as somebody who “likes weird things”. However, unlike the frivolous approach of some genki-type characters, Anna’s attitude is that of a calm confidence in her own preferences. Which is why she remains mostly unfazed when it turns out that her new boyfriend has a penchant for cross-dressing.

Anna does have her moments of doubt when it turns out that her partner’s habit is more than a hobby. As the issue comes to light, causing friction with all their acquaintances, it even leads to a temporary breakup between the two. But through it all, Anna only grows stronger, more accepting of and supporting towards her partner. So it does not come as a shock when Anna, faced with her partner’s eventual decision to transition and officially become a woman, responds with something along the lines of “Well, I guess I’ll have a girlfriend now.”

setsukono

Vector/colouring by LBC

Konoka and Setsuna (Mahou Sensei Negima)

Negima’s shtick is that everyone in the class has some kind of feelings for their chibi homeroom teacher Negi. The two ladies above get their fair share of ship tease with the male protagonist and are one of the earlier students to get a pactio with Negi – kissing their way to a power-up.

With Konoka a supportive mother figure and Setsuna a reliable comrade on the battlefield, either one of them might have been a strong contender for Negi’s heart… if only the two could keep their hands off each other. As we learn more about the connection between Konoka and Setsuna, we find some resemblance to a Lady and the Tramp kind of story, except that the open-minded Konoka could not care less about things like status, race or gender. And Konoka’s gift of positivity is exactly what the eternal worryguts Setsuna needs to keep her grounded in reality. Before we know it, this fan-favourite couple is making an additional pactio with each other, and their wedding dates suspiciously overlap…

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Kawasumi Mai (Kanon 2006)

As one of the heroines of the Kanon visual novel, Mai has a close connection to the novel’s male protagonist, Yuuichi. The two meet as children, and Yuuichi becomes Mai’s first true friend as the one person unafraid of Mai’s otherworldy powers. The two get along really well until Yuuichi leaves the town, not to come back for many years. That part of the story can be assumed to be canon for all the novel’s routes. In Mai’s route, the reader can help the two reconcile after their painful separation. There, the two assumedly end up as a couple.

However, by the time the action of Kanon starts, Mai has already given up on ever meeting her old friend again. Instead, she forges a new strong connection with one Kurata Sayuri. The two girls are close, very close. To the point that in the visual novel, we are privy to Yuuichi’s R-rated imaginations of them doing this and that together. In the Kazahana OVA, the two go on to live together as they study abroad.

The most contentious scene regarding this relationship must be the one where Yuuichi questions Mai’s attitude as she attempts to protect Sayuri from danger by pushing her away and preventing her from getting involved. Mai justifies her approach with a deadpan: Sayuri no koto ga suki. Daisuki dakara. I think it has been argued to death which of the suki/daisuki pair is stronger and more romantic as far as confessions go, but it seem like the taciturn Mai is not interested in those discussions, so she just drops both of them in rapid succession.

Still, there is always the interpretation that Mai is just very intense about all her friendships (which she is), so the two factions are never forced into a direct confrontation.

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Katsura Hinagiku (Hayate no Gotoku / Hayate the Combat Butler)

The biggest relationship trouble this superpopular pink-haired tsundere finds herself in involves her inability to come to terms with and confess her feelings for Hayate, resident combat butler, chick and misfortune magnet extraordinaire. Which might be why many people forget about a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when she admits that “for a moment, her heart beat faster because of a girl”. All that in an internal monologue – Hinagiku would not be caught dead making that kind of confession out loud.

The lucky girl is Hinagiku’s dear friend and love rival for Hayate’s heart – Nishizawa Ayumu. But should Hinagiku ever become more open to the yuri side of force, there are apparently plenty of gals waiting for their chance. One of them is another of Hinagiku’s close friends, Hanabishi Miki, who admits that she is waiting for the pink-haired tsundere to notice her, even as she fears that Hinagiku will be forever out of her reach.


You might want to add classics like Haruhi Suzumiya, who “doesn’t care if it’s a guy or a girl as long as they are mysterious”. Also be sure to check out the incoming anime adaptation of Happy Sugar Life, whose protagonist has a bed rep from sleeping around with every other guy… until the day she finds her one true love in the tiny angel Shio-chan.

…and I am aware that the powers of my yuri bias have filled this entry with female characters. I did consider Love Stage and Ouran High School Host Club characters for a male representation, but they did not fit all my criteria. So if you have any favourites I missed, fill me in!