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Fan service (ファンサービス fan sābisu), fanservice, or service cut (サービスカット sābisu katto), is material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience. The term originated in Japanese, in the anime and manga fandom, but has been used in other languages and media. It is about "servicing" the fan – giving the fans "exactly what they want." Fan service usually refers to "gratuitous titillation", but can also refer to intertextual references to other series or story and visual elements that audiences tend to desire.
Direct and deliberate audience titillation is nearly as old as fiction itself. Examples which can be found in early works include meta-references, where the work or audience is referenced within the work itself, homage or parody where the work references another work familiar to the audience, asides where a character in a work directly speaks to the audience, cameos where characters or persons familiar to the audience outside the work (such as the author, a celebrity, or a character from another story) make an appearance in the work for the audience's sake, and other examples of breaking the fourth wall to directly engage the audience. An ancient example can be found in Aristophanes' comedy The Frogs where two characters speak in the underworld:
- Dionysus: But tell me, did you see the parricides / And perjured folk he mentioned?
- Xanthias: Didn't you?
- Dionysus: Poseidon, yes. Why look! (points to the audience) I see them now.
These nods to the presence of the audience not only acknowledge the narration, but invite the audience to become a co-creator in the fiction.
Gratuitous sexual titillation has also been a common feature of entertainment throughout history, but when it serves to enhance the work itself and when it could be simply be called "fan service" is debatable. Since the 1950s, professional sports, especially American football, have used cheerleaders to entertain the audience. These are typically scantily-clad females who dance and perform for the titillation of the fans. These, along with mascots, musical performances, and halftime shows are commonly known as "fan service" in Japanese sports, although the term is less commonly applied to sports in the US.
In cinema, external factors of fandom such as societal norms and celebrity status can often affect a work of fiction. The 1952 French film Manina, la fille sans voiles (Manina, The Girl Without Sails) was not imported into the United States until 1958 after the success of the film's star Brigitte Bardot in that country. In the US, the film was renamed "Manina, The Girl In the Bikini" to highlight the appeal of the star and her revealing outfit (then a matter of controversy), despite her not appearing in the first 40 minutes of the 76 minute film. In the United States, from 1934 to 1954, cinema was limited by the Hays Code in what it deemed appropriate to show audiences. In spite of this, foreign imported films and exploitation films specialized in providing sexual and taboo content which audiences were unable to view on television or in approved films.
Keith Russell regards the beginning of modern fan service as taking place in a permissive context, when "kids were just doing kids' stuff", which he believes allowed authors some latitude in regards to their subject matter. Beginning in the 1970s with Cutey Honey, and continuing later with other magical girl shows, fan service in manga became more risqué. By the 1980s full frontal nudity and shower scenes became standard content for anime and manga fan service. In the West, obscenity laws and rating systems (such as the Comics Code Authority in the United States or the MPAA rating system, which replaced the Hayes Code for film ratings) prevent or limit gratuitous displays of nudity in films and comic books. However, bikini shots and topless scenes were still popular forms of audience titillation. In the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, Carrie Fisher portrayed the character of Princess Leia wearing a metal bikini and chains while enslaved to the gangster Jabba the Hutt. The motivation for this change in her character (previously portrayed in the series as a strong, empowered leader) to a seemingly vulnerable sex symbol was an attempt to feminize the character and appeal to boys' fantasies. Some critics point out, however, that by portraying Leia as the object of desire to a crude monster, the film is reflecting the crude fantasies of its audience.
In 1991, Marvel Comics began publishing a special series catering to fan service, Marvel Swimsuit Specials, which features both male and female characters in swimsuits and skimpy clothing. In the same year, Marvel released a Sensational She-Hulk issue wherein the title character wears a bikini and jumps rope nude (blur lines cover any displays of nudity).
Although the concepts had been used previously, the term itself "fan service" (ファンサービス fan sābisu) most likely originated in the late 80s to describe such scenes in anime and manga. The term is used in the 1991 film Otaku no Video.
Later, excessive fan service content came to be considered gratuitous regardless of its justification in relation to the narrative in which it takes place. Hideaki Anno, who had promised Neon Genesis Evangelion would give "every episode... something for the fans to drool over," began removing the fan service imagery in later episodes. Those later episodes that did contain fan service elements juxtaposed them with imagery of the character in some kind of emotional trauma. Since then, fan service rarely contains full nudity.
In modern anime, fan service has often been received with varied reviews. While some series, like Fate/Zero, have received positive reviews for their fan service interposed with humorous effect or an overall good story, others, such as Rosario + Vampire, Code Geass, and Highschool of the Dead, have often been panned for their fan service, which is often seen as unnecessary, distracting and out of place.
Long shots of robots in mecha shows, sexual elements, violent episode-long fight scenes, and emphasis on shipping can all be considered fan service as they are specifically aimed at pleasing the fans of any given show. Christian McCrea feels that Gainax is particularly good at addressing otaku through fan service by adding many "meta-references" and by showing "violence and hyperphysical activity". Baseball teams provide events which are described in Japan as fan service, such as dance shows, singing the team song, or a performance by the team mascot.
The typical, but not only, variety of fan service in anime or manga is racy, sexual, or erotic content, such as nudity and other forms of eye candy (for example, sexy maid costumes). Fan service is especially common in shonen manga (aimed at boys). In shonen manga, pin-up girl style images are common "in varying states of undress", often using an "accidental exposure" excuse to show a favourite female character, or an upskirt "glimpse of a character's panties". Series aimed at an older audience include more explicit fan service. Jiggling breasts, known as the "Gainax bounce", are an example of fan service, created as a way to make a scene of the Daicon IV opening video a bit more "H". The "bounce" was taken up by other animators, including the creators of the hentai series Cream Lemon. Shower scenes are very common in movies and in anime of the 1980s and 1990s, while many more recent TV series use trips to onsen (Japanese hot springs) or trips to tropical locales (or in some cases a swimming pool) in order to showcase the characters in bathing suits. Series aimed at males can also include fan service for women, as an attempt to court a wider audience.
Keith Russell defines fan service as "the random and gratuitous display of a series of anticipated gestures common in Manga and Anime. These gestures include such things as panty shots, leg spreads and glimpses of breast". Russell regards fan service as being an aesthetic of the transient "glimpse", which he contrasts with the gaze, as it takes the mind unaware and open to "libidinous possibility" without mediation. He considers the fan service object to be reassuring in its unrealistic nature and to be confirming the "freedom of desire".
Shoujo manga, aimed at female readers, also includes fan service, such as showing male characters "half-naked and in enticing poses". Robin Brenner notes that in the US comics culture, fan service aimed at women is rare, and also that in Japan, series can be famous for their fan service content. Chris Beveridge explains this mindset with Agent Aika: "There's some sort of plot in there, but that's not the reason you're watching it. ... we're watching this for the sheer amount of fanservice." Male homoeroticism, such as accidental kisses, is a common feature of fan service for women, and has been described as "easier to get away with" in terms of censorship than fan service for males. In the Boys Love genre, fan service is "artwork or scenes" in products that "depict canonical characters in a homosocial / homoerotic context". Shoujo manga series may eroticise its female leads as well for crossover appeal, as fan service aimed at a potential male audience.
Brenner notes that fan service can be offputting to teen readers, as in a male reading shoujo manga or a female reading shonen manga, and that in general fan service is more criticised when it features a female character. She cites Tenjo Tenge as an example of a fan service-laden series.
Intertextual references are intended to be seen and understood by the fans, as a way for the creators of the show to acknowledge and engage the more knowledgeable members of the fan-base. Intertextual fan service is now being inserted into media aimed at younger children as well; this can be seen in Shrek 2's upside-down kiss scene, which is a reference to an upside-down kiss scene in Spider-Man (2002).
When anime and manga are translated into English by U.S. companies, the original work is often edited to remove some of the fan service, making it more appropriate for U.S. audiences. Mike Tatsugawa explained this change as a result of a difference between cultural values of Japan and the U.S. In fact, some anime seems to have little more than fan service as their selling point. Some believe that the prevalence of fan service indicates a lack of maturity within the fandom; an editor of Del Rey Manga joked that manga Negima! Magister Negi Magi, which contained fan service, should be rated as "for immature readers 16+" rather than for "mature readers 16+".
- Bad girl art
- Cameo appearance
- Easter egg (media)
- Exploitation film
- Good girl art
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