Part two of my ongoing (slowly ongoing) exploration of fanservice! Part one can be found here.
A year after I wrote the first entry, I’m finally getting around to the second. Hurrah! Unsurprisingly, I want to take on the fanservice in High School of the Dead, the new zombie anime that’s taking the world of awesome by storm.
There are a lot of different things I can say about the fanservice of the show, even from the two episodes I’ve seen at this point. In fact, most of them I thought of during episode one, and two simply didn’t change my mind. Many of them are obvious, some of them are easy, but a few might be particularly fascinating.
Freud, high school, and zombies
This is one of the obvious ones. Any time service is juxtaposed with teenagers we could take the Freud angle — and with the undead and violence involved? Ha!
High school is a boiling pool of hormones. We all know this. It’s why even someone like me, who doesn’t spend too much time reliving high school, still likes high school anime — it makes for great drama. Everyone’s angry all the time, shit’s going on in the body no one understands — and that reminds me: NO ONE UNDERSTANDS, MAN! It’s also representative of the traditional time we all went through our awakening sexual drives.
It can be easily argued in any show or comic following a high schooler that any fanservice serves to outline the thought processes of the character. Biological urges take focus away from other applications when you’re seventeen and full of testosterone. The old biological saw is that males are at their sexual peak at seventeen. So even if it doesn’t seem to make sense for the show, fanservice can be viewed as a way of easing the reader into the place the main character inhabits, and part of that place is a maddening inability to stop focusing on sex.
HotD runs full force with this, coupling it with a Freudian angle. Freud generally comes up whenever sex and horror go together (and they usually do go together). I could do a bunch of different things with this combination now. There’s Freud’s dichotomy between the Pleasure principle and the Death principle, abandon and control, generation and destruction, and how the two are constantly interacting.
Indeed, much of the zombie craze (of which I’m a part — love zombies) can be attributed to our desire for control. Monsters with carefully crafted kill points give us ways of using knowledge to exert control. A professor of mine once brought up in class why Van Helsing spends so much time on how to kill Dracula, given that they never do any of those things to him. It’s the same as the zombie survival guide and the rules in Zombieland; follow the rules, keep your head, and you survive, proving your strength and your worth. You trample down the Death principle in all of us; you exert control over your strange desire for death, you keep away from the voice telling you to jump, wondering what it’ll be like to shamble. Poe called it the “imp of the perverse” decades before Freud wrote. Fortify yourself, the zombie tale says, and you will prevail over this thing inside you. Compelling stuff in a story set in a high school, where one’s insides are sometimes one’s own worst enemy.
Then there’s Freud’s id/ego/supergo complex. Literal translations from the German would be it/I/over-I. the id is the hungry one, the bad angel on the shoulder of Marlowe’s Faust, the one that wants. The ego is you, you as you conceive yourself, the open, conscous part that sees things thinks about stuff. The superego is the instilled, subconscious internalizations of external, societal and familial things. Your “conscience” that happens to coincide with what your parents taught you, imported from outside and placed within.
These things fight inside us, so fiction dealing with them would externalize them so we can watch. Zombies feed, zombies want and desire and take and eat and never sleep and never think and never look or watch or second-guess. They’re the id, the “it,” the terrible Other within us. They’re consumers (not just in Romero’s sense); they eat. Let me stop being so general.
The love triangle of HotD is between the normal, slightly nervous kid, the average pretty girl, and the controlled, talented overachiever. Said controlled kid is the one who becomes a zombie. His id, we could say, is let loose and he becomes something that feeds. We all have to eat. It’s Cartesian dualism — we don’t like to be reminded that our bodies are machines. Disgust with eating or crapping is often disgust with the mechanical parts of ourselves. Suddenly the controlled kid is trying to assault and consume the beautiful woman, and she is an object of consumption — her breasts bounce, her panties show. The controlled kid is suddenly not so controlled, and in his undeath he seeks what he was repressing in life.
Of course, the zombies aren’t the only ones seeing the panties and the boobs. We are, too. Those of us who feel any degree of arousal are perking up, and those of us who aren’t see the sexual nature of the teens, and then zombies are eating them, consuming them like objects of lust or food. Sensuality escapes in one form or another — except that suddenly our consumption of the characters becomes a grinding of their sinews and bones between zombie teeth. I was freaked out, at first, by the immediate pairing, all through the first episode, of service and gore. Violence and sex may be somehow cross-coded in our brains — or our entertainment — but whoa. Of course, we’re the targets of horror. We sympathize with the characters under assault, enjoy their breakaways — why else the fine tradition, here upheld, of improvised weapons in zombie lore? Power drill? Nail gun with a plywood stock? Fuck yes!
Dude, have you seen Dead/Alive? Watch this shit, I’ll wait:
Awesome. Not only do we experience the horror through the sufferings of the characters; we suffer too. Characters we like die; horrible things happen to innocent teenagers just trying to live their lives; best friends turn on each other like rabid dogs; blood gouts; eyes flatten and the soul leaves the body.
Where’s the fanservice here? Doesn’t it freak you out, to see someone’s panties as they’re screaming and zombies are ripping them apart? It freaks me out. That is entirely the wrong time to be looking at a lady’s underpants. But then, anything we look at during this violence is inappropriate. Isn’t it? What do you look at, when someone’s being mutilated? Their face? Their feet?
Blazoning and vulnerability: a touch of feminism
Blazoning is the traditional poetic technique of breaking the subject of a love poem into parts and, each in turn, talking about how wonderful each part is. Shakespeare plays with two variations of this Petrarchan theme: in Romeo and Juliet, act two scene two — the balcony scene, silly — Juliet blazons Romeo. This isn’t how it works, not in a patriarchal poetic tradition. Blazoning is the poetic version of objectifying a woman. T&A, yes? Rather than M.A.? The woman is there for the parts we can look at, rather than the person. Blazoning compares teeth to pearls, lips to rubies, but never really talks about the person, either wholly or personality-wise. You should be able to guess Shakespeare’s other attempt to mess with blazoning: c’mon, say it with me. “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun.”
Traditional sexist views of women, including fanservice, focus on the parts of the woman. There’s the genital area, covered by panties. There’s the outline of a breast, or a bra revealed under a rain-soaked shirt.
Do you see where we’re going yet? Blazoning and fanservice — focusing on the parts of a woman. Taking her apart. Feminist criticism has called blazoning a poetic “dismemberment” of the female form. HotD, then, is doing the same thing over and over: dismemberment. It dismembers the female form by taking it apart shot by shot: boob, panty flash, boob, thigh. Then it takes the form apart literally, with teeth and fingernails. Ghastly spurting blood. A literalization of the figurative theme underlying fanservice, that we, as consumers of the product, revel in the dismemberment of the subjects before us.
This isn’t just along gender lines, of course, though that’s the easiest thing to see (and the one that follows the fanservice). The boys are taken apart as well, right? The protagonist is, to us, a bundle of parts: he’s the typical lead, nervous, eventually vocal after too much radio silence. Suddenly he switched, broken by a situation into a badass, a different creature altogether marked by different behaviors. He’s the same person, but we view him differently.
This happens fully in-scene with the delicious tensai and her bumbling gun-fanatic companion. Not only does his facial set and expressions change when he gets a “gun” in his hands, she sees him differently, as we do. Transformations happen through focusing on different aspects of personality, rather than the personality as a whole. Through the database, rebirth.
Except, as of yet, no one’s been reborn into anything. The director of Shaun of the Dead, in a commentary, described the scene where Shaun and Ed kill two zombies and bash them so hard blood spatters up from off-screen all over them as a “baptism of blood.” The cast of HotD may be in for a similar baptism, but this early on they’re vulnerable, and the fanservice highlights this as well. In normal circumstances a public, accidental flash of someone’s underwear would be about as vulnerable as they could get… unless they get ripped apart by a mob of mindless eaters.
We are viewing these characters as building blocks, like a blazon or a pile of body parts. HotD portrays the turmoil of sexuality and the accompanying objectification as a violent dismemberment of those objectified, both male and female. The fanservice not only highlights this, it is it. By bringing to our attention, in a traditional method found in anime, of the parts of the characters through character traits and the fanservice, the show puts on display the act of dismemberment by the audience itself. Those who watch are those who consume, those who break apart. The audience is the hungering horde.
And given the love of the zombie, that’s OK.