The Fan Service Revolution

“There will be plenty of fan service next episode!”

I remember the first time I ever heard the words “fan service.” I was probably in the 15-16 range, and heard, at the end of a VHS copy of Evangelion, Misato promise that there
will be plenty of fan service next time!” I was a little puzzled; my anime exposure at that point had been pretty much Robotech, Record of Lodoss War, and what episodes of Slayers I could find at the video rental place. I couldn’t have told you what it was. Eventually I figured it out: sexy shots of cute girls. Cheesecake. A little tasteless, maybe. But hey. Teenage boy, right? Fast forward fifteen years or so, to Macross Frontier in its TV incarnation and a review describing the final episode as “half an hour of fan service.” This was more puzzling than my first encounter with the term; that episode is so frenetically busy with mech fights and point defense fire and battle fortresses punching each other that I couldn’t remember any time for fan service. I mean, really. There’s about three seconds of anime nudity, rather unsexualized, with one of those seconds quickly devolving into lovecraftian cybernetic horror. I’m not saying it wasn’t there. Macross isn’t immune to cheesecake, and the most recent entry made a plot point out of it at one point. (More logical than it sounds, but barely. Delta wasn’t… super.) But half an hour of fan service? What? This ain’t Vandread, guys.

The definition of fan service, apparently, has been expanded in recent years to basically, “anything that pleases the fans.” Per wiki:

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.[12][19] 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”.[20] 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.

Man, look at the rack on that space bug. Shame about the male gaze. (Vajra Queen from the finale of Macross Frontier.)

Here’s what I’m wondering: if fan service is “anything that pleases the fans,” and the fans are paying us money, why is that even a category? You need characters in a story, but if the story is no fun, if there is no “fan service,” who cares? I suppose, in some sense, this is me throwing my hat in the ring with the Pulp Rev guys; stories should be about things that entertain the audience. As critics grow increasingly estranged, their esteem is becoming, for many, a mark– like the Hugos– of works to avoid. I didn’t, like most of my superversive compatriots and Pulp Rev friends, hate Star Trek Discovery, but if I had to choose, I’d trade it in a heartbeat for The Orville: a Star Trek show without the Star Trek license, made by a fan, Ol’ “Dick Joke” McFarlane. The Orville has been panned by critics, who have deemed unoriginal, and loved by audiences, who recognize in it at least the seeds of what they want in a Star Trek.

Spare me your important social commentary; I don’t want to be preached at. Make me think instead.

Spare me your navel-gazing; I don’t want to meditate on your flaws. Show me how you overcome them instead.

Spare me your cynical rehashes, reboots and play-it-safe prequels: I’m tired of you pillaging the things I love. Understand the spirit of the original and expound upon it.

The regard of your audience is more important than anything else you think needs to be there.

  • Unconcord

    If the new definition makes any sense, it would be in reference to doing things known to please the fans, at the expense of the story. Say, when readers love R.A. Salvatore’s angst or S.M. Stirling’s neo-pagan subculture, and so eventually every character who’s uttered the name “Drizzt” becomes a bundle of traumas and every post-Change kingdom has become neo-pagan.

    (Boy, but we should be glad Stirling didn’t come down with this syndrome by continuing Island in the Sea of Time. By the time the main cast’s children’s children took the stage – well, their children wouldn’t have any children, because every woman in the story would have become a lesbian.)

    I don’t know a thing about Macross and so can’t judge if this is what the reviewer meant, but I usually hear it in the context of latter-day Star Wars and Sherlock, where the above interpretation absolutely holds true.

  • Justin Tarquin

    I’m not familiar with the term, but I could imagine it meaning elements that please people who are ALREADY fans of the series, though they might seem odd to new viewers.