Shippers… they are a breed of fan that exists at the very edge of the fandom. To outsiders they may seem shy and introverted, as they seldom voice strong opinions to the outside world. Within their own circles, however, they are a group of fascinating depth as well as terrifying animosity. Although their higher circles are almost invariably female, I nonetheless tried my hand at inserting myself into their society. After months of patient research, I eventually found myself in the deepest trenches of their world. What sights did I see? What events did I encounter? What truths will I reveal? Join me, as I share all that I discovered during my time amongst this dignified, but misunderstood people.
In case the title and opening paragraph didn’t make it obvious enough, the style I chose for this essay is a documentary. The primary reason I have for writing this is to entertain, so perhaps I will have exaggerated certain facts along the way. Perhaps I didn’t. I don’t feel like telling, as I’m sure you’ll tell me. Also note that I wrote this in as completely an unbiased manner as it’s possible for any human to do. It actually wasn’t hard, as I’m delightfully good at making fun of all parties equally. Without further ado, let us begin:
Part the first: basic information-
“Shippers” is the title given to any member of fandom that participates in the act of “shipping.” I have it on reasonably good authority that this particular word is a shortened form of “relation shipping,” as in, a group of fans whose primary joy within fandom is the appreciation and study of romantic relationships within the series. Even though I’ve gotten to the point where I can more or less accept this as correct, my time among them has deadened the part of me that would have wondered why they shortened the name of their hobby in such a way as to hearken memories of massive, floating, steel death machines. Indeed, had I known then what I know now, I would not have been surprised to hear that this particular metaphor was what they had in mind when they coined the term.
Shipping, you see, is serious business.
I’ll elaborate on that point in a minute, first, however, I suppose I should offer some additional information to the handful of people who may be uninitiated into the world of shippers. Anime, manga, novels, movies, series… virtually any medium you can imagine typically employs a number of romantic plotline archetypes as a way of pulling their audience into their story. Often, this leads to lines of ambiguously open pseudo-romantic relationships between the various members of a character cast. When the story leaves these lines open for a long enough period of time, a faction of their fandom will eventually become shippers.
Shippers choose a particular pair of characters out of the list of possible couples, and then contribute to the fandom in such a way as to voice this support. In time, the couple they ship becomes dearer to them than the plot of the story itself. There’s nothing wrong with this, at all. It’s just another way to derive enjoyment from a medium whose purpose is to provide it. Shippers express their love of the pairing in question in a variety of ways, among them: fanfiction, fanart, cosplay, group discussion, essay writing, and insulting the ever-loving piss out of anyone who dares to hold an opinion different from theirs with regard to the couple in question.
Right… that last one seems to need further explanation… all in good time!
In my study of the various shipping communities for various fandoms, I’ve found a number of similarities:
-The majority of shipping participants are always female. There are a few males who profess to love a certain ship, but the number among them who actively contributes to the ship is sparse.
-Regardless of genre or medium, the two ships that eventually become the biggest and most violent are almost always (with a few exceptions) those fans who ship the main character x the action girl, and those fans who ship the main character x the girly-girl.
-For series in which there isn’t much ambiguity regarding the main character’s love interest, the lines for the two biggest ships will instead become the fans of the main character x his canon love interest, and the fans of the main character x whichever other male he looks the cutest with. Shipping rivalries in these series tend to be much tamer than in more ambiguous ones.
Well, now that I’ve touched onto the basics, it’s time for me to address the part of shipping fandom for which it is most legendary: The angry, vengeful, glee with which the members of different ships harass one another.
Part the second: teh anger~
I suppose it deserves to be mentioned that anger is hardly a trait that is exclusive to shipping. Especially amongst anime fans, all of fandom tends to have an immortal bug very firmly lodged somewhere deep in their rectal tract. The manner in which shippers express their hatred toward each other is considerably different from more mainstream fandom, but that seems to be more because of the way genders prefer to express their anger.
Power level arguments: In anime fandom, this is where the majority of male energy will be spent. Because the majority of participants in these debates are male, the way anger is exhibited is also very much done in the way of the cliché male. Fans are absolutely intolerant of opinions that differ from their own, and should they ever encounter one, no matter how politely or tactfully it is worded, they will proceed to pounce upon it as if they were starving lions in the Serengeti. You can count on there being exactly as much hatred and profanity as the forum in question is prepared to allow.
Fanboy A: You know… I don’t believe there’s adequate manga evidence to support the belief that Gin Ichimaru is significantly stronger than Kaname Tousen.
Fanboy B: Excuse me? What the ****? Do you not have a ***damn brain? Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you? Any *** damn idiot can tell you that that blind hypocrite jackass isn’t half as strong as Gin, you’re just a ****ing idiot fanboy for saying otherwise. That’s it! You really don’t have a brain! Some donkey just took a **** in your ear and you’ve been making do with that. Seriously, man, you’re a ****ing idiot for even THINKING something so stupid.
Confrontational, arrogant, and crude, this is the modus operandi preferred by the prepubescent male fanbase so central to any shonen anime. Women, on the other hand… while by absolutely no stretch of the imagination less vicious or cruel to one another, tend to prefer a theme of subtlety when it comes to direct confrontation with rival shippers.
Fangirl A: I think I like ship 1 better than ship 2.
Fangirl B: aww, that’s too bad. Ship 2 reinforces the importance of true love, and has so much evidence behind it. Fans of ship 1 seem to lack the understanding of literature and human emotion needed to truly appreciate what the author wants to say.
Condescending? Check. Vaguely insulting, without being quite inflammatory enough for a mod to make a case against you? Check. This is about the worst most upfront shipping arguments allow themselves to get out in the open areas of a forum. Typically, this is also the worst the individual exchange between the two girls will get, as well. Is that where it stops? Oh good lord, no.
See, after the confrontation, both girls will find their way into the secret communities where they can be surrounded by only those who share their views. Once they reach this safe haven, they invariably have a recount of events that goes something like this:
Ship 1 fangirl A: That stupid bitch Fangirl B got into an argument with me, today. God those fans of Ship 2 are so delusional.
Ship1fangirlC: Yeah, anyone who supports ship 2 has to be batshit insane. Don’t worry too much about Fangirl B, though. She’s just a stupid, fat whore who’s upset by how screwed up her life is.
Ah, the viciousness of female fandom… Direct insults toward individuals, rather than simply their point of view is the way of life for many of these girls. Insults regarding appearance aren’t even where the line is drawn. Nothing is sacred when it comes to finding fault in those whose views differ from yours. Say, for instance, one of the more prolific members of a rival ship suffers from bipolar disorder. (Let’s just say… because there’s no direct reference there, at all.)
Making jokes about how she’s literally crazy or inept is sure to make you look like the better person when you bring it up with your shipmates, right?
Now, this wouldn’t be a problem, if the secret communities were as secret as some tend to think. The problem arises in that members of the rival ship inevitably come upon these hidden transmissions, sharing them with their friends and spreading the anger even further.
Let me point out to any who aren’t familiar with shippers and their fandom: personal attacks against shippers occur all the time. Yes, both sides do it… a lot.
I’ve asked several members of rival ships about the source of their bad blood with one another, and invariably I’m given a line that more or less echoes the sentiment of “We just want to ship what we like. All the negativity and personal attacks come from the other side.”
In the interest of being impartial, I feel I need to point out the logical paradox that would arise if both people were telling the truth, as it would mean that both parties were responsible for an anger that neither side partakes of. I suppose the possibility that one entire side was lying to me, and the whole thing was an elaborate scheme on their part to mask the wickedness of their hearts, but I think it’s vastly more likely that both sides participate in acting negatively toward each other. I think both sides do so with their eyes open, and take a degree of joy and satisfaction in doing so. As such, I honestly believe that the day will never come when shipping ceases to be so negative, because there’s a certain percentage of every ship’s fandom (a small one, to be sure, but very clearly there) for whom the negativity is as important as the relationship itself.
Part the third: so you want to be a shipper-
That last section probably had me come off sounding very negative about it, but really shipping is no more inherently worse than any other twig of general fandom. The communities themselves are very warm and accepting of new members who share their passion, and unless you’re particularly unlucky, or extremely outspoken, you shouldn’t have more than the occasional unpleasant brush with rival shippers. Ship wars are ugly business, and thanks to the proliferation of “anonymous” posting in many venues shippers like to use to express themselves, you can never be completely sure that you’re safe from insult or injury, but on the whole the positive memories will outweigh the negative ones.
Once you’re accepted, all you need to do is follow the rather silly fad rules, such as:
-Take the two characters you ship together. Proceed to cut away the final syllable of both their names. Now glue their names together. Congratulations, that is now the name of your passion. It’s not Ichigo x Rukia, it’s IchiRuki. It’s not Ichigo x Orihime, it’s IchiHime. What’s so offensive about the “Go” “a” and “Ori” sounds? Well, as passionate as shippers may be about their OTP, they never qu~ite like it enough to go through the bother of fully pronouncing their beloved character’s names.
-You will draw porn. Do it.
Okay, so there are not that many rules. Still, they’re important.
Finale: to the creators-
Tite Kubo, Masashi Kishimoto, J.K. Rowling… indeed every single author or director or composer of every artistic act that has ever been and ever will be… please do yourself a favor, one you would probably have discovered without my having to tell you: ignore your fanbase to the furthest extent possible.
Fans are an incomprehensible quandary of almost frighteningly intense emotions who, much like when you give change to a homeless person, quickly forget any kindness you toss them and immediately demand still more from you. Chances are the fandom is so broken on any issue you can think of that you can’t make a single move with your plot without pissing off a healthy chunk of your supporters. Knowing this, it’s best to just do your own thing, and drown out the incessant voices of those who wish to influence you.
By the by, Mr. Kubo… when can I look forward to Ulquiorra’s triumphant return to your manga?