How Keijo Won the Gold in Fanserviceby Jacob Chapman,
No ifs, ands, or butts about it, Keijo!!!!!!!! is one of the biggest hits of the Fall 2016 season. Fanservice-driven anime come and go with the mercurial whims of thirsty otaku, but it looks like Keijo(x8!) is really making waves with a larger audience beyond its standard crowd, so that means it must have something more than fanservice going on under the surface, right?
Well, yes and no. Seven episodes into its run, Keijo!!!!!!!! is still extremely what-you-see-is-what-you-get, never anything more or less than a show about girls pursuing a career as professional athletes in a sport where they can only use their boobs and butts to fight. It's shameless, it's crude, it's stupid, but it's also a whole lot of fun, so what is it about this extremely obvious fanservice anime that has so many different kinds of viewers enchanted?
It's not necessarily that Keijo!!!!!!!! is "more" than just a fanservice anime. It's more that Keijo!!!!!!!! does fanservice so well in a world where so many other anime have been doing it poorly. There's a lot going on between the cracks here, but I'll try to get to the bottom of this show's appeal by exploring three things it does different from its fellow titty titles.
You'd think that bringing the bazooms and badonkadonks straight to your face like Keijo!!!!!!!! does constantly would be a bigger turnoff than the "subtle" approach, but if you're already on board for a show about T&A for any number of reasons (titillation, comedy, novelty), this actually has the opposite effect. By jamming fanservice in your face with no filter, Keijo!!!!!!!! invites a much wider range of potential reactions and therefore, a much wider audience.
"Framing" is a term used in cinematography to describe how visual elements are presented in an image and more importantly, what that arrangement will tell the viewer to think (whether they know that they're thinking it or not). It's absolutely essential to understanding film as an art form, because it impacts everything from artsy fartsy indie movies to just regular fartsy anime like Keijo!!!!!!!!. Framing exists in everything, whether it's made for scholars or toddlers, and you can study the concept all day, but for the purposes of this editorial, here's one simple rule that can give us insight into why Keijo!!!!!!!! is such an inviting fanservice show: the more objects are manipulated in the frame, the more information is layered over what's being shown, the more we are being told how to feel about them. Framing is important to understanding Keijo!!!!!!!! not because it's more thoughtfully framed than most fanservice series, but because it's less thoughtfully framed.
Basically, Keijo!!!!!!!! is not as interested in telling you what to think about these girls' bodies compared to most other fanservice shows. By putting you right in the action with simple dead-on angles and flat sports arena lighting, Keijo!!!!!!!! presents its athletes matter-of-factly; even when they're slamming their rumps into each other, it doesn't automatically seem like something out of Girls Gone Wild. More deliberately sexual framing might add a warm haze or oblique angle to the action, splitting our views of the girls up into quick flashes of disparate body parts as if we were spying on them through a keyhole.
Of course, the implication that "you, the viewer, are spying on these girls through a keyhole" implies an unspoken contract with the viewer that not everyone will be so eager to sign. By eliminating this information that tells the audience how to feel, Keijo!!!!!!!! leaves it completely up to the viewer to find the image of a giant butt headed straight for the camera sexy or funny or exhilarating or some weird combination thereof. Female viewers who might have been uncomfortable with framing that spies on women without their knowledge and cuts their bodies into sexy pieces can find the fun in this balder celebration of bouncing nudity. Male viewers who tuned in just to be turned on might appreciate the inviting honesty of this approach as well. And regardless of gender or sexuality, many viewers can find unexpected excitement in the novelty of girls weaponizing their booties for a sport they seem to care deeply about. On that note...
No matter how steamy the fanservice, you can't build 12 episodes of a TV series out of cheesecake shots alone. You need a story to hold everything together, and this is where many fanservice anime fall short. If you're selling a show on gratuitous sexuality, but you need a compelling plot to make a show, how do you keep these goals from bumping up against each other and resulting in a big mess? Indulgent shots of jiggling flesh and sensual moans tend to stop a story dead in its tracks, ousting any audience member who isn't interested in the pornier parts of your package. At the same time, people who bought the anime for these explicit scenes don't want to be bored sitting through long minutes of fantasy exposition clarifying why Angel-chan has to suck dicks at least once a day to remain on Earth or whatever. If only the fanservice and plot could be married together somehow, creating a story the audience can get invested in that rides entirely on boobs and butts!
Enter Keijo!!!!!!!! It may revolve around a goofy fictional sport, but the competitors of Keijo!!!!!!!! take their livelihood very seriously. So like any good sports anime, the series spends the bulk of its runtime exploring the techniques, tips, and training regimens that various players use to stake their claim in the sport. Some rely on the muscular force of their buttocks to crush their opponents, (the Ass of Vajra!) some hone the speed of their strikes to take down those bigger-bottomed fighters, (the Butt Gatling!) and some employ unexpected tricks to bounce their way to the top (Titty Hypnosis can only be mastered by the biggest of bosoms, but it's a good way to bust past the booty-favoring competition). Silly as they sound, Keijo!!!!!!!! treats all these skills as legitimate ways to win an extremely competitive sport, where athletes respect each other's assets as weapons rather than frivolous sex objects.
Of course, you can still find them sexy! Keijo!!!!!!!! definitely goes out of its way to make its athletes approachable rather than intimidating, with their cuddly personalities and the "boing" sound effects that accompany each clash of the cabooses. At the same time, Keijo!!!!!!!! treats the girls' mastery of their sport as seriously as any other sports anime, inviting you to cheer on your favorite teams, get wrapped up in the momentum of tournaments, learn more about how each type of fighter hones their skills, and putting its tongue firmly in its cheek with mottos like "Know not thy rump, never shalt thou triumph!"
Framing its T&A in a friendly way and taking its own story seriously would be more than enough to make Keijo!!!!!!!! more engaging than most other fanservice anime, but there's still one more surprise that makes the show even stronger.
Since many fanservice shows are based around isolating women (and their individual body parts) for the male gaze to enjoy, or pitting women against each other for the attention of a self-insert leading man, fanservice anime are usually rife with catfights and even deeply embittered rivalries amongst their harems. In "battle vixen" shows like Ikki Tousen and Freezing, they might even want to kill each other! Having an all-female cast doesn't protect Keijo!!!!!!!! from this standard by any means, especially considering that the girls are competing in a sport where fans bet on them like racehorses to generate more revenue. (Top competitors are called "prize queens.") This could have turned the show into a melodramatic bitchfest where every girl has a tragic backstory, out for blood against everyone in their way.
So it's immediately refreshing that Keijo!!!!!!!! embraces the "power of friendship and diversity" as its simple yet necessary uniting theme to draw the girls together despite their differences. Even splitting the class into Elite competitors who enjoy huge perks compared to their normie sisters doesn't leave the new girls at each other's throats for long. Girls who start off completely unable to communicate are forced to work together and become fast friends, while bossy braggarts espouse their newfound respect for the newbies who topple them in upset victories. There's a strong sense of camaraderie between everyone in the large cast. The strong girls learn from the speedy girls, muscular butts and marshmallow butts both embrace each other's advantages in battle, and the importance of mutual respect always comes up at the (rear) end of each conflict.
Discord is important in storytelling, especially if you're telling a story about heated physical competition, but that doesn't mean the girls have to hate each other's guts and pine emptily for a man to save their wounded hearts instead, as in so many other fanservice series. The girls of Keijo!!!!!!!! can solve their own problems with the help of their fellow competitors, all while striving to reach the top in their own unique ways. It's an approach that tells women they're free to embrace and relate to these characters, while not taking anything away from the men who find them sexy. (Girls who like being around each other are sexy too, right?) The spirit of good sportsmanship is alive and well in Keijo!!!!!!!!, and I'm happy to drape a gold medal over this show's giant boobs for having a warm, fuzzy heart underneath them.
So what's your favorite thing about Keijo!!!!!!!!? (I didn't even get into the show's wacky sense of humor or the wide array of body types in the cast, which are other nice bonuses.) Let us know in the comments!
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