A Valentine’s Day Special: The Day the Ships Sank

AniB’s take on the hysterical fandom obsessions of romance. (And yes, it’s like the Titanic.)

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!

Author: anibproductions

I am the founder and writer of AniB Productions, currently a blog with a focus on animated shows from both the East and the West. Love Buffalo sports, good political discussion, and an interesting conversation wherever I go.

8 thoughts on “A Valentine’s Day Special: The Day the Ships Sank”

  1. As you said, I haven’t seen much serious discussion about the effects of shipping so this was a really interesting read, especially the three very different examples you give. To me, shipping should never leave the idea phase, maybe mentally saying, “Oh, it would be cool of so-and-so got together,” but the amount of time and fan art that people pour into such unlikely pairings can get ridiculous or disturbing and even detrimental to the show, as in Korra’s case. Quite a good article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I’m essentially in the same boat. I believe mostly everyone at some point muses about potential interactions between some of their favorite characters, but the time and effort put into “unlikely parings” as you said, seems both wasted and has the potential to go in some pretty awful directions. I was inspired to write about the topic specifically because I haven’t seen a good treatise on it (which I mentioned at the end), and figured a level-headed discussion piece about arguably the silliest, most meaningless pursuit of fandoms on the whole was not only important- but just so happened to double well as a Valentine’s article!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just happened to think of another instance where a “ship” made sense for the series: Kim Possible. In that series, it worked because Kim and Ron getting together was something the show itself seemed to be building toward, not just a fantasy invented by fans.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Given all of the meaningless things that fans and fandoms engage in, singling out shipping seems a little of a “pot calling the kettle black” sort of thing to me. That being said I have been and have seen a few shipping heavy fandoms in my time and it can be pretty amazing how wrapped beyond recognition stories and characters can become due to shipping so . . . yeah.

    It’s interesting that you point to how Gravity Falls likes to parody romance since because a lot of Gravity Fall’s content ends being about romance. It’s really ironic how despite the show’s rather negative opinion of romance (if you are below 20 that is) much of the series either directly or indirectly deals with romance, to the point where Mabel and Dipper’s romantic life was the main driving force of much of what went on in the first season. I guess it’s not really that strange given that the show is a coming-of-age story, but it is kind of eye-brow raising when even late into the second season old crushes are still a major plot point in episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m quite aware of certain romantic elements, although they are not anywhere near the major focus of the show. In both Dipper and Mabel’s cases it can be chalked up to “puppy love”; both sibling intentionally are shown to be too immature and/or young for any kind of serious relationship, which both serves as a life lesson and doubles back to the show’s commentary about romance I talked about. I understand you’re driving at the whole “Dipper loves Wendy” and “Mabel’s boy crazy” phases, but both are used more as devices to push character development and point out character insecurities and flaws rather than a super-serious approach to romance (as far as I see it.) I once again agree about the distortion effects that shipping has on fandoms- it can be rather unhealthy for both the fanbase on the whole, and even warp the perspective of a show for an outsider. Thanks for the comment!


      1. While Gravity Falls was certainly not doing any serious romance, I feel that because of how much time they spend on romantic plots you still get a lot of the negatives that you would have gotten if the romance was played straight and then some.

        Consider Wendy and Dipper, the two have probably one of the more interesting friendships in the series, and their interaction could have made for an interesting vehicle to develop both of them. But, because of the need to follow unrequiated crush tropes the two don’t get to interact much since Wendy has to be the distant figure Dipper “pines” (pun unavoidable) for. As a consequence Wendy gets probably the least on-screen development of any of the major characters, and Dipper is left straddled with a rather mediocre character arc that is made even worse when it becomes an honest to goodness love triangle.

        Mabel actually had it worse when it comes to the whole, “romance as character arc”, since her romantic escapades are treated as more of a running gag then anything else, compounded even more by being the only character arc she has until late in the series.

        Now I realize that a lot of the “romantic” stuff was played for laughs, but given how big of role it plays in the series I think it is still worth criticizing in the same way as you would normal romance (that and I didn’t find much of the comedy romance to be that funny, but that’s neither here nor there).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. An interesting interpretation of events and character arcs from Gravity Falls…I do agree Dipper and Wendy do have an interesting friendship; while the whole idea of Dipper’s crush was carried on, it may have also been a device to note the fact that he wanted to grow up too quickly for almost the entire series; a serious relationship falls into the whole “Dipper’s more immature than he thinks” category. I will agree generally about your comments on Mabel; her strength as a character lies with her sibling bond and how that’s explored (along with her own fun quirkiness); I actually write a bit about this dynamic in the Gravity Falls review I published about 2 weeks ago. Your thoughts are very interesting and make for an exciting conversation!


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