A Look at Fanservice Through Redline and Kanokon

The Reverse Thieves recently made a post about the level of acceptance that anime fans have for fanservice (meant here as sexual fanservice and not intricate weapon details, for instance) in their shows, where they discuss how the view towards cheesecake seems to get increasingly polarized the more extreme and perhaps fetishistic broadcast anime becomes. Having just written my own thoughts on a similar subject, I feel like the question of how fanservice is both executed and perceived, and I think the film Redline provides some good insight into the matter, especially when compared to a representative otaku fanservice show such as Kanokon.

Redline is an anime very different from the norm, and especially different from what is popular with the current generation of otaku. Featuring a wild aesthetic somewhat similar to that of Dead Leaves, Gerald and Tim Maughan on Anime World Order referred to it as the anime they’d been waiting for since Akira. What that means is that Redline is a film capable of drawing in both anime fans that had left the scene long ago, as well as attract an audience similar to those people. It has a manic edge that’s got a certain dangerous appeal to it, and that extends to its fanservice as well.

The women in Redline are definitely overtly sexualized. Between two chesty music idols named the “Superboins” and the most important female character Sonoshee getting an extended topless scene, there is no argument that the film wants you to think of those characters as extraordinarily attractive. They are, to a certain extent, designed for fanservice, but compared to the fanservice from a series like Kanokon, it feels very different.

It would be easy to say that there is a “right” kind of fanservice, and to make the argument that “Kanokon’s fanservice is creepy and Redline’s isn’t. That’s not quite right, though. It’s too simple, and based on too many assumptions, like the idea that just because Kanokon is designed to sell through its harem and Redline‘s appeal lies primarily in its visual design that there is something inherently wrong with the former. Personally speaking, I vastly prefer Redline over Kanokon, but I’ll save that for a possible review in the near future. The real difference, I think, lies not in simply how the girls look (lolicon is not even a topic of discussion or possible misunderstanding with Redline), but with how they present to the viewer, particularly male viewers, what kind of qualities a man should have in order to obtain the idealized women in each respective series.

With Kouta, the main in Kanokon, the defining traits of his character and by extension the things that get the women flocking to him are his quietness, his sensitivity, and his decency. In Redline on the other hand, the portrayal of the women emphasizes “he-men, men of action,” as the old Charles Bronson Mandom commercial goes. Protagonist JP sticks up for his beliefs even if it gets him beat down, and the man he idolized in his youth can be seen in a flashback kissing two bikini babes simultaneously. Both are versions of male fantasy, the nice guy who is appreciated by all of the women and the daredevil who sets girls’ hearts aflutter, but they have a decidedly different appeal to them that doesn’t just have to do with how much Kanokon toes the line between fanservice and outright porn. They exist on somewhat opposite ends of a spectrum of male behavior, and the manner in which the women are sexualized, not just visually but also in their actions within the story, runs accordingly. With that in mind, I think it can be easy to see why there would be conflict between the two sides.

This is not an indictment on either type of male character or the series which they come from, especially with JP in Redline who is shown to be sensitive in his own way. Neither portrayal is inherently worse than the other, but problems can arise. Indeed, while both the “nice guy” and the “man of action” can be portrayed well as men of character and strength, they can also be pushed to unpleasant extremes, though the nature of that negativity can itself be different. The nice guy can be so passive as to absolve him of any mistakes he should be responsible for, and the man of action can often times be seen as a man who treats women purely as playthings to be manipulated. It is also not an indictment on the fans who identify with either character type, as the meaning of terms such as “wish fulfillment” and “role model” can get complicated. Is it better for a quiet nerd to prefer the quiet nerd character he is, or the active warrior that might wish he wants to be? I think that question lies at the heart of the difference in how fanservice is executed.

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11 thoughts on “A Look at Fanservice Through Redline and Kanokon

  1. I’m reminded of something Shujin from Bakuman said, about how he greatly preferred people like Saiko. I feel that I agree with him on that.

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  2. I’d argue that the abundance of bare skin and undergarments in Kanokon can hardly be described as fanservice at all. If the show is designed to lure in viewers with such content, it has all the right to do so. Same goes for shows like Strike Witches, Highschool of the Dead and so on.

    Compared to these Redline has way more “fanservice” as it’s originally defined: sexual bonus content added on top of the main course. But if the sexual content is itself the main course, it can’t be bonus content anymore.

    I guess what I’m going for is that we should stop using “fanservice” as an euphemism for “sexual content”. It’s becoming more and more counterproductive in the modern state of the anime industry, when the difference between cheesecake shows and non-cheesecake shows is pretty clearly defined.

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    • Actually High School of the Dead is closer to the description of fanservice because there’s more to it than just the sexual content. That’s actually my biggest problem with the series though. It could have been a truly great horror anime but instead of being frightened during a scene of a girl getting ripped apart by zombies, I’m chucking over a poorly placed panty shot. and they repeat that same joke over & over. It could have been one of my favorite anime ever, I love a good scare. I don’t know why they wanted to do horror, its obvious they really want to do hentai

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  3. I think there is certainly a correlation between the protagonist’s personality and the sort of sexuality portrayed. However, I’m not very clear on the argument you’re trying to make based on this correlation.

    Shows like Kanokon have a weak, indecisive, “nice guy” protagonist because they can place him at the center of the story without him actually being the center of attention. The protagonist in that case basically serves to emphasize and accentuate the heroines who are the real stars of the show. Whereas in something like Redline (which, disclaimer, I haven’t seen yet, but based what you and others have said), the protagonist has an important, independent role in his own right. In that case, the heroines (and the “fanservice”) exist alongside the hero and may even help emphasize the hero’s exploits/success (particularly when the “guy gets the girl”). In both cases, though, the protagonist is there to support the narrative, and vice-versa.

    I suppose there could be a question of which of these two sorts of wish fulfillment/fantasy scenarios any given viewer prefers. But I think it’s hard to separate that from all the rest of the elements that a story based on this sort of protagonist will engender; it’s all fundamentally connected. I think the implication of what you’re saying is that the sort of fanservice you prefer may be driven by which fantasy you prefer… but I think the converse is also true — certain kinds of fantasies (and shows targeted at certain audiences/demographics) tend to support and feature certain kinds of fanservice that people may or may not find appealing. Which came first?

    To throw a curve ball in this discussion, I would argue that this larger conversation probably has just as much if not more to do with public perception. Shows with a strong action-driven plot and striking stylized visuals are more comfortable and appealing to mainstream audiences, and support a desire some have to pitch anime as a cool, more-edgy, form of entertainment that everyone can enjoy. Whereas some people feel — whether rightly or otherwise — that something like Kanokon is akin to anime’s black secret that is better off hidden away in a back corner on a high shelf where no one but the inner-circle will look. I suspect this perspective is completely independent of the viewer’s own “preferred fantasy”, and in fact may be conversely related in some cases, since it’s about maintaining a public image (ostensibly for anime, but also for themselves). That isn’t to say that people aren’t sincere when they engage in these conversations, but those with a more public profile seem to have a lot more at stake.

    P.S. Also want to say that I think ptj_tsubasa’s argument makes perfect sense. When sexuality is the main sell, it’s no longer the same meaning of “fanservice”. Part of the objection people are expressing is about non-adult-rated shows driven entirely by (sometimes uncomfortable) sexual themes. See also my point above about why this might bother some people more than others.

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    • I’m going to respond to your comment paragraph by paragraph.

      In regards to the purpose of the harem protagonist like Kouta being just a stand-in to emphasize the quality of the female characters, the real gist of my post was that the way in which the protagonist is portrayed also affects the quality of the sexuality of the female characters themselves, and this applies even to a personality-less main. What they are attracted by and in turn how they express that attraction plays into how the fanservice turns out. In fact, if you look at Redline, the concept of attraction isn’t just about how the main character behaves, but the type of behavior that world in general promites. As a simple thought exercise, imagine a harem show with Golgo 13-style female character designs, and a gritty violent man-fantasy show with girls straight out of Love Hina. It doesn’t quite mesh, and not just because we’re not used to it.

      Now the topic of wish fulfillment and such is not one I sought to tackle extensively in the post because of how complex that can get and how much it doesn’t fit a perfect proportional guideline. I’m a little less concerned here with why a person likes what they like, and more concerned with how the works themselves manifest sexuality. I still think it bears some relevance though, even if it is a chicken and egg question.

      And as for public perception and the “preferred” view of anime as violent and extreme, I think that this isn’t just a matter of anime. I think you could easily argue that Redline’s idea of how a guy behaves is more mainstream, more normative, closer to how society thinks a man “should” behave. But again, I wasn’t looking to make value judgments on fans and how much they may or may not reject the mainstream line of thinking, and Redline is not made worse for it. It’s just that it affects how shows are perceived by the people watching them, based on their own tastes. Also, Redline and Kanokon are not perfectly placed on opposite ends from each other, and I just used Kanokon partly because it was already being brought up.

      Finally, as for not calling heavily sexualized shows’ displays of eroticism “fanservice,” I don’t think that works at all. Just because it becomes the main thrust (no pun intended) of a show doesn’t mean that it stops becoming “service for the fans,” especially when that is its primary purpose. A movie centered on violence doesn’t stop appealing to fans of violence, and I don’t think that applies to the sexy kind of fanservice either.

      The fanservice-porn boundary though, that is another topic.

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      • Re: whether something should still be called “fanservice” when it becomes the central focus, I don’t think the issue is whether or not it technically is “service for the fans”, it’s that the word loses all practical meaning and value if you use it in that way. If I’m a fan of romance, and I’m watching a romance anime, then every romance scene is “fanservice” for me. Well, okay, but that doesn’t really tell us anything of value because that just means everything is fanservice to its own fans. If you’re not a fan of sexual content, and a show contains lots of it, does that mean the show has no “fanservice” for you? It’s sort of like everything is fanservice and nothing is fanservice depending on who you ask; it just gets absurd. So I think we do need some sort of clarity on this point; when we say “fanservice”, we mean…?

        In terms of the correlation between the protagonist and the type of (for lack of a better term let’s call it) “sexual fanservice” shown, that was essentially what I was trying to say as well. The protagonist was chosen as a consequence of the sort of story the author was trying to tell, and all the rest of the content is similarly in alignment. Certain portrayals of sexuality are best suited to certain sorts of personalities and character dynamics. So yes, there’s definitely an alignment. I’m just still not exactly sure what we can draw from that beyond noticing the correlation. It is a good observation.

        And as for public perception, value judgements, and “mainstream appeal”… yes, clearly it goes beyond anime — that’s what makes it mainstream. I know that you’ve been very careful not to make value judgements about fans, but at the same time I think this topic is inescapably about the value judgements fans themselves make (both conscious and otherwise). It’s interesting to think that it could essentially be two different sorts of wish fulfillment fantasies with different sorts of protagonits, and that one style appeals to certain fans more than the other… but I think it runs deeper. If it’s just about preference, the tone of the overall discussion would be quite different.

        Food for thought, anyway. It’s always an interesting topic to discuss.

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      • As a simple thought exercise, imagine a harem show with Golgo 13-style female character designs, and a gritty violent man-fantasy show with girls straight out of Love Hina. It doesn’t quite mesh, and not just because we’re not used to it.

        I…uh. In a way that is how I treat Nasu’s works: gritty and violent fantasy shows with stereotypical moe characters. Granted they either have guns or superpowers or both, when removed from the context of violence you can see that duality coexist.

        I’m not sure why you want to make this kind of form-follows-story argument? If you only look at Kanokon and Redline, sure, the two dots draw a line. But that’s ignoring all the other dots. Do you have some reason behind the argument you are making? I’m not sure I see it. In the typical post-database otaku kind of way, modern otaku-focused anime is a chop suey of all of these concepts, and I can see fantasies go in every which direction, leading to a blend of various artistic directions in their wakes.

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  4. I think the difference comes down to whether the viewer can feel like the guys “deserve” the women who cling to them.

    If not: wish fulfillment for pathetic losers with no self esteem
    If so: it can even be enjoyable for female viewers

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  5. Pingback: » What i read : 30-8-2011 Otakurean? ♥

  6. Pingback: Redline Review --- 8.0 / 10.0 | Draggle's Anime Blog

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