Serving the Fans: What is Fan Service?

A common debate that occurs every season, when a new series of anime comes out, is whether that anime is shit or not, judged solely by the amount of “fan service” it has. Or, belittling someone’s taste in anime just because the person’s preferred series is “fan service”. Or, “I watch anime for the plot“.

Fan service is quite ubiquitous in any entertainment industry. Not only in anime, it’s also present in books and movies and other works of art. But let’s keep it to the anime world for now. When we’re talking about anime, we almost always bring up the term “fan service to describe something that caters to the fans. This “fan service” is almost always presented in its most banal form, which is sexuality or the exposure of aesthetically-pleasing body parts, to please the viewers. But is fan service always about oversized anime tits and impossibly muscularly lean men in swimming trunks? Also, does an anime series suddenly lose its value just because it has a lot of “fan service”?

Defined rather loosely, the term “fan service” can be any attempt to cater or please the audience, making them enjoy their viewing experience. It is intentionally added, sometimes even abruptly by disregarding the plot or story, into the anime just for the sake of pleasing the viewer. It is, after all, “service”. The anime industry wants the viewer to enjoy their experience so that later on, they can shove merchandise down your throat.

Fan service comes in many forms, and sexuality is just one of the many forms of fan service. It would be a grave misconception to limit fan service to the banal expression of aesthetically and sexually pleasing body parts. No, fan service can also include parodies, cameos, intentional 4th-wall breaking, meta-referencing, and so on. For example, I can say that an entirely large portion of the Deadpool movie is, in fact, fan service. The story of the movie itself is pretty weak, yet people praise it because it provides an ample amount of service by breaking the 4th wall (or 16th), meta-referencing (a lot), insider jokes that only a select few in the audience can comprehend, and yes, sexual references.

What about anime? I would argue that there are a lot of fan service anime that are aimed to solely please the fans, be it immature fuckboys or even adults. The entire Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise is in fact, a fan service anime. Aside from the cute lolis, there is an ample amount of insider jokes regarding the gaming industry, parodies of parodies, and even 4th-wall breaking. I can also say that Gintama is a fan service anime, because of the same reasons, although Gintama tends to focus on parodies and meta-referencing. So, fan service is not strictly about big tits and nudity and lean men in trunks acting like a gay boyband, although to some people, that might be pleasing. As OxKing from Japanator writes:

An attractive and busty heroine as a main character isn’t fanservice; it’s just a character model. Sure, maybe it can be distracting and unrealistic, and maybe you may also disagree with me…but it has nothing to do with fanservice. It was a conscious decision by the designers of the anime or the artist of the manga or source material to create her like that. If she is regularly seen by the viewer and is commonly known as being attractive, it is not fanservice. On the flip side, if a new female character with the same aspects were to appear in the series within the mindset of being pointed out as attractive, then THAT would be fanservice. The reason behind this is that the main character, while still having the same qualities of the new character, has an established role in the story. As it progresses, her aspects will become more commonly accepted, therefore, her appearance will not deviate from the plot. Her looks could lead into situations that point out her attractiveness, and that, if pertaining nothing important to the plot, will be considered fanservice.

Speaking of sexiness, in many cases, sexy characters are a type of fan service, but not all the time. In my subjective view, it all depends on how the aspects of the character, being presented as fan service, is relatable to the story. Similar to OxKing above, I believe that a sexy female lead would not be fan service (such as Hestia from Danmachi or Stella from Rakudai); they’re just character models. If at any time during the anime, there are scenes that have little or nothing to do with the plot that emphasizes the beauty and sexiness of these heroines, that moment is a fan service moment. An example of this is the obligatory beach episode in any moe anime when the characters (and plot) take a momentary pause and just enjoy the beach in scantily-clad bikinis because… reasons. Jiggling boobs when a girl is fighting is not fan service (it’s actually physics), except if done excessively and in a manner that deliberately points out the fact that “this girl has huge bazongas” like in Senran Kagura. 

And yes, fan service is not just limited to men and their lewd fantasies. Even women get a lot of fan service, especially the fujoshis when it comes to sexuality. If men like seeing tits, then women like seeing androgynous men with lean muscles interacting with one another in suggestive, homoerotic ways. Or, some might enjoy the pleasure of seeing their OTP become canon. I would say that female fan service is a lot more subtle, as described in Gaijin Goombah’s podcast:

So, this brings us to the subjective nature of fan service. As I say, “fan service is in the eye of the beholder”. What I think is fan service, you might not and vice versa. But let’s just agree that fan service is there just to add to the viewing pleasure of the fan, and not (I emphasize here) the general viewing public. Because anime has a specific demographic and an even more specific breed of people loyal to the series, and it is these very specific people that the industry wants to please.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of people online degrading other people because they have “shit taste in anime” solely because they prefer “fan service” anime. I wonder, does an anime series automatically lose value just because it provides a lot of “fan service”? I would have to disagree with that. Of course, I do acknowledge that a lot of anime have sacrificed plot or a proper story for random shots of schoolgirls’ tits and panties, but that doesn’t the anime is automatically shit and those who watch them have “shit taste”.

Again, we have to return to the subjective nature of fan service. Remember that fan service is there solely for the sake of the fan. Emphasis on fan. This means that a person has to either already be a general anime fan or a fan of that specific anime series to be able to derive pleasure from the service. Again, it’s called fan service because it’s meant for the fans.

Why did I smirk when Jibril from NGNL made this face?


Because I recognize that Jibril is referencing Hyouka, specifically the look of Chitanda’s face when she has a question. I watched both of them and was pretty amused when Jibril did this. This, to me, is fan service, albeit a very specific form because one would have to watch both anime to understand this. Others who have not watched Hyouka would just consider this a normal shot.

Here is a more subtle form of fan service in the form of a subtle insider joke on otaku culture from GATE:


This is fan service, though VERY, VERY subtle, as you would need to understand otaku culture before getting the joke. It’s similar to Deadpool’s jokes.

Now, compare that form of fan service to this one. This is a shot from Mahouka, or Jesus Onii-sama, whichever one you prefer:


This shot can be considered fan service, as it has nothing to do with the plot and is just there as a form of visual eye-candy that may or may not be appealing to viewers. However, since almost everyone can relate to the aesthetically-pleasing human body, more viewers can understand this form of fan service.

Or, if you’d like a more obvious one, how about some Stella from Rakudai?


This bathing scene, to me, is obviously a form of fan service, because it has very little to do in relation to the plot and emphasizes on the “sexiness” of the characters, but it does have some importance in establishing character relations.

Now, does an anime become shit just because it has too much fan service? I would stick to this rule: fan service is like candy; eat a moderate amount and it’s good, eat too much and you get diabetes.

However, once again “quality” is a very subjective term. What I think is shit and what you think is shit are different. And there’s no use pushing down your beliefs or sense of elitism down everyone’s throat.

I have nothing against anime that solely focuses on fan service, like Senran Kagura or Neptunia or the more subtle Gintama because they have their own niche of people that enjoy it. But when an anime focuses on too much fan service to the point where the plot needs to be sacrificed in order to cram in as much bikini and panty shots or guys accidentally kissing one another or too much insider jokes and meta-referencing, that’s when I usually get bored.

So in conclusion, fan service is not just about big anime tits, sexualization of characters, or guys in swimming trunks acting gay; it’s more than that. Fan service is, by its definition, something that pleases the fans, provides them with a nice viewing experience, keeps their interest in the series. And while fan service can enhance an anime, there should be a balance between fan service and the main story. Unless the main story is that there is not a main story, and the story is about servicing the fans so they think there’s a story, but there’s actually not. Holy shit, that’s meta.


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