I recently caught a video by The Anime Man in which he asserted that fanservice, in its current state, is destroying anime. It’s an alarmist way to make a point, but his position basically boiled down to the assertion that the popularity of fanservice in modern anime can’t survive an inevitable change in the fandom’s tastes, and that in general, rampant fanservice will skew the perspectives of people on the outside looking in, making them think that all anime is just cheap, oversexualized garbage.
And I wholeheartedly disagree.
Not only is fanservice not destroying anime, it can’t destroy anime. Not only can’t it destroy anime, pragmatically speaking, it’s saving anime.
Here’s why The Anime Man is wrong.
Number One: If fanservice could destroy anime, anime wouldn’t have survived the ‘90s or the 2000s.
When we remember past eras of a medium, much of our memory outside of works we personally connected with is filled with the exceptionally good and exceptionally bad. A lot of fanservice anime tends to fill out that middle area of forgettable mid-level works. Shows like Divergence Eve, Steel Angel Kurumi, and Maburaho, and even shows that were well-known in their heyday like Love Hina and Negima aren’t really talked about anymore outside of people for whom those shows were particularly important.
It’s easy to act like the fanservice that’s out now is something new, but that’s a lack of hindsight. If fanservice had the capability to destroy anime, it’s already had plenty of chances to do so. And yet the anime industry has survived the OVAs of the 1980s and ‘90s, through to the early 2000s and still stands today.
Yes, sex sells. The old adage is as true as ever. What’s also true, however, is that anime is an industry and needs money to stay in business. If a studio can make cheap money selling mid-level fanservice anime, that puts more money in the industry. This can only be a good thing. Let a studio pump out a few fanservice shows and perhaps they’ll have the money to make something more robust and less T&A-driven.
Number Three: What about the critics?
Like it or not, anime is made for the fans who enjoy it. Critics take pleasure in picking apart shows to get down to the themes, characters, setting, story, and the significance behind all of that, but not every anime will be conducive to that, and that’s okay.
Number Four: What about the Ordinary People?
This sentiment bothers me. The idea that we need to, at best, validate, and at worst, apologize for, this medium we all love so much as anime fans comes off to me as half-hearted. It’s like being a fair-weather fan, only into it when it makes you look good, but willing to abandon it wholesale the moment it doesn’t work in your favor.
Anime is still fringe. It’s not “geek culture” like superhero comics or AAA videogames have become. We’re not in the spotlight to where we should feel the need to downplay aspects of our fandom to look good to people on the outside looking in. We’ve all survived as anime fans this long without having to call for an end to fanservice, so why do we need to do that now? Stick to your guns. Anyone who’s going to judge an entire medium based on a few works within it is too closed-minded to have ever given it a fair shake in the first place.
The desperation I see to eliminate parts of the medium in an effort to become more palatable to Ordinary People bothers me deeply, because it’s a sign that people have no pride in the medium and no pride in being anime fans. People don’t respect people-pleasers, those who bend over backwards and sacrifice elements of themselves to appeal to anyone and everyone. People respect people who stick to their guns.
Not liking fanservice is perfectly fine, but accusing it of destroying anime simply isn’t productive and speaks more to personal biases than to any problems with the medium. Support the shows you want to see and ignore what you don’t, but understand that fanservice isn’t destroying anime.