Just tying some thought down to a peg somewhere, so bear with me.
Elsewhere, I mentioned that the oft-complained about treatment of Fate/Zero’s verbose scenes describing the nitpicking details the…fourth? Holy Grail War is fanservice. I think once I mentioned it on this very blog, if not directly then indirectly. This is, in my opinion, is another way to approach the bigger issue of the role of fanservice as illustrated on the Cart Driver.
I think fanservice (sexual sort) is no different than any other kind of prurient material. It’s seen as the kind of pejorative you use to describe pornography–there is a single-minded purpose, or maybe a sort-of-broad, but singular, general purpose in which the media operates within. However I don’t think that describes accurately of how fanservice is in anime, or just how popular media has transformed over the past years. Can porn be entertaining? I’m sure. Can it be entertaining as what we categorize as non-porn? I’m pretty sure of that too; tho that is just a guess as it is thoroughly a category of media I am not versed in.
To go back to anime, the oft-maligned panty shot, for example, is classic example of fanservice, but it often has a role in a work. I think one of the best example of this is in Kara no Kyoukai #1–it is among Nasu’s earliest works, and it is kind of, shall we say, dreary. Something like a panty shot actually helps to punctuate a generally very serious film with something that will trigger a predictable response from its predominantly otaku audience. It serves like a pick-me-up in the middle of that one-hour film.
I mean just imagine if Fate/Zero episode 1 had a cute (not exploitative) fanservice scene in the middle of the episode. I think it might still turn off a group of viewer not that interested in the material, but it would serve well for pacing’s sake for viewers not invested in Nasuverse, but is interested in otaku media. I’ll come back to this example later.
The bigger point I’m trying to make, and I think Cart Driver totally failed at discussing, is that fanservice in anime often do serve a purpose–most sort of pandering in anime these days do. The important thing is to understand the context of the reasons behind why fanservice type X and for audience group Y because of…why? I think that should be the focus of the discussion.
It kind of addresses my main pet peeve when it comes to discussion about these sort of complaints. A lot of people dismiss some anime titles and write them off for reasons they think are objective, but in reality it is just a fancy way to say “title Z does not pander to my interests.” I think in the post-database-animal days of anime it is a lot more honest and simple to say that, for example, “battle manga” style characterization and plot progression is, just like any table, column or cell of a database, is something exchangeable, interchangeable, and is a thing that some people will like and others dislike or don’t care about. Instead, otaku interests focus on execution of applying these elements to the work. (I think this is a big reason behind the rise of the sakuga otaku overseas as people slowly catch on.) Everything has a plot, most anime have characters, and the way certain things are written or developed usually is out of some purposed database concept, a set of checkboxes, if you will, in which the way things are executed make the most sense if you first identified what those checkboxes are. That is, unless you want to look for something at a place where that thing isn’t intended to be there, and likely isn’t going to be there. (And that is not to say you won’t ever find it or even that is a pointless thing to do, but it seems like an exercise of fitting a square peg into a round hole.)
In other words, using an expanded definition of what “fanservice” refers to, when a viewer encounters a block of content on the show that panders to a specific group that viewer isn’t a part of (or perhaps more aptly, a group that the viewer doesn’t even wants to be associated with at all, or is entirely unaware that the content segment is tailored for that group), that becomes a detriment to the viewing experience. So when someone like that watches Fate/Zero ep1, they may understand that ultimately it is some kind of characterization and setting the ground work, but it would appear very dry to them. It is a little bit better than the hypo where a prude sits through a (sexual) fanservice scene, because in that case often you get the reverse impact where the scene signals to viewer that this is not the show s/he is looking for. In Fate/Zero’s case, the viewer would just miss out on the entertainment portion of Fate/Zero episode 1 and is thus left with just the dry crumbs of circular-walk-talk. If the purpose of the double-length episode 1 of F/Z is to educate and entertain, people who aren’t interested in the more otaku-ish aspect of Nasuverse or just aren’t aware of them, will miss out on the entertain part. [Maybe they should’ve played karuta!]
Well, at least I can see why ufotable went that way. Urobuchi does do tl;dr from time to time (remember the entropy lecture in Madoka?), and given the compressed nature of episode 1 (after all, it’s stuff they are required to go through to get to the money shots, might as well get it over with one shot), inserting all these referential entertainment and interests into the exposition may be the most logical way to go about it. Unfortunately that just isn’t what a western/Hollywood-bred audience is used to. The alternative, to use a personal anecdote, is like when I tried to watch Game of Thrones TV, it takes a few episodes to just to get all the names straight. And by a few episodes that is 2 or 3 hours, versus 3 or 4 22-minute segments (ie., well under 2 hours) that is Fate Zero eps 1-3. And just to finish the anecdote, I didn’t like the fanservice (both the sexual kind and the pandering-to-people-who-appreciates-the-details-from-the-book kind) so I dropped the show. But it wasn’t for the lack of or poor execution on HBO’s part.
This overall notion of fanservice is, I guess, the reason why I said Fate/Zero panders to otaku. Even if on the merit of the thing, there’s a lot to like just from a general nerd-geek sense. You’ve got fancy legendary historic figures that a western audience would be familiar with (the historical fiction aspect) doing some visually excellent stuff, with a fairly dynamic plot that is expansive and multidimensional, with a well-developed cast of characters (as far as in terms of the novels) that are largely interesting.
In a sense, what I’m saying is, in full circle, in agreement with notions that Fate/Zero clumsily executed certain aspects in the adaptation. But the reasons behind them are not what I think some claim they are. I mean as someone who is invested in Nasuverse I think it’s hard to argue that episode 1 wasn’t at least intriguing, even if it is a lot of TL;DR. Or, as others have put it, despite that it is TL;DR.