“Fanservice is only fine in moderation as long as it doesn’t affect the story.”
“Fanservice is only fine when it’s the point of the story.”
“Don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
“Don’t stop watching it just because of that.”
Just look at those statements. There is no way to win on this issue and I’ve known that since the start. I believe anime fandom should be more critical of anime, in line with video game, comic book, film and television fandoms, and I believe people should be more deliberate about choosing what to watch or not watch. From the response, you’d think I’d insisted everyone who’d ever seen any anime featuring fanservice was responsible for every trolling incident since the internet began and the only way to fix it was to burn the entirety of Japan to the ground, animation studios first.
Ultimately though, my point that we have made a sandbox for ourselves that critics don’t want to step into was proven. I’m a published film critic with an academic background in Japanese who critiqued anime through a feminist lens on a feminist website, and this is how a vocal chunk of the fandom reacted. Objectification of women is the dog turd on the surface of the sand and the response is the nest of fire ants below. Who would want to step into that?
The content of my article was not the point though, and neither was my worthiness to speak on this subject. It was the same kneejerk defensiveness we’ve seen in other geek fandoms, and the only way we will address that is by acknowledging that our fandom follows exactly the same patterns of communication as every other geek circle having this conversation. I was terrified from the moment The Mary Sue accepted my pitch, and I resent how grateful I am that relatively little of it spilled over into my Twitter.
There was another very common response though: “Yes, this is why I stopped watching anime years ago.” I stopped watching anime myself for the same reason; it just took too much time, energy and money to figure out which anime may or may not objectify women, because by and large anime critics don’t consider objectification important enough to discuss it in reviews. Each critic has a personal tipping point and criteria for what constitutes a “reasonable” amount or type of sexual fanservice, and most only bring the subject up when it goes past their personal tipping point. This isn’t such a big deal now so much is simulcast and you can sample a single episode with ease, but 10 years ago it made watching anime a slog. I completely sympathise with everyone who stopped watching then, and I understand why you don’t come back now.
I feel like Chihiro in Spirited Away when she grabs the bicycle handle in the stink spirit’s side; if I start pulling hard enough a long stream of unpleasantness is going to burst out - but after that everything will be better. I love anime, I care deeply about how the representation of gender and sexuality in the media affects those who watch it and I want to be a part of resolving the problems I see. I’m in this now, and if you support what I'm doing please please get in touch or follow me on Twitter so we can start to form our own community in this massive and diverse fandom.