Ahhh, the swimsuit episode, also known as the beach episode, or the fan service episode, or the first or second fan service episode if the show also has a hot spring episode along with it. It’s a staple of anime, an episode devoted to really bad and/or cheesy excuses to have all the main characters and the majority of side characters to strip off their outfits that have way too much fabric on them and slip into something a little more comfortable, which for the majority of characters are very skimpy.
Generally speaking, the episode adds nothing to the plot of the series. In some cases, the villain(s) might show up just to cause trouble, but there’s nothing of real significance in the entirety of the episode. In reality, it serves mostly just as an excuse of getting the cast together to be at their friendliest and most embarrassed the entire series. At the same time, depending on the nature of the show, the episode will try and further develop attractions between characters and quite possibly cement a couple for the rest of the series.
But all that stuff’s boring, let’s talk about the real points of the swimsuit episodes!
Almost every swimsuit episode serves the same purpose. It takes all the female and male characters (the numbers will vary depending on the show) of any real significance and strips them of their normal attire and replaces it with one-pieces, bikinis and swim trunks. The majority of the time, it’s only the girls who really wear anything skimpy, the guys generally wear basic swim trunks, there’s not a lot of speedo action going on. While the girls on the other hand will wear the majority of the time bikinis that leave little to the imagination. If a character has large breasts, you bet there’s going to be a ton of cleavage. If they have smaller breasts, don’t worry, they make up for it with the bottoms, usually showing a little bit of buttcrack and if you’re really lucky, they’ll be wearing something akin to a thong or just bikini briefs that are probably a size or two too small. There are exceptions of course, some shows are a little more conservative or are for at least a couple characters. Less bikini bottoms and more shorts and skirts. But the likelihood of these characters (especially the girls) being designed to be pure eye candy in their swimwear is far higher.
The levels of blushing and covering up are greatly increased as well in these episodes, which can sometimes be cute, others it can be very aggravating. Harem anime is terrible for these kinds of reactions. A girl can be caught in her underwear, only a towel or nothing at all (stupid sexy Flanders!) as many times as possible, yet they are very bashful when the male protagonist sees them in a bikini that is sometimes even more conservative than the many pairs of underwear they’ve been caught wearing. And it’s even more annoying when that same character who’s blushing over the fact she’s being looked at in a bikini when she’s been constantly pressing her breasts against the main character’s back and essentially doing whatever she can to get into his pants. If you’re going to write a character to be very flirty, don’t have her suddenly change to “Omigosh! Stop staring at me!” just because she’s in a swimsuit. If she’s clearly trying to fuck the guy without any morality, why is her attitude changing at the activity that girls wear the least amount of clothing without being overtly shy about it (that’s another article I gotta write someday…)?
Now I guess the real question I should be answering is whether or not I accept, understand or just plain enjoy these episodes. The answer is yes and no. It really depends on the series itself. Pretty much any harem anime I would expect to have some sort of swimsuit episode, it’s par for the course. Absolutely it makes sense to have an episode devoted specifically to fan service when the series in itself was built for fan service. Harem anime is generally running off the idea of many girls vying for the love of one male (and sometimes vice-versa). So an episode devoted to them strutting their stuff to get his/her attention makes sense to the story they’re telling.
However when the series is built to be a more serious story-driven show, unless you can write a really good reason for the characters to be taking a break from the constant fighting, war, drama, whatever it may be that’s making the show more serious and less comedy, there’s zero point to a swimsuit episode, regardless of how many beautiful women are contained within the show. I would have zero issue with a show like Love Hina having a swimsuit episode, it’s a harem anime. But if a show like say Hellsing had an episode that had Seras Victoria in a skimpy bikini and us seeing Integra actually looking more like a women in a sultry one-piece or something, while Alucard is fighting a wave of beach babe vampires in a blood red speedo would make zero sense whatsoever (but it’d be funny and entertaining as hell to watch, I bet). Some shows can kind of write an episode in as a break from the intensity altogether, while others just shoehorn it in without any depth and/or sensibility to it. It’s just there.
Lastly, in terms of the actual sexuality of these episodes, it doesn’t really bother me, unless like I said earlier, if it doesn’t fit the vibe of the show. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while now, this’ll make me sound like a broken record, but to those who haven’t been, I don’t have a problem at all with sexual content in anything. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that we are less worried about kids seeing all this gun violence when they have easy access to weapons (in the U.S.) than how much we freak the fuck out over a bare breast being on TV. It’s a little odd to me that we think someone getting shot and killed can be put into a PG-13 movie, but if you’re gonna show a topless girl, it’s gotta be R-rated. So in the case of anime, Japan shows it’s opposite side of the spectrum by having far less gore and violence and more sexual content in their shows. Most anime incorporate both into their shows, but a lot of them don’t feature a lot of blood, if any at all. But most shows have more of a focus on beauty and sexuality than Western shows do, large in part to the simple fact it’s all drawn material. You can make any character as beautiful as you want and make them wear and do anything you want, there’s no ability from these characters to say no.
Now that brings up the sexist argument that you’ll see a lot of SJWs and feminists pull out of their pocket and in some cases I’ll actually give them some rope. But here’s the thing, the characters featured in these “overly sexualized male fantasy” shows are not real and I’m not just talking “duh, it’s fiction”. These girls are not proper representations of real-life women, their looks are far too perfect, very few women in the entire world look as good as these anime girls do, a product of the sheer endless boundaries of how pretty you can draw them. Their personalities are over the top and with the way they swing back and forth emotionally is also completely unrealistic. You can try to argue that there should be more realistic representations of women in anime, but honestly if we want to watch realistic looking and acting women in media, we’d just watch something that isn’t anime! It’s fiction, it’s a fantasy, why would we just dream up something exactly like our current world, what’s the fun in that?!
And another thing, stop acting like it’s only girls that get this treatment, especially in anime. Don’t talk like there aren’t any male characters that are also done the same way, because y’know there are zero male characters in anime who are overly handsome with perfect hair and chisel-cut abs with that oh so sweet perfect ass. It’s the same thing, the only reason you see more girls in this light than guys is because the people who create anime market towards males because that’s the prime demographic for it.
Also, dear feminists, you also talk like only guys are into this stuff. What about the millions of girls who are attracted to other girls? Are they sexist for enjoying the extremely attractive ladies of anime? Are they sexist for wanting to see Asuna from Sword Art Online in a bikini? If you’re going to play the sexist card, don’t forget to include everyone who consumes the content you criticize.
If there’s anything I’d tweak just a little with the swimsuit episodes in anime, there’s two things I can think of off the top of my head.
One, if your show isn’t blatantly a sexual content kind of show, write a better reason for why they’re at the beach or the pool, don’t just have ’em show up or randomly come across one and they just happened to pack a skimpy swimsuit. The same goes for their skimpy attire, try to design that characters swimsuit based on who they are in terms of their personality and not based on how big their breasts are. If they’re really shy, maybe a bikini top and shorts/skirt is the way to go, maybe a one-piece. If the character is really flirty and whatnot, then awesome, go for the skimpy bikini. At the same time though, it’s okay if the shy girl wears a slightly revealing bikini, some girls just end up buying a swimsuit you wouldn’t expect them wearing. It happens. Sometimes that cute nerdy girl with glasses pulls out that bikini that shows off that really nice butt you never thought she had.
And two, I’d adjust the protagonist in terms of what they wear, specifically the males. The average male protagonist in a swimsuit episode is designed to be like the average male in real life, maybe a little more slender and a handsome face. But once in a while, have them trade the baggy board shorts for something tighter and a little shorter. I’m not saying every male character should be in a speedo, because that’s unrealistic, but if some of the girls are wearing unrealistic swimwear, so should the guys once in a while. Make it fair. If the guys watching the shows complain cause they don’t want to look at some guys’ junk in a speedo, tell them to grow up, it’s not like they have several other women to look at it instead of the ONE guy.
Is the swimsuit episode a bit much? Some of the time, yes. But most of the time, it fits where it’s being used. Are the girls a little underdressed? Most of the time, yes. But the characters are unrealistic anyways, so is it really excessive or is it just a product of anime by design being overly beautiful?
And finally, should swimsuit episodes belong in anime, especially as a common thing? I think so. Given how Japan is as a culture taking into account the clothes, the marketing and all the content they have in all types of media, a swimsuit episode in anime is nothing different than an explosion in a Michael Bay film. It’s normal.