Love it or hate it, it’s a fact: a lot of male character-centred sports anime are loved by fujoshi, fudanshi, and BL lovers of all genders. Of course we realise that in most cases, this demographic isn’t the target audience. After all, most sports manga are serialised in shounen magazines, with the almost-all-male cast of characters supposed to be targeted at other boys of the same age.
However, there is an age old rule: where there are bishounen, there will be BL shipping. So while there is way more to sports anime than the fact that it is shippable, that doesn’t stop the fact that it makes excellent shipping material. But what is it about the sports genre that makes it so easy for us to pair up their characters? Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons behind this phenomenon!
Boys, Boys Everywhere
If there’s one thing that makes sports anime one of the best shipping spots, it’s the fact that almost all the characters are guys. Sure, there’s the odd female manager or best friend here and there, but other than that, it looks as though the whole world of sports anime is made up of men. Another thing you will notice is that the characters are almost always single. While some show interest in their female managers (cough, Nishinoya and Tanaka from Haikyuu!!) for the most part, they’re too involved in becoming the best at their sport. And who do they do this with? Their teammates, of course!
Another thing that makes the all-male cast appealing is the sheer potential for eye candy. In sports anime, even the least aesthetically-pleasing boys (and let’s admit, there aren’t many) somehow become amazingly attractive when they open their mouths. How do they do that, you ask? Well, most sports anime is focused on character development, and you can’t have character-based stories will lackluster characters. With different teams cropping up in the series, there are also huge numbers of characters, giving you oh-so-much potential for multishipping. Oh, and did I mention they’re usually muscular and spend most of their time dripping in sweat? There’s that, too.
Another reason why sports anime is so open for BL interpretation is that there’s none of that no-homo bull you get between male characters in a lot of other anime. The characters in sports anime are there to support each other - both emotionally and physically. Take for example Rin from Free!, who often cries and throws his arms around his friends when he’s full of feels. Then there’s basically every character from Yowamushi Pedal and how they’re constantly leaning on each other, or quite literally pushing each other forward. The dynamics between teammates makes them a lot more touchy-feely with each other, which if you’re a BL fan, is sure to push some buttons.
Homosocialism without the Stereotypes
So male characters in sports anime aren’t afraid to be touchy-feely with the boys. You know where we don’t see that? Actual BL. Yaoi and shounen-ai are constantly filled with boys who are afraid of being gay, scared to admit their feelings, and claiming that the guy they’re attracted to is an “exception.” Even now, a lot of Boys Love manga and anime force their characters into the masculine-feminine roles seen in stereotypical straight relationships.
But here we have a genre of anime where not only are the boys not afraid to care for each other, they’re more than happy to show it. While this of course doesn’t make the characters gay, it means they’re more open to interpretation than the rigid characters found in other genres where relationships are set in straight-conforming stone. Also, we can’t forget that we now have an amazing sports anime which actually has a gay couple: Yuri!!! on ICE. Do Yuri and Victor act like the couples you see in BL? Nope. They actually act like (shock horror!) two people who truly love each other. In your face, yaoi!
As if it wasn’t emotional enough seeing male characters expressing their feelings, laughing, crying, and just being themselves, in sports anime we also have the added bonus of different power dynamics between characters. I’m talking about the senpai-kouhai relations and the rivalry between both those on the same and different teams.
The senpai do their best to support their kouhai, like Makishima and now Onoda from YowaPeda, and the kouhai look up to their senpai in awe, like Tsukamoto from DAYS. Just don’t mention the inevitable retirement of the third-years, or we’ll all start crying. Then you’ve got the spicy rivals like Rin and Haru from Free! and the angry rivals like pretty much every character from the Generation of Miracles in Kuroko no Basket.
So what does this mean for BL-loving viewers of sports anime? Well, unlike watching sport in real life, and other anime where we might not get to see how the bishounen interact on-screen, we get more insight into the personal lives and inner workings of the characters, making us more emotionally attached. We can see how the relationship might progress to the next level more easily.
It also means we can match up the characters in our heads depending on what kind of ship we like. Into childhood friends and rivals? MakoHaru it is for you. Love a stuck-up kouhai and a sadistic senpai? Then the Thrill Pair (Fuji/Ryouma) from Prince of Tennis ought to do the trick. We’re also given the double-whammy struggle of which team you support the most - and which ship.
So, did this shed some light on why sports anime is so shippable? Of course, not all sports anime prescribe to the above points. Most of the popular ones do, however, with a lot of fandoms made up of both people there for the sports alone and those there for the sports and the shipping (which, let’s be honest, is practically a sport itself). Do you ship characters in sports anime? What do you think makes them so shippable? Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments!