Guardshipping

Blank Spaces and Straight Ships

(I’ve written part of this before, but I’m taking it to a broader conclusion. Also, this ran long, and I’m sorry. Bear with me.) 

I think there’s a reason why fandom doesn’t often focus on straight ships. It’s not that fandom is made of gay people and the women who fetishise them, and it’s not solely because they’re “badly written”. It’s because, more often than not, they’re likely to be canon.

Let me provide an illustrative example. In the early days of the Undertale fandom juggernaut, there was a big kerfluffle over ships. 

For those of you watching at home who aren’t into Undertale, there is one Big Canon Femmeslash Ship (Alphyne), a few smaller ships with some level of canon backing (mostly heterosexual and involving Goat Mom), and a whole slew of tiny, utterly non-canon Mslash ships. (There is also one canon m-slash ship- for convenience’s sake, I’ll call it Guardshipping- but almost no one produces any fanwork of it. We’ll get to why in a minute.) 

Now if you were into fandom pre-2013, you might think I’m talking about a good, old-fashioned Ship War, but nope. This was an issue of Problematicness- specifically, why are you paying more attention to your utterly non-canon, kinda contrived m-slash ships than to the canon femmeslash one?

To be fair? I think most of the Undertale m-slash ships were kind of contrived. Out of the main cast of male characters, two are functionally asexual (and of these two, one is not very interested in romance), one is underaged, and one is hung up on his (female) ex.  But, eh, all fun and games. However, some tumblr people took that as evidence of bigotry. Instead of focusing on the canon femmeslash ship, people were grasping at straws trying to come up with an m/m ship. Therefore, they said, people were bigoted against lesbians because they hate writing them. 

But- no one was creating Guardshipping fanwork, either. I’ve heard a couple different explanations for why no one did this. 

  • “They’re buff!” (People fetishise the hell out of Undyne’s physique; don’t you think they’d do that for the Royal Guards too?) 
  • “They’re furries!” (Doesn’t stop the Soriel/Sorigore shippers, or the Nicepants shippers, or any of the other furry shippers in the fandom).
  • “They’re overtly masculine, they can’t be turned into delicate yaoi boys!” (While true, I don’t think this is the main reason for it. After all, most Undertale fans keep the chubby, depressive lump as a chubby, depressive lil lump when they ship him.)

My theory is that fandom doesn’t like canon ships very much.

 Fandom is about transformative works, after all. Something that is canon is only worth being canon if it is a jumping-off point for something more interesting. In extreme cases, you get “screw canon, everyone is happy and alive” or “screw canon, everyone is queer, has a gender that can only be pronounced by the Elder Things beyond space and time, and presents femme” AUs. 

But with canon ships- especially if they’re long-running ships- there’s not much to transform. You see how they got together. You see what their relationship dynamic is like for (at least a little bit after) they get together. You can’t tell the same story of How They Got Shipped over and over again. And since a lot of pairing-focused fanfic is the equivalent of a romance novel, that’s what people want to read. 

You’ve seen the entire Romance Arc. It’s laid out in front of you in all its glittering glory. It’s there, it’s whole, it’s done. There’s nothing more that needs to be said about it.

 Unless you’re writing a fluffy domestic fic (or a turbulent “will-their-marriage-stay-together” fic) after-canon, or a complete alternate universe fic where everyone is fairy princesses, or in Starfleet, or both- there’s no more story there. And fandom runs on stories. So rather than try to find what room they can within the established story, fans will go and make their own.

Many, many, many straight ships- especially the ones people on Tumblr love to hate- are canon ships. When people talk about seeing the budding signs of a het romance and immediately going “UGH”, I think this is at least part of the reason why. There’s no room for fandom there. It’s thuddingly, obviously foreshadowed that These Two Characters Will Get Together, and there’s no room to tell your own story in there. Since this is Tumblr, it’s gotten wound up with a weirdly moralistic aggressive faux-political ideology, but I think this is the root cause of it.

  Fandom is about filling in the blank spaces. And with canon ships, there’s nothing to fill. Since so many ships that have some level of canon backing are heterosexual, tumblr fandom hates het ships. 

“I cannot see Guardshipping as anything more than a platonic relationship.”

This was another one of those pairings that I did not recognize by name, so I had to hunt around a little before I could formulate an actual opinion on it. For some reason, Isono has never managed to make it into my headcanons on a regular basis, so that was a bit of setback. But, ever since I received this Ask, I have been slowly tinkering with it to figure it out better.

The way I see it, Isono has worked for Kaiba Corp. for a while. I could be wrong, and if there is evidence to contradict me from the series, I apologize, but I imagine Isono has been working there since even before Seto was brought in. And, if that is the case, I really doubt Isono would have tried to start anything with Seto, who was just a boy at the time. Isono does not strike me as the type to lust after children: if he was, he probably would have chosen a profession that enabled him to be around them on a regular basis, instead of working for the unmarried, heir-less Gozaburo.

Or, lets say that Isono did not start working there until after Seto had taken control of the company. Even if that were the case, no one in their right mind would try to either start a relationship with or get into Seto’s pants at that point in time. Seto was psychotic, as I believe I mentioned in my Prideshipping Musing. Unless you honestly had a death wish, trying to get close to Seto during that time would be a very, very bad idea.

I am going to work with the idea that Isono has worked for Kaiba Corp. since Seto was still a child, still ‘in training.’ I feel like, if he started working there while Seto was a tad insane, his 'brand of loyalty’ towards Seto would be different than it is now.

It is not publicly known how Gozaburo treated Seto behind closed doors. However, given that the Kaiba’s mansion is clearly full of maids and other staff along those lines, I imagine that many people know at least hints of what Seto went through. They were 'second class’, especially in that house, so I doubt many people paid them any mind as they went about their duties. That would have allowed them to see and overhear things that were supposed to remain secret. I doubt they did it intentionally, but once they had learned something they were not supposed to, I imagine they kept their mouths shut–they valued their jobs, and their lives.

Isono would be no different. I am sure he saw what was happening to Seto under Gozaburo’s care. But who really wants to stand up to a man like Gozaburo and tell him that he is raising his heir wrong? That was not Isono’s place. As much as it may have hurt him, or as often as he felt guilt over it later, it is likely he simply turned the other way and ignored it.

In my gradually developing headcanon about this relationship, Isono did whatever he could to help, without being detected by Gozaburo. If the man was in a foul mood, Isono would get permission to take Mokuba to the park, knowing of Seto’s deep desire to keep the littler boy safe. Things like that. He would help, without intervening.

And so, as Seto took over the company and developed into the young man we see throughout a lot of the series, I still think that Isono would not approach him as anything more than the majordomo-type worker he is. After seeing Seto grow up, even over those short years (there’s no denying that he grew up far more and faster than he should have had to), I think that Isono will still be able to see that little boy he had been when he was first brought there. To me, it seems very unlikely that Isono would develop any romantic or sexual feelings towards Seto in a situation like that. If anything, his feelings might border on paternal.

I have seen a handful of fans portray this relationship as having sexual qualities, without any real emotion behind it–Seto using Isono for sex in the earlier parts of his career as CEO. I can see where they are coming from with that idea, but I personally cannot work it into my own imaginings of this relationship. I am sure that Seto is more than capable of taking care of himself, should the need for sex arise, but frankly, I believe he had enough to keep busy with during that time frame to even really care.

And, from Seto’s side of the relationship, I highly doubt that he would develop any feelings for Isono. The man has been there as a worker in his house, and nothing more, there to tidy his papers when he is in a hurry and care for Mokuba when he  himself is too busy to do so. He may not even realize exactly how much Isono has done and is doing for him as time goes on.

In short, I guess I just cannot picture this relationship breaching the line towards romance or even just sex. In my mind, Isono does care for Seto, in a way, but more as a protector. Perhaps he cares more for Seto than a worker should. But it is more born of concern for him than anything else.