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 fourth episode of the second full series of the sprawling Monogatari franchise, Nisemonogatari.
What’s the deal?
The backstory to this series is complex and can be found in Bakemonogatari and the film trilogy prequel Kizumonogatari, but in a nutshell Koyomi Araragi was turned into a vampire by the 500 year old Shinobu. He has now been returned to humanity, but with some lingering side effects, and Shinobu now lives in Koyomi’s shadow. In her weakened form, she has the appearance of an eight-year-old girl. In the fourth episode of Nisemonogatari, Shinobu emerges from Koyomi’s shadow while he is taking a bath, and imparts a lot of information about the plot of this series, while naked and going about her own ablutions, sometimes with Koyomi’s help. Eventually this leads to a very funny moment where Koyomi’s sister walks in on him in the bath, apparently with a naked stranger.
Why it’s OK.
This is a thorny subject due to the age Shinobu appears to be, rather than her real age, but I think it is an important topic considering the accusations that are sometimes thrown at the world of anime as a whole, mainly, it has to be said, by people who haven’t watched much of it. I don’t think brushing this under the carpet particularly helps, so let’s try to tackle the question of this kind of nudity in as logical a way as possible. Firstly, I think it is important to acknowledge that not all nudity is fanservice, i.e. something that is there to please the fans. I’ll draw a parallel here with The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which was released on DVD as a U certificate, with a mention of “natural nudity”. It is all entirely innocent and childish, and was therefore not deemed to be even worthy of a PG. After all, there’s a fine line here, and on the wrong side of it lies the teaching of shame about the body. Naked doesn’t have to mean naughty, but it’s a very, very difficult line to tread. Secondly, I do think the question of whether nudity is justified by the story needs to play a big part. I will have a full review of this series soon, which will go into more detail on this topic, but I consider this an important scene for several reasons, and not just the usefulness of the info-dump. It shows how these two characters are now living a combined existence and are comfortable together, even in the most personal situation, and the crucial point is the lack of attraction towards Shinobu shown by Koyomi. So this has a strong case for qualifying as “natural nudity”, and therefore something that should not be used as a stick to beat anime with.
Why it’s not OK.
The wider context doesn’t paint such a rosy picture. This particular series in the franchise focuses on several young female characters, and there is more than a hint of incest in the storyline concerning one of Koyomi’s sisters, with a scene that is particularly squirm-inducing when they both get turned on by him brushing her teeth. Koyomi’s dodgy attitude towards fifth-grader Mayoi is also problematical, although there are extenuating circumstances. Like Shinobu, there is a supernatural aspect to her character, and she has actually been around for 11 years more than her apparent age would suggest. It’s all played for laughs, and Mayoi encourages Koyomi’s behaviour, but it’s hard to give the series a free pass on what it does with Shinobu on the grounds of harmless innocence, when the series is otherwise far from taking a wholesome approach to its female characters. There is also a slight problem with the innocence of the Shinobu bath scene itself, and here is perhaps where the writers can’t have their cake and eat it. A character who appears to be a child but is actually 500 years old is perhaps a genuine mitigating circumstance for fanservice with young characters. On the other hand, the true age defence is really mutually exclusive with the innocence defence. Both of them can’t quite work at the same time, because the innocence is undercut by the fact that this is actually a mature female in the body of a child. Inevitably, there are therefore moments that appear to be provocative rather than innocent.
The Verdict: it helps that the scene is animated in a fairly matter-of-fact way, with mainly doll-like nudity, although not exclusively. Occasional close-up shots are not entirely necessary to the story, and perhaps lean towards fanservice rather than innocence, but by and large this seems to be a well-handled use of nudity that is appropriate to the story being told, is used to develop the characters further, particularly their unembarrassed co-existence, and ends in a funny moment. A dripping toe is dipped across a soggy line that we could most charitably say is brave to cross, or uncharitably could say is fanservice for a subsection of fans who should not be “serviced” at all. On balance, whilst not entirely innocent, this never goes further than an animated production should have the right to go.
A full review of Nisemonogatari will follow in the new year. RP
Read more fanservice debate articles: The Fanservice Debate