[AniFemTalk] Feminist-friendly – and unfriendly – ships

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow! To celebrate, we want to hear about your favorite ships, including the most progressive and the most problematic romances Japanese pop culture has to offer.

  • What is the most feminist-friendly ship you support?
  • What is your guilty pleasure, the least feminist-friendly romance you can’t help but love?
  • Which ship most closely represents your view of an ideal relationship?
  • Which ship does fandom love but seems so unfeminist you can’t get behind it?
  • What are your favorite and least favorite anime/manga romance tropes?
  • What is your favorite Valentine’s Day episode of anime/chapter of manga?


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  • GreyLurker

    One of my favorite pairings of recent years is Aila and Reiji from Gundam Build Fighters. It started over a Meat Bun and it was realized in glorious plastic model combat. Sure there is a lot Cinderella to it and a Prince saves the Damsel moment but the two were just so much fun together. Both utterly confident about their abilities to beat the other. They are just such and adorable pair of kids and I’m really happy they ended up together with a lovely daughter following in their footsteps.

  • ChaseWho?

    I’m a big fan of Koyomi and Senjogahara in Bakemonogatari. For all the other problems that the series has (and that the protagonist has) I thought it was really sweet that he can respect her bodily autonomy after she has been assaulted, and that she is able to open up to him about it. The whole thing not only contextualizes her ‘tsundere’ attitude in a much more compelling (and less fetishizing) way, but it also adds a layer of depth to their relationship that feels way more like a real-life relationship: complex, human, and founded on good communication.

    Now if only Bakemonogatari would tone down the loli-complex stuff…

    • JohnClark

      Araragi and Senjougahara are the real deal, well, at least they inevitably will be. Two flawed characters struggling with depression whose first impressions of each other were based of the defense mechanisms they use to avoid the fact that they hate themselves. For Araragi, it’s his martyr complex, and for Senjougahara, its her harsh words. Their relationship started with Senjougahara loving Araragi more than she loved herself, while Araragi wasn’t really sure what to do with her until the end of Suruga Monkey. At this point, Araragi loves Senjougahara much more than he loves himself. As time went on and Senjougahara gradually came to love herself, Araragi’s depression deepened. Senjougahara points out in Suruga Monkey that Araragi would sacrifice himself just as readily if he didn’t have an immortal body. Its not because Araragi really cares so much about others, its because he hates himself, but we see in Hanamonogatari, which takes place a year after Kizumonogatari, that Araragi has sorted out his problems and climbed out of depression, so we have a happy ending awaiting us.

      • ChaseWho?

        Absolutely! They’re such a good image of an actual mature relationship where both parties help each other out with their respective shit through honest communication.

  • Black Emolga

    My favorite ship so far in terms of manga is definitely Setsuko and Kyousuke from Darling Wa Namamono Ni Tsuki. I like that their relationship doesn’t follow traditional gender roles and stereotypes. And they are written with a convincing sense of warmth and tenderness that I hardly see in a lot of fiction either Japanese or Western. As for pairings and ships I hate. Anyone that uses the Bastard Boyfriend trope. I hate that trope with a passion. Even if the the Bastard Boyfriend character changes by the end it is meaningless sense he’s crossed the line at least 15 times by then.

    • Darling wa Namamono ni Tsuki is pretty fun, and in most part because of how fun the characters are. I never finished it, and now I want to.

  • Fair comment, and I agree on the way the phrase is typically used. However, in this case the phrase “guilty pleasure” is to refer to relationships you enjoy on a personal level despite going against your feminist instincts in some way. Someone on Twitter gave the example of Kirito and Asuna from Sword Art Online, which swiftly demotes Asuna from heroine to damsel in distress but is nonetheless a ship a lot of people – including feminists – are emotionally invested in.

    By “feminist-friendly” I simply meant not inherently anti-feminist. I didn’t say ’empowering’, or ‘pure’, or ‘tainted’, and I certainly meant none of those either, I agree that would be neither useful nor pleasant. From my perspective, simply lacking those anti-feminist elements we accept or even normalise in fictional romances is enough to make it feminist-friendly (though if you disagree I think that’s a valid and valuable discussion in its own right, and one that is very welcome in this comments section!).

    Again to use an example from Twitter, one person mentioned Haruka and Michiru from Sailor Moon, but you could equally use Victor and Yuri from Yuri!!! on ICE, Takeo and Yamato from My Love Story!! etc. It doesn’t even have to be canon, this is just about shipping! Maybe two characters never ended up together, but from their subtext you think they would have been a non-problematic couple that you as a feminist would have particularly liked for whatever reason.

    If you don’t want to label a ship this way I encourage you to apply whatever descriptors you are most comfortable with, or engage with the topic in any way that makes sense to you. Hopefully the spirit of the conversation prompt is clear now, you’re more than welcome to use any terminology you feel is more appropriate in order to contribute positively to the discussion.

    • Caitlin

      Perhaps a more accurate dichotomy would be healthy vs. unhealthy relationships?

      • Maybe… but I think you can have a technically healthy ship that’s not particularly feminist, and a technically unhealthy ship that is more feminist. It’s something I’ll have to think on a bit more for next time this comes up!

  • Amy Notdorft

    I think YinXHei from Darker than Black is a very interesting ship that could use a lot of unpacking. As a “doll,” Yin is perceived as having little emotion or capability for agency… but the first season reveals that many dolls care capable of acting based on their desires and expressing some level of emotion. It’s been a long time since I watched the show now, but I recall Hei (and the overall tone of the show) respecting Yin and other dolls as human beings capable of free will despite their struggle to outwardly express their feelings or desires. Though the entire last season damsels Yin’s character… I do recall Yin acting to defend Hei multiple times in the first season and the OVAs. If I recall correctly, the OVAs focus on Hei and Yin’s romance where Yin is portrayed as having a lot of agency in their relationship and is clearly a consenting member of it. In a society that often sees relationships as being reserved for the neurotypical, I found the relationship compelling and portrayed in a way that felt fair and not exploitative.

  • Laura Fox

    I appreciate Yona and Hak in Akatsuki no Yona | Yona of the Dawn. Early on he does make some uncomfortably aggressive gestures (in a joking-not-joking kind of way), but as the story goes on it gets better. I especially enjoy how Hak goes beyond his assigned role as the bodyguard and loves seeing Yona choose to fight hard and get stronger. There’s even a scene where she expresses her own desire to protect him; he’s like “you shouldn’t say that,” and I had enough experience to be like “yeah, yeah, because toxic masculinity, (eyeroll),” but no, his actual reason is because it’s distracting, he loves it so much when she says that.

    Subtextually, in the later parts of the same manga there’s Yona and Lili, two young women who come together over their shared desire to help the people of their country and become stronger and more capable, who face danger together and respect and admire each other.

    (Yeah, this is my current head-over-heels-in-fandom series…)

    • Yay for Yona, and yes for those two pairs~. I adore them so much. And while I’d like Yona and crew to be a group thing, I appreciate some of the dynamic. Jaeha is my fav, but I like that he recognizes the age gap and feels weird, and thus has become a Yona and Hak shipper himself.

  • ImaniToo

    One of my favourite ships is Nana and Nana ^_^. (from anime…can’t bring myself to read the unfinished manga). I thought that the differences in their personalities complemented each other so well, that they tended to bring about the best (okay and sometimes not the best) in each other…and both of them could quit those inaccessible men! Bah. In some ways their dynamic reminds me of Yakumo and Sukeroku.

    It’s not the “most feminist” but I recently enjoyed Snow White with the Red Hair. It manages to be quite the traditional romance with Handsome Prince + Beautiful Girl from Wrong Side of the Tracks yet creates a pretty “modern couple” in that setting. Shirayuki shows strength, intelligence and initiative. Zen is protective without undermining or disrespecting her. All of this while he is still the person to declare himself and initiate intimacy most of the time while Shirayuki almost faints after making out a bit lol.

    • Moni

      I adore the two Nanas. While I see them as being more close friends you can still see the lesbian subtext in their relationship. I hope Yazawa-san decides to complete on her time. Her health of course comes first and I hope what happened to Bleach’s mangaka doesn’t happen to her.

      • ImaniToo

        Oooo, I didn’t know the mangaka was sick at all. Absolutely, her priority should be her health. The story, as it is, is already pretty outstanding. (What happened to Bleach’s mangaka….? *nervous*)

        • Moni

          From my understanding, he had plans to have the series last much longer. However, the schedule pressure from the magazine publisher was becoming too stressful and it was starting to affect his health with him falling ill often. So he ended the series to be done with it, and a lot of fans were uber angry about the ending.

  • HyruleJose

    Ok I’m gonna answer a lot of these questions with Naruto ships because I’ve followed that series since I was like 7 up until it ended so its and easy source to draw from for me and I still have a lot of complicated feelings about. That said I swear I’m not one of those obnoxious, obsessed Shounen trash weaboos (mostly).

    2.) Naruto and Hinata, I hate that the series defined Hinata (like most of its female characters) almost entirely by her relationship to a man. However I still think her little crush was really cute and the eventual ending up with Naruto was well deserved.
    4.) Sasuke and Sakura. Or as I refer to it as, Joker and Harley Quinn: The Anime Edition (great job making that one canon there Kishimoto).
    5.) If whatever Kishimoto did to his female characters by having them be defined almost solely by shipping has an official trope name then I’m going with that. If not then it’s when a strong and independent female character has her “happy ending” be ending up a housewife raising a nuclear family, subservient to her husband, and no longer involved in whatever important things she did throughout the story (Also looking at you Harry Potter series).

    • Moni

      I have to admit I hoped that he would pull the rug under us by having the characters mature and move on from their crushes (like real people with complexities do) and it would’ve been excellent growth for Hinata as it could show her becoming her own motivation and finding a more fulfilling relationship without putting one or the other on pedestal. Same case for Sakura, moving on from her rather baseless infatuation with Sasuke would’ve been so awesome.

  • anony

    My favourite shoujo manga is Kamisama Hajimemashita. I think the main character Nanami is a great role model, I adore her, she’s very hard working, determined and optimistic, someone who can build a family after being abandoned by her dad. The whole manga is about the strength of humans and the importance of having a home. Nanami and Tomoe are very sweet together and make each other grow. Also love the glimpse we get of nanami’s kickass mum: http://mangafox.me/manga/kamisama_hajimemashita/v11/c062/7.html

    Like someone mentioned before, I think Shirayuki and Zen is the most feminist-friendly ship I’ve seen in an anime. The way they avoid dumb drama is so unique amongst anime. I know people who found that boring though!

    • Just edited to remove a link to a scanlation site, please remember that we do not permit this in our comments! https://www.animefeminist.com/about/comments-policy/

    • Caitlin

      I’ve read 17 volumes of Kamisama Kiss and I’ve gotten a totally different read on Nanami and Tomoe’s relationship. Tomoe comes off to me as a very typical brusque, harsh shoujo love interest who shows he “cares” by occasionally doing something nice for Nanami and once in a while not treating her like trash stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

      I have way less patience for dysfunctional relationships in shoujo than most so maybe it’s just me.

    • Agreed~. I like that Tomoe often wants to protect Nanami, but slowly understand how she doesn’t really need his protection (usually), and how it’s him that wants to be part of her world but doesn’t know how to be (because Nanami absolutely has and continued to make herself part of the supernatural and heavenly/divine world).

      He has his tsundere moments, but Tomoe is pretty cute and sweet. And I like that he typically tries to be forward with her. Really, they understand each other so well too. It’s nice.

  • Valerie

    Spoiler warning for Eden of the East (including the movies) and The Girl Who Leapt through Time!

    Much as I love Eden of the East (Higashi no Eden) and find its main characters incredibly sympathetic, I can never make up my mind about their relationship, so I’m curious if anyone else has thoughts on this. On the one hand, Akira and Saki mutually respect each other and they have (in my opinion) great chemistry. I especially appreciate that they work well as a team without becoming overly dependent on each other (if at all). On the other, I think it’s important to consider that Saki was—and, in any case in the first couple episodes, still is—in love with her sister’s husband, from which she’s still hurting. When she finally seems to have gotten over that and has developed an interest in Akira, he leaves: first when he erases his own memory and in the final movie again, with only a vague promise that they’ll see each other again in the future. The ending, in terms of their relationship, reminds me of the promise at the end of The Girl Who Leapt through Time (Toki wo Kakeru Shōjo), which is also unlikely to ever be fulfilled. While I’m happy that the characters’ mutual feelings are acknowledged, both Eden of the East and The Girl Who Leapt through Time leave me slightly heartbroken. I don’t think that’s a bad thing from a narrative point of view at all; in fact, I think both in Eden and TGWLLT the endings are incredibly effective. But I nonetheless feel torn thinking about these relationships precisely because I’m rooting for the characters.

    Basically I’m wondering how other people view the romantic relationship (or lack thereof, in a sense) between Akira and Saki, especially because I can never decide on how to interpret Akira’s choices.

  • Ryoken

    Really late here, but I have to go with Keima and Chihiro from The World God only knows (manga).
    Easily one of the best logical, romantic and actually insightful ways a harem (well, a deconstruction series of the genre) series ended.