Ask John: Is Excessive Fan Service Bad for Anime?
I know that sex sells, especially in anime industry. Just look at titles like High School DxD, Hagure Yuusha no Aesthetica, Hyakka Ryouran Samurai, To-LoveRU Darkness, Queen’s Blade series, and so on. However, I can’t help but wonder if the some studios are taking fanservice too far, adding in fanservice (especially when it makes no sense in context) just for the sake of making sales. Highschool of the Dead, Kakyuusei 2, and Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru! with very little for them to distinguish themselves apart from other generic titles beside fanservice. Isn’t this bad for the industry if studios have to resort to fanservice to make money? Or is actually beneficial?
We should keep in mind that in many cases, it’s actually not anime production studios themselves that decide which titles to animate; publishers, game developers, and production committees decide that they’d like to have a particular title turned into an anime then contract a studio of their choice to produce the animation. While screenwriters & directors have a degree of latitude in how they approach and adapt the anime series they’re hired to work on, they’re also influenced by the demands of the producers that hired them and the expectations of the consumers and viewers that will ultimately watch the anime. When a title gets an anime adaptation, the animators may need to enhance the original material with greater sex appeal or gratuitous exploitation in order to compensate for a visual blandness inherent in the original narrative. For example, a particular light novel may be interesting on the prose page due to its characters’ personalities and relationships. But anime is primarily a visual medium, so intricate character relationships and a variety of character personalities may be inadequate to make a conventional anime narrative stand out from its competition and gain viewer attention. Neither Kakyuusei 2 nor Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru! proved to be especially popular anime series regardless of their inclusion of mild fan service. The High School of the Dead anime series wouldn’t have become nearly as popular and successful as it was if it had been the same show without its abundance of risqué humor and overt sexuality. It’s precisely the boobs, the sloppy romance, and the drunken nearly-naked girls that elevated the High School of the Dead anime series from ordinary action/horror with a cast of moderately unpleasant characters to an extraordinary widely-talked-about cult hit.
From an American perspective, one may naturally worry that such an incisive emphasis on gratuitous lechery may turn anime one-dimensional or compromise the dynamic integrity of anime, making it boring, predictable, and ultimately uninteresting. A look back at the long history of anime suggests that such fears are exaggerated, as anime has moved through many such cycles. In fact, it’s possibly exactly cyclical viewer fatigue that encourages anime to constantly evolve. The 1970s and very early 80s were heavily dominated by giant robot anime. But as viewers got overwhelmed by the genre, giant robots receded to make way for the prominence of other genres. The 1980s and early 90s remain famous for the prominence of anime shower scenes – fan service shots of nude girls bathing. In the mid and late 1990s, such fan service largely disappeared from anime. The early 2000s were typified by the emergence and popularization of the moé anime genre. Now, as we enter the second decade of the 2000s, moé anime is much less prominent than it was just a few years ago.
Due to the close interconnection between the anime creation and distribution industry and its consumers, the anime business has the ability to quickly recognize trends within its audience and the ability to rapidly respond to shifts in interest from its target audience. Japanese fans have a greater and more diverse passion for anime than Americans do, so Japanese fans are traditionally more likely to remain interested in any given genre, style, or emphasis in anime than American viewers. But even Japanese otaku eventually get exhausted by multiple consecutive years of intense attention on a particular trope. And it’s at that time that the anime development industry quickly transitions usually to an opposite trend to sustain rather than lose viewer loyalty.