When we heard the term, ‘ship’ or ‘shipping’ prior to the age of the Internet, the image of a boat appears in our mind’s eye. Right now, however, the term now has a different meaning altogether.
What is shipping?
‘Shipping’ or ‘ship’ refers to the idea of linking two fictional characters together in a romantic or sexual relationship. Fans love to imagine these two characters due to various reasons: their personalities which may parallel or contrast each other; or they just look good together. Overall, fans see the chemistry between these two characters which urged them to ship the two.
Ship comes from the word ‘relationship’ which was believed to originate from a 90s show called X-Files. Fans found the appeal of the two leads Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, and rooted for the two to be together despite their vague relationship onscreen.
There are times even multiple characters get into a polyamorous relationship together, due to fans loving the dynamic between the characters.
There are also some that are ‘platonic’ ships, which means that the fans would prefer these characters to be friends only. However, majority of the ships are of romantic in nature.
Some of the ships are ‘canon’ – which meant that the relationship is official between the two characters. Other times, the ships are ‘non-canon’, which meant that no romantic relationship between the two characters were made official.
Fans can also ship real life people as well, most especially famous celebrities that come from music bands or groups.
However, shipping real life people can be tricky and slightly problematic. These are real life people who have their own feelings, and shipping them may overstep a boundary. But that is another topic for another day.
Shipping in Anime
Of course, shipping in anime is not unheard of. The idea of shipping two favorite anime characters together incites excitement and thrill for fans.
Moreover, fans would take note of the different character attributes of the characters, and would think they are best paired with another character. Fans would get to see the potential chemistry between the personality traits each character have. This would lead fans becoming interested in their dynamics, which would spawn fan arts, fanfictions, and a community dedicated to that ship.
Ships exist in almost every fandom of anime. Even though the anime does not have a romantic genre, fans will still ship two characters they think are suitable together.
It is to the point that when you search online, there are a variety of articles tackling the best top ships in anime that differ from one another. There are some ships that are canon, while some are not. Various fans have different opinions on which ship they think are the best.
So, what is specifically the appeal of shipping in anime?
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The Appeal of Shipping in Anime
The appeal of shipping in anime can be relied on the fact that fans find certain character dynamics very interesting. This leads to the tropes like “Enemies to Lovers”, “Opposites Attract”, “Childhood Friends to Lovers”, and a whole lot more.
The relationship and interactions portrayed on-screen between these characters contribute to fans rallying behind the pairing. Even the slightest touch of hands, or any dialogues that may seem suggestive can urge fans to ship the characters.
In shojo or rom-com anime, it is easier to ship characters. This is because the anime or manga creator intended for the characters to have a romantic relationship. The acts of intimacy are to be expected, and so fans have good reason to ship the pairing. What makes it a cherry on top is when the relationship becomes official, and fans will be overjoyed.
However, in non-shojo or rom-com anime, shipping characters can be a bit difficult to pinpoint. This is because the anime never meant to showcase or even flesh out romantic relationships in its fullest. At most, hints or subtle actions can be seen in the pairings – in which fans would delightfully analyze these, and would conclude that characters are in-love.
Although non-romantic anime can still have characters with a romance, there is a tendency that they can be underdeveloped. They are not the main focus of the story, so their relationship may be a sub-plot or even neglected a bit in the sidelines.
But interestingly, this do not deter fans from shipping the characters. The appeal do not necessarily rely on the guaranteed romantic relationship, rather the opportunity for fans to explore the relationship. Fans can make their own stories or art of depicting the ship by using the dynamics they find appealing. They can also make their own narratives on how the relationship could have developed more, which still includes the main plot or storyline of the anime.
Fans even make AUs or Alternate Universes where the anime characters in a different setting that contrasts the canonical setting. As such, it serves as the opportunity for the romance to flourish more in different circumstances.
Since anime includes fictional and 2D characters, fans are more comfortable in exploring and pairing these character together. In a way, they can feel a sense of control over the characters while still respecting the original anime or manga creator. In comparison to real people, fans may feel they are not stepping on any boundaries when it comes to fictional 2D characters. They feel more free in molding their favorite characters for the ship they like.
What makes fan ship?
But what exactly makes fans ship? Why did they want to explore the relationships of characters too much? Why do they feel the need to engage with anime and fiction in general in this way?
The answer to this actually has a psychological basis. In Psychology Today, it was cited that:
Shipping reveals a lot about our society and about just how lonely and unloved people often feel. It is this loneliness that fuels the need to experience romance and love at least vicariously. And what better way is there to do so than shipping?Bence Nanay, Ph.D.
In other words, shipping comes from the fans’ own feelings and thoughts, wherein they wanted some sort of thrill or enjoyment. They may be experiencing boredom in life, because there is a lack of social relationships. Or maybe there is just a lack of romance in their lives.
It can also be a way to cope with other difficulties in life, and shipping can be a form of escape. A ship with a wonderful relationship between two characters where love can conquer everything is a good distraction. A source of comfort amidst the negativity in real life.
Shipping can also result from fans wanting to explore themselves in the field of romance and relationships. It is a way for them to make their own identity based on what they like or desire in relationships. They also get to figure out what they want in a person, and place these traits in their favorite characters. This was pointed out in an article from FANDOM that explains the science of shipping.
It’s all about identity exploration. We’re all going around looking for depictions of our own romantic, sexual and emotional fantasies. Shipping is a self-narrative therapy.Dr. Lynn Zubernis
So, shipping is not necessarily a bad thing. It is actually a very sensible or meaningful way to engage with fiction – anime included. It helps fans discover something for themselves or even experience something good amidst the harsh reality around them.
But just like any other great things in life, there are still negative aspects to it. As such, limitations should still be set.
Where do we draw the line in shipping?
In the context of anime, shipper fans have the tendency to go extreme or over-the-top with their ships. It is to the point that they cannot understand why other fans would prefer a different pairing instead. They are ready to pick a fight with these fans with different preferences, and insist their favorite pairing is “more canon”.
This article from Ranker tackles the anime ships with notable fan-wars. It is usually pairings with one consistent character involved. Fans would want to invalidate the other pairing, and push their opinions on others.
These are called “shipping fan-wars”, and in all honesty, they are the most ridiculous things to exist.
Fans have to accept that not everyone will share the same interests and preferences as ours. As individuals, everyone has different tastes and insights about everything. Even if certain fans prefer pairings that are not even canon, they are not meant to be crucified just because of their preference.
Furthermore, there should still be limitations in shipping. When there is a questionable pairing that depicts a minor child and an adult person, then this should not be supported. When there is a ship between an animal and a human person, then shippers of this pairing should touch more grass.
When a pairing’s relationship is described as something toxic and disturbing on the source material, then shippers must take caution. They must know that the relationship is very unhealthy and it is not something they should strive for in real life. Moreover, if the shippers attempt to improve the toxic relationship in their own creations such as fan art or fanfiction, then it could be a good thing.
Another thing to consider is that in shipping, we should never harm other real life people because of it. As long as you continue to live in your bubble enjoying your ships without stepping on anyone in real life, then it is all good.
Most importantly of all, fans should never threaten the anime or manga creator just because the latter did not make a pairing canon. At the end of the day, the characters and relationships come from the anime or manga creator’s decisions. We have to respect that, and we can show appreciation by still sticking to our ships and make our own creations.
Shipping is fine, until it hurts others
In other words, shipping is ultimately very appealing and not at all bad. Aside from the psychological aspect on how it helps people, it also cultivates creativity. Fantastic fan arts and fanfictions are being created with artistic skills having a field day.
This can be attributed to identity exploration, and fans can even discover their own hidden talent of writing or drawing. It can also not be limited to fanfiction or fan arts too. It can also extend to knitting, sculpting, or even acting/roleplaying as the characters.
To conclude, shipping is wonderful until it was being weaponized to start stupid fan-wars or to bring harm to real life people. At the end of the day, a ship just exists between fictional characters. It is not our whole life, and we should still separate fiction from reality.