Shipping is a term in fandoms that denotes the act of taking two characters from a fictional work and envisioning them in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. It is known to be a very common activity within most fandoms, and is the result of their emotional involvement with the works. The word shipping itself is derived from the word "relationship", and is used as a noun ("a ship"), verb ("to ship"), and adjective ("they're being so shippy"). Other synonyms for shipping include pairing or coupling.
While, in theory, shipping can be used to describe any sort of relationship, the term is primarily associated with romantic relationships. As a result, less common forms of shipping like "friendshipping" and "enemyshipping", the act of having two characters becoming friends and enemies respectively, have their own terms, while "shipping" is used describe the romantic relationships.
Shipping is spread through placing the desired characters into designated romantic situations throughout various forms of fan labour or discussing the possibility of the ship on internet forums and blogs. The people supporting given ships are often called "shippers" and are sometimes generalized as being obsessive over their desired pairings and violent when defending them, although this is a stereotypical presentation of the subgroup.
Shipping is not limited to heterosexual relationships, and tend to ignore social taboos around subjects such as incest and bestiality. Homosexual pairings are also rather common in most fandoms, expecially in those building around a fictional work that has more characters of one gender, like My Little Pony. Homosexual shipping is often called "slash shipping", due to the symbolic slash that is usually placed to separate the two names in a romantic pairing.
As shipping has become an important part of the fandom experience, several terms have been created to further express the different aspects revolving around it. OTP, an abbreviation of One True Pairing, is used to depict a person's favourite ship and the one they are most invested in within the work in question. A "sailed ship" is used when a ship has become confirmed within canon, while a "sunken ship" describes a pairing that has been outright denied by canon. Lastly, a "shipping war" is used to portray the conflict between the supporters of two different ships that contradict each other.
The origin of a ship within a fanbase can vary greatly. Some characters are shipped together because their personalities match or differ in a way that makes the relationship interesting for a fan, such as Applejack and Rainbow Dash; because they are shown to spend more time together than with any other characters in canon, such as Lyra and Bon Bon; because their personalities are polar opposites while they share similar interests, such as Vinyl Scratch and Octavia; or because canon itself hints at the relationship, such as Twilight Sparkle and Flash Sentry or Rarity and Spike. A ship can also be a "crack ship", where there is little to no real interaction in the main canon, and all is left up to the shipper to decide. These types of ships can be completely random, created despite their bizarre nature, though others might have a connection through a third party despite never sharing any screen time themselves. An example of the former would be Bonfire, while ShiningSentry represents the latter.
Shipping in the MLP Community
Like many other fandoms, shipping has become a large part of the My Little Pony community, and numerous fan art, music and fiction are dedicated to ships. Due to the large number of female characters in MLP, lesbian relationships are the most common ships, but heterosexual relationships are also strongly evident.
Rainbow Dash, due to her rainbow-colored mane and tomboyish attitude, is often interpreted by the fandom to be a lesbian, and therefore holds one of the widest ranges of different ships. She has, at times, even been shipped with inanimate objects and characters outside of the MLP universe. Big Macintosh, being the most prominent male character without an evident love interest besides Spike, is one of the most common characters in heterosexual relationships, and is often seen by the fandom as a stallion the mares swoon ower. This has been further reinforced by Macintosh's role in the official comics.
Another common route for ships is the pairing between an OC and an official character. While these types of ships generally have smaller followings, they can become rather popular if the OC is particularly well-recieved by the fandom.
The name of a ship is often a portmanteau of the characters' names being shipped, such as AppleDash (Applejack and Rainbow Dash). Ships may also be referred to with an "x" between the two names ("Applejack x Rainbow Dash"). Some of the most common ships in the MLP fandom include:
- AppleDash: Applejack and Rainbow Dash are commonly shipped together because both share a similar physical lifestyle, both are competitive and stubborn, and both have a high sense of pride. The episode Fall Weather Friends is seen as the main spark of this ship as it focuses on Applejack's and Rainbow Dash's competitive relationship.
- LyraBon: Lyra and Bon Bon is one of the most commonly shipped couples, and one of the most well known in the MLP community. When Lyra became a recognized background character after her famous seating position in Dragonshy, many fans noticed that she spent much of her onscreen time alongside Bon Bon, thus resulting in the pairing. According to one of the show's layout artists, Lyra and Bon Bon were placed together because their color schemes worked well together, thus making the ship a coincidence. The ship was also referenced in the Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks movie and in the season 5 episode Slice of Life. As a couple, Lyra is often shown to be eccentric and outgoing, while Bon Bon is the voice of reason and the grounded one of the two.
- VinylTavia: Despite only having one interaction in the show (in the episode Slice of Life), Vinyl Scratch and Octavia have become a popular pairing. This is due to them being associated with opposite genres of music, with Vinyl being a DJ and having a preference for dubstep and electronic music and Octavia being a cellist and preferring classical music. The two of them also seem to be quite different in terms of how their personality is interpreted. Octavia is often seen as high-class and somewhat snobby while Vinyl is often seen as eccentric and outgoing with a love for parties. The ship is therefore seen as a classic "opposites attract" ship, where Vinyl and Octavia enjoy each other's different personalities.
- Twixie: Similar to VinylTavia, Twilight Sparkle and Trixie are shipped because their personalities are greatly different, but both have talents related to magic. The ship is usually initiated by Trixie stumbling upon Twilight after her appearance in Boast Busters, sometimes poor and broken and other times by pure accident and then taken back to Ponyville, where the two gradually grow to care for each other. Another version is that Trixie has an envy-crush on Twilight and fails to express it properly.
- FlutterMac: While Fluttershy and Big Macintosh have had relatively little screen time together prior to the season four episode Filli Vanilli, they are one of the most common heterosexual shippings, and their popularity grew even more after the events of the aforementioned episode. The ship stems from Big Mac and Fluttershy having relatively similar charaterization, with both of them being quite shy and quiet.
- Dislestia: Princess Celestia and Discord are often rumored to have had a relationship prior to Discord's imprisonment a thousand years before the events of the show. Celestia and Discord are two of the oldest confirmed characters in the show; thus, the relationship is open to speculation. In fan labor, they either move along without each other after Discord's reformation or they eventually reunite.
- Fluttercord: Shipping between Discord and Fluttershy has became more popular after the episode Keep Calm and Flutter On. This ship often involves either Discord or Fluttershy each growing to appreciate the other's personality and values and eventually growing closer. They are more than often, however, friendshipped without it actually growing into a romantic relationship.
- Sparity: Since Spike has an obvious crush on Rarity in the show, fan writers tend to develop their relationship in order to create plot twists or an actual romantic relationship. This often involves Rarity growing to appreciate Spike's feelings for her, but this usually does not happen until Spike has become of age.
- SweetieSpike: A shipping formed out of Sparity, it shifts Spike's crush on Rarity to her sister Sweetie Belle instead, as they are of more even age and Rarity isn't interested in Spike in most cases. While not as common as its parent ship, it did gain some following after a picture of Spike and Sweetie dancing together in A Canterlot Wedding - Part 2.
- RariJack: Applejack and Rarity are often shipped together as their personalities and values often clash. Rarity loves fashion and cares deeply about her looks, while Applejack is hard-working and doesn't care much about personal hygiene. This ship became popular after the episode Look Before You Sleep, and has since grown to become one of the most recognized ships in the fandom.
- FlutterDash: Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash have been shown to have known each other since foalhood, and therefore ended being shipped together. While they have quite different personalities, Rainbow Dash being bold and tomboyish while Fluttershy is timid and kind, they are still quite a common couple.
- DerpyWhooves: Derpy is often portrayed as the assistant of Doctor Whooves, and similar to the fictional Doctor Who and his companions, they are shipped together fairly often. While this relationship rarely takes a romantic turn, it generally involves the two of them traveling together to save the world alongside Derpy's suggested daughters Dinky and Sparkler.
- CheeriMac: In the episode Hearts and Hooves Day the Cutie Mark Crusaders try to get their teacher Cheerilee and Big Macintosh together by giving them a love potion. In the end, they do not end up together, but the pairing has since become quite popular as one of the "official" ships, as it holds some ground in canon. There have since been several throwbacks to this ship in the material of the show itself.
- FlashLight: In the movie My Little Pony Equestria Girls, Twilight Sparkle develops a crush on the royal guard Flash Sentry and his human counterpart. The movie never took their relationship further after Twilight returned to Equestria, but the ship managed to gain some popularity. Despite this, the fandom is known to have a rather divided view of the character Flash Sentry, so this ship is also met with some criticism.
- CheesePie: In the episode Pinkie Pride, Pinkie feared that Cheese Sandwich would take her place as Ponyville's premier party pony, but Cheese explained that he became a party pony because the first party he attended as a colt was hosted by Pinkie. Because of their mutual love for parties and similar character traits, Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich are commonly paired in fan labor.
- Twicord: Twilight and Discord have been shipped together ever since his first appearance in season two due to their different personalities and how he had been toying with her mind the longest, but their ship didn't became popular until the tail end of season four. Much of the time, they're portrayed as a very inappropriate couple that enjoy annoying each other.
- SoarinDash: Rainbow Dash is at times shipped with the Wonderbolt Soarin due to their similarities and interaction in various episodes. Rainbow saves Soarin's pie in the episode The Best Night Ever, the two briefly dance together at the end of A Canterlot Wedding - Part 2, and Rainbow saves Soarin's life in Rainbow Falls.
Shipping and Continuity
The activity of shipping is generally considered to take place in an alternative universe, as it contrasts with the current canon of MLP, none of the ships mentioned above having been directly confirmed by the show. Even the FlashLight ship has not been taken further than a crush Twilight is shown to have on Flash in the Equestria Girls movies. This is mainly due to the fact that Friendship is Magic rarely focuses on romance in itself, unless it is a character designed specifically to be in a romantic relationship (like Shining Armor and Princess Cadence).
Thus, the show has also yet to disprove the possibility of the mentioned ships, something that helps to keep most shippers active. It is also likely that shipping will continue to exist even after a ship would be disproved by the show, as people also ship Cadence and Shining with other characters despite their obvious canon relationship. As shown by this, it is likely shipping will exist as long as the brony fandom itself will exist, and will continue on despite what the show itself has to say on the matter.