Gargantia 6, Or When Is Fanservice Not Fanservice?

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Most regular anime viewers who keep up with currently airing shows seem to agree that Gargantia is one of the better offerings this season, but many think it has too much fanservice. The character designs were done by a hentai (or erotic, for those of you new to this whole thing) artist, and all the females have this weird thing going on where they seem to constantly be blushing. Then there was the unfortunate need for a swimsuit episode on a show where most of the characters run around half-naked to begin with.

I would tend to agree that the show would be improved if it dialed down the fanservice in general, but episode 6 made me wonder: was the belly-dancing scene really fanservice at all? I don’t think so, and I think that goes to show that the frequency of quasi-exploitative nudity, in the form of fanservice, has so thoroughly annoyed us that we have no tolerance left for sexual content that actually serves a purpose.

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Fanservice is, as I understand it, sexual content in a piece of media that serves no story function other than to attempt to please the viewer by showing them something sexual. The belly dancing scene in episode 6 served several purposes: First, to show the earthy, physically oriented culture of the Gargantians, as compared to the sterile world Ledo comes from. These people may not have the high culture or scientific prowess of their ancestors, back before the earth was flooded, but they do have priorities: good food, sex, and good buddies to work and play with. It also showed that Ledo, who was programmed from birth to think about nothing but serving humanity as a soldier, is becoming seduced– both figuratively and quite literally– by the lifestyle that he’s seeing. It doesn’t even occur to him to ask what the purpose of Amy’s dance is, because he knows that it gives pleasure, and pleasure is a worthy end.

That’s a different Ledo than the one we met six episodes ago, and not only this scene, but the entire episode, communicated that very well. No one has to give us a lame, expository “Wow, you’ve sure changed, Ledo!”

“Okay,” says you, the discriminating anime fan who doesn’t like tawdry sexuality inserted into your entertainment without good reason. “Fair enough, the scene served an actual story purpose. But what was up with those extreme torso and butt closeups? Wasn’t that excessive, and therefore, the scene crossed the line into fanservice?”

To me, this is where it gets interesting; I think the easy answer is to say yes. Yes, they didn’t have to show the extreme closeups of Amy’s hips. Yes, they could have got the same basic message across while making the scene less overtly sexual. But again: even if the scene was overtly sexual, does overtly sexual automatically equal “unnecessary,” hence fanservice?

Once again, I think the overtly sexual nature of the scene served a valid story purpose. Ledo is going from being a person who thinks only in terms of numbers and probabilities to someone who values physical sensations, and sensations can be overwhelming, overpowering– especially if you’ve been denied them your whole life. The whole scene is about his entrance into a world of primal desires and emotions– sex, the satisfaction of eating a filling meal, a cold beer after a hard day’s honest work. He’s being bombarded with these feelings, these possibilities that exist in a world he never knew, and the close up of the dancing bodies– focusing on their sheer physicality– drove that point home better than a more “tasteful” scene would have. I would also argue that the later scene, where Ledo asks Amy to dance for him, would have been much less tender if it weren’t in contrast to the raw sexuality of the original dance.

So, what is my purpose in saying all this? This episode just made me think about what pervasive fanservice has done to many of us as anime fans; cultivated a more-than-healthy cynicism of anything remotely sexual in nature, to the point where it can dull our perception to what’s actually going on when sex is invoked. I don’t mean this in an accusatory way, but how many of the viewers who have labeled that scene as fanservice considered that maybe it wasn’t? And how sad is it that “maybe it wasn’t done for fanservice,” actually sounds like a kind of ridiculous supposition in the current anime market?

To put it another way, the problem isn’t Gargantia episode 6, it’s most everything else, including, arguably, Gargantia episode 5. When we don’t have T&A pushed in our faces constantly, we’ll be able to confidently assess just what sexualized content is doing in a particular show, and whether it ultimately serves the story or not. Right now, I think a lot of us are so desensitized that we can’t parse the meaning of sexuality on screen, or rather, see no incentive to look for meaning; our “unnecessary sexual content” switches have been flipped so often, we’re like fire alarms in hell.

There are much bigger problems in the world, but personally, I think that’s a bit of a shame. I wish the overabundance of fanservice didn’t have to pretty much ruin any and all sex in anime.

9 thoughts on “Gargantia 6, Or When Is Fanservice Not Fanservice?”

  1. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to say about these past two episodes but significantly more eloquent and well thought out. I’d add the fact that Gargantia’s character designer has done some hentai manga in the past put a lot of people on high alert, which is silly because I think that’s something that probably happens a lot and just never gets talked about.

    To the bigger point about fan service in general, I had a similar epiphany when the normally mild mannered Hyouka pulled out their pool episode and I tried to sort out why it felt different than your average skeevy bonus OVA. Yes there were a few leering camera shots of the main girl in a modest bikini, and I’m sure the director was aware that was something a lot of the viewers wanted to see. But the episode is presented from the perspective of an incredibly observant, over-analytical 16 year old boy developing feelings for this girl he’s seeing half naked for the first time, where else do you expect his eyes to go? As you mentioned, I think that concept applies even moreso with Gargantia considering the culture they’ve established and it’s kind of a shame some people are finding it so distracting.

    1. Naruko Hanaharu is well know for her erotic material even in the west so that is part of the reaction I think. Her erotic manga is supposedly popular enough to have people standing in long lines on release day to buy a copy.

      I think people fail to realize is that it’s possible to have both erotic content or “fan service” AND tell a story at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive things despite the way they are often handled in anime extras or pervy shows.

    2. I’m showing my ignorance here, but what is Hyouka? I know I’ve heard of it, but maybe it has another name? I’m kind of curious to see the scene you’re talking about now.

      1. Hyouka was the big budget Kyoto Animation series airing about this time last year that somehow never got licensed. It’s about a guy who is basically Kyon from Haruhi if Kyon actually developed as a character. He’s forced to join the classic literature club and goes around school solving mundane mysteries. It has a really reserved, understated tone to it, so it felt a little weird carting everyone out for a bonus pool episode. I think they did a good job pulling it off though, and I enjoyed the series overall. If you’re interested in checking out pool episode it’s unofficially numbered “11.5”.

  2. I think the events of episodes five and six were both natural and fit the story of Gargantia. I also think the last two episodes have made the series a much better thing than it was before them.

    So much of the anime fanbase is completely skittish around sexuality of any kind and if you aren’t then you get lumped into the despicable pervert group by everyone who is.

    As far as is this or isn’t this fan service? I think it first needs to be pointed out that the that term has just come to lose it’s meaning. It was originally meant to be a positive thing. The implication is that it is something fans want to see. Instead many anime fans use it to describe something they don’t want to see. Many others are still using it to mean something they like and there is nothing stopping either camp from using the term to mean either one. Basically it’s become a frustrating term in itself as it means two entirely opposite things depending on the context of how it is used.

  3. Re: Fanservice, lately whenever I hear the term, it seems to mean “nudity that even if I kind of like it, I think is unnecessary/stupid.” I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone use the term “fanservice” in a positive sense, so it didn’t even occur to me to think that it’s one of those words that means different things to different people, but obviously, you’re right.

    Come to think of it, personally when I think of “fanservice,” I think of Misato’s increasingly suspicious promises during Evangelion next episode previews that there would be “plenty of fanservice” in the next episode, which seemed to be code for “Maybe you will see a boob, but mostly, we are going to kick you in the head by making you watch everyone suffer, LOL joke’s on you.” So I think of it as being this kind of warped, twisted thing where the show is giving you what they think you want but also making you choke on it ^^;;

    1. Among my blogging friends I don’t hear fanservice used as a positive term all that often, but on occasion I do. More often it’s “moe” or “ecchi” but they all mean essentially the same thing in the context of fanservice.

      I guess the place I most frequently hear fanservice used as a positive term is at anime conventions. A lot of people act… drunk on atmosphere? I am not sure how else to put it, but people say things at cons you wouldn’t(I hope) hear people talking about loudly anywhere else.

      At the last convention I was at I met one particularly “friendly” man who decide to tell me all about his favorite ” shonen fanservice manga” which he was all too happy to show me regardless of my interest.(or lack of interest) He also talked about how “shonen fanservice” is so much more fun than “seinen fanservice” because it can’t show as much. (or something like that) I also once had a Hetalia fan scream in my ear about the “hot fanservice pose” of a nearby cosplayer. That kind of thing makes me wonder if bloggers are the only ones who have really stopped using the term that way. Of course most of the bloggers I know would rather pretend we don’t share a fandom with those people at all… I fear they are actually the majority of the fandom in reality.

  4. “Gargantia’s character designer has done some hentai manga in the past” ?
    are you kidding me ? this is far far from the word “hentai” honestly for me it just a little fan service. it not even hit a real “ecchi” anime.

    recently i found many comment about why the jap animations has ecchi part ? why it has raping part (even it is just not a real sex scene like an adult animation) on it ? for ecchi part it there for fanservice and the rape part is just for show as the symbol of evil deed.

    and jap animation (that including manga and novel) already has rate on it for who -15 or +15. if you can’t accept it why don’t just pass it and watch another show ? why make thing too complicate and mess ?

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