The ongoing struggle of gender portrayal in anime is affected by fan service

With many world events going on I felt it was time to voice my opinion on some matters in question. One such issue that has come under more and more scrutiny is the issue of gender portrayal in anime. These concerns and issues have extended from the source of the issue; that being fan-service. While it is not the sole-contributor, it is the most blatant offender by leagues. I should note that this discussion may have some opinionated bias written in here. I am not an industry expert nor am I entirely up to par on the subject. I felt like merely writing an article on this in response to what I have seen developing from Twitter and that of people that have casually asked me about this. This post is in no way condemning my personal viewing of fan service related items. Just bringing you all another topic to have a discussion over. Enjoy!

Frankly our industry that we all know and love is far from perfect when exploring gender identities. They often overly portray most men as selfish, sex craving, man killing machines that are goofy and lovable. Women on the other hand are often voluptuous, soft/weak, dainty fairies that often find the camera taking a closer inspection of their butt, boobs and thighs. This portrayal is often used from the standpoint of fan-service, in the case of many women that are portrayed in anime. Most companies resort to using such a method in order to keep a certain demographic watching, while others will use it’s a “reward” basis for loyal fans and is oftentimes used outside of the core work or within an OVA special. While it happens quite less for male characters it does happen from time to time; just only with such a paltry percentage of the shows we see not counting hentai. Frankly it becomes something of a put off for the series and for me as a viewer.

I am far from a perfect viewer and will be upfront that I enjoy fan-service. There is no beating around the bush in saying that my favorite anime is Kill la Kill a series that shows women in less than complementing outfits that tend to have skimpy transformations. Now the question I ask is does Kill la Kill portray the female gender in a less than favorable and upstanding way? Yes. This is not to say that Kill la Kill is fully degrading towards the portrayal of women with strong willed personalities that do not allow their failures to rule over them. They instead overcome them by first overcoming of showing skin. Could this been achieved without the need to show skin? Of course. Frankly fan-service is very much an almost integral aspect to anime and their portrayal of their characters often ride on this singular aspect. Granted this is not just the issue of the animation production studio as it also stems back often from the source material that is often times a manga. Now does a manga author or company choose to allow fan-service into their creations to adversely affect how they portray the gender of the characters in that title? Yes and no.

Most anime or manga are often written out with this field of interest in mind and as such they develop characters around those interest versus say a series like Mushishi in where you have absolutely zero fan-service to begin with. Mushishi portrays all of it’s cast of characters as individuals who have conscious personalities and the women of the selected title have a fair bit of diversity; you just get cookie cutter impressions however. What I mean by that is the sense that most of the female characters of the anime tend to all run from the same base personality type and then develop their own unique traits and quirks from there. However in titles like Non Non Biyori fan-service finds a way to creep into a series that has absolutely no need for it. The anime focuses on portraying young school girls living in the country as they go about their everyday lives in search of adventure in a county that has little to nothing to do then farm. Yet we have one scene in which one of the characters in question, Hotaru going to the beach with her classmates while wearing a bikini like outfit with her teacher blatantly commenting on how does an 11 year old have a bust like that already.

It is both disconcerting and frankly uncomfortable as a viewer. The gender portrayal of that tiny scene leaves a lasting and uncomfortable impact. Frankly it is fixable and the series did correct that with a second run called Non Non Biyori Repeat where in said scene was noticeably absent as this new season focused on uncovered aspects of the manga by the same name. Beyond just a quick fix with an impromptu second season, we as the readers and viewers have a voice in this matter.

As most often say, change starts at the bottom and will work its way to the top. Granted this situation that we are in with Japanese anime and it’s love of fan service does also stem from a cultural standpoint as most social aspects regarding displays of affection are quite possibly still as not openly on display as it is for somewhere like the United States; granted I could very well be wrong as it has been sometime since my last cultural engagement. However it isn’t hard to let the companies know that we as a viewer and reader know how we feel about their portrayal of men and mostly women through the use of fan-service. It is unflattering and often times lacking in quality. Am I saying that we should crusade against the very notion of fan service? No. Again as a consumer of Japanese media and literature I do enjoy fan service from time to time, however I only enjoy it when it is tastefully used. What I would argue for is the lessened use of fan-service as a whole. For series that focus just on that subject good on you; I just don’t want to see series that has no need for it using it. The more you can express that to companies that use it just to use it, the greater effect we can have on seeing it less and less in these series. I would frankly enjoy watching a show without fan service from time to time and when I wish to see it I will find myself an anime that focuses entirely on that topic, but I would also frankly love to see the gender portrayal of characters unaffected by the fan service in the series that they are in. I would love to see the portrayal of women in a brighter and more empowering sense rather than just a showy piece of meat; upfront and harsh but this is essentially what we see.

Now I am far from a discussion expert and I am no JekoJeko. This is not in response to anything that he has written or to anything that others have written. It is frankly a topic of interest and I felt like addressing it in our own way. While my opinions are my own they are not the industries reflection. I feel there is just a situation that is brewing in where we are finding fan service creeping in on every aspect of the industry and it is adversely affecting the gender portrayals that we see in anime. Now we do get series that offset this and they have been numbering more and more recently and it is a welcomed change to the pacing. We still get series that however slip fan service in to fill a gap or void that could have been filled with better portrayal and character development. I just personally feel that there is a place and time for well used fan service, but it often pops up at moments that just ruin the portrayal of a character and they alter your overall perception of that character. I will say that when fan service is used outside of the core work in the form of an OVA it is a bit more acceptable, but that will differ from person to person as the perspective is affected differently.

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Does this mean I will not talk or promote series with fan service here? No. I will still cover the anime I want to cover because I frankly love them fan service and all. I still wish to be a platform that can also be a bit of a voice in trying to let companies know that while I enjoy it, it doesn’t need to be in every other scene nor does it need to have an adverse application to the gender portrayal of said character(s). Now as always I would love to hear back from anyone on this matter! Just please keep any hateful and spiteful comments out of the playing field. That never allows for level discussions and can often leave others feeling as if their opinion is useless and wasted. It has been a while since I posted something lengthy and I hope that this helps to fill that void! I have been hard at work trying to bring better and more varied content to my website! I hope to have other meaningful topics in the future too!

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7 thoughts on “The ongoing struggle of gender portrayal in anime is affected by fan service

  1. Keijo is a very good example. Omg that fanservice is seriously asking for trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. and also the title typo.


    2. Like I said there is good use and then there is not so good use and Keijo is the reason why I feel there is a ton of flak being fired right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey! Nice Post 🙂 I’ve talked about this before on GrimmGirl but I thought I would comment here bc I think it is really good that more bloggers are talking about this subject. So forgive me if it sounds like I’m spitting back things I’ve already said lol.

    I personally find Kill la Kill to be one of the most empowering anime towards women out there at the moment. Basically everyone of importance is a women. They’re incredible fighters and throughout out the entire show there isn’t romance or anything like that. It’s literally just women being badasses. Are the outfits demeaning? In my opinion? No. I feel this way because if you look at other anime shows the male characters are never judged for their fighting outfits. I know I’ve used this example before but Natsu fights with only a vest on and Gray is topless half the time. Nobody ever focuses on their looks over what they are doing as characters for the show. It should be the same way for us when we view women I feel.

    I think it is also funny that Kill la Kill points this out during the show. If you recall whenever they fight and switch into their outfits the male students flip out thinking it is the hottest thing ever. These two women are about to crush it out amazingly with their fight but all the student males care about is their outfits. On the other hand the male characters that are fighters themselves and focus only on the fight they could care less about the outfits. They realize that it is the skill that is impressive. I’ve always found Kill la Kill’s ability to highlight that and be so tongue in check about it to be both hilarious and smart.

    On the flip side the most demeaning anime I have seen towards women (and men for that matter) this year has been The Seven Deadly Sins. The rape culture in that anime is intense I couldn’t even get past episode five because I was so uncomfortable. The fanservice moments I find to be demeaning are the moments that uphold rape culture. Midolas groping Elizabeth’s boobs while she was uncouncious in the first episode for example was completely out of line for me. There was no consent for that and honestly that’s perpetuates the idea that if given a chance men will do anything to a women they can get away with. Obviously there are many men who would never do that but that’s why fanservice moments like that are demeaning to everyone.

    Hahaha super long comment but again I think it is cool that you are opening the doors of discussion on this topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Super long comments are welcomed! I leave for work soon so my reply will be short but that is what I love about Kill la Kill. It is like the poster child for fan service that is used in such a terrific manner. I think that’s due to the fact that Studio Trigger knows how to make anime well. Its as empowering as it is flashy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is I love it still one of my favorites EVER 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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