Back of the Envelope: The Infamous Bathroom Scene

Bathrooms (or similar places, like onsens) come up in a ton of anime, so I thought I might as well talk about their possible significance beyond the fact that they’re incredibly common.

Kampfer bathroom

Thoroughly describe and demonstrate for us please.

Note: This post should be SFW, although it toes the line a little bit.

The basic appeal of of bathroom scenes is easy to pin down: fanservice. Bathroom scenes are an incredibly easy way to get a great amount of this. Camera angles, steam, soap, etc. ensure that you can reveal as much or as little as you want, which gives shows a lot of titillative (that’s a word, right?) power.

monogatari bathroom

The Monogatari bathroom scene between Senjougahara and Hanekawa says it all.

Shows (via their directors) can take advantage of the bathroom to  reveal a lot of skin without too much trouble. This is pretty much never a bad idea, and almost guarantees you’ll please a decent amount of your fanbase (or at least the ones that buy all your related goods).

freezing bathroom

Freezing never pulls its punches when it comes bathroom scenes. Or any other scene, for that matter.

However, shows can also choose to show very little of the “actual stuff”. This can be even more provocative because it tends to leave things up to the imagination rather than relying strictly on visuals. And the imagination can be a powerful thing – much more powerful than actually explicitly shown anything on screen.

The steam simultaneously lets us preserve Rihoko's innocent aura while indulging our baser desires and letting our imaginations do the dirty work.

The steam simultaneously lets us preserve Rihoko’s innocent aura while indulging our baser desires and letting our imaginations do the dirty work.

Essentially, bathroom scenes allow the use of the camera as a “male gaze” to maximize our voyeuristic tendencies, and thus provide a lot of bang (in terms of fanservice) for our buck.

evangelion bathroom

As Asuka shows, however, this might not always be a good thing.

But there are a lot of ways to provide fanservice besides the bathroom (I mean, High School DxD or Freezing don’t tend to leave too much to the imagination in general, and they seem to have done pretty well), so why are these scenes so prominent?

To Love-Ru tends to be obsessed with everything related to bathing or water, not that I'm complaining.

To Love-Ru tends to be obsessed with everything related to bathing or water, not that I’m complaining.

First, they’re extremely cheap to make. Most bathroom scenes involve only a few stills and run mostly on panning shots with minimal effects. For an industry that is generally strapped on cash and tends to use as little frames as possible (see Sehnng’s post on A&V for a nice overview), this is a nice plus.

For instance, the whole exchange that took place for a good several minutes in episode 1 probably only involved a few key scenes.

For instance, the whole exchange probably only involved a few key scenes.

Second, they’re generic. They can be utiilized in pretty much any show without seeming too out of place, even in ones that aren’t focused heavily on fanservice. They provide glimpses into a very routine part of people’s lives and can provide an element of “normalcy” for many settings that are often in some way fantastical. This can used, for instance, to heighten the idea of the “everday” in a slice-of-life anime, provide a sense of contrast in a more action oriented show, or provide some laughs and/or sexual tension in a romcom/melodrama. They can also serve as a way to help us relate to extremely powerful/distant characters by “humanizing” them (sorta). On top of this, in almost every setting/plot you can throw in something like a bathroom scene without too much extra effort and without having to majorly shift the mood. From this perspective, bathroom scenes provide an easy way to provide fanservice while still keeping in line with the mood/tone of a show, and even possibly some interesting character development!

Alternately, they could just be awkward.

Alternately, they could just be awkward.

Which brings me to my next point – a lot of bathroom scenes are coupled with “revealing” dialogue and often some sort of angst. When guys or girls are featured, usually they’re featured (when actual dialogue is included, rather than just silent panning) in a state where they are emotionally vulnerable. If you want to wax extremely literary, you could say this is because laying yourself bare emotionally parallels the action of baring yourself physically. Furthermore, when you go to take a bath/shower, you strip away the parts of yourself that are “extraneous”, that tend to cover your “true form” – in this way, you tear down your emotional walls until all that’s left is the vulnerable, uncertain core.

Naegi, I feel you bro.

Naegi, normally strong in public, only allows himself the chance to really grieve in the shower.

In this view, bathrooms are in fact private sanctuaries where we are allowed to fully be ourselves. They’re short but essential periods of our everyday lives where we prepare ourselves for our interactions with others. Thus, bathroom scenes also can be seen to serve a different purpose: to makes us feel like we’re getting an inside look into a character’s thoughts and actions. We, as viewers, feel as though we are seeing that character at their most vulnerable – we get the sense we’ve been provided with secret, privileged information (both physically and emotionally). While the effect this has on us may vary, by and large this is intended to make us feel more “connected” to the characters in question, and help us become invested in the show. Just let that thought slowly wash over you.

This bathing scene really helps the viewer understand Iwai's wories concerning Kiri.

This bathing scene really helps the viewer understand what exactly is going on in Iwai’s head, and thus our ability to connect with her as a character on a visceral level.

Note: just in case this gets lost in reading, this post is meant to showcase the thin line between “real” analysis and what is usually termed “BS” (in this case, Bathroom Scene), and the extent to which our style and/or framework of interpretation can influence what we perceive in a medium, no matter how clearly ridiculous it is.

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11 responses to “Back of the Envelope: The Infamous Bathroom Scene

  1. Interesting! I never really thought about bathroom scenes too much. Not with my upper brain, I mean.

    Also, in the Freezing pic…. is that a nipple? Noooo too many dirty boob thoughts running through my mind!

  2. Re: that note at the end…
    So was this whole post a bit of a troll, then? A deliberate case of overintepreting a simple fanservice convention to demonstrate the ease of overinterpretation? Because your idea about emotional vulnerability was actually pretty convincing, I thought.

    I mean, for a similar note, contrast the following two scenes from some random harem anime:
    1. The protagonist walks in on a haremette while she’s changing and in her underwear.
    2. The protagonist and the haremettes go to the beach.
    In which case does the protagonist get punched/kicked/yelled at for the amount of skin he sees?

    • Wait, I just re-read it and read it a bit more carefully, and I think I get what you’re saying about the “thin line” now. The really funny thing is that I imagine things are just as fuzzy on the creator’s side as to whether a bathroom scene is there because of convention, or because of fanservice, or because of emotional vulnerability, and so on…

      • Right. There’s a lot of ways in which the bathroom can be utilized, and many of the things we get out of it depend just as much as what the creator is putting into it as what we expect to get out of it. [On a side note, I do actually believe a decent portion of my arguments, albeit more focused on a case by case basis for the exact reason you just brought up.]

  3. I’d also like to mention the social aspect of bathing in Japanese culture. I’m not too clear on the details, but there’s that whole washing each other’s backs thing which is definitely an important thing in families (see: My Neighbor Totoro), and often between very close friends as well (see: every childhood friend in anime ever), and of course, couples. And then there’s the prevalence of public bath houses as well. Again, putting bathing into a more social context as opposed to something entirely private.

    • Thanks for the clarification – you have a good point! Let me see if I can add/respond to this:

      – Yes, bathing is a much bigger thing in Japanese (and more generally Asian) culture(s) than it is here. Families washing backs are more common, although it tends to take place more with younger kids and not as much as they enter adolescence. The childhood friend thing I believe isn’t really an actual thing, but some of the skewed perceptions anime loves to draw in order to make things MOTTO ROMANCHIKKU. However, it actually does hold a pretty big role in households – families in general share the bathtub, and the entire hierarchy of who bathes in which order is quite important (if I recall from some of the cultural stuff I’ve learned in class).

      – The prevalence of public bathhouses and onsens is also a good point. In general, both from things I’ve learned in class and my time I’ve spent in Japan, the Japanese are much more comfortable about showing skin than Western nations, and these places are indeed quite popular. Nudity in all of them is mandatory.

      – That said, however, generally showing your naked body to a loved one holds the same level of importance for the Japanese as it does to many cultures in the West, and is a similarly private affair. Furthermore, many Japanese still have an expectation of privacy when bathing in non-public locations. Still, the fact that many shows have public bath/onsen scenes which are also accompanied by emotional vulnerability is definitely something I glossed over a bit, and probably would serve as a qualifier to my BATHROOMS ARE PRIVATE SANCTUARIES argument if we’re taking it 100% seriously.

  4. So many chances for unnecessary censorship, adding a long black tag between any of these legs will change the way you look at these scenes and characters forever.

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