Can fanservice ever be justified in anime or is it a disturbing and unnecessary aspect of the genre? In this occasional series we look at the rights and wrongs of fanservice and other questionable content in anime. A warning: this series will have plenty of spoilers and sometimes NSFW discussions and images. This week, the first episode of fantasy comedy series Yu-Sibu, also known as Yu-Shibu, or to give it its oddly long full title I Couldn’t Become a Hero, So I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job.
What’s the deal?
Raul Chaser has gone through all his training at hero school, and just when he gets to fight the monsters the Demon Lord dies and there’s nobody to fight any more, so he gets himself a job in a shop selling appliances. Crashing into his world comes new employee Phino Bloodstone, who is secretly the daughter of the deceased Demon Lord, and he has to teach her how to serve customers. Already working with Raul at the store is the beautiful Nova Luminous. On Phino’s first day at work, Nova is stacking shelves on a ladder when an old man arrives to do his weekly shopping trip for one light bulb. He turns up in a vehicle that bears a striking resemblance to a well-known star ship, complete with NCC-1701 classification. On his way to pay for his bulb he whips up Nova’s skirt, exposing her underwear.
Why it’s not OK.
Phino’s instinct is to attack the old man, but Raul explains to her that he is a regular customer who always does this. Nova is clearly not very happy about being embarrassed in this way, saying that “he’s such a pervert”, but Raul simply tries to explain away the old man’s actions by saying he’s a customer and “he’s probably just lonely and wants some physical contact.” This normalises sexual abuse in the workplace, and seems to suggest that an employee has to put up with that in the interests of the store, because the abuser is a customer. It’s all rather unpleasant.
Why it’s OK.
If an anime fan was asked to come up with an excuse for this sort of thing, I’m guessing they would say something along the lines of this: “it’s a comedy so lighten up”. I don’t think that’s quite good enough when fanservice crosses the line from simple sexualised imagery to normalising sexual abuse, even when the comedy is so fore-fronted, with the entire scene played for laughs, right from the dirty old man’s arrival in his Trekmobile. However, this sequence is perhaps excusable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it shines a light on the lack of employee rights. The main function of fantasy or sci-fi is often to draw parallels with our own world, and working environments that put profit above the mental well-being of employees are far from being solely a feature of fantasy worlds. It’s ironic that the pervert gets away with his behaviour simply because he immediately brings a light bulb to the cash register. He doesn’t even need to spend much money in order to count as a “customer”, whose behaviour is overlooked. It also shows that Nova is clearly upset by what has happened, and the sequence ends by showing where this kind of thing can lead. Sexual abuse has been normalised, and new employee Phino responds to that by offering up her own butt for her co-workers to grope, thinking it’s a requirement of the job. The sequence can also work if you view it as satirising fanservice. I have mentioned in previous articles about the “pervert’s eye view”, where fanservice-heavy series go in for low camera angles to display underwear, something none of the characters can actually see, probably the weakest and most blatant form of fanservice. Here a woman’s underwear is exposed deliberately by an old man, perhaps a satirical representation of the animator providing the pervert’s eye view for the viewers.
OK, I have to admit the satire theory is straw-clutching, and I doubt anyone making this was looking too far beyond the opportunity to show off some knickers to the viewers, but as a sad reflection of a woman’s modesty being worth less than the price of a lightbulb, at least this has something to say… just.
A full review of Yu-sibu will follow later this year. RP
Read more fanservice debate articles: The Fanservice Debate