Fanservice. Everyone who watches anime knows this term. However, few people actually seem to realize what this term means. I personally blame TvTropes for that. As informative as that website is, very few people seem to use it as it was meant to be used. That's part of the reason I've written this post, but not the full reason.
To start, let me begin this blog post by giving you the exact definition of fanservice. "Fanservice" is essentially this: nudity or sexual content within a book, TV show, video game, anime, manga, or some other form of media entertainment when it's NOT needed for the plot to progress. In other words, when you're watching a B-budget horror flick like Halloween of Friday 13th, and there's a sex scene, that is fanservice. It's not needed. They add it to attract viewers.
Now, I bet you're asking: what does this mean for anime?
To Love Ru, quite possibly one of the most prolific "fanservice" anime in the entire anime universe, does NOT actually have fanservice in it, and the reason for that is simple. The entire series of To Love Ru revolves around its ecchi, the perverse humor brought about by numerous improbable situations that would never happen in real life. It is the driving force behind the entire series. In others words, it's expected. We expect Rito to fall in some girl's tattas, or her crotch. We expect Lala to walk around the house naked. We expect Haruna to get in situations where she's being groped by Rito. We expect and expect and expect. To Love Ru without fanservice is like cheesecake without cheese. It doesn't work. And why should it? It's a harem manga about a boy who's so accident prone that he's falling face first into breasts, crotches, and accidentally fondling just about every girl he sees. Without these scenarios, To Love Ru wouldn't even be worth watching. It might as well not even exist.
Another, which is a horror anime about a bunch of students getting killed off at school for plot reasons, does have fanservice. The infamous beach episode, in which a bunch of students went to the beach, had fun, and wore bikinis, was pure fanservice. It didn't need to be in there. It didn't advance the plot. There was no point to it. I've read the novels. Nowhere in the novels is there a beach episode, but the anime had it. Actually, it was the beach episode that ruined a good last chunk of the series. Not only did it come at the most inopportune time, but it also disrupted the flow of the story. I guess that's why I liked the novels better.
Fairy Tail, for example, is about a guild of magical mercenaries causing destruction everywhere they go. Sure, that's downplaying a lot of the plot, but it gets the point across. That point being that all of the random nudity, male stripping, boob groping, boob falling, and various hot spring episodes... are not needed for the story to progress. It's there to add humor. In other words, it is fanservice.
My thoughts on fanservice run with the majority here. I think that having fanservice can be a help or a hindrance. For example, in a romantic comedy about awkward teenagers falling in love, having a well-timed scene of fanservice can really add to the humor. On the other hand, adding fanservice into a horror anime or one that's filled with violence and gore, would be ruined by fanservice. I mentioned it before, but the fanservice in Another ruined a good chunk of the series for me. Not only had it not done anything to advance the plot, but it had also come at an inopportune time. You see, in the previous episode, the students' teacher had died a gruesome, bloody death by stabbing himself in the neck. How would you feel if, in one episode, we're getting this horrid scene where children are getting blood splattered all over their face as it sprays out of their teacher's neck, and then the next episode, we're getting this...
Yes, we get a beach episode immediately after the teacher neck stabbing episode. It's such a jarring change, not only in the pace of the story, but also in the general feel of it. It throws you right out of the show, disrupting what had, until that point, been a thrillingly horrifying tale. What made it even worse was that the anime didn't give any indication that there would be fanservice in the series. Perhaps if there was a hint of foreshadowing, or if maybe they'd added some minor fanservice from the beginning, this episode could have been forgiven, but considering the poor timing and the fact that we're never given a hint that there would be something like this, the entire episode felt contrived, forced, and altogether unenjoyable.
So, at the end of all this, my thoughts on fanservice remain with the majority of others. It can be good if used right. It can be funny if well-timed. However, fanservice that isn't used right will only make a series worse, and sometimes, there are anime out there that just shouldn't have fanservice.