Fan service (Japanese simply "saabisu", "service"), sometimes written as a single word, fanservice, is a vaguely defined term used in visual media — particularly in anime fandom —to refer to elements in a story that are superfluous to a storyline, but designed to amuse or excite the audience.
The term is sometimes derogatory when used in criticism of clumsy, pandering use of visual fashions, or if the stories lack substance, such that fashions are the only thing notable about a series. Much fanservice treatments can be creative and unique, and hence an audience unfamilar with the fandom of a story may not understand these treatments, ("easter eggs") or their meaning.
The typically understood definition is inclusion of racy or sexual content (usually female, but also male) to titillate the viewer, such as nudity, and other forms of eye candy. Shower scenes are very common in movies, and in anime of the 1980s and 1990s, while many more recent TV series use trips to onsen (Japanese hot springs), or "obligatory" holiday episodes. These latter are often to tropical locales, in order to showcase the characters in bathing suits; all aim to depict characters in states of relative undress when it would otherwise be out of place with the tone of a series. In anime two common types of fanservice are the panty shot and jiggling breasts (the latter was first introduced in Gainax's Gunbuster), both often overused to an almost silly level (that is often what is desired). An example is the unfinished OVA series Eiken, as well as the series Tenjo Tenge. Similarly, Studio Fantasia's Agent Aika and Najica Blitz Tactics are known as the epitome of the panty-shot anime. A third type is the nude transformation sequence, first introduced in Go Nagai's Cutey Honey (1974–1975).
In anime and manga, another type of fan service is having one or more of the characters cosplay, usually female, particularly in a costume that is part of a Japanese clothing fetish. Popular costumes include:
- A character from an(other) anime, manga, or video game
- Hadaka apron
- School uniform
Often, movies will attempt to include cameo appearances by prominent figures who are or were associated with the work on which it is based. This either takes the form of actual appearances or character names. Stan Lee makes regular cameo appearances in movies based on Marvel Comics characters that he created. The Aliens vs. Predator movie included a character named Mark Verheiden. The name is the same as the writer of the early Aliens comic book series as well as the comic book on which the movie is based.
Some series make jokes or comments that are only amusing to those "in the know", such as fans who receive club newsletters, or perusers of Internet forums. Filmmaker Kevin Smith is well known for including a large variety of in jokes throughout his movies.
Heavily used in much of science fiction, these are technical details sometimes bordering on arcane knowledge that hardcore fans are versed in, to show an author (often an admitted fanboy/fangirl themselves) pays attention to detail. For example, Lagrange Points in Gundam, the CZ-75 in Gunsmith Cats, or the use of an SSH exploit in The Matrix Reloaded.
Often, a movie will make pastiche reference to another work that the creators are particularly fans of. Examples show up especially in movies by Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith who are admitted fanboys. Star Trek, Star Wars and the Matrix trilogy are perpetual choices for homage. But other homages exist that refer to works that have receded into fan nostalgia. Also, many remakes of movies employ throwaway lines that serve nothing more than to "tip the hat" to the original classic. A well known example is the uncredited cameo appearance of Charlton Heston as Thade's father in the Tim Burton remake of Planet of the Apes. The character's deathbed speech makes clear references to his "Damn you all to hell!" line that closed the original classic. In the 2003 Hulk movie, the last line spoken in the movie is "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry", a clear homage to the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno The Incredible Hulk TV series of the 1970s.
Recently in anime there has been an explosion of shows that are criticized for simply being vehicles for fanservice. In contrast there has also been a rise in shows of the progressive anime category—shows which do not care so much about pleasing the audience as providing a full artistic vision. This has polarized anime to some degree making recent series either heavily fanservice-oriented (Green Green) or heavily experimental (Texhnolyze) with little in between.