For years I have been referring to generally things that pleases the fans as fanservice. This includes not only the sexually alluring sort of fanservice, but basically all sorts of things that kind of juts out there in a particular narrative beyond boobies and booties. The reality is that late-night TV anime is largely founded on the premise of giving the fans what they want, so we have a lot of shows over the years that have this broad definition of fanservice at its core. I think we have seen some shifts over the past few years, though, and now we are kind of hitting it with more authority and in a more complete sort of way.
The concept behind Upotte is basically you have these magically morphed assault rifles as middle-school girls, both sharing human and weapon characteristics. In a way their human appearances is kind of the black curtain that hides what the hell is going on; we’re taking them as is, characters, and not as some kind of mysterious creatures that are both sentient and are assault rifles. It’s not like they look like guns with arms and legs, nor do they actually possess any character design elements that can be liken to rifles; just jokes about underwear and character personalities, and occasionally they can overheat.
As representation of assault rifles, admittedly, the girls were more like high-level concepts–caricatures of these guns in the eyes of gun otaku–rather than the weapons themselves. At least that’s how I reconcile the fact that these girls actually use the guns they represent in the show to play their various life-and-(not-)death games.
Of course, the fact that these guns are middle-school girls create a pretty convenient vehicle for fanservice of the boobies-and-booties kind. Actually the show kind of ups this angle by including a large cast that show up alongside with the main four characters. We actually don’t see the main group showing off, so to that extent the Upotte anime doesn’t really push it. I imagine it doesn’t need to given its specific niche.
Underneath all this, though, is another vehicle for fanservice–that the girls are just, as far as from what we can see, normal girls. Aside from their weird characteristics like unable to die from gun shots (a necessity purely to facilitate the need to have gunplay (pun unintended) in a gun otaku anime), when any onlooker sees the cast of Upotte they probably will be none the wiser. Maybe the elf or animal ears hint at their non-human origins, but last time I checked elves and animal girls can still be shot and are not pure representation of high-level ideas. Well, seeing just the setup for “normal” fanservice is just as large of a cloak for what’s underneath.
What kind of tickles me is how the girls in Upotte are ideas for other ideas. Not in the sense that fictional characters are ideas, but these characters are just representation of ideas that are bundled and “moe-ified” natures of the weapons they represent. It’s kind of like the “database animal” thing, except now we’re talking about wholly foreign and kind-of incompatible elements. Thongs for skeleton stocks? I mean, yeah. I said it earlier, but Upotte uses this clean-cut “let’s not get too deep into it” approach to do the human-weapon merger. It provided a fairly plausible bridge to suspense our beliefs, I suppose.
In likewise manner, Upotte approaches the “real fanservice” part of the show, the firefights, in a “let’s not get too deep into it” style. I say this is fanservice because they’ve now gone out of their way, out of the mold of moe anime, and put some good scenarios where the students play some rough games of airsoft, except with weapons that have the right characteristics of actual guns. It’s pretty darn good fantasy fulfillment.
If we look back to Cat Shit One, maybe we can see this coming. Well, that one is a little bit literal; but for military and gun otaku, that’s kind of what we want out of our entertainment: 30 minutes or so of military action with people fighting using rifles and other conventional arms. It’s like a video game. Upotte tries to deliver that, and it was at least successful in having that content present and highlighted as climaxes in the show. To put it in perspective, the story of K-ON or Soranowoto each has some overarching paradigm in which the narrative follows. Epic spidertank battles or high-energy live concerts, from the perspectives of those paradigms and themes of the story, are fanservice. In Upotte we came for some cool guns and gunplay, and we got plenty of that, because the whole show is pitched around those aspects and it knows that’s what we want. Rather than to go neck deep into philosophy of deadly weapons and the debate about civilian ownership of these things, for example, Upotte knows better. You can kind of see it in the last episode, but really?
Anyways, TL;DR: Upotte is double-barreled fanservice, and the whole thing is designed for this purpose.
PS. In the era of Kickstarter, CSO would probably thrive, don’t you think? IDA needs to get their butts on it pronto.
PPS. If fanservice is extraneous, and the whole anime is about fanservice, wouldn’t fanservice in fanservice anime no longer be fanservice?
PPPS. These name-branded guns, if they weren’t core to the course of human history in the 20th century, they are almost as good as advertising-generated popular culture (think of all the name brands of instruments in K-ON)?