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The use of strategically placed steam or smoke to censor the "naughty bits". Used most often in Anime, but also in Western Animation. Its use in Live Action is rarer, as real smoke is hard to control, and is often transparent. Most recently, Censor Steam can also be seen in the form of glimmering rays of light, or black shadows.
In recent years, many shows are marketed with explicit intent to be released on DVD, and for anime one of the best incentives to encourage people to buy is, literally, Fan Service. However, many broadcast networks have particular policies against sexually explicit content (as opposed to direct sale via DVDs, which has none).
Thus the cheapest way to fulfill both needs is not to redo animation just to include Fan Service, but broadcast it initially censored. For many series, fans became suspicious that this was done intentionally merely to get them to pay up.
A Baker's Dozen meets the two ideas in the middle.
The comedic version is usually Relax-O-Vision.
A similar phenomenon is noted in more recent U.S. superhero comics, and is most strongly associated with the X-Men character Storm.
A related trope, in which strategic placement of props is used to obscure nudity, is Scenery Censor. In bath scenes, often replaced with Censor Suds or a Modesty Towel. In the bedroom, it's often replaced with the Modesty Bedsheet.
Another related trope, in which the naughty bits simply aren't drawn at all, is Barbie Doll Anatomy.
Anime & Manga
- Occurs when Yoruichi changes from a cat to a (naked) woman in Bleach, complete with conveniently-placed smoke.
- Also occurs when Nel becomes Neliel, although this is a little strange, since her clothing does cover her naughty bits (barely).
- Naruto has a special ninja technique he created known as the "Sexy Jutsu," where he changes into a beautiful, naked woman to throw opponents off guard. Every time he does this, clouds of smoke cover the naughty bits. This can be partly written off, however, as just about every jutsu that ninja perform creates smoke.
- Although in the Disney XD version of Shippuden, it's expanded so much that it covers pretty much everything but the head.
- Related to Jiraiya, a more explicit panel in the manga showed his view while peeping on women in the hot springs. In this case, censor steam was present, but was apparently in short supply as virtually nothing was left to the imagination.
- In the episode where the Harem Jutsu is first used, it shows the Harem Jutsu is basically the same thing; only that multiple clones of the naked girl they have transformed into have appeared. Of course, smoke that slowly moves out of the way covers their chest and groin.
- Pick any anime based on manga by Ken Akamatsu; Mahou Sensei Negima has this in spades. In his mangas there is often no steam, and the outlines of breasts and buttocks will be plainly displayed, but the characters will be drawn without "naughty" details.
- In Fruits Basket, when the Juuninshi turn back from animals into (completely naked) humans, the transformation is accompanied by clouds of magical glittery stuff that handily obscures almost everything but the character's face.
- The Air Gear anime parodies this by using doofy-looking crows that appear out of nowhere, sometimes even when the original manga panel had already used Censor Steam. On occasion, the crows start cawing, or fly away when they're done covering people up.
- Girls Bravo has this a lot, especially since the bath is very important to the plot.
- In the Blue Drop anime, the scene between Mari and Hagino in the pool gets obscured by immense air bubbles right at the moment when the girls declare their love and kiss, in a degree of prudishness that is quite removed from the straightforward nature of the original manga.
- Used fairly often in To Love Ru whenever any of the cast are naked. Lala also uses her tail for this purpose if no steam is convenient.
- Digimon Savers: When Kurata is upgrading the Quirky Miniboss Squad, they're in tubes half-full of Censor Steam. The two males are sufficiently covered, while the lone female is sitting down for some reason.
- In The Prince of Tennis, while fan-favorite Atobe Keigo takes a shower.
- Oddly present during Subaru and Teana's Shower Scene in the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha supplementary manga set before the third season. Oddly, because the manga isn't shy about displaying the characters in all their undetailed glory.
- Used every now and then in One Piece. The author even lampshaded this in his question-and-answer corner:
Eiichiro Oda: If it didn't just so happen to obscure the view, you'd see his weenie.
- While both the Black Lagoon manga and anime show Revy's nipples during a Shower Scene, steam conveniently covers her crotch.
- Present whenever the characters of Saki are bathing in the TV version. Naturally, these were removed in the DVD version.
- XxxHolic: A Midsummer Night's Dream plays this trope perfectly. In an opening scene, Yuuko is naked and half turned away from the screen, covered by transparent spirits.
- The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya uses this in-universe for the video they made for the school festival.
- Wasn't it Lampshaded?
- Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is fast becoming infamous for the nearly comic overuse of this, including multiple frames where the screen essentially goes totally white. Odder still, unedited shots reveal that the characters are quite covered.
- It shows up in the onsen episode of Princess Lover, even to the extent that the girls comment on it.
- Kaito from Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch.
- Strike Witches takes liberal use of this in the bath scenes, and the steam is then removed for the DVD releases. Becomes a bit too obvious as the steam follows the more naked characters around while ignoring others
- In Cherry Juice, a combination of literal steam and Barbie Doll Anatomy are used to cover the naughty bits of the protagonists in their bath scenes.
- Fairy Tail regularly uses steam when the female characters are bathing. How much it covers actually varies much.
- Persona 4: The Animation uses this in episode 20 to cover the girls up.
- A few older Magic: The Gathering cards, most notably Essence Vortex. What the illustration and card text have to do with one another is... a good question sometimes.
- Mars Attacks! trading card series has "Naked and the Dead" Card #65 where a giantized Martian beetle finds its way in a women's shower. Already killing a woman and decapitating it, a woman hides behind a wall, her towel on the ground, but her bits are covered by convenient steam.
- X-Men is quite fond of this. The aforementioned Storm (whose culture doesn't have much of a nudity taboo) is the queen of Innocent Fanservice, and then there are the numerous occasions on which someone proves to be Made of Iron and their outfits don't. This happens to men and women alike. Equal opportunity Fan Service!
- The Censor Steam looks good on Peter Parker, too.
- Cloud from The Defenders had a 'costume' that consisted of swirls of cloud covering her privates.
Films — Live Action
- Beowulf fought the monster Grendel unarmed and completely naked (in order to fight on equal ground). When unexplained smoke isn't around, most of the battle consists of Beowulf jumping around like a circus monkey playing "Hide the Wiener."
- The Shower Scene in the movie I Robot.
- The "Arnie" cameo in Terminator Salvation, as spoofed in this Sev Trek cartoon.
- Done to great comedic effect in My Fair Lady, when Professor Higgins's servants give Eliza Doolittle her first bath. The entire frame fills with steam as they close in on her, so that all we see are billows of white and an occasional towel (all while she loudly protests, "I'm a good girl, I am!").
- The Oracle in 300. Not entirely, but for the most part.
- Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1: Ron's vision of Locket! Harry and Hermione making out while naked Definitely helped it get a PG-13 rating.
- An (interrupted) almost-sex scene in the B-picture Hell Comes To Frogtown uses the shadow of the the female character's own leg as her Censor Steam.
Live Action TV
- The end of the first season of the 2000s Battlestar Galactica Reimagined has a mob of identical Cylon women nude save for unexplained black censor steam.
- Yes, I believe that's known as a shadow.
- Star Trek's Duras sisters. Just as well—they're all-Klingon.
- Highlander the Series' first episode, Tessa's shower scene. Interestingly, the amount of censor steam had to be upped for the US version-the amount in the original wasn't enough to get past US censors.
- In the Genesis song "The Fountain of Salmacis", when Hermaphroditus first meets the title character: "He turned and saw her, in a cloak of mist alone".
- Used in the sauna scenes in the video for the Britney Spears song Womanizer.
- Used in Final Fantasy VI with Chadarnook, one of the bosses.
- When Bayonetta summons a demon, it is formed from her clothes, but a trail of Censor Steam still remains to preserve her modesty.
- Used to obscure some showering co-eds in the second installment of The Spellcasting Series.
- The Shower Scene from Cosmic Fantasy 2 has this in all versions except the Cosmic Fantasy Visual Collection.
- In Turgor when interacting with the Sisters to give them Color, they're completely naked save for binding chains that, for the most part, obscure all of their "fiddly bits".
- In Magellan the invulnerable Charisma Epoch has her dress completely burned off by a ball of fire... lucky for her the smoke lingers long enough to barely shield her modesty.
- The Whiteboard does it with the steam from a cup of coffee.
- Subverted in this Intragalactic, where the smoke covers the man's nipples, but not the woman's.
- Combined with Godiva Hair in this shower scene from Crossoverkill.
- A Monty Python's Flying Circus featured an Animated Segment called "Full Frontal Nudity", in which a man trying to watch a naughty film is prevented from seeing any "naughty bits" by increasingly bizarre Censor Steam and Scenery Censor, someone casting a shadow on the screen and, in the end, a traffic pileup in the middle of the theater.
- In Danny Phantom, along with using his hands to cover his you-know-what, steam covers Danny's naughty zone when he's taking a shower (and exposed to the public).
- The heroine "Fire" in Justice League Unlimited, while using her power, is essentially naked, except for strategically placed wisps of green flame.
- The artists had to go through several different designs to get it past the censors.
- Code Lyoko is famous for it. During Fanservice bits (Yumi taking a bath or Aelita in the shower, just to name a few), MoonScoop made sure to have the water steam up or to cut the frame so that viewers didn't see their naughty bits.
- Censor Steam is used in Wakfu episode 22, when Sadlygrove (suffering from a sun fever) is hallucinating of Evangelyne showering.
- Invisible Network of Kids: One episode featured a shot of three boys showering naked; conveniently placed steam was the only thing covering their crotches.