Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Regardless of whether or not you have a meaningful stake in this holiday, I thought it only appropriate to release something related both to the occasion and animation at large. (You’ll figure it out very quickly.) Enjoy…
One of the most time-obsessive and overtly meaningless pursuits of animation fandoms is the discussion of potential romantic relationships, which is usually shortened to “shipping” and their fans as “shippers.” (In that case, I’m the party crasher.) While a good number of these discussions are fairly harmless banter, some delve into deeply disturbing territory, and other stretch the realm of incredulity. However, almost all share the common theme of being vastly overblown in relation to the actual characters, story and themes of the show in question, and rarely, if ever, do the shippers’ dreams come true, partially because most creators are wise enough to avoid needless pandering, and partially because more often than not, the ships don’t come close to fitting the story in any way.
I find shipping on its best days to be oddly humorous, and on its worst a foul stench and commentary on the mental state of people watching a given show. However, I’ve never been able to truly understand the gobs of time and creativity that goes into fueling ultimately useless and futile fantasies 98% of the time… Here’s my take. Romance has a place in telling a story and thematically. However, love comes in many different forms aside from romance, and a good number of stories simply don’t have a focus on or really express a need for romantic love as a heavy thematic element. One of my favorite examples is in Gravity Falls. The main protagonist, Dipper Pines, and his twin sister, Mabel, are both 12 through the course of the series. Series creator Alex Hirsch, understanding the trope well, poked fun at the idea of shipping through the show, such as with Mabel’s brief and disastrous friendship with Gideon, or the dangers of being a pickup artist in Roadside Attraction; noted placidly that “12 year olds shouldn’t be in those kinds of conversations anyways,” and that while romantic love did crop up in the show, it was usually for briefly poignant or comedic effect, such as Stan’s brief crush on Lazy Susan. But above all else, the show emphasized other types of love in its storytelling: of friendships, of family, and most notably, one of the greatest sibling bonds in not only animation but TV history. Dipper and Mabel, in short, are awesome in no small part because of their truly loving bond and how real that bond is through the show… which is also why it’s disgusting when shippers fail to appreciate the writing here and suggest incest. Ugh…
While Hirsch understood the fact that shipping exists and refused to pander to its existence, instead satirizing it, there are some shows that do mildly indulge it if the story sets up well, and also for potentially humorous effect. Incidentally these instances also do not bother me as they keep a greater eye on the overarching elements and narratives of a given show without sacrificing anything, and potentially even enhancing a narrative. One of the best uses of addressing a ship in this manner was the humorously lamp-shaded romantic feelings between Numbuhs 3 (Kuki Sanban) and 4 (Wally Beetles) in Codename: Kids Next Door. While Kuki tends to act oblivious in the show, it’s shown subtly from time to time that she’s far less aloof than she normally portrays, and Wally is rather heavy handed in his attempts to tell her his feelings. The near misses finally add up to a darkly humorous “first kiss” in the Operation: Z.E.R.O. movie, and an explicit confirmation of the couple in the series finale, I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S. Here, the couple works well; from a narrative standpoint it’s set up in a believable and silly fashion; it acknowledges fan expectations that were feasible, and it’s a result that made sense without detracting from the major narrative of KND itself- its story about the team, the organization, and its meta-commentary on childhood, one where puppy love could in fact work.
For as well as the examples noted work however, there are always cases where shipping can be dangerously influential, and not to the benefit of the work at hand. For this, I reference an otherwise solid show, The Legend of Korra. While the show was visually stunning and the story usually compelling, Korra had narrative weaknesses, and chief among these was the stunted growth of a love triangle that originated in Season 1 of the show. Initially Korra was to be a one-off short series, and the triangle would have worked reasonably well in that arrangement- Korra stays with Mako, winning out over Asami Sato in what proved to be a decent B-plot aside from the Equalists, but unsurprisingly, the return to the Avatar world proved widely successfully and three more seasons were green-lit. The unfortunate side effect of this decision, while still the correct choice, was the painfully obvious lack of ideas for Asami’s character beyond her finite role as the chief investor and bank of the new Team Avatar, and that Korra, who had already received a sort of endgame love interest after the first season, would have to now find a way to extend a plot that really was supposed to be finished. By the time of the final season, the writers needed an end to Asami’s story beyond an obvious Hiroshi Sato redemption arc, and at roughly the same time, the ”Korrasami” ship had become rampant within swaths of the Korra fandom. What happened next was a throughly sloppy bit of writing (which I discussed in my review for the show), designed to simultaneously placate loud fans, solve the Asami problem, and was easy to shove under the pretext of being “progressive.” It also left Mako hanging out in the cold in a very unsatisfying end to an interesting character, and in many ways, cheapened what should have otherwise been a very memorable finale for The Legend of Korra.
I’m likely not going to change the minds of many who are already into complex relationship building, but in my brief experience with the world of animation and its many fans, shipping is unavoidable even if one ignores it on the whole. However, the true reason is that not once have I seen a treatise or article addressing the topic outside of petty flame wars on the internet or shippers themselves ogling over a new potential relationship, or conversely, beyond non-shippers shouting “I don’t like it!” and not backing it up. As you can see, I’m not really a fan of the ships, but I can’t stop people either. If anything, I hope it was an interesting look into the thoughts of the various effects of shipping, which has been dealt with in various manners.
Like what you see? Unaware of the actual history of the Titanic? Have something to say? Leave a comment!