The Fanservice Frontier, 2013

Aside from my complaints on pretension, there’s a lot of fun going on at Digibro’s blog about Kill la Kill episode 3.

Satsuki

And in some ways, with OreTsuba now on US home video (Funimation, I respect you for at least this) maybe it’s good to revisit what this really means.

The past few years has been a turning point in terms of late-night otaku anime fanservice. On one hand, I think the overall quality has gotten better. It’s like with shows like Ladies x Butler and Kanokon, we’ve kind of scratched all the itch left to be scratch for any demographic whose itching is worth scratching, monetarily and in terms of popularity. 2009 to 2011 was high time to start to pivot, for various reasons, but also this reason.

Did anyone watch Yozakura Quartet Hana no Uta 2? My goodness. And Kill la Kill episode 3 has that…windboobzone thing?

I would take a step back and say that the fanservice in Kill la Kill is authentic and unpretentious in a way that fanservice is just fanservice. But it is kind of annoying in the normal moral high ground sort of way, as if it is saying something that is more worth saying than, say, Arpeggio. [I mean, if this was part of the discourse, I would respect Kill la Kill more. Like how I respect Panty & Stockings slightly more at this point, over Kill la Kill.]

Arpeggio is a good example in this regard because it’s in a lot of ways the polar opposite of Kill la Kill. The 3DCG use looks great when they are stills but terrible when moving in Arpeggio, and in KLK it’s great when things are always moving, and not as much when things stops spazzing. The story in Arpeggio is serious, but the fanservice is baked into the conceit of the story. The story in KLK is a commonly run trope full of hooks for reference bait, but it takes itself very casually. Arpeggio is the fulfillment of this concept, except trading jokes for fanservice (of a different kind). Kill la Kill is a drama vehicle about fanservice (so far).

So in a way, it’s appropriate to talk comparisons between a good anime and a questionable-at-best anime (just ask an Arpeggio manga reader).

And let’s talk about sexy for a second. Take this post for instance. I am not sure how many Bentens will appear in Kill la Kill. Or even the simple, next-door-girl type, Aika Fuwa. But this is one pivot. Short of going all the way home, thematically and in terms of consistency (best example off top of my head would be Yosuga no Sora), fanservice’s native advantage is that it is database-modular, you can pick it up and drop it in, or you could co-opt it wholesale. So YZQ and KLK are on the two opposite sides of this spectrum (although neither is at the ends, I think), while Infinite Stratos is very clearly going for just sexy characters, as an example of the middle ground.

Which is to say, it’s not really about pretenses, because that’s just a method. Pretension is necessary in a story like Kill la Kill, if we want to talk about shame, rape, the Nth reference to Utena-esque uniforms, or whatever. (Every time someone makes a reference to Utena in a blog post about KLK, God kills a kitten.) It’s why Madoka is pretentious or Evangelion is pretentious. Not a big deal, really, but, the story in Kill la Kill has to rely on pretend conceits and presupposed frameworks that can be challenged, like the whole Satsuki thing–the dress, the clansmanship, the class differences, the way her underlings work, the power structure, how she manipulate things to her own ends, and finally, her character construct. In as much as LordGenome (really?) and Kamina’s SOP is kind of a conceit, it’s easy to see the same sort of narrative style in Kill la Kill in which we have to ride the amusement park ride and see the theme fly by before our eyes, along with all the eye candy and Hell Yes moments.

How can an anime that casually drops the rise of Hitler to power not be pretentious? That’s like the Corollary to Godwin’s Law if such a thing was to exist. You know what’s not a pretentious fanservice anime? High School DxD. Infinite Stratos. Probably Yuusibu. Maybe even Freezing. In some ways, also those usual high school hijinks shows like Kyoukai no Kanata and Nagiasu. Why? Because it’s just normal fanservice, served up the way they know best and most appropriate to the work. It’s not some kind of pretend imagery that empowers women or whatever. I mean, nothing wrong with that, but that is pretension by definition. It’s a pivot.

Pivot like a handstand, you know.

PS. Chris B. reviews Funi’s Blu-ray and finally gets it, but is nonetheless marred by his first impression.

PPS. This post is brought to you by the word “pandering” which is the onii-chan of the word “pretentious” because like, give me a break. I would rather talk about moe (which I haven’t in a couple years?) than any of this.


11 Responses to “The Fanservice Frontier, 2013”

  • Lifesongsoa

    I think you might be missing the point with the Hitler thing. Calling KLK pretentious assumes that it expects anyone to care about Hitler or think that Hitler is somehow an important part of KLK. I don’t think that is the case here. To support that the classroom full of kids don’t even care about the lectures being given. KLK just isn’t that deep. Everything it does is worn on it’s sleeve in an incredibly unsubtle way.

    So why is Hitler name dropped not once but twice so far in this anime? I think it’s because name dropping Hitler instantly relates us with despotism and nothing more. If I thought they were trying to imply more then it might be pretentious, but they aren’t trying to make us care about Hitler or think that Hitler is important to the anime as best I can tell. Those are prerequisites for calling something pretentious in my opinion.

    To put it another way, if we don’t require something to be pretentious unto itself before critiquing it as pretentious then we could argue that all fiction is pretentious… I suppose in a sense that might actually be accurate. It would also defeat the point of using it as a critique.

    • omo

      It made a Hitler reference. I don’t really think it matters if it was a serious or a sarcastic or an anything reference. It’s auto-pretentious. No exceptions.

      But you know, if you got the point of my post you wouldn’t even question that.

    • omo

      attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.

      This is the definition I looked up for the blog post, if you want to start there. All these effects are simply that–attempting to impress. And what do we have underneath? Iczer-1? Okay.

  • Digibro

    I see where you’re coming from. I wouldn’t point fingers at the Hitler references so much since that to me seemed more like it was about camp factor/easy worldbuilding/theming. However, something like the way prez’s outfit is called “purity” and putting it on is a “wedding” might be a little pretentious.

    I think you can be pretentious and authentic at the same time about the same thing. Sort of like how Evil Dead 2 or something can simultaneously be a “fake” horror movie, while being a true-to-itself over-the-top parody. This might be the essence of camp—the spirit of honesty in the shell of facade?

    • omo

      You’re right. Hitler thing is far, far, far from the most pretentious thing. Calling her outfit Junketsu is probably the most pretentious thing so far. And it’s actually a humorous thing, unlike the Hitler reference.

      And yes, authenticity is besides pretentiousness, but you can only go so far. As a late-night anime, the medium simply has limits at this point, contextually, that explorations of some topics will seem overextending and inappropriate. So far nothing in Kill la Kill is out of bounds though.

  • DarkFireBlade25

    I never really understood the significance of OreTsuba in this whole thing… care to explain?

  • lifesongsoa

    I think I do understand where you are coming from, you just lost me at your application of the word “pretentious”. I realize I am nitpicking a single line of what you said and I probably shouldn’t have done that, but I feel obligated to explain myself at this point.

    The issue at state here is that all fiction could be considered pretentious under your application with Hitler just because fiction by definition isn’t of real “importance, talent, culture etc”. It may involve elements of those real things, but there is always a degree to which fiction is trying to impress with something fake. That’s just part of what fiction inherently is.

    If we ignore the in universe context at stake then calling something “pretentious” doesn’t mean very much. At the very least it would mean less than I am personally willing to use the word for and probably stop me from using it anymore or at least using it the way I have been, which why this is important to me I suppose.

    To put it another way, I’m saying name dropping Hitler is not pretentious because it’s not pretentious inside the world of KLK. We can see clearly that the kids don’t care about that lecture in the least and that the lines about Hitler were entirely for our sake and not theirs.

    If I understand, you imply that name dropping Hilter is pretentious simply because talking about Hitler in an anime is pretentious. I am saying that if we go there then we have breached the barrier of what fiction is and name dropping Hitler is pretentious just because it can’t not be, not because it name dropped Hitler, but because it is fiction.

    The reason I go out of my way to make a distinction is because Hitler obviously isn’t important inside the KLK universe, it’s only important to us. They could change that at any moment I suppose, but so far that is true.

    • omo

      I think your distinction is pointless in light of the reason why Hitler gets mentioned in the anime. It’s clearly trying to set the mood by evoking a concept or image that the viewers are familiar with. But when you allude to something, that something is part and parcel with everything that the audience has associated with it. Hitler, well, is a pretty darn huge bag of stuff. Even for the Japanese.

      So…yeah, that reference is always pretentious, every time. Now of course, just because referring to Hitler is a pretentious thing to do, doesn’t mean the whole shebang is pretentious, but I think there are a lot of little things that Kill la Kill does that if taken seriously, it’s VERY pretentious. Taking it seriously or not, however, is something up to the viewer to decide.

  • Lifesongsoa

    I’ve been giving more thought to why calling the Hitler pretentious thing bothers me and I guess I don’t really have an issue with your application after all.

    It’s a matter of perspective I guess. Since Hitler isn’t important to KLK I didn’t really think anything of the potential implications in universe. I’m still not entirely convinced that calling it pretentious when it isn’t important to the world of KLK is accurate, but the more I think about it I see that it’s not are there is at stake.

    How much of knowing Hitler isn’t important to KLK is my own filter versus how much implication does it have on KLK? My first thought is none and that is the only reason I could say I don’t find it pretentious, but now I’m not sure. I’m still inclined toward my original position, but you have given me something to think about.

    Name dropping Hitler does bring with it a bag of stuff as you said. I guess the question for me is did KLK open that bag? Or did it just show us that the bag exists and imply nothing more? Maybe I am the only person who even cares if something is pretentious or not once it reaches this point.

    I’m a hopeless nerd. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.

    • omo

      I think the brevity of how we read into KLK is a bottom line issue. As you’ve demonstrated, actually. If we don’t take it seriously, maybe there’s nothing more to it than that.

      But it’s up to each individual to make that call. I think the show tries to encourage a light-hearted read of its details, but for some people that is simply not possible, once you include things like the Nazi government.

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