Panchira (パンチラ) is a term used by Japanese women to warn each other that their underwear is visible, similar in context to the English expression "your slip is showing." The word may be described as a portmanteau of "panty" (パンティー, pantī) and "chira" (チラ, chira), the Japanese sound symbolism representing a glance or glimpse, and carries both humorous and risque connotations.
In relation to anime and manga, the term refers to an image in which a young girl's briefs are exposed for any length of time (in contrast to the original meaning, which stipulates a brief 'flash' of undergarment). In English usage, the term has become almost synonymous with 'upskirt', and is considered the most common form of fanservice in Japanese animation. Panchira also plays a significant role in games softwear, particularly in dating sims and visual novels.
As outlined below, the development of panchira in Japanese popular culture has been analyzed by a number of American and Japanese writers. Many observers link the phenonemon to the Westernization of Japan following World War Two. During the occupation, fashions, ideas, and media previously unavailable were accessed by the local population, leading to a slight relaxing of earlier taboos. Western-style clothing (including women's underwear) gained popularity in the post-war period, reinforced through numerous media outlets - magazines, newspapers, films, journals, and comics.
At least one Japanese source traces the beginnings of panchira to the release of The Seven Year Itch in 1955. The media coverage surrounding Marilyn Monroe's iconic scene fueled the emerging Japanese craze for panchira. According to sociologist Shoichi Inoue, the practice of "scoring" a glimpse up young women's skirts became extremely popular around this period; "Magazines of the time have (sic) articles telling the best places where panties could be viewed".
By the late 1960s, panchira had spread to the mainstream comic industry, as fledgling mangaka such as Harenchi Gakuen began exploring sexual imagery in boy's comics (Shonen manga). It is significant to note the emergence of adult themes in what was then considered a juvenile medium. Millegan argues that the ecchi genre of the 1970s rose to fill a void left by the decline of Osaka's lending library network:
- Japanese comics did not seriously begin exploring erotic themes until the sixties, with the collapse of the pay-library system (largely brought about by the unexpected success of cheap comic magazines such as Kodansha Publishing's Shonen Magazine). Artists working for the pay-library system had already pioneered the depiction of graphic violence, and had proudly declared that they were drawing gekiga ("drama pictures"), not mere comics. In the search for realism (and readers), it was inevitable that sex would soon make an appearance.
- As the Japanese comics market diversified, sex spread beyond the gekiga to just about every conceivable niche in the marketplace. The gekiga continued their realistic and often violent depictions, but the other major divisions in the manga world developed their own approach. Boy's comics began to explore "cute" sex, mainly consisting of panchira ("panty shots") and girls in showers.
Although there are few academic studies dealing specifically with panchira, the subject has been touched on by several writers under the broader context of the male gaze. From the Western perspective, panchira is characterized by the sexual stereotyping inherent in patriarchal culture. Anne Allison makes reference to the convention in Permitted and Prohibited Desires, theorizing that that the exposure of women's (or girls') underwear in ero-manga is constructed as an "immobilizing glance", in the sense that panchira is usually presented as a tableau in which the (female) object of desire is 'petrified' by the male gaze.
She further postulates that this 'glance' is generally depicted as transgressive: the audience is permitted a glimpse of the female body (partially) unclothed, but it is always framed as a forbidden action. This prohibitive tableau permeates the entire genre, as virtually all ero-manga follows the same formula of trangression and immobilization. 
Similarly, Anne Cooper-Chen states that the endlessly repeated image "of a male gazing at a female's panty clad crotch" represent an archetypal manga panel . She supports Allison's view that women/girls portrayed in their underwear (or naked) is a common motif in Japanese comics, and is most frequently accompanied by a masculine "viewer" whose voyeuristic presence is indicative of the male gaze. However, in contrast to Allison, Cooper-Chen's observations are not confined only to the ero market. Rather, she argues that the dominant trope of frustrated desire and sexual violence may be extended to the manga mainstream. 
A more generalized perspective is provided by Mio Bryce's analysis of classroom imagery in Japanese comics. Using Harenchi Gakuen Harenchi Gakuen as a prime example, Bryce notes that Nagai's storylines challenged long-standing social values by ridiculing traditional authority figures. Teachers in Nagai's manga were portrayed as deviants and perverts, engaging in various forms of aggressively voyeuristic behavior towards their female students. In this regard, panchira was employed as a form of social satire, voicing a general mistrust of authoritarian regimes. 
In much the same vein, Bouissou states that Harenchi Gakuen 'smashed' the Japanese taboo against eroticism in children's comics, indicative of the rapidly changing cultural attitudes endemic to late 60s Japan. Although the eroticism was confined mainly to panchira and soft-core cartoon nudity, the manga's impact was felt all across the country. As Bouissou points out, the publication of Harenchi Gakuen sparked a "nationwide boom of skato meguri (to roll up the girl's skirt)". 
Panchira in AnimeEdit
In practice, panchira has been a convention of Japanese cartoons since (at least) the early sixties, when young girls (shoujo) were frequently portrayed with abbreviated hemlines. The convention was almost certainly 'borrowed' from American comics and cartoons, where the Little Girl archetype had been in place since the 1930s. Japanese animators adopted many of the stylistic elements common to Western 'toongirls', reinterpreting them for early shoujo characters.
One of the best-known examples was Uran from Osama Tezuka's Testsuwan Atom (Mushi, 1963); like her American predecessors, Uran-chan was designed with an upswept skirt, leaving her plain white briefs on open display. As Uran served as a template for many later female characters, panchira became standard practice within the medium - a defining principal, in fact, still employed to the present day.
Throughout the sixties, panty-shots were comparatively innocent, restricted mainly to school-aged girls (such as Mahou Tsukai Sally or Akane-Chan) - most probably because depicting a teenaged or adult woman in sexual terms would have been inappropriate at that time. Later characters, such as Mimiko from Hayeo Miyazaki's Panda Kopanda! employed the panty-shot for light comedy relief; but by and large, panchira was a simple visual convention, devoid of all sexuality. However, the turn of the decade would introduce a number of changes to the basic formula.
During the late sixties, the practice took on overtly voyeuristic overtones with the publication of Go Nagai's Harenchi Gakuen. Set in a high school overrun by perverts and psychopaths, Nagai's controversial manga was the first to depict teenaged girls in unambiguously sexual terms, breaking numerous social taboos and generating major dissent in the Japanese press. Coincidentally, the strip was also the first to show an adult woman being spanked in her underwear - an image obviously played for its humorous aspects, but considered shocking by the standards of the time.
Nagai's influence quickly spread to the animation industry with the debut of adolescent heroines such as Mahou no Mako-Chan (Toei Doga, 1970) or Cutie Honey (Toei 1973, adopted from Nagai's manga of the same name).
It was around this period that animation studios began targeting teenagers and young adults, leading to a prevalence of upskirt takes, panty-shots and gratuitous bathing scenes. Panchira was incorporated into every genre of the artform, from mahou shoujo fantasies to sci-fi action/adventures (one of the more explicit series of the time - Fushigina Melmo - was actually used to teach sex education in Tokyo elementary schools as early as 1971).
As the decade wore on, sexual referencing became increasingly commonplace in anime, eventually leading to the development of ecchi comedies and mildly risque series such as Maicching! Machiko-Sensei (see below). Strangely, while various degrees of nudity had existed in television animation for several years, panchira still took precedence in the mainstream - due, perhaps, to the long association of panty shots with bishoujo anime - cartoons about pretty young girls.
Ecchi Comedies The 1980s saw an expansion and diversification in Japanese animated media, establishing anime as a recognised artform (at least within Japan). Targeting a more adult demographic, various studios began pushing the limits of mainstream fanservice. Prime-time television series - including children's cartoons - could now be unambiguously sexual, engaging in farcical humor and patently ribald scriptwork. The debut of Maicching! Machiko-Sensei (Studio Pierrot) in 1981 took fanservice to an entirely new level, offering an endless parade of double entendres, gratuitous stripteases and nude shower scenes.
Set in a Tokyo elementary school, Maicching! Machiko Sensei was - in some respects - a milder version of Nagai's Harenchi Gakuen. Panchira was a major plot device in the series. Virtually every female character was shown disrobed at one point or another; even those below the age of 12. One of the show's running gags involved the incessent rivalry between the school's male and female students, yeilding an unending supply of skirt-flips, 'Marilyn' shots and similar panty-gags.
Phenonemonally successful during its three year run, Machiko opened the floodgates on ecchi comedy. Other studios soon followed suite, and ecchi comedy began to appear in even the most unlikely places, such as the popular 'ninja high school' genre (Sasuga no Sarutobi) or kiddie's fantasies (Gugu Ganmo). Significantly, this was the same period in which the stereotype Japanese schoolgirl (joshikosei) began to flourish in anime. Joshikosei were usually depicted with white cotton briefs; a direct reference to the Tezuka years, when shoujo characters invariably wore plain white undergarments (according to other sources, white was also suggestive of innocence and purity - ie virginity, which is still a major fetish amongst Japanese salarymen).
Japanese popular culture gained a substantial foothold in the Western market during the 1990s due to numerous factors, including the creation of the WWW or the rapid assimilation of anime into American TV (beginning with Toei's Sailor Moon in 1992). Panchira was one of the many visual imports that arrived in the States via the internet, initially in the form of individual scans and screencaps. Technological improvements (such as bittorrent or emule), allowed users to download entire animated series to their desktops, along with ero games, KiSS dolls and other media unavailable outside of Japan.
Similarly, the development of wakata script in Japan had an almost immediate impact in the West. Multiple imageboard sites like 2channel were meticulously copied by American users, resulting in the creation of online communities such as 4chan. Allowing for anonymous posting and the mass uploading of graphic media, Chan sites attracted an enormous following of anime enthusiasts, gamers, fan artists, trolls and obsessives collectively referred to as otaku (after a Japanese term meaning ‘shut-in’). In some cases, entire boards were dedicated to panchira in manga, anime and CG, as was the case with the Pantsu board on WAKAchan.
Japanese animation studios had been producing adult-oriented anime since the late 80s, and were quick to capitalize on the growing otaku subcultures on both sides of the Pacific. Direct-to-video features were released to the international market; most featured varying degrees of fanservice. A number of ‘limited’ TV series focused specifically on risque humor: Najica: Blitz Tactics (2001), Love Love? (2004) and Smash Hit (2004) all featured unprecedented amounts of panchira. One of the earlier entries, Agent Aika: Naked Missions, (1997) contained one panty shot every 20 seconds. Each catered to an otaku subculture obsessed with animated cliches such as panty-shots or sociopathic violence.
- Botting, Geoff et al. Tabloid Tokyo: 101 Tales of Sex, Crime and the Bizarre from Japan's Wild Weeklies. Kodansha Inc (2005) p. 16. It should be noted, however, that Botting also confirms that a "lingerie subculture" had been established during the early Showa era. Largely based around fetishistic photography, this early variant was considered socially unacceptable due the return to traditional Japanese values that took place throughout the 1930s. Strong anti-Western sentiment hastened the subculture's disappearance during the interwar period, as anything suggestive of Western sexual attitudes was regarded as degenerate.
- Shōichi, Inoue. パンツが見える。: 羞恥心の現代史 ("The Underpants are visible: the history of being ashamed"). Asahi shimbun, 2002.
- Botting et al, p. 16.
- Millegan, Kris. '"Sex in Manga", Comics Journal, 1999.
- Millegan, '"Sex in Manga".
- Allison, Anne. Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (1996).
- Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires".
- "The Dominant Trope: Sex, Violence and Hierarchy in Japanese Comics for Men" by Anne Cooper-Chen, in Comics and Ideology, McAllister et al, 2001, p. 105
- Ibid p. 105.
- Bryce, Mio: 'School' in Japanese Children's lives depicted in Manga, p 10.
- Bouissou, Jean-Marie: "Manga goes Global." Paper presented at the University of Sheffield, March, 1998 (p.17)
- Pantsu Imageboard
- Shoujo Imageboard: Toons
- Ikki Tousen AMV - Spank My Booty, a fan music video on YouTube
- Japanese (up)skirt collection cards
- Pantsu Wiki, a database on anime & manga scenes where characters' underwear (usually panties) is visible, at Wikia
- Pantsu Chan, a wiki dedicated to panchira and panty shots in manga, comics and cartoons
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