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," the Japanese phenomime 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".
Panchira in MangaEdit
Post war yearsEdit
Most Japanese historians trace the beginnings of panchira back to Machiko Hasegawa's long-running news strip Sazae-San (Fukunichi Shimbun, 1946).  Hasegawa's manga followed the misadventures of an ordinary Japanese family adjusting to modern life, often focusing on the interactions between female lead Sazae Isono and her sister Wakame. As the character was designed with an improbably brief hemline, multiple panty shots were inevitable.
The success of the newstrip led to Wakame setting a visual standard over the next decade. High-waisted white briefs became associated with young girls, not only in printed media, but also in film and the newly emerging television industry. The image of loose-fitting cotton bloomers (ブルマー) peeking out from under a truncated dress was considered cute rather than risque.
This convention was later modified by Osamu Tezuka during the mid-fifties, most notably on his original run of Tetsuwan Atom (Astroboy) for Shonen magazine. Most sources assume Tezuka was influenced by Western comics and cartoons - panty shots featured regularly in both Disney and Fleischer Studios productions, and Tezuka was, by his own admission, a great admirer of both.
This influence extended to the design of his most famous female character, Astroboy's robotic sister, Uran (Astrogirl). As noted by numerous animation historians, Uran's appearance borrowed heavily from 1930s cartoon characters such as Minnie Mouse and Betty Boop, both of which were notable for their ongoing panty displays. Possible later influences include Little Lulu and Little Audrey, internationally recognized characters (though no direct evidence indicates direct copying on Tezuka's part).
Uran's panties were depicted as tight-fitting hipsters, more in line with 1950s futurism than the "pumpkin pants" of the previous generation. The character was invariably drawn with the underwear on clear display, regardless of angle or position. Some early representations have Uran dressed in transparent clothing resembling a half-slip or sheer nightie.
Due to Tezuka's overwhelming impact on Japanese popular culture, panchira became a common practice in manga and anime during the 1960s, although the convention was confined mainly to the children's genre. As with their Western counterparts, shoujo characters were frequently represented as cute and naive; innocent panty-shots served to reinforce the image. Consequently, such depictions were considered kawaii (cute) rather than ecchi (risque) at the time. Towards the end of the sixties, however, a hint of sexuality had begun to creep into manga aimed at a slightly older demographic, particularly in titles featuring adolescent female characters. By 1968, a younger generation of mangaka such as Go Nagai were exploiting the voyeuristic connotations of the panty shot.Nagai's Harenchi Gakuen challenged long-standing social values by ridiculing traditional authority figures. 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 stripped to her underwear - an image obviously played for its humorous aspects, but considered shocking by the standards of the time. 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. 
From this perspective, Harenchi Gakuen shattered the Japanese taboo against eroticism in children's comics, indicating the rapidly changing cultural attitudes endemic to late 60s Japan. Although the eroticism was confined mainly to panchira and soft-core cartoon nudity, the impact was felt all across the country. Within weeks of its publication, Harenchi Gakuen had sparked a "nationwide boom of skato meguri (to roll up the girl's skirt)". 
The SeventiesEditThis increasingly voyeuristic approach gained popularity from the early to mid-seventies, when older female characters began to star in their own series. Despite the widespread criticism of Harenchi Gakuen, panchira featured in a wide variety of teen-oriented titles, including Inoue and Narita's Majokko Megu-chan and Nagai's Cutie Honey. Unlike many of their predecessors, Megu and Honey were teenagers rather children, meaning that a mildly sexual content could be expressed via liberal doses of fan service.
Once again, the imagery was indicative of changing social attitudes: Japanese society was relaxing its long-standing restrictions against portraying young women as objects of desire. Megu-chan was depicted in various states of undress (frequently spied upon by her recurring nemesis, Chou-san), while Honey would literally explode out of her clothes during transformation sequences. Such nudity was more teasing than explicit, while characters could appear naked, panty shots and lingerie scenes were far more common.
The convention rapidly spread to other genres, even those seemingly devoid of sexual content (such as domestic comedy, martial arts and even 'sports romance'). By this time, fanservice was an integral plot device in many children's comics, allowing generous amounts of light-hearted panchira. It was during this period that the manga industry gained a substantial foothold in the Asian market, leading to an ever-increasing range of titles, virtually all of which employed some degree of ecchi content.
Panchira in Anime Edit
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. As mentioned above, the practice was almost certainly 'borrowed' from American comics and cartoons, where the 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.
The best-known examples of this early period was Uran from 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.
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 ComediesEditThe 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.
As noted above, panties are such a crucial element of Japanese popular culture that the language employs several different expressions to describe panty-related phenomena. Common vernacular terms include:
• Panti (パンティー, panties)
• Panchira (パンチラ, "glimpse" of panty)
• Misepan (見せパン, panty show)
• Panmoro (パンモロ, to show panties)
• Sukarto Meguri (スカートめくり, skirt flip)
• Kabocha pants(かぼちゃ パンツ, "pumpkin panties")
- ↑ 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.
- ↑ 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"). As noted by Inoue, this was roughly the same period in which Japanese women dispensed with traditional costume and started wearing Western-style underwear. The storyline reflected many of the broad changes that were swept across Japan in the aftermath of the war.
- ↑ 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)