Shinbogatari: The Art of Tasteless Fan-Service

Warning: The following article contains pictures that, while not pornographic in any way whatsoever, are heavily sexualized in nature. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

I’ll start off with two disclaimers:

Firstly, I’m not against fan-service as a concept. I’m a human being, and I have raging hormones that sometimes get the best of me. Also, a little arm and leg every-so-often isn’t inherently bad if done well. You can take the idea and use it to play against conventions for the sake of a good story, like with Magic Mike and, in the case of anime, Ouran High School Host Club. On its own, it’s harmless.

And secondly, I’ve seen relatively-little of this man’s work outside of Mahou Shoujo Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which is fantastic in its own right, and, therefore, can’t write this without being biased. Not to mention, Studio SHAFT always puts a lot of detail and effort into their animation. Like Kyoto Animation, their shows look really good, despite usually being hollow on a narrative level. But, unlike Kyoto Animation, Studio SHAFT has a bigger issue that, I think, stems from its main director’s twisted mind.

With that out of the way, I’ll say it: Akiyuki Shinbo, you need to stop sexualizing your shows.

Let me assure you, I’d be saying this about anyone in Shinbo’s position. The reason I picked him specifically is because Studio SHAFT has a rather passionate fan base, and I don’t get it. At all. It’d be one issue if it was Studio Gianax, i.e. a group of nerds who struck big by accident with Neon Genesis Evangelion and have been try to replicate that success for nearly 20 years with varied and interesting results. But Studio SHAFT? The company named after a slang word for penis, and is continuing to not distance itself from that name by pandering to horny men with its female-heavy fan-service? I don’t like people stereotyping Japan as being the country of “weird perverts” either, but when Studio SHAFT keeps syndicating the exact material that leads to this stereotype, well…it’s pretty difficult to not understand its propagation, right?

If you don’t believe me, Shinbo’s female characters, for example, follow the same set list of guidelines: for one, they’re young, roughly mid/late-teens. For another, they look angelic, complete with youthful faces and blushed cheeks. And they’re highly-sexualized, with noticeable breast racks, innocent voices and detailed fingers and toes; in fact, they tend to walk rather gracefully and light-stepped, as if they’re constantly in some kind of beauty pageant.

In addition, Shinbo’s characters seem to focus on pandering to a specific audience: the male Otaku. More specifically, the male’s Otaku’s wet dream. This is most-apparent in his long-running “Monogatari” franchise, in which all the girls are little flower children out to steal the love of a sociopathic boy named Kyomi Araragi, a third-year in high school who’s recovering from a vampire bite. I say “sociopath” because, despite the illusion of being a regular teenager, the entire series revolves around him. But, unlike The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Mr. “god character” Kyomi is well-aware of the power he has, and he constantly tries to find ways to play with it. This includes feigning innocence, talking to every girl he meets and, in the worst-case scenario, manipulating the girls of his world, even his siblings, through sexually suggestive acts.

I’m not kidding about that last point:

… (Courtesy of HylianDakota.)

Horrifying, isn’t it?

As you might’ve noticed, Shinbo loves his background art. So much so, in fact, that he incorporates it into his fan-service via weirdly “erotic” directing choices. Did you notice how Karen and Kyomi were positioned during the toothbrush scene? Did you also notice the floral, spatial and scenery art in the background? That’s Shinbo in a nutshell: incorporating beautifully-rendered cinematography, even if it has no importance to the scene, so as to distract people from how blatantly pornographic his work is and make them think they’re watching “smart art”.

Except they’re not. They’re watching PG-13 pornography, complete with all the suggestive nudity that’s raunchy enough to make teenagers think it’s lewd, but restrained enough to make it past the censors. And yet, it’s so straightforward you’d almost think Shinbo was trying to be clever, even though he’s being pretentious. That’s right, pretentious, I said it. I don’t care how detailed the individual scenes are, because it’s pretentious to the nth-degree.

And you know what? I’m sick of it. I’m sick of it on an intellectual level, as it makes Shinbo into a C-grade imitator of Kunihiko Ikuhara. I’m sick of it on a practical level, because he doesn’t get what makes Ikuhara so well-respected. I’m sick of it on a narrative level, because there’s no meat to chew on. I’m sick of it on an artistic level, because it’s trying to pass off pornography as majesty-worthy storytelling. And I’m sick of it on the level of an average male who wants to be treated as more than a walking sack of testosterone, because I deserve better.

I get it: I’m a human being. I have sexual urges from time-to-time, that’s normal. I’m single. I’ve never had much success with dating. And, in some ways, I might even be desperate for affection from the opposite sex. But you know what else I am?

Someone who doesn’t want that exploited.

Because, really and truly, I deserve to not be exploited. So what if I’m a failure as a romantic? You have to fall face-first before you can to walk. So what if I’m desperate? That doesn’t mean that, if I try hard enough, I won't find someone. And if I don’t, well…there’s always that possibility, right?

Besides, trying to pander to my sex drive isn’t winning favours. After all, if I wanted to watch porn, I’d watch real porn. Not this pretentious, obviously self-serious, artsy-style garbage! No, I’d only watch that if I’m bored and want a laugh or two, assuming I can muster them from this filth! Yeah, it’s filth disguised as art. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, and I’m not falling for it.

As a final note, I have advice for Shinbo: learn how to be intelligent. Don’t pander to men with your ultra-detailed, soft-core porn, actually use your skills for something useful. You did it with Gen Urobuchi, so why not again? Sure, it’d mean focusing on something other than tits, toes and whatever else you fetishize, but at least people like me would respect you. Because this isn’t the way to get that respect, trust me!

Comments

  1. But did you watch it? With any of the context?

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    1. I've seen bits and pieces of it. Still doesn't not make this stuff male-gaze fetish porn...

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  2. I'm a girl, seen the show, thought deeply on it. The majority of the characters have a level of depth to them that I can really relate to an extremely personal degree. I don't think you can properly write and critique something you haven't seen. Seeing some scenes doesn't cut it. Yes, there's fan service, majority from the female characters, some from male. There's more to the show than fanservice :/ maybe you should stop staring at their boobs and pay attention, you would notice the intelligence the show was written and executed :/

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    1. I understand the concern you raise, but the non-fetish aspects of the show don't really interest me either. When it's not focused on toothbrush sex, shower lesbianism and panty sniffing, it's also kinda boring. At least, that's what I've gathered from the parts I've seen that weren't fan-service heavy...

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    2. When I watch random story bits out of order I get bored as well.

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    3. Really? Because I can usually get a pretty good sense of whether or not a show's for me after I've watched a dozen or so scenes from a show out of order, even if I don't quite understand the context...

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    4. Man what kind of story of the week stuff do watch that is so entertaining without proper setup?

      I'm not telling you it's "for you," I'm saying you're misrepresenting a good show you've never seen and should stop talking about it as though you know what it's about, because clearly you don't. This show's good enough that I'll be sad about anyone who reads this and gets the wrong idea.

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  3. I respect what you're trying to get at here, but your synopsis of Monogatari is literally offensive.

    It's hard to describe just how much you're stretching the events and characters of that show to make it sound evil.

    Thing I'll agree to: the fanservice is egregious and borderline unacceptable. The show would be better without it.

    What I won't accept is your assertion that any of the females in that show are "little flower children." Hitagi stabs Araragi in the mouth in the first five minutes of the first episode and goes on to be a great character and the closest thing to a good female role model in anime. Hanekawa is one of the most well developed female characters I've ever seen in anything media related period. I'm gonna stop myself from listing of why most of the cast of this show is masterfully written and just leave you with this:

    I understand if the fan service makes you not wanna watch the show. But you're missing out on something great

    Assuming the worst about it because of how the worst parts of the fan base react is silly. If we did that for everything we wouldn't have any anime at all.

    Writing off a potentially good creative work because the creator is shitty is also silly. If we did that we wouldn't have pivotal works like Eva or even non smoker things like Ender's Game.

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