Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Defending Fanservice in Highschool of the Dead

Last week a new anime, based on the manga, Highschool of the Dead aired in Japan and it is meeting with some mixed opinions. Personally I am a big fan of the manga, and was eagerly waiting for the anime. From a critical standpoint the show follows the manga panel for panel but seems slightly slower paced. But just from the first episode I am already excited about the next one.

Most of the criticism is in regard to the overt use of fanservice in a show about teenagers being turned into and killed by zombies. So far there is no nudity in the show, and there wasn't in the manga either, just a lot of scantily clad girls, sexual situations, and jiggle. Lots and lots of jiggle.

This kind of thing shouldn't be too surprising in modern anime, as nearly every other show has this now. However, in Highschool of the Dead's case I argue that the overt sexual imagery juxtaposed with gruesome cannibalistic violence is probably more culturally significant and historically important from an entertainment medium, then any other anime being aired.

Zombie films, and especially the Dawn of the Dead type films that Highschool of the Dead is referencing were made during what my film professor called, "Hollywood's Nervous Breakdown". Cinema was failing, and something had to be done to get people back into the movie theaters. This is when the blaxploitation and sexploitation films really came into prominence as well as horror films and gore fests. They were all cheap and dirty ways to get sales back up and it worked. Cinema changed forever as a result. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty.

Highschool of the Dead is a direct reference to those type of films. Sex and violence went hand in hand. In many ways I see HotD as a criticism on how fanservice is used, for example even though this beautiful girl is being eaten, otaku will still get their jollies off when they see her panties. Same was true for back then. A girl could get raped and murdered on screen but if you got to see some bush and nipple during the process it was a win.

The fanservice is also a quick way to characterize and feel sympathy for a female character, though I admit it is highly misogynistic. If you see a girl in a vulnerable position and see something as intimate as her undergarments, you instantly want her to live because you find her sexually appealing. When she dies quickly and horribly it is slightly harder to endure. Of course this theory only works if you are a straight male, which is why the majority of criticism for the show comes from women who love shojo boys love manga (see stereotypes work both ways).

The scene where the girl who just kicked her best friend down the stairs to be eaten by zombies, when her head is grabbed by the zombies, it gave me a slight fraction of that feeling I got from the Devilman manga/film where Miki sees her dead brother and realizes she is next. It just fills you with an empty helpless feeling.

Right now, where anime is all over the place, this type of work is a brilliant move because it heralds back to the days of Hollywood trying to find it's footing, which is exactly where we are with anime right now. It isn't as big as it once was, and there are a ton of shows saying, "me too me too" with no original content or ideas. Sometimes we have to go down into the crevasse, to come back out as something new and better.