When you think of Fan service within Anime what is the first thing you think of? Breasts? Panty Shots? Male Swimming Team? For most people, this is where the term starts and ends and you’d be half right however simply anything for the fans is deemed as fan service. And sometimes a series can pander to the fans in a way worse than stripping clothes.
This can take many forms for example from popular pairings between characters being forced upon the viewer, rather than leaving things to the imagination. Take for example the Naruto finale as we saw many pairings become canon in the series, while some fans were overjoyed that their ‘One True Pairing’ come to fruit others were upset and enraged that what they believed in wasn’t going to happen. (Remember people, shipping is serious business) Ultimately most of this was simply to ensure that, if the mangaka or anime studio wanted to, a continuation of the series would be possible.
Most other series, aside from romance titles, will simply allow the fans to decide for themselves on who they want to pair together and leave it at that. Not only does it keep the fires of shipping wars lit but it also means people can simply enjoy what they like and nothing more. This is fan service in another way entirely, allowing the fans to pick their own ending as it were.
Another example would be avoiding killing off a character, or playing with death a little bit too much to the point that people just don’t care. Fairy Tail, for example, has over the last few months killed off half a dozen of its characters before bringing them back, with some of these deaths only lasting a few pages. Ultimately people stopped caring as they no longer felt any threat. The creator’s passion for giving everyone a happy ending ultimately robbing people of the fun of the story.
Some series can get away with being Fan service focused simply by playing on nostalgia such as Digimon Tri and Dragonball Super. They are simply there to give people what they want by linking in with a previous beloved version of the series. They don’t particularly add anything new or unique to the original series, they are simply a nice love letter to the fans – catering for a fan’s nostalgia.
It’s not uncommon for many series to have extras relating to the series once it’s complete. Audio CDs using voice actors to push a certain pairing, or to extend a narrative or even a ‘What If?’ are commonplace in the Japanese market without it affecting the main series. They don’t hinder the overall plot but are nice for people who wanted more of the same.
On the subject of skin. I’m going to point out that as far as I’m concerned simply having an ‘Ecchi’ anime isn’t automatically bad. If a series such as Prison School, Keijo!!!! or even Free is being honest with us up front about what it is, I personally can’t complain. These series are being made for people who are wanting to see semi-naked characters and genuinely don’t mind. This then allows the series to get it out of the way and just do its own thing. Not all of them may be masterpieces of anime, but a lot of them are still a lot of fun to watch.
Other creators have managed to find a balance with skimpy clothing. Nami and Nico Robin from One Piece are two examples of characters that started wearing more and more revealing clothes as the series went on. This is partially due to the target audience steadily moving from being from children to teens. When asked about why this was, Eiichiro Oda simply replied with ‘I draw them because I like them!’ in a childish way. (He later said it was to bring the young boys dreams to life) He also pointed out that Luffy, Zoro, Usopp, Ace were ideal male bodies, showing that he does try and cater to both sides of the coin.
Ultimately it’s hard to say what ‘Good’ Fan service and ‘Bad Fan service is, and will almost always come down to the personal choice. If you don’t like breasts then sure you aren’t going to enjoy seeing them thrust into your face every two minutes, but if you love them then you’re gonna have a really fun time. The issue really comes down to when a series is pushed aside simply to cater to certain demographics, or when a character’s development is hindered in order to push a popular, sexier character or even when the author goes against what they know the fans want.
Ultimately if you find yourself not enjoying a series due to Fan service it may be in your best interests to drop it and find another. But remember: All series have Fan service, whether you like it or not.