Learning Japanese: Shipping

Imagine this: it’s Valentine’s Day. The air is electric with the hum of anticipated love and affection and you are talking to your significant other about anime when BAM, they hit you with it. They paired the unpairable. They shipped the unshippable. Be damned all ye naysayers because Naruto and Sasuke are destined to be together. Their martial arts complete one another. There has never been a more perfect couple. Your significant other cannot help but squeal at the mere thought of the characters basking in the bliss of everlasting love.


If the above scenario sounds familiar then, well, you have a shipper on your hands. And the most important thing to keep in mind is that just because a hobby is different doesn’t mean it is a bad thing; the key is in understanding.


For those not entirely in “the know,” shipping is an insanely popular trend in which people debate each other in anime forums and message boards. Fans take their favorite anime, manga, or cartoon, and they pair the main characters together into what people like to call “Ships.” A word coined after the idea that these duos could be in a viable relationSHIP. These pairs represent the person’s dream couples or sexual pairings. Naruto and Sasuke are just the proverbial tip of a massive, continent sized iceberg. In some cases the erotic duos are not limited to solely human pairs. There are animals, monsters, witches, robots, dragons, and many more, all waiting in the wilds of some fan’s imagination. The only limiting factor is the theorizer’s ability to argue the couple’s validity online.


Anime and manga are a hotspot for converging personalities and characters and it should not surprise anyone that fans enjoy pairing them in unique  ways. The big name studios even encourage it. As far as artwork goes, anime and manga are sometimes even created with shipping in mind. A very popular genre in the industry is called Harem. This is where the main character has a group of usually 4-8 people fall in love with them and the story revolves around the romances panning out. These are ship warzones – anime created for the sole purpose of fueling these couple related debates. They’re bloodbaths where fans fight ‘til their fingers bleed over who is the most worthy couple.

And this is only a single hall. There is more. A lot more.

This isn’t done arbitrarily or on a whim, there is a monster market for this stuff. In Japan some of the biggest anime and manga conventions, such as Comiket, are built upon the sale of doujinshi. Doujinshi are a kind of creator-sponsored, fan-made manga that revolve around pairing unlikely characters together in romantically inclined stories and scenarios. These comics are more than just one off creations and they represent a significant portion of consumed anime media. These stories, while not considered canon, are sometimes as popular or widely viewed as the original series they are based off. Entire literary genres have been created after them. Some of the most popular of these are the Yaoi and Yuri themes. Both words mean “gay” in Japanese, male and female respectively, and these genres involve putting lead characters together into same sex couples. Couples that essentially break the narrative of the original story and instead spin off into crazy “What If” romantic scenarios. This idea is often used to add a unique spin to the more traditional harem themed stories. Instead of the man falling in love with one of the 8 women chasing after him, in a doujinshi the lead might just choose his burly best friend Fabio for a date. Because, as it turns out, there are more than a few people out there willing to pay to see what happens next.


At this point you might be asking yourself, Why!? A valid question considering that this concept is pretty much limited in the Americas to the dark recesses of fan-fiction forums and weird tumblr porn. The answer is simple, it’s not only profitable, it’s fun. Unlike in America where copyright is a ball and chain on any fan-made creation, the anime industry in Japan actively encourages an entire market of fan-made doujinshi and ero-comics. They understand that humans, by their very nature, are passionate and creative and instead of limiting that feeling to some unlit corner they embrace it as a part of mainstream fandom. And I would argue that the fandom is all the better for it. Instead of being limited to one officially published story there are dozens if not hundreds of fan-made doujinshi. Every one of which might tell a different story or take a different spin than the original. Not all doujinshi are about romance and sex. Some of them are about a day in the life of a hero, small side stories or slice of life adventures. There is something for anyone looking and I think that is a good thing.


Creativity and freedom of expression have become tentpole concepts in the anime industry. If someone or some group finds themselves pushed to the sideline or ignored then they have the freedom to create a story just for them. A comic that is officially sponsored by the big name authors and artists that create the media they love. In that way anime has become a kind of two way street. The industry is still a multi-billion dollar giant that makes its money by publishing and selling anime and manga. Yet, it has never let that success override its dedication to allowing people the ability to interact and connect with its product.  In some ways, “shipping” allows for a more interactive viewing experience. Anime lovers can either chose to enjoy things from the bleachers or from the sweltering heat of third base. There is no right way of viewing or enjoying anime and manga.

Which is why there is no need to be alarmed if your significant other has “shipped.” They are involved in a popular and time-honored aspect of Japan’s anime culture. As weird as it may seem, there are far stranger hobbies than arguing over cartoon couples. In fact, I might even go as far as to say you should “ship” with them, you might even find yourself having fun.

Jordan Feil

A writer, a whiskey drinker, a lover of words and games.

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