Irina: Pretty much every anime fan out there is familiar with the concept of shipping. Essentially, it’s a double-edged sword. When done right, it could constitute a wonderful story on its own. When done wrong, however, the aforementioned story is comparable to the creepy book your least favorite teacher has carried around for months on end or to the atrocious movie tons of people paid good money to see and we all have to live with that fact now. Is it worth the risk?
If anyone is unclear on what the actual term means, shipping is initially derived from the word relationship and is defined by the desire felt by fans who believe two or more people, either real-life people or fictional characters (in film, literature, television, etc) should be in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to put doujin in a separate category since I consider them completely independent works that simply borrow well-known character names and designs to get exposure or as a jump-off point. In my experience, the stories are seldom integrated into the canon narrative and resemblances to the existing characters are merely superficial.
Remy: I’ll have to agree with what Irina said about doujinshi belonging in a separate category for the most part. The characters featured in said medium often do diverge from how they are depicted in the canon narrative. Of course, this is part of the appeal in doujinshi (you have the chance to see how the pairings you hope for, despite not being actually canon under most circumstances, click), but it also limits its inherent value for certain individuals who care little for anything that isn’t official. Just remember to keep canon and doujinshi separate and you’ll be fine!
Remy: So Irina came up with a lovely list of topics for us to touch upon as we discuss our personal opinions in regards to the merits and drawbacks of shipping as a whole. Feel free to follow along! Oh, and this our little debate will be split into two separate posts since it’s rather lengthy and we wanted to avoid posting the same content twice, by the way. She’s posting this first half and I’ll be posting the second half afterwards!
What is your stance on shipping? Do you remember your first ship?
Irina: I have never been much of a shipper myself; the only pairing I can recall coming up with all by myself is Kazane and Chronoire from Witch Craft Works. But that’s just because it’s such an obvious and natural couple. Let me explain, Chronoire is hot, Kazane is super hot, together they’re bound to be kdsufh*&$%vhgr?%F”$b hot. That’s the extent of romantic backstory I created for them. Hold your applause.
Remy: I’ve been shipping for over a decade and I would consider myself a rabid shipper who is beyond redemption.
My first shipping experience was back when I was 11 years old. I was reading Love Hina (yeah, it was probably a manga series that I shouldn’t have been reading at my age considering the frequent nudity) and I found myself being displeased with the main couple. The series established a lot of the modern romcom conventionalities and Naru was an example of a fiery tsundere who was prone to physically abusing the hapless Keitarou. She came across as being emotionally unstable and I started shipping Keitarou with Motoko, who seemed more disciplined and reasonable as a kuudere (but was still prone to assaulting our unlucky protagonist). She basically represented so many more attractive things for me compared to Naru. Keitarou, you goofed and let her get away!
Does shipping appeal to you? Why or why not?
Irina: Why can’t I see the appeal of shipping? Well, for one thing, I think creating a good character is difficult. Creating a bunch of them and having them interact in interesting ways is downright magic. How am I going to improve on that? Honestly, if a show is so poorly written that I can positively add to it off the top of my head, I should probably be spending my time watching better shows. (Then again, looking at my choice in anime as of late…)
Remy: Well, hold on. Shipping doesn’t necessarily require that much effort. If you’re creating doujinshi or writing fanfiction, then sure, you definitely made some convincing points there. Said content creators really do need to work at it in order to make fanon content enjoyable. But shipping can be a lot more passive and can be achieved by simply thinking, “these two character could be a nice couple because of this or that” and then celebrating vigorously whenever said characters actually interact, or by browsing the internet for fanart of your favorite ships.
With that being said, I’ll admit that mentally forcing characters together could be considered a pointless exercise. That especially goes for when the pairing does little for the plot of the anime series or doesn’t establish any sort of characterization or character development. I’ll also admit that shipping can indirectly imply that an individual can’t be happy alone, which is an unfortunate message that is simply inaccurate. Also, what’s with that last sentence? Uta no Prince-sama is clearly a masterpiece!! (Irina: only in its worst moments!)
Irina: Whoa – now if you’re just randomly pairing off characters like a toddler mashing barbies together, is it really shipping or letting your mind wander? (Also maybe the show isn’t all that engrossing…) In order to imagine an actual fully realized relationship between two people, you have to know them pretty well and have an idea about their aspirations and hopes for the future. You have to know if their hobbies are going to align. You also have to at least be able to picture what type of partner they are and would want. If I was to try and set up my friends, I would need to know them really really well before I could make a reliable recommendation. Point is, if you’re retconing a relationship that wasn’t there to begin with, a minimal amount of thought will have to be put in to get anything satisfying out of it.
Admittedly, you might have the talent to create viable fantasies with minimal effort and without altering the existing fiction, but I don’t.
Remy: Oh, no, I make sure they have good reasons to be together before I let my mind go wild (Hey, I ship because it’s engaging. If I didn’t like the characters or the story, I wouldn’t bother). I need to clarify that I believe there are multiple levels of shipping. I would only flirt with the idea of shipping character A with character B until a serious milestone occurs. One such event would involve one of the aforementioned characters really pouring his or her heart out and being emotionally open and the other character is either the reason behind said break-down or the one who listens and tries to reassure the distressed. If this ever pops up in a series, then that’s when I get really serious with the ship.
That being said, you do have a point about needing to know individuals pretty well before you can play matchmaker. Not only do the aforementioned type of moments show that the characters care for one another, but they also let the audience know exactly how the characters are underneath their facades and public personas. As such, these instances are the pivotal moments that convince me that the author is trying to express that these characters really care for each other as friends or more.
But if one character is affectionate towards another character from the very start, it isn’t very difficult to let your mind wander and imagine even if you don’t really know how things will pan out. Other fans are more gung-ho than me in that regard and will declare a ship to be 100% legit right after character A starts referring to character B by a nickname. That is really jumping the gun but I understand where these fans are coming from!
I also know what you mean when you say shipping is like retconning a relationship and that’s it’s difficult to do so without altering the narrative canon. However, shipping, to me, is sort of like a quiet act of wishful thinking. As a shipper, I only wish for two characters (or even three – threesomes are fine, too) to be together, basically. If they do get together within the canon narrative, then I’m ecstatic. If not, then I’m still content to imagine how things would be if they did.
But I’m not going to be insisting that character A and character B are definitely an item above all else. After all, some people may prefer different ships or may be unable to see the point of ships. In short, I believe what we see on-screen is the ultimate deciding factor. Different people will interpret the same scenes differently. Maybe other people will dismiss particular emotional moments as characters just being friends, but I will be the first to observe that said moments can and do feature romantic elements. If the subtext between two characters change into text via kissing or confessing, however, I better not catch anyone saying that they’re still just friends. It’s right there! They’re not just friends at that point!
I guess what I want to stress that respect is what’s key as a shipper. Respect the canon narrative. Respect others by not shoving your ships down their throats and by not bashing their ships if their ships conflict with yours. The people who sent out death threats after Naruto and Bleach ended because the official couples differed from their personal ships are the worst kind of shippers.
Irina: Beautifully written. But still not convinced what you just laid out there doesn’t require a bit of mental gymnastics. At least some mental water aerobics. You are still rerouting some of the effort you would be putting into understanding and interpreting the show, into changing it instead. I’m not saying this is everything that’s wrong with anime fans…in so many words.
Just kidding, I can fully appreciate your point but I think that when you are fully engrossed in a story, you won’t have time to presume love stories on the side. I know that when I truly get into a show I can loose track of who’s around me and how much time has passed. Maybe after I have fully digested the story can I begin to reimagine it as an homage but even then, I rarely find that I’m improving anything.
Remy: Fair enough. I will admit that shipping in a way that doesn’t conveniently alter the canon narrative requires a bit of mental finesse. Many of my daily thoughts are filled with ships, ships, ships. And I don’t know a single thing about Kancolle!
I hope you guys enjoyed this – please go read part 2 over on Remy’s blog!
Irina – I’m kidnapping this last paragraph without Remy’s approval to just say that I had a blast doing this collab. Remy was a lot to fun to “work” with and if all collabs are this enjoyable, then I really hope I get the chance to do more. And that amazing title is all him!
Thanks for putting up me!