What Is Fan Service, and Does It Have a Place in Anime?

set of different manga eyes close up

If you ever want to start a debate among a group of anime fans, all you need to do is bring up a very sensitive subject: fan service. There are plenty of anime fans who despise it. There are also those who love it. Trying to get them to agree on anything other than the definition of fan service is a waste of time.

Fan service is content inserted into anime and manga designed to please fans without adding anything substantive. It is almost always of a sexual nature, though content doesn’t have to be X-rated to be considered fan service. Generally, the dividing line is gratuitousness.

No Other Purpose

Fan service gets its name from the fact that it has no purpose other than appealing to fans. You could make the argument that all anime and manga could be considered fan service under that definition. After all, isn’t it all produced to make fans happy? Yes and no.

When you are talking about anime or manga, you’re talking about a medium for telling stories. Fan service does not contribute to the story at hand. It is extemporaneous content. As for the fact that most fan service is sexual in nature, it would appear that this is what fans want.

If nothing else, anime and manga creators strive to create what will sell. It is no different from the artists behind the Umai anime T-shirt and sweatshirt brand. The artwork is created to appeal to fans. Giving fans what they want is the whole point.

A Long History with Anime

What many people don’t know is that fan service has a long history with anime. Creators have been adding fan service to their work from the earliest days of the art form. When anime first came to the U.S., it was pretty common for censors to edit fan service out. That did not sit well with U.S. audiences.

Nowadays, censors do not touch fan service unless they feel it is X- or R-rated material more suitable to hentai. You could even make the case that fan service is more prevalent in content destined for a Western audience.

Panty Shots and Bathing Suits

Two of the most common forms of fan service are panty shots and bathing suits. A content creator may depict female characters wearing extremely short skirts – short enough that even the slightest bit of movement reveals the character’s underwear.

As for bathing suits, they are self-explanatory. Entire anime beach scenes have been designed around the concept of showing well-endowed females wearing skimpy bikinis. The beach scene itself may only exist for the purposes of fan service.

Again, the signature of fan service is that it is content that does not add to the story. You could get rid of it and not lose a beat in telling the story at hand. If that’s the case, you could be looking at fan service. If that is the case and the content is sexually suggestive, it being fan service is virtually guaranteed.

Personal Opinions Vary

As to whether fan service belongs in anime, personal opinions vary. Fan service critics often complain that the content is totally unnecessary. Adding it makes a piece cheap and tawdry. On the other hand, others make the case that anime would not be what it is without fan service.

If you are an anime fan, what do you think? Does fan service unnecessarily detract from the story, or do you believe that it is such an integral element that getting rid of it would be doing a disservice to the art?