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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.